The Truth, Mainly - 10/25/2004

Religion, war, and the election
by Leon Satterfield

Have you noticed how funny John Kerry has started talking in these last days before the election?

Let me remind you. I quote from last Monday's Washington Post.

"Through many dangers, toil and snares, I have already come," he said a week ago Sunday. "'Tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home."

Those lines, you all recognize, are from "Amazing Grace," a hymn so widely appealing that even dirty rotten secular humanists can be heard singing it.

Sometimes in bars.

But Kerry—he's Catholic, remember—spoke the words in the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in Ohio.

That's because Kerry is running for president and Baptists get to vote too.

The senator went on to tell them about the Good Samaritan as a way "to illustrate God's calling to help the least of America's people."

"This," he said, "is how you reach the kingdom of Heaven."

Doesn't that strike you as a funny way for a presidential candidate to talk?

But not when he's running against George W. Bush and he's trying to fight piety with piety.

You know what I say? I say don't waste your breath, Senator. That's a losing battle. If you don't believe it, read Ron Suskind's long piece about the president in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine.

It's all about how the president believes he's God's chosen two-term chief executive. Suskind quotes Bruce Bartlett (a treasury official for the first President Bush) saying that Bush II has "this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do….This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded—they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them…."


That certainty, Bartlett says, "is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts. He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms the need for analysis…."

Gives me the fantods. Nothing's more dangerous than the conviction that God's on your side—especially when the conviction is accompanied by the military power to blow hell out of things.

I'm not sure I believe him, but Pat Robertson said the president before the invasion of Iraq told him "we're not going to have any casualties." The administration denies he said that. But that's the kind of thinking that accompanies a sense of Divine Invulnerability, so it does have a certain plausibility.

Here's what else the Suskind article says: Some of the president's strongest supporters are evangelicals who believe he's "a messenger from God." And that support leads him to demand "unquestioning faith from his followers, his staff, his senior aides, and his kindred in the Republican Party. Once he makes a decision…he expects complete faith in its rightness….He has created the faith-based presidency."

Suskind quotes one of the president's supporters: "I just believe God controls everything, and God uses the president to keep evil down, to see the darkness and protect this nation…. I believe he's an instrument of God, but I have to be careful about what I say, you know, in public."

And Suskind follows that up with this question: "Is there anyone in America who feels that John Kerry is an instrument of God?"

That's the kind of question Kerry may be worrying about when he goes around quoting "Amazing Grace" and telling people how to reach the kingdom of heaven.

I wish he'd stop. One candidate thinking he's been anointed by God is one too many. The ancient Greeks called it hubris. And it scares hell out of me. It apparently scares hell out of many others who are a lot more religious than I am.

In a piece published last month in the Bennington (Vt.) Banner, a Methodist minister, David J. Bort, approvingly quotes Jan Lin's warning that "when the most powerful man in the world says he is being led by God to do what he does, it is much more than saying he is trying to live his faith. He is implying that to disagree with his decisions is to disagree with God."

Jim Wallis, writing in the September issue of Sojourners magazine, asks "How did the faith of Jesus come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war, and pro-American?….'God bless America' is found nowhere in the Bible…."

Then on the following page, this quotation from Anne Lamott: "You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do."

Keep that quotation in mind when you go into the voting booth next week. And remember what the Founding Fathers said in Amendment I of the U.S. Constitution.

Go read it right now. You hear?


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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