FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Did Bush Blaspheme?

In his speech about the Middle East crisis on June 24 of this year, President Bush concluded by quoting Deuteronomy 30:19, “I have set before you life and earth; therefore, choose life.” Given that he was calling_for the first time ever–for a change within the leadership of the Palestinian people, it was odd (to say the least) that he chose a verse from Hebrew scripture to make his point. Was it any accident that many commentators in the Arabic world thought he had already picked sides with this kind of rhetoric?

In that example the president may seem wrongheaded but still religiously orthodox. But in his speech to the nation this year on the anniversary of September 11, he concluded with another verse of scripture, this one from the New Testament: John 1:5, “And the light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overcome it.” In John, this reference is to Christ, the long-expected messiah who has now finally arrived to do his unique work on God’s behalf. The president, however, was using this verse to refer to the light of the . and how the darkness of terrorism will not be able to extinguish it. (Bush changed the tense of the verse here, making it future instead of past.) The connection could not have been clearer, given that he was shown by all the cameras as standing in front of a brilliantly illuminated Statue of Liberty.

A long tradition of scriptural figuration exists within American history in which the U.S. is viewed as a kind of new “Israel.” Both the Puritan John Winthrop and the Republican Ronald Reagan spoke of our country as like the biblical “city on a hill,” the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). The implications of this analogy are somewhat troubling to me, but at least the analogy represents a view of national identity based upon the idea of the “people of God” found within scripture. Much more troubling to me, however, is the new and completely unparalleled usage of President George W. Bush, in which the U.S. is described with language the New Testament reserves to Christ alone.

The tragedy here is that George Bush considers himself an evangelical Christian, and yet he and his right wing supporters can apparently no longer recognize blasphemy for what it is. In my view, when the state takes on messianic significance, it ceases to be justly authorized (e.g., Romans 13 describes this kind of state) and becomes essentially demonic (e.g., Revelation 13 describes this kind of state). The only possible response for Christians then becomes one of civil disobedience.

If George Bush was serious about America having a messianic role to play in world affairs, then he and his view must be opposed by every Christian. We are patriots, but patriots first for Christ.

If George Bush didn’t really mean what he seems to have said, then he was intolerably sloppy and has much to learn about responsible speech–from both a Christian and a political perspective.

STEPHEN B. CHAPMAN is an Assistant Professor of Old Testament studies at Duke Divinity School.

 

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
November 13, 2019
Vijay Prashad
After Evo, the Lithium Question Looms Large in Bolivia
Charles Pierson
How Not to End a Forever War
Kenneth Surin
“We’ll See You on the Barricades”: Bojo Johnson’s Poundshop Churchill Imitation
Nick Alexandrov
Murder Like It’s 1495: U.S.-Backed Counterinsurgency in the Philippines
George Ochenski
Montana’s Radioactive Waste Legacy
Brian Terrell
A Doubtful Proposition: a Reflection on the Trial of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7
Nick Pemberton
Assange, Zuckerberg and Free Speech
James Bovard
The “Officer Friendly” Police Fantasy
Dean Baker
The Logic of Medical Co-Payments
Jeff Mackler
Chicago Teachers Divided Over Strike Settlement
Binoy Kampmark
The ISC Report: Russian Connections in Albion?
Norman Solomon
Biden and Bloomberg Want Uncle Sam to Defer to Uncle Scrooge
Jesse Jackson
Risking Lives in Endless Wars is Morally Wrong and a Strategic Failure
Manuel García, Jr.
Criminalated Warmongers
November 12, 2019
Nino Pagliccia
Bolivia and Venezuela: Two Countries, But Same Hybrid War
Patrick Cockburn
How Iran-Backed Forces Are Taking Over Iraq
Jonathan Cook
Israel is Silencing the Last Voices Trying to Stop Abuses Against Palestinians
Jim Kavanagh
Trump’s Syrian See-Saw: From Pullout to Pillage
Susan Babbitt
Fidel, Three Years Later
Dean Baker
A Bold Plan to Strengthen and Improve Social Security is What America Needs
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Trump’s Crime Against Humanity
Victor Grossman
The Wall and General Pyrrhus
Yoko Liriano
De Facto Martial Law in the Philippines
Ana Paula Vargas – Vijay Prashad
Lula is Free: Can Socialism Be Restored?
Thomas Knapp
Explainer: No, House Democrats Aren’t Violating Trump’s Rights
Wim Laven
Serve With Honor, Honor Those Who Serve; or Support Trump?
Colin Todhunter
Agrarian Crisis and Malnutrition: GM Agriculture Is Not the Answer
Binoy Kampmark
Walls in the Head: “Ostalgia” and the Berlin Wall Three Decades Later
Akio Tanaka
Response to Pete Dolack Articles on WBAI and Pacifica
Nyla Ali Khan
Bigotry and Ideology in India and Kashmir: the Legacy of the Babri Masjid Mosque
Yves Engler
Canada Backs Coup Against Bolivia’s President
November 11, 2019
Aaron Goings, Brian Barnes, and Roger Snider
Class War Violence: Centralia 1919
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
“Other Than Honorable?” Veterans With “Bad Paper” Seek Long Overdue Benefits
Peter Linebaugh
The Worm in the Apple
Joseph Natoli
In the Looming Shadow of Civil War
Robert Fisk
How the Syrian Democratic Forces Were Suddenly Transformed into “Kurdish Forces”
Patrick Cockburn
David Cameron and the Decline of British Leadership
Naomi Oreskes
The Greatest Scam in History: How the Energy Companies Took Us All
Fred Gardner
Most Iraq and Afghanistan Vets now Regret the Mission
Howard Lisnoff
The Dubious Case of Washing Machines and Student Performance
Nino Pagliccia
The Secret of Cuba’s Success: International Solidarity
Binoy Kampmark
Corporate Mammon: Amazon and the Seattle Council Elections
Kim C. Domenico
To Overthrow Radical Evil, Part II: A Grandmother’s Proposal
Marc Levy
Veterans’ Day: Four Poems
Weekend Edition
November 08, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
The Real Constitutional Crisis: The Constitution
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail