Crusader Babbitt
         by Gene Lyons

      [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 humanity."

    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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