Bush and Faith

By Win McCormack
(Oregon Humanities)
Fall/Winter 2005

It is commonly accepted in the press that George W. Bush is a man of strong faith. Many commentators have attributed Bush's policy failures to an excess of faith, to an inordinate belief in the righteousness of his policies. "He truly believes he is on a mission from God," Ron Suskind writes in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. "Absolute faith like that overwhelms the need for analysis."

However, what concrete evidence is there of the sincerity of Bush’s professed religious convictions? Just as Bush calls himself a rancher yet never rides horses or tends cattle, he clams to be a devout Christian yet rarely attends church, except for a photo-op or ceremonial occasion. Yet, we have endlessly been told the legend of his conversion to fundamentalist Christianity by Bill Graham in 1987, which is said to have helped him quit drinking. However, a cynic might note that this “conversion” coincided with the recognition by he and his father that they would need to court the radical religious right if George H.W. was going to gain the Republican nomination in 1988. (George W.’s principal job in that campaign was as liaison to the Christian Right.) One might also note that George W.’s first public avowals of religious faith happened to coincide with the takeover of the Texas Republican Party by religious fundamentalists just as he was gearing up to run for governor. The alliance of the Bush family, formerly New England Episcopalians, with the evangelical movement has proved extremely advantageous to them.

Some writers have noted the affinity between the Bush administration and the ideas of the political philosopher Leo Strauss; numerous members of the administration, as well as allies of the administration outside of the government, are adherents and even former students of Strauss, Strauss advocated a strict hierarchical political structure (derived from Plato) in which a group of “Philosophers” would rule from behind the scenes, manipulating the ostensible ruler (a “Gentleman” of patrician background and apparent moral conviction, but with modest intellectual equipment), who in turn would manipulate the ignorant masses (the “Vulgar”). Strauss, like Plato, advocated the “noble lie” for this purpose, and his favorite noble lie was religion. While dismissing (as his Philosophers would have) religion as an irrational fiction, he believed it to be the single most powerful tool for keeping the masses in line.

In Strauss’s scheme, presumably, the Gentleman dunce would not be in on the trick. But in the case of George W. Bush, it seems more than likely that he is in on it—that he is no more a committed and serious Christian than he is a committed and serious rancher, and that both these poses are political and public relations tools by which the media has allowed themselves to be deceived.


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