Forty million dollars spent on inaugural festivities. Enough security to reassure even the most paranoid Nervous Nellie. And behind it all, a president who brays about his Christianity, hobnobs with leaders of the Religious Right, and, most surprisingly, has captured the hearts and dogged loyalty of that large portion of the American electorate identifying itself as "Christian."
George W. Bush is an obvious hypocrite. He regularly violates by both his policies and his personal behavior the strictures of the Bible he claims to believe. To cite one glaring instance, he swore before Almighty God to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution," then foisted the Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security on us. To cite a few more, he repeatedly insisted Iraq had WMD's, violating the Ninth Commandment against bearing false witness; based on spurious evidence, he embroiled the US in a war that, by classical Christian definition, is shockingly unjust. Yet his supporters are not dissuaded. They continue praising Bush for his "Christian witness," his "traditional values." However, in the inaugural blow-out just past, Bush may have flaunted his hypocrisy so brazenly that American Christians will at long last repent of their gullibility.
Christians are assured throughout Scripture that their Heavenly Father will protect them, that their lives are in His hands. Christians are not to fret over their personal health and well-being: God determines what befalls us. When He chooses and only when He chooses our earthly life ends. No Christian, then, ever dies before his time, nor does any accident or crisis befall him God has not allowed.
Bush is having none of this. The God he professes is a puny little deity, unable to protect him from curious glances (those participating in the inaugural parade were forbidden from so much as looking at the President), let alone assassins' bullets. Black Hawk helicopters, sky marshals in every commercial flight near DC, barricades around the White House, closed streets these ludicrously overblown precautions, and not the Almighty, are what protect the President. Far better to place one's faith in bomb-sniffing dogs than in their Creator.
The Bible also warns Christians against "worldliness," i.e., the love of money and power, luxurious living, obsession with material prosperity. God will supply our needs, though not necessarily our wants; "having food and raiment," St. Paul urges us, "let us be therewith content." It is difficult to read any of the 66 books in the Bible without being reminded of the evils of worldliness.
And again, Bush spurns the Scriptures. His lavish inaugural festivities broke all records for expense and excess; Bush excused such vulgarity by asserting that his partisans deserve to celebrate. He glories in his electoral victory as much as any Babylonian or Assyrian tyrant gloried in his military victory over the fragments of ancient Israel. Either he is ignorant or he doesn't care that the Bible strongly condemns such arrogance and pride.
Bush's "Christianity" is politically expedient and therefore easily explained, however despicable. With huge percentages of the country professing itself Christian, it's a wonder more presidents haven't trumpeted their faith as loudly as the current one. What is harder to understand is the blind trust many American Christians bestow on him. Why would schoolteachers and drugstore clerks, waitresses and auto mechanics believe Bush to be a Christian when his actions so plainly speak otherwise?
Perhaps it is because Bush's version of Christianity is the dude-ranch variety. Just as guests on a dude ranch are treated to the excitement and rewards of riding the range without any of the danger confronting real cowboys, so Bush subtracts all the disagreeable or downright unpleasant stuff from Christianity. Biblical Christianity makes for a difficult lifestyle; done right, it can make one unpopular or even dead. Bush is not the first "Christian" to discover that it's much easier to boast about one's Christianity than to live it, and he is legitimizing this hypocrisy for millions of Americans. He takes the rigorous righteousness to which Christ calls us, the unerring devotion to truth, the respect and dignity Christians are to accord all men, even Arabs and dissenters, and says, "Nah." Bush's "Christianity" is exclusively words, not deeds.
And therein lies his appeal to modern American Christians, most of whom live very pampered lives, few of whom have ever faced persecution for their faith. Indeed, their biggest spiritual challenge is sticking with their diet or turning off the TV long enough to attend church. They feel vaguely guilty after all, aren't Christians supposed to suffer for their faith? There's something about martyrs in the Bible, isn't there? but not guilty enough to relinquish the comfortable life and the moral compromises, beginning with their worship of the state. Now here is no less an authority than the president the PRESIDENT! Of the WHOLE UNITED STATES! proving that what you say matters far more than what you do. Stutter the right words, and you can live as you please. Go ahead and say you believe in God, but when it comes to bodily protection and security, why trust a deity you can't see? It's been a long time since a president died on the Secret Service's watch, but once they turn him over to the Lord well, look at Reagan. Besides, the Secret Service and the FBI probably outgun God, anyway. And what's wrong with celebrating? Christian humility has its place, sure, but not when you've just whupped the Democrats. Only bad guys who aren't "with us" begrudge a hard-working president a good time. Live it up! Enjoy life: that's what the Good Lord put us here for. Give Him a "Howdy!" in church on Sunday, and savor the dude-ranch the rest of the week.
Ride 'em, Cowboy.
January 24, 2005