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October 24, 2004 - Not David Hume in the late eighteenth century...













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In Say what? Who are you going to believe? Me, or your own eyes? you will find an extended analysis of the New York Times Sunday magazine item Without a Doubt by Ron Suskind (October 17, 2004) – a discussion of how George Bush makes decisions.  Suskind says a lot of this is driven by Bush’s heart-on-his-sleeve faith and not on any assessment of the realities of a given situation.

Suskind’s article has been the key discussion item the week in American politics.  It was first mentioned here and also discussed here.
As mentioned, Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian (UK), on Wednesday, October 20, discussed what this means in terms of the current election -

 

In Suskind's article, we hear yet more quotes from Bush supporters who assert without embarrassment that God installed George W. Bush in the White House, and Bush is merely acting out God's will. There are doubtless many people, perhaps millions, who agree. So here's my challenge to them: If John Kerry wins this election, will you have the courage to proclaim that God now has decided that John Kerry should be president, and George W. Bush should not? Will you devote yourself to aiding Kerry in his work, since if he wins it is God's will? Or do you only believe God has intervened in American elections when you like the result?

 

As mentioned before, now THAT is an interesting question.

Joseph, our expatriate friend in Paris, argues this:

 

He shoots... HE SCORES!!!

Damn. Hit it right on the head. This is precisely what I was feebly alluding to a few weeks ago when faith reared its ugly head in the context of hurricane-battered Florida.  This is exactly the question:

Do you only believe God has intervened... when you like the result?

I suspect that should Kerry win, the line will be that God's will “has been thwarted” by the faithless.

Isn't that clever?  They don't have to accept Kerry as God's new chosen, nor do they have to admit that God isn't playing a role.  He just suffered a setback at the hands of godless democrats.  The Lord works in mysterious ways.

Amen.

 

Well, one of Joseph’s old friends in Cincinnati, Dan, had a riposte to that -

 

As I am sure you are aware I am an active Christian. But, in my opinion, God doesn't work that way. I am always amazed at how, in many areas, Christians don't really understand their religion. Most Christians have a good handle on the basics but those Christians somehow manage not to get asked their opinion. It seems that the ones whose mouths are bigger than their knowledge always show up on the news. Their lack of knowledge shows when they claim "hand of God" when good things happen to them. It is easy to laugh at the "dumb" Christians, but I have discovered that the people I have run into making sport of the Christians know even less about the role of God than those "dumb" Christians. This is no place for a lesson in Theology so I am not going to give one … [But] it all reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

"Talking about music (or arguing about religion in this case) is like whistling about chickens".

 

Whistling about chickens?  I do it all the time.

Joseph, our expatriate friend in Paris, clarifies -

 

Love the quote!

Now, to the point.  I'm not making sport of Christians, nor do I think they're all dumb.  Pascal, the mathematician and father of decision theory, thought it eminently logical to believe in God.  Einstein, Werner Von Braun, the list goes on.

And as you have suggested, a television camera is an "idiot magnet".  Every time crews cover a WHO protest, who do they put on TV?  The guy who looks like me and can tell you in great detail that while globalization is a wonderful thing and a net gain to mankind, it has just taken a huge lunge forward and therefore perhaps we should ride the brakes for a while until certain structural imbalances correct themselves, this curve, that coefficient, and so on?

No.  You get to see the seventeen-year-old with the bone in his nose and dreadlocks who just dropped ecstasy. Y ep, that's how it is.

However, as I'm sure you are aware, I was forced to misspend a fair chunk of my misspent youth at Bible Study. …  And I do recall a great many biblical tales in which God was none to pleased with those who claimed to have his mandate, or otherwise threw themselves at the mercy of His wisdom and his plan when they should have instead exercised some good judgment.  I agree, it is only certain people that give religion a bad name.  But in my view, the president is one of those people.

I agree with you, that if one knows one’s Bible one should know that God doesn't work that way.  Be that as it may, many disagree, and have faith.  The point that I was trying to make is the following: If one believes that something desirable was "the will of God", but one cannot truly accept an undesirable outcome as "the will of God", then it wasn't really "faith" at all which led you to conclude the former.  Rather it was an attempt to color one's personally preferred outcome as divine and thereby beyond reproach or need of explanation or justification.

I suspect that many who now see Bush as "God's choice", will, should Kerry win, decline to see Kerry as "God's NEW choice.”  Therefore I think that what a great many people are calling "faith" in this context is mere rationalization.

I think that were I a religious person, I would be deeply offended by how often God's name is cheaply invoked in tawdry politics.  But as I am, I am merely disappointed at how often this invocation ends the debate.

This, I believe, is one of the many reasons the founding fathers believed what by now should be painfully obvious: religion has no place in politics because it cheapens both religion and politics.

 

Well, that is where we are now.

And long ago Theodore Roosevelt disapproved of the motto "In God We Trust" on our coins, for religious reasons, not aesthetic ones.  Roosevelt thought that having the "In God We Trust" motto on common coins that were abused in all sorts of manner was close to sacrilege.  (For a complete discussion by many of our readers of that business with the motto, and of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, see this from September 16, 2003 in Just Above Sunset.)

The separation is over.

 

And then Emma, a thoughtful Australian woman who lives in Paris and spends her time between London and Paris recruiting executives, and who has never set foot in America, adds this to the dialog.

 

I am a part-time church-goer so none of you will probably take what I say seriously.  Nonetheless, it has be to said.

 

What Dan wrote touched me particularly when I think about Bush saying that God speaks through him. Personally, he should keep that to himself and not mix religion with politics as it always brings about trouble particularly when one is so one-eyed about it.

 

I would like to think that I respect others and their choice of religion (though sometimes we cannot choose).

 

What bugs me though is when people are fundamentalist - and not just about religion. It is these people who are unbalanced and unopen and unappreciative and disrespectful and unable to accept others and their views and opinions - which gets to me.

 

If we judge someone's behavior as inappropriate or not fitting with our own values we can deal with this without being critical, overbearing and freaky.  It is just a case of learning to accept it by confronting the fact that there are others who behave and think differently from us and as long as we are not forcing our own ways down others throats then "la vie est une longue fleuve tranquille" otherwise more harm is done than good as can be seen the world over.

 

I tend to think that people who are looking to change others because of their own strict rules and guidelines of living and views and beliefs are probably doing so because they sadly seem to feel deep down that they have no control on life and lack some self-esteem and own identity. They do not recognize that they are only responsible for themselves and for dealing with the way that others behavior and choices affect them only.  A sense of safety comes from inside and not outside us.

 

As for Bush, well he does not give religion a good name by referring to God in whatever he does, he clearly shows that he is a most dangerous man in terms of being so one-eyed about what he does and could really do with a helping hand to retirement!

But as Ayelish McGarvey points out this week in The American Prospect, Suskind and all the critics of Bush, and Joseph, make the same mistake - they take Bush's faith seriously.

Amy Sullivan here says McGarvey presents some compelling good arguments that Bush's mantle, "man of faith," is based on flimsy evidence of his true convictions.

McGarvey –

 

Though these accounts ramble on for hundreds of pages about his steadfast leadership and prayerfulness, they all curiously rely on one single event to confirm that Bush is a man transformed by a deep Christian faith: He quit drinking and took up running instead.

… But Christianity is more than teetotalism and physical fitness. Conservative believers liken a Christian conversion to a spiritual heart transplant - one that completely transfigures a person’s motivations, sensibilities, relationships, and actions.

... Judging him on his record, George W. Bush’s spiritual transformation seems to have consisted of little more than staying on the wagon, with Jesus as a sort of talismanic Alcoholics Anonymous counselor.

 

So where is this Bush religious stuff coming from? From a key speechwriter - Wheaton College graduate Mike Gerson.

Do you know the evangelical Christian college, Wheaton, near Chicago? I knew someone who went there. You could look at their mission statement for a sense of the place.

McGarvey again -

 

Far too often, though, the press confuses Gerson’s words with Bush’s beliefs. The distinction is critical, as the press, as well as many of Bush’s most ardent supporters, curiously points to the president’s words, not his deeds, as evidence of his deep Christian faith. In Alan Cooperman’s recent Washington Post article, David Frum, a (Jewish) former Bush speechwriter, said of the president’s religious beliefs, “If you want to know what George Bush really thinks, look at what he says.”

 

To which Sullivan adds -

 

That religious standard turns two thousand years of Christianity on its head. Every young Sunday School student knows it's not what you say, it's what you do. And on that score, George W. Bush has failed to act according to Christian principles and values. That shouldn't necessarily matter - that shouldn't be a requirement for our country's leader. But it's simply a fact that many voters cast their lot with the guy they believe is led by a moral power greater than himself. I've heard countless voters say they disagree with Bush on the war, the economy, his environmental record, his education agenda, you name it - but they're voting for him "because he's a good Christian man." The press has accepted uncritically that this is so. Maybe that was a mistake.

 

Yep, there are words, and then there are deeds.

So why are good Christians ignoring the deeds?

Now THAT is an interesting question.































 
 
 
 

Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
 
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