George W. Bush’s Crusade and American Fundamentalism





Mr. Marina is Professor Emeritus in History at Florida Atlantic University, and a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, CA.

“God’s blessing is on him [George W. Bush]. It’s the blessing of heaven on the emperor.” —Pat Robertson, evangelist

“The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them.” —Book of Daniel, II, 32-35

Especially now with the U.S. election results, many pundits appear rather taken aback by the increasing evidence of George W. Bush’s “faith-based” presidency—his “true-believer” confidence that if you just “believe,” all things are possible. Those who have this faith believe they can transcend the reality that circumscribes the actions of those who lack such belief.

In his October 17th New York Times article, “Without a Doubt,” Ron Suskind recounts a conversation with a senior Bush adviser in the summer of 2002, who noted that people such as Suskind were “in what we call the reality-based community.” When Suskind attempted a reply, the adviser replied: “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. . . . We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

This “arrogance of power” is right out of the imperial doctrine of Theodore Roosevelt, which was once called “pure act,” or in a larger sense, the “action principle” of fascism. Clearly, any empire’s administration believes that it is not constrained by the reality of the same “Law” that applies to the rest of society.

But, what is perhaps most significant in the events recounted by Suskind and in the election results is not President Bush’s confident, unquestioning faith that he is “God’s instrument,” but the blind faith of his fundamentalist followers, reminiscent of Sinclair Lewis’s descriptions in Elmer Gantry. As Suskind somewhat differently observes, one might say that George W. Bush went up the hill as a tolerant Methodist, and came down as a puritanical Calvinist.

What is less understood is that all of the great empires in history have been characterized by a decline of reason and an increase in super-naturalist faith, combined with a belief in the empire with the emperor holding God’s “mandate” on earth.

There are only three ultimate sources upon which derivative values such as “equality” can be based: supernatural law, natural law and statist, positive law. Empires tend to combine all of the three so that the emperor’s legitimacy flows from God, nature, and his position as head of State. The intertwining of religion and nationalism in the State is indeed a very powerful one.

Today’s unflinching, fundamentalist Christian support for the war in Iraq and U.S. global interventionism (regardless of the facts) was foretold earlier by anti-rational evangelical attempts to control textbooks, deny evolutionary principles, and block scientific research—sure early signs of the rise of a new “Age of Empire.” The most famous book-burning incidentally was not pro-war Lynne Cheney’s recent effort, or even Adolf Hitler’s in 1933, but rather that of the great Ch’in Emperor, Shih Huang-ti (a central figure in the recent film, Hero) of imperial China in 221 B.C.

In Rome, before it was co-opted by the State, early Christianity was in many ways a tax revolt against the Roman Empire’s increasing taxation burdens, ineptitude, and brutality. But instead of fighting taxes directly, which would have been quite fatal, the Christians (in keeping with Jesus’ teachings of the Golden Rule and peace) sought to evade the Roman taxes by steering clear of the State and taking care of their own and others. For example, by 150 A.D. in the City of Rome, Christians, and not the State, were taking care of 1,500 widows and orphans, and if you were captured or kidnapped by barbarians (much as in Iraq today) your only hope of ransom was if you were a Christian.

However, by the 4th century the growing strength of many diverse Christian groups (aided by their assimilation of older religious ideas from the East) and the decline of the Roman Empire had made it clear to the Roman State under Constantine that its survival would require formally merging with and centralizing Christianity. (Charles Freeman’s recent book, The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason details the way in which this took place.)

There had already been a rise of mysticism in the Greek Empire phase of classical civilization, led by Pythagoras against Ionian empiricism, and later this same irrational process was repeated in Rome. What was left of Roman “science” declined as “faith” rose to be preserved and carried to the West later by Islamic civilization.

And as Western Civilization emerged out of the ruins of the western part of the Roman Empire, we evolved to America on the periphery of the European core—pragmatic, Calvinist, fundamentalist (certainly not showing much influence of such natural-law thinkers as Thomas Aquinas), with America believing itself an exception to history (a messianic vision often shared by the periphery).

Given that historical context, American writers began to talk as early as 1828 of some U.S. leaders as Caesars. While the Founders sought to separate the State and religion, we never quite had a theocracy, but rather an “Erastian”-type state in New England (reminiscent of the theocratic doctrines adopted in Geneva from the Swiss theologian Thomas Erastus, 1524-1583), where formal governmental leaders were heavily influenced by religious ones. And so, with the growing corrupt, corporate-state empire based in America today, religionists have put themselves forward as one of the key corporate entities in that structure, and the fundamentalists have found their man in George W. Bush.

Religious zealotry was, of course, involved in the U.S.’s first formal venture into imperialism in 1898 with the Spanish-American War, when over 200,000 Filipinos were killed. The missionaries wanted to expand their efforts into China, and after President William McKinley supposedly communed with God, McKinley indicated we should take the Philippines and “Christianize” and “uplift” the natives there. (Protestants tended to ignore the fact that Spanish Catholicism had been there for over three centuries. And, this messianic zeal could sometimes end up embarrassingly when young missionaries returned from the East, instead praising insights of Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism and Taoism.)

Later, President Woodrow Wilson would extend this missionary mentality to the entire world during and after World War I, and the catastrophic repercussions are all too with us yet today!

Meanwhile, the decline of the U.S. empire has been evident for some decades now. Its growing bankruptcy since the 1960s is the most evident economic aspect, coupled with the cultural decline and intolerance regarding science and knowledge. With the plurality of those who voted in the recent presidential election saluting “Hail George,” let us observe that the presidency of George W. Bush may well mark the turning point of exceptional acceleration of that process.


This article was first published by the Independent Institute and is reprinted with permission.



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More Comments:


Dave Livingston - 1/7/2005

World hegemony is not sought by either this government, nor by the American people, but to a degree it has fallen into America's lap due to a conjunction of economic and political factors at this moment in history, including the collapse of the Soviet empire, the Academics' "City on a hill," the failure of the Japanese economy, the failure of Islam as a civilization to provide its adherents with a structure permitting Muslims to keep up with other peoples in the material world (as noted by the President of Pakistan), the failure of the socialist dominated economies of Europe to enable to match the booming U.S. economy, coupled with Europe's continuing demographic suicide Japan too is suffering demogrphic suicide. Africa is crippled by inept & corript governments. China's vaunted boom econony is creaking under the stress imposed by state control. Indeed, China's economy is on the verge, which with luck may be avoided, of an implosion of the like Japan recently experienced.

Ergo, with most of the rest of the world in a royal mess, power has naturally accured to the U.S., with its stable political system, stable economy and dominate military power. Ergo, it is silly to complain about American power.


Dave Livingston - 1/7/2005

For those non-religious interested in exploring the subject not a bad place to start is

www.peterkreeft.com/topics/first-cause.htm


Arnold Shcherban - 1/6/2005

<History more than any other area ought to be focused on determining what realities were. As soon as we start to bias history by ignoring what was important to what happened because it is unpopular or politically incorrect, we err.>

And this is especially true, when those really important
for majority of people "realities", like say, religious views or sense of fear, are employed to swing their political and social preferences and go along
with the economical and financial elites that pursue quite
different realities.
It is even more the job of historians to reveal these
underlying actions and motivations than to just describe
what is transparent to the most of laymen.


Arnold Shcherban - 12/29/2004

There is only one great concern mixed into potential
decline of the US empire (if it is really a near future
proposition): its decline might be accompanied by a Big Bang - totally wiping out some of other nations (large ones, not mentioning the dwarfs) into oblivion.
I really believe that such unprecented concentration of military power, embodied, at that, in the most sophisticated forms of WMD will ever be destroyed (voluntarily or not) without its wide-scale "demonstration", of course, thousands of miles away
from the US national borders.
Not mentioning, the possibility of the analogous response
from the victim of the US agression, right before its terrible end.


Oscar Chamberlain - 12/29/2004

"It is silly to complain about American power."

About the acruing of power, perhaps. (Though one need not be a Marxist to point to ways that the US has worked to be more powerful).

However, even taking your comment on fact value, it is far from silly to examine that use of power, and to support or oppose it on the basis of that examination.


Jonathan Dresner - 12/29/2004

This article actually fanned the ember of a memory: an article about the decline of Islamic Empires actually bears very nicely on the US situation. Here's my analysis.


John H. Lederer - 12/28/2004

I don't know whether it matters whether religion is "true" or not.

The majority of the world, and an overwhelming majority overall believed and believe in God in various renditions of what God means. That is a fact, an important one, the cause of much history, worth studying, and makes any general study that doesn't apprize the readers of its importance wanting.

I think historians are becoming increasingly ignorant of religion. History will suffer.

Similarly, historians seem to be in a process of denigrating military history -- the history that studies how many conflicts have been resolved, some finally and utterly. That also is a loss.

History more than any other area ought to be focused on determining what realities were. As soon as we start to bias history by ignoring what was important to what happened because it is unpopular or politically incorrect, we err.



John H. Lederer - 12/28/2004

I don't know whether it matters whether religion is "true" or not.

The majority of the world, and an overwhelming majority overall believed and believe in God in various renditions of what God means. That is a fact, an important one, the cause of much history, worth studying, and makes any general study that doesn't apprize the readers of its importance wanting.

I think historians are becoming increasingly ignorant of religion. History will suffer.

Similarly, historians seem to be in a process of denigrating military history -- the history that studies how many conflicts have been resolved, some finally and utterly. That also is a loss.

History more than any other area ought to be focused on determining what realities were. As soon as we start to bias history by ignoring what was important to what happened because it is unpopular or politically incorrect, we err.



Arnold Shcherban - 12/28/2004

I can't imagine how it is possible for any observer/reseacher with a speck of integrity and objectivity to claim that "power has naturally accured to the U.S" despite tons of overwhelming evidence to the opposite, and the revelations (sometimes slip of a tongue) of the former and present high-ranking habitants of the White House and leading ideological figures.
Therefore, I don't even honor your ideological myths with
a detailed rebuff.


Andrew D. Todd - 12/28/2004

Like the devil in Edgar Lee Masters' _Spoon River Anthology_:

I see your Thomas Aquinas, and I raise you String Theory. ;->

http://evolution.mbdojo.com/cosmogony.htm


Arnold Shcherban - 12/28/2004

<One aspect of this century appears to likely be a major collision of religions. Such has been one of the most powerful currents in history. After a brief hiatus, it seems to have reappeared as a major shaper of our current world conflicts.>

That is what zealots of the Grand Imperial American Design want the US public to believe; that is just the next in the long series of their ideological justifications of and apologies for the state terrorism rendered onto the countries whose undestanding of the "world order" is quite different from the one presented by pundits of imperialism.

In fact, current century is no different, in principle, than the last century, as far as the dislocation of power
and cause of major threat to the world peace are concerned: it is - essentially - US financial elite and the respective elites of its allies against the rest of 80% of world population (with their own nations, included) and this country's quest for the world hegemony,
respectively.

<Religion appears to be a principal and enduring characteristic of humanity.>

Two small corrections to the latter statement.
First: not the humanity, but humankind (volumes have been written about this deliberate fallacy.)
Second: It certainly does, since it is the best Tale ever created by humans for manipulating the minds of subserviant masses, though some of the principal myths created by the US official propaganda in the course of the last century and continually perpetuated in this country and abroad (like, e.g. the "collisions of religions" and cultures) begin seriously chalenge its primacy.


John H. Lederer - 12/27/2004


One of the increasing failings of academia is its inability to comprehend a vast and important force in America and the world. Most Americans and most people in the world are religious. Most academics are not. Those academics who are, are often very much to the left of the general current of religion in America.

One aspect of this century appears to likely be a major collision of religions. Such has been one of the most powerful currents in history. After a brief hiatus, it seems to have reappeared as a major shaper of our current world conflicts.

Given its historical importance a failure to understand religion is perhaps a more serious flaw in a historian than a failure to understand economics or technology. It is not enough to show how clever and urbane we may be by mocking it. It is important to know what people believe and why they believe it, and how it may influence what they do.

Prof Marina snidely remarks on "..President Bush’s confident, unquestioning faith that he is “God’s instrument..” .

The phrase "God's instrument" has been applied in American theology to:
1. Every person as a creature of God
2. Every Christian because he is responsible for bringing God's message to others (many Protestant churches, cf, the gospel rock song "I am God's Instrument")
2. The Church (cf. Catholic catechism)
3. Important leaders and states that influence history whether good or evil, friend or enemy (invading states, iniquitous judges,cf. Nebuchanezzar in Daniel 1:10 )
4. Leaders that serve their people in times of stress (Moses is often referred to as "God's intrument" in Christian and Jewish theology).
5. A person whom God has placed in a certain place and certain time to perform a spcific role, i.e. the bystander who catches the falling baby.

In which way does Bush believe it? Isn't that pertinent?

Religion appears to be a principal and enduring characteristic of humanity. If you want to study it and its impact on history trying to understand it is better than regarding it as some occasional aberration that inexplicably disturbs the smooth flow of otherwise rational history.

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