Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Tuesday, March 11, 2003  

Incidentally, for those of you who thought I was an anti-Christian fanatic, let me point out that the President's Christianity is beginning to alarm even reasonable people too. (Which makes me a prophet. That is, err, ah...) First there was the Newsweek cover story called "Bush and God," which I neither read nor saw (and which isn't online--though for three bucks you can buy it here--and tell me what it said). Then Georgie Anne Geyer picked up the thread in a recent column.

In her words:

The predominant answer coming out of different quarters -- one that I broached six months ago, to a certain degree of derision from some readers -- is that the president of the United States of America sees himself as part of God's divine plan. For America, for the Middle East, for the world! It is not doctrine that he espouses, but gospel; not a world of shifting national interests, but one of absolute truths.

One of the best analyses came last week from the Rev. Fritz Ritsch, pastor of the Bethesda Presbyterian Church in Virginia. "The president," he said, "confidently asserts a worldview that most Christian denominations reject outright as heresy: the myth of redemptive violence, which posits a war between good and evil, with God on the side of good and Satan on the side of evil." This approach, he went on, "is characterized by a stark refusal to acknowledge accountability, because to suggest accountability is to question American purity, which would undermine the secular theology of 'good vs. evil' inherent in present U.S. policy."

And today, writing in the Times, Jackson Lears made the argument that this isn't your garden-variety lip service:

The great rhetoricians of Providence have resisted the temptation of self-righteousness. When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from a Birmingham jail that "we will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands," he was seeking common ground with white Southerners, not predicting perdition for satanic segregationists.

Likewise, when Abraham Lincoln invoked Providence in his second inaugural address, his message to the victorious North and the defeated South was one of reconciliation. By characterizing the Civil War as a national expiation for the sin of slavery, he wanted "to bind up the nation's wounds" and make some moral sense of the appalling losses on both sides. At its best, providentialist thinking can offer a powerful antidote to self-righteousness.

Too often, though, American politicians and moralists have reduced faith in Providence to a religious sanction for raw power. In the 1840's, with the emergence of the idea that the United States had a manifest destiny to expand to the Pacific, the hand of God was no longer mysterious (as in traditional Christian doctrine) but "manifest" in American expansion. As for the natives who unproductively occupied the Great Plains, Horace Greeley, the journalist, said in 1859: "`These people must die out — there is no help for them. God has given this earth to those who will subdue and cultivate it, and it is vain to struggle against his righteous decree."

posted by Jeff | 2:20 PM |
Blogroll and Links