Faith Abuse: When God Becomes a Campaign Ploy

As someone for whom faith is incredibly important, and who regularly prays for all the people and things that matter to me, I'm hopeful that God is as appalled as I am with the way His name is constantly being taken in vain on the Bush campaign trail, and with how the president is abusing his faith to justify to himself and to the world his disastrous policies.

Lord knows there's a very long list of things to be angry with Bush about but this one has moved to the top of my personal hit parade because, as Catholic theologians teach us, "the corruption of the best is the worst." And George W. is truly corrupting faith and dragging it into the political gutter. In two fundamental ways:

First, he's using it as a spiritual inoculation against uncertainty and complexity.

Ron Suskind's recent piece in the New York Times Magazine painted a chilling portrait of a presidency in which thoughtful analysis and moral questioning have been replaced by "God-given" certainty, and where facts and open debate have become an anathema.

Suskind reveals a president who uses his faith to numb himself against reality. It anesthetizes him in the same way a stiff drink – okay, 20 stiff drinks – used to, and allows him to drown out the voices of doubt.

Great thinkers throughout history have extolled the virtues of doubt. As Paul Tillich put it: "Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith."

But not in the Bush White House, where doubters are treated as traitors, and inconvenient facts are the work of the Devil. Because facts can lead to questioning, and questioning undermines faith. And that would be blasphemy in an Oval Office where unbending resolve has become a holy sacrament. No wonder Bush is unwilling to admit to even a single mistake.

The second way the president is corrupting his faith is by using it as a marketing tool designed to garner support among the over 60 million Americans who identify themselves as evangelical – particularly the four million born-again voters who stayed home in 2000.

Nowhere is this blending of church and campaign more evident than in "George W. Bush: Faith in the White House," a DVD being distributed to tens of thousands of America's churches.

Although not officially the work of the Bush-Cheney campaign, it obviously has its approval, and indeed was screened at a party for Christian conservatives hosted by the campaign at the GOP convention in New York.

In the documentary, President Bush is presented as a man with "the moral clarity of an old-fashioned biblical prophet" – and is shown sharing a beatific split screen with the Son of God himself.

So, in 2004, Jesus is not only the president's favorite philosopher – he's his surrogate running mate. I'm surprised we haven't seen any "Bush-Christ 2004" bumper stickers yet. It would make for a heck of an October surprise.

All this pious posturing is also being used as a cudgel with which to attack John Kerry, portraying him as a sorry second in the faith sweepstakes.

Forget that Kerry carries a bible and a rosary with him on the campaign trail, used to be an altar boy, and has said "My faith affects everything that I do" – the Bushies have made it seem as if they are running against Joe Pagan. Just check out the "Kerry: Wrong for Catholics" page on the official Bush-Cheney campaign website.

What's next? Attack ads from Altar Boys for Truth claiming Kerry never actually swallowed the body of Christ during communion?

What the president calls faith is actually nothing of the sort. It is fanaticism, pure and simple. The defining trait of the fanatic is an utter refusal to allow anything as piddling as evidence to get in the way of an unshakable belief.

This zealot's mindset is what allows President Bush to take in the death and destruction in Iraq and see them as "freedom on the march." And it's also what allows Abu Zarqawi and his followers to coldly put a bullet in the back of the head of four-dozen unarmed Iraqi Army recruits because they are "apostates."

"Either you're with us, or you're against us" plainly cuts both ways.

"This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy," explained Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy advisor to Reagan and Bush 41. "He understands them because he's just like them."

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