Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Wholly war. Within the past few weeks, the mainstream media have shifted from treating George W. Bush's religious beliefs as a benign curiosity to a central part of his being. The question is whether this is an entirely good thing or if, instead, it has imbued him with the dangerous belief that God is on his side.

Today, two more entries in the Bush-and-God sweepstakes. On the op-ed page of the New York Times, Jackson Lears is distressed at how Bush has allowed his religion to shape his foreign policy, writing:

The belief that one is carrying out divine purpose can serve legitimate needs and sustain opposition to injustice, but it can also promote dangerous simplifications -- especially if the believer has virtually unlimited power, as Mr. Bush does. The slide into self-righteousness is a constant threat.

In the current Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes asserts that Bush's religious beliefs are well within the American mainstream -- true, no doubt, but beside the point, if the American mainstream believes that it is our national destiny to wage holy war.

Besides, as former president Jimmy Carter reminded us over the weekend, it is possible to share Bush's intense Christian beliefs while coming to a diametrically opposite conclusion as to how those beliefs should be applied to Iraq. Carter wrote in the New York Times:

As a Christian and as a president who was severely provoked by international crises, I became thoroughly familiar with the principles of a just war, and it is clear that a substantially unilateral attack on Iraq does not meet these standards.

When Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this year, Bush played it perfectly. Despite Carter's considerable accomplishments during his long post-presidency, his award was widely interpreted as a swipe at Bush's saber-rattling. Indeed, one of the Nobel judges himself spoke words to that effect. But as many conservatives fumed, Bush was gracious, congratulating Carter for recognition that he richly deserves.

Now would be the perfect time for Bush not just to congratulate Carter, but to pay attention to what the man has to say. If Bush truly believes he has the mandate of heaven to wage war, perhaps someone whose religious views are similar could show him that maybe, just maybe, he might be wrong.

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