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
February 24, 2020
Stephen Corry
New Deal for Nature: Paying the Emperor to Fence the Wind
M. K. Bhadrakumar
How India’s Modi is Playing on Trump’s Ego to His Advantage
Jennifer Matsui
Tycoon Battle-Bots Battle Bernie
Robert Fisk
There’s Little Chance for Change in Lebanon, Except for More Suffering
Rob Wallace
Connecting the Coronavirus to Agriculture
Bill Spence
Burning the Future: the Growing Anger of Young Australians
Eleanor Eagan
As the Primary Race Heats Up, Candidates Forget Principled Campaign Finance Stands
Binoy Kampmark
The Priorities of General Motors: Ditching Holden
George Wuerthner
Trojan Horse Timber Sales on the Bitterroot
Rick Meis
Public Lands “Collaboration” is Lousy Management
David Swanson
Bloomberg Has Spent Enough to Give a Nickel to Every Person Whose Life He’s Ever Damaged
Peter Cohen
What Tomorrow May Bring
Peter Harrison
Is It as Impossible to Build Jerusalem as It is to Escape Babylon?
Weekend Edition
February 21, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Election Con 2020: Exposing Trump’s Deception on the Opioid Epidemic
Joshua Frank
Bloomberg is a Climate Change Con Man
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Billion Dollar Babies
Paul Street
More Real-Time Reflections from Your Friendly South Loop Marxist
Jonathan Latham
Extensive Chemical Safety Fraud Uncovered at German Testing Laboratory
Ramzy Baroud
‘The Donald Trump I know’: Abbas’ UN Speech and the Breakdown of Palestinian Politics
Martha Rosenberg
A Trump Sentence Commutation Attorneys Generals Liked
Ted Rall
Bernie Should Own the Socialist Label
Louis Proyect
Encountering Malcolm X
Kathleen Wallace
The Debate Question That Really Mattered
Jonathan Cook
UN List of Firms Aiding Israel’s Settlements was Dead on Arrival
George Wuerthner
‘Extremists,’ Not Collaborators, Have Kept Wilderness Whole
Colin Todhunter
Apocalypse Now! Insects, Pesticide and a Public Health Crisis  
Stephen Reyna
A Paradoxical Colonel: He Doesn’t Know What He is Talking About, Because He Knows What He is Talking About.
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A New Solar Power Deal From California
Richard Moser
One Winning Way to Build the Peace Movement and One Losing Way
Laiken Jordahl
Trump’s Wall is Destroying the Environment We Worked to Protect
Walden Bello
Duterte Does the Right Thing for a Change
Jefferson Morley
On JFK, Tulsi Gabbard Keeps Very Respectable Company
Vijay Prashad
Standing Up for Left Literature: In India, It Can Cost You Your Life
Gary Leupp
Bloomberg Versus Bernie: The Upcoming Battle?
Ron Jacobs
The Young Lords: Luchadores Para La Gente
Richard Klin
Loss Leaders
Gaither Stewart
Roma: How Romans Differ From Europeans
Kerron Ó Luain
The Soviet Century
Mike Garrity
We Can Fireproof Homes But Not Forests
Fred Baumgarten
Gaslighting Bernie and His Supporters
Joseph Essertier
Our First Amendment or Our Empire, But Not Both
Peter Linebaugh
A Story for the Anthropocene
Danny Sjursen
Where Have You Gone Smedley Butler?
Jill Richardson
A Broken Promise to Teachers and Nonprofit Workers
Binoy Kampmark
“Leave Our Bloke Alone”: A Little Mission for Julian Assange
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail