[W]ith relation to the Mind or Understanding,
'tis manifest what mighty
Advantages Fiction has over Truth; and the Reason is just at our Elbow,
because Imagination can build nobler Scenes, and produce more wonderful
Revolutions than Fortune or Nature will be at Expence to furnish...
How fading and insipid do all Objects accost us that are not convey'd
in the Vehicle of Delusion?
--Swift, "A Digression Concerning Madness," 1704
Hypocrisy in a politician is
universally held to be a very bad thing,
religious hypocrisy worst of all. Alas, to Americans holding post-Enlightenment
world-views, it has come down to this: either we must earnestly pray that
George W. Bush is a cunning opportunist merely throwing hay to the great
lowing herd of pious cattle who confuse the evening news with the Book of
Revelation, or face the prospect that the United States has embarked upon
a faith-based foreign policy as distant from reality as the ranting of Osama bin Laden.
Many commentators have noticed
that Bush has repeatedly cast the conflict
with al Qaeda and Iraq in purely biblical terms--good against evil, "the forces
of darkness" against the forces of light, etc. In a speech on the anniversary of
the 9/11 attacks, as Bruce Nolan's article in Sunday's Democrat-Gazette noted,
Bush hinted that God was stage-managing the "war on terrorism" for divine
purposes. "I believe there is a reason that history has matched this nation
with this time," Bush said.
According to Bob Woodward's
book, "Bush at War" even in one-on-one
interviews "[t]he President was casting his mission and that of the country
in the grand vision of God's Master Plan." This observation followed Bush's
pronouncement that "[w]e will export death and violence to the four corners
of the earth in defense of this great country and rid the world of evil."
Conquering evil is bin Laden's
plan too. Even fighting beside the
"socialist infidel" Saddam Hussein, he hinted in a taped statement Feb. 11,
was permissible "to establish the rule of God on earth." Quoting the Koran,
he assured his followers that "'those who believe fight in the cause of Allah,
and those who reject faith fight in the cause of evil.' So fight ye against the
friends of Satan: feeble indeed is the cunning of Satan."
So have we really been transported
back to the 12th century A.D. with
Bush as Richard the Lionhearted and Osama/Saddam as Saladin, in a replay
of the Third Holy Crusade? We'd better hope not, because although medieval
prophets convinced Richard that recapturing Jerusalem from the Muslims would
bring about the Second Coming and usher in the millennium, he dragged back
to England defeated in 1192.
To bin Laden, who rails against
American "crusaders," this happened the
day before yesterday. Bush only plays into his hands with statements like
the closing line of his 2003 State of the Union speech contending that
"the liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift
To Saddam Hussein, a garden
variety criminal psychopath and reportedly
a big fan of the "Godfather" movies, it's unlikely this signifies much. As
grandiose as Stalin, Saddam gives no sign of confusing himself with the deity.
The origins of Bush's flirtation
with End Times rhetoric, however, are no more
remote than the New York Times Best Seller List, specifically the prophetic
novels of Hal Lindsey ("Blood Moon") and Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins'
"Left Behind" series. Selling in the millions, these books are a florid updating
of a 19th century school of bible-based soothsaying called "premillenial
dispensationalism." Radio and TV evangelists, including the ubiquitous
Jerry Falwell peddle this gibberish to millions.
Adepts believe, writes historian
Paul S. Boyer, that a series of last day
signs including "wars, natural disasters, rampant immorality, the rise of a
world political and economic order, and the return of the Jews to the
land promised by God to Abraham" will signal the Rapture. True Believers
will be magically whisked off to heaven, the Antichrist will seize world
power--through the United Nations, naturally--thus ushering in the Second
Coming, Armageddon and the Millenium.
Ironically, the incomprehensible
imagery in Revelation was borrowed from
Babylonian (Iraqi) and Zoroastrian (Iranian) myth in the first place. Bush's
flirtation with End Times rhetoric makes some suspect that he actually
perceives himself as God's instrument. Many Europeans fear they're trapped
between rival fundamentalist zealots whose messianic delusions threaten
World War III.
Call me naïve, but I hold with hypocrisy. Everything known about Bush
apart from his political rhetoric suggests belief in a conventional rich man's God.
His idea of paradise is a country club golf course. His public religiosity is
precisely calculated to enthrall fundamentalist Christians whose failure to turn out
in 1992 led to his father's defeat--the only Armageddon Junior seriously anticipates.
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