Bush, Clinton, and God-Talk

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Paul Kengor, author of God and George W. Bush: A Spiritual Life, wrote a short piece comparing Bush's religious talk with Clinton's. I've long thought there was a double standard here, though Kengor misses one important element. Democrats tend to do most of their religious pandering in black chuches, which I think just seems completely condescending if the person doesn't seem to be a real spiritual leader in any sense (or at least a good Christian role model). That was what earned John Kerry the name Pandescenderer from fellow Democrat Mickey Kaus.

I've wanted to do an in-depth evaluation of common claims made about Bush and his statements about God for quite some time, and I haven't made the time to do it yet, but I do think Kengor is right that there's a double standard. I don't think most of the Clinton statements he cites are problematic in the least, though with some I'd want to see the context to be sure. Yet Bush's aren't much different, and those who oppose those need to oppose these as well yet won't.

Part of the problem is that Bush is misunderstood, as at least a few of the books on Bush and God spend quite some time establishing. He doesn't believe God tells him exactly what to do. He doesn't believe with full confidence that he was God's agent in attacking Iraq. He does believe it's a Christian's responsibility to seek what is right, and doing what is right is doing God's will. Therefore, when he comes to the point of believing something is the right thing to do he obviously will believe that it's God's will. So when he says he believes God wanted him to do X, he means he believes X is right and that God would want him to do what's right. Yet statements like this are compared to Pat Robertson's sort-of phone call from God telling him that Bush would win reelection in a landslide. He doesn't see God as his co-pilot, as if God could be on the side of any human. God is God, and we join God when we do what's right, but it's not as if we get God on our side because we're right. We're simply aligned with God in doing what's right. As soon as we stray from that, we're no longer aligned with God (morally speaking, anyway -- none of this has to do with ultimate spiritual alignment, which isn't immediately going to tell you anything about political decisions). I think Bush is regularly misrepresented on this by people who can't tolerate the notion of God and don't bother to figure out what Bush really believes before trying to complain about him. Yet his view is basically the standard Christian one, and these people are therefore insulting every Christian who is faithful to the Bible.


Good thoughts, Jeremy. I referenced this on my blog and wanted to give you the credit for it, since my "trackback" function doesn't seem to be working right now. I like your blog a lot -- keep up the good work!

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