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
July 24, 2019
Elliot Sperber
The Parable of the Flax Seed 
July 23, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Why Boris Johnson is Even More Dangerous Than Trump
Christopher Ketcham
The American West as Judeo-Christian Artifact
Jack Heyman
Whitewashing American History: the WPA Mural Controversy in San Francisco
David Mattson
Through the Climate Looking Glass into Grizzly Wonderland
David Macaray
Paul Krassner and Me
Thomas Knapp
Peckerwood Populism is About Political Strategy, Not Personal Belief
John Kendall Hawkins
Assange and His Wiki Wicked leaks
Howard Lisnoff
What Has Happened to the U.S. Since the Kids Left Woodstock?
Victor Grossman
“How Could They?” Why Some Americans Were Drawn to the Communist Party in the 1940s
Gary Leupp
Minnesota, White People, Lutherans and Ilhan Omar
Binoy Kampmark
Lunar Narratives: Landing on the Moon, Politics and the Cold War
Richard Ward
Free La Donalda!
July 22, 2019
Michael Hudson
U.S. Economic Warfare and Likely Foreign Defenses
Evaggelos Vallianatos
If Japan Continues Slaughtering Whales, Boycott the 2020 Tokyo Olympics
Mike Garrity
Emergency Alert For the Wild Rockies
Dean Baker
The U.S.-China Trade War: Will Workers Lose?
Jonah Raskin
Paul Krassner, 1932-2019: American Satirist 
David Swanson
U.S. Troops Back in Saudi Arabia: What Could Go Wrong?
Robert Fisk
American Visitors to the Gestapo Museum Draw Their Own Conclusions
John Feffer
Trump’s Send-Them-Back Doctrine
Kenn Orphan – Phil Rockstroh
Landscape of Anguish and Palliatives: Predation, Addiction and LOL Emoticons in the Age of Late Stage Capitalism
Karl Grossman
A Farmworkers Bill of Rights
Gary Leupp
Omar and Trump
Robert Koehler
Fighting Climate Change Means Ending War
Susie Day
Mexicans Invade US, Trump Forced to Go Without Toothbrush
Elliot Sperber
Hey Diddle Diddle, Like Nero We Fiddle
Weekend Edition
July 19, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
The Blob Fought the Squad, and the Squad Won
Miguel A. Cruz-Díaz
It Was Never Just About the Chat: Ruminations on a Puerto Rican Revolution.
Anthony DiMaggio
System Capture 2020: The Role of the Upper-Class in Shaping Democratic Primary Politics
Andrew Levine
South Carolina Speaks for Whom?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Big Man, Pig Man
Bruce E. Levine
The Groundbreaking Public Health Study That Should Change U.S. Society—But Won’t
Evaggelos Vallianatos
How the Trump Administration is Eviscerating the Federal Government
Pete Dolack
All Seemed Possible When the Sandinistas Took Power 40 years Ago
Ramzy Baroud
Who Killed Oscar and Valeria: The Inconvenient History of the Refugee Crisis
Ron Jacobs
Dancing with Dr. Benway
Joseph Natoli
Gaming the Climate
Marshall Auerback
The Numbers are In, and Trump’s Tax Cuts are a Bust
Louisa Willcox
Wild Thoughts About the Wild Gallatin
Kenn Orphan
Stranger Things, Stranger Times
Mike Garrity
Environmentalists and Wilderness are Not the Timber Industry’s Big Problem
Helen Yaffe
Cuban Workers Celebrate Salary Rise From New Economic Measures
Brian Cloughley
What You Don’t Want to be in Trump’s America
David Underhill
The Inequality of Equal Pay
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail