Thursday, August 19, 2004

God and George W. Bush

Paul Kengor has published his second book, "God and George W. Bush," which hits bookshelves today. Emily Shaheen, a student of Kengor's at Grove City College, interviewed Kengor when she interned for this summer.

Emily Shaheen: How is your book different from other books about President Bush’s faith?

Paul Kengor: My book is much more up-to-date and thus comprehensive, all the way up to the 2004 race. For instance, unlike the other books, I have a section on Howard Dean and a long section on John F. Kerry’s faith, which some people may find to be the most interesting part of the book. The focus is less on Kerry's upbringing, and more on the war in Iraq. I discuss how Bush’s faith relates to the War on Terror and to his vision for a democratic Middle East. I also talk about the interaction between Bush's faith and foreign policy generally. I think that’s the big story on Bush’s faith. That, after all, is how and where the influence of his faith could actually change the world and even history. Consider: George W. Bush believes that God has implanted the desire for freedom in the hearts of all human beings, whether they be Christians, Jews, Muslims, or whatever. He is applying that vision to the Middle East, where he thinks that Muslims want to be free and will embrace freedom.

I also address the burning question: Did George W. Bush believe God called on him to invade Iraq and remove Saddam? I asked that question to everybody I could ask. I even got a typed response from the White House.

My book is also different in that I let the other side speak for themselves, and in some cases SCREAM for themselves, without inserting my view of what they say. For example, I allow the religious left to say some of the most vitriolic, judgmental things about Bush that you can imagine, without response from me. My job is to tell the story, and that’s a part of it.

Though I focus less on Bush’s early life than others who have written about his faith, I begin the book by focusing at length on the death of Bush’s baby sister Robin. Others have neglected the role of that tragedy in Bush’s life. I think it was the formative experience of his childhood. It first taught him (painfully so) about life, death, and the hereafter. As a child, he more than once woke up screaming from nightmares after Robin’s death.

I also talk about the influence of a book about Sam Houston called “The Raven,” which Bush cites as his favorite book. Bush identified with Houston on so many levels, including spiritually. Both men alas found salvation in the Bible rather than the bottle.

Shaheen: Many Bush critics claim that President Bush violates the separation of church and state with his public prayers and support for faith-based organizations. How would you respond to these accusations?

Kengor: Utter nonsense. He is extremely sensitive to church-state separation, and always has been. The president praying is as old as George Washington on his knees in the snows of Valley Forge before battle. Woodrow Wilson thought he was doing God’s work in starting the League of Nations. FDR thought he was doing God’s work in World War II (which he was). Harry Truman thought he was doing God’s will in founding the nation of Israel. In my book, I quote Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy talking about doing “God’s work.” The chapter in my book that will infuriate Christian conservatives is the chapter titled “God and Democrats.” It’s a long chapter of quotes from liberal Democrat after liberal Democrat claiming to be on God’s side, and saying things that would get any Republican president pilloried by the New York Times. After reading that chapter, you very well may throw the book through the television set.

Here’s an example: Who said this? “He [Jesus] was a Democrat, I think.” That was Dick Gephardt in Iowa a few months ago. Who said this: “Herod was a conservative. Jesus was a liberal.” Jesse Jackson at the Democratic convention just a few weeks ago. Liberals can say these things. Conservatives can’t. Liberal politicians could pray all day long and directly ask for votes in churches on the eve of an election, as did Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Al Gore, all in 2000, and the mainstream press will give them not merely a pass but a smile and a wink. If George W. Bush ever did the things that Al Gore and Bill Clinton did in churches in 2000, he could best pray for similar tolerance, and wouldn’t get it.

Shaheen: In your book you mention that Bush decided to run for the presidency after hearing a sermon about God calling Moses to lead His people. Do you believe that Bush sees himself as God’s choice to lead the U.S. in these post-9/11 times?

Kengor: He might. As a Christian, Bush, like nearly all Christians, believes that God intervenes in daily affairs and appoints leaders. However, there’s a crucial aspect to Bush’s faith that liberals miss, and they miss it because they hate the man so much that they can’t appraise him logically: His faith makes him humble, not arrogant. Bush is arrogant without his faith, not with it. His faith tells him that humans are completely fallible. He admits freely and repeatedly that he cannot know God’s will ahead of time. He can, at best, pray for wisdom and guidance and hope he gets it.

Shaheen: How has President Bush differed from Reagan in his public expressions of faith during his presidency?

Kengor: Not that much differently. The difference is public perception. In just 20 years since Reagan’s presidency, the public is far more hostile to faith. So, when Reagan prayed, it wasn’t a big deal. When Bush does, it is. Reagan likewise once said (as a candidate) that Christ was his favorite philosopher. The difference is Maureen Dowd wasn’t around to call his declaration “offensive” and to accuse him of playing “the Jesus card.” By the way, Thomas Jefferson, the secular saint of modern academe, once said that the philosophy of Jesus Christ is the “most sublime” ever offered. Good thing the ACLU didn’t have an office in Philadelphia at the time to accuse Jefferson of being “divisive.”

Shaheen: Why did you write this book and what do you hope to accomplish?

Kengor: I began writing it in January 2003, which was actually over a year before “God and Ronald Reagan” was published. I have been researching this book since December 1999. I hope to convince people that Bush’s faith is nothing to fear. He is no more devout than the vast majority of our presidents, and he is a far better human being with his faith than without it. Bush subscribes to what Terry Eastland of The Weekly Standard calls a “Love Thy Neighbor” theology. Jesus constantly spoke of love and called the love commandment the greatest commandment. Bush constantly cites the commandment “Love thy neighbor as thyself” as proof that we should tolerate all people and all faiths. No President EVER has spoken so warmly of Islam, even before September 11, 2001!

I also hope to shed light on the fact that our modern culture, and the press in particular, has a total double standard: when liberal Democrats talk of God, the press has no problems, but when a conservative president talks of God, the liberal media loses its collective mind.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bush's god-inspired crusade to force freedom on people's in the middle-east, no matter what religion they happen to be, does not offend those who feel that separation of church and state is in our constitution. God, George W. Bush, and Jesus hates fags, as FMA clearly shows us. Bush's 'vision' of a democratic Middle East has killed a whole bunch of people. I hope Bush's crusade is successful.

12:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Democrats never have an issue with being hypocrits because they are very rarely called on it by main stream media.

7:22 PM  

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