Friday, July 01, 2005

Wallis is hardly ever outwitted

Sometimes it's easier simply to quote someone else who's said what you want to say that to reinvent a way to say it. So herewith I quote passages from a piece titled, "Dangerous Religion: Bush's Theology of Empire" by Jim Wallis of Sojourners Magazine. You can read the entire article there, or at

Wallis begins with a quote, too. From Eugene Peterson's introduction to the book of Amos:

"Religion is the most dangerous energy source known to humankind. The moment a person (or government or religion or organization) is convinced that God is either ordering or sanctioning a cause or project, anything goes. The history, worldwide, of religion-fueled hate, killing, and oppression is staggering."

Then Wallis goes on to say:

"The use of the word 'empire' in relation to American power in the world was once controversial, often restricted to left-wing critiques of U.S. hegemony. But now, on op-ed pages and in the nation's political discourse, the concepts of empire, and even the phrase 'Pax Americana,' are increasingly referred to in unapologetic ways. William Kristol, editor of the influential Weekly Standard, admits the aspiration to empire. 'If people want to say we're an imperial power, fine,' Kristol wrote. Kristol is chair of the Project for the New American Century... [These imperial visionaries write that] It is imperative, in their view, for the United States to 'accept responsibility for America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.' That, indeed, is empire.

"...In the run-up to the war with Iraq, Kristol told me that Europe was now unfit to lead because it was 'corrupted by secularism,' as was the developing world, which was 'corrupted by poverty.' Only the United States could provide the 'moral framework' to govern a new world order, according to Kristol, who recently and candidly wrote, 'Well, what is wrong with dominance, in the service of sound principles and high ideals?' Whose ideals? The American right wing's definition of 'American ideals,' presumably."

"To this aggressive extension of American power in the world, President George W. Bush adds God—and that changes the picture dramatically. It's one thing for a nation to assert its raw dominance in the world; it's quite another to suggest, as this president does, that the success of American military and foreign policy is connected to a religiously inspired "mission," and even that his presidency may be a divine appointment for a time such as this.

"Many of the president's critics make the mistake of charging that his faith is insincere at best, a hypocrisy at worst, and mostly a political cover for his right-wing agenda. I don't doubt that George W. Bush's faith is sincere and deeply held. The real question is the content and meaning of that faith and how it impacts his administration's domestic and foreign policies. "

Wallis raises the important question. He says,

"The Bush theology deserves to be examined on biblical grounds. Is it really Christian, or merely American? Does it take a global view of God's world or just assert American nationalism in the latest update of 'manifest destiny'"?

For example, Wallis reminds us,

"On the first anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks, President Bush said at Ellis Island, "This ideal of America is the hope of all mankind…. That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overcome it." Those last two sentences are straight out of John's gospel. But in the gospel the light shining in the darkness is the Word of God, and the light is the light of Christ. It's not about America and its values. Even his favorite hymn, "A Charge to Keep," speaks of that charge as "a God to glorify"—not to "do everything we can to protect the American homeland," as Bush has named our charge to keep.

"Bush seems to make this mistake over and over again—confusing nation, church, and God. The resulting theology is more American civil religion than Christian faith."

And further on in his argument, Wallis writes,

"What is most missing in the Bush theology is acknowledgement of the truth of this passage from the gospel of Matthew: 'Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," while the log is in your eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye.' A simplistic 'we are right and they are wrong' theology rules out self-reflection and correction. It also covers over the crimes America has committed, which lead to widespread global resentment against us...

"In Christian theology, it is not nations that rid the world of evil—they are too often caught up in complicated webs of political power, economic interests, cultural clashes, and nationalist dreams. The confrontation with evil is a role reserved for God, and for the people of God when they faithfully exercise moral conscience. But God has not given the responsibility for overcoming evil to a nation-state, much less to a superpower with enormous wealth and particular national interests. To confuse the role of God with that of the American nation, as George Bush seems to do, is a serious theological error that some might say borders on idolatry or blasphemy."

Read the piece (don't let the theological language stand in your way if you're not of that bent). It will help sharpen you wits as you think about the state of the republic.