Sunday, October 29, 2006

Quote of the day: Garry Wills provides a timely reminder that this administration has given us government of, by and for the "faith-based"


"There is a particular danger with a war that God commands. What if God should lose?"
--Garry Wills, in "A Country Ruled by Faith," in the new (Nov. 16) New York Review of Books

"That is unthinkable to the evangelicals," Wills continues. "They cannot accept the idea of second-guessing God, and he was the one who led them into war. Thus, in 2006, when two thirds of the American people told pollsters that the war in Iraq was a mistake, the third of those still standing behind it were mainly evangelicals (who make up about one third of the population). It was a faith-based certitude."

Let me say at the outset that I am in awe of Garry Wills, who may be the smartest person I've heard tell of. (Well, there was Einstein, of course. And probably other scientific geniuses I have no shot at understanding. So let's say, "maybe the smartest person whose thinking is accessible to the nonspecialist.") While I'm not saying that no one else could have offered this simple, elegant explanation of why the Stay-the-Coursers (or however one might characterize the "victory in Iraq" delusionalists now that they claim that "stay the course" isn't now and never was their policy) can always so easily rally that chunk of the population to this particular cause, it nevertheless seems to me vintage Garry Wills.

That said, for the most part this new NYRB piece isn't the normal Wills kind of piece, which you expect to leave you with the feeling, "Gee, I never thought of that," and a striking chunk of new understanding. It is more a compendium of the state of our knowledge of the extent to which the Bush administration has been "faith-based" in just about every dimension.

Not in any useful way, of course. After all, there are plenty of people of faith whose faith leads them to devote their lives to fighting things like war, poverty and hunger. But of course "faith-based" in the U.S. has come to mean something almost totally different: quasi-militaristic support for a band of savage, ignorant, delusionally extremist fake-Christian evangelical theologues, whose screeching fatwas at just about every opportunity mock both the spirit and the letter of the teachings of Jesus, whose preachings, offered today, you can be sure would be savaged by the true-Christian-hating likes of Rush and Sean and Annie C and Bill O, not to mention the racketeers of evangelical faith (you know the names, from Robertson, Falwell and Dobson on down). There is, goodness knows, plenty of work to be done here on earth by people of faith, but that's not the kind of faith enforced by the demonic "faith-based" loons of America.

Although Wills doesn't make the specific connection, this piece seems aimed at the whining of people like David Kuo, whose new book has advanced the proposition that the Bush White House scorned its evangelical base, stringing it along, patronizing it (referring to its players as "nuts") and failing to come through for it. Now, I always enjoy the spectacle of the far-right-wing loons biting off chunks of each other's flesh. And I don't doubt that the Republican pols who have made it a primary objective to recruit and exploit the "faith-based" community--pols who take their marching orders from Karl Rove, of course--have truly unlimited contempt and loathing for the evangelicals. I am delighted to see their core dishonesty and cynicism in pursuit of their far-far-right-wing ideological goals exposed.

But the notion that the Bush administration hasn't delivered for the evangelicals is in itself delusional. There is by now a substantial literature documenting the lengths to which these people have gone to put the power of government at the service of what we might call the Golden Calf of anti-Christian religious extremism, and Wills's NYRB piece serves not just as a reminder of the breadth and penetration of the "faith-based" movement but as a bibliography of studies of its reach.

"Bush," Wills writes, "promised his evangelical followers faith-based social services, which he called 'compassionate conservatism.' He went beyond that to give them a faith-based war, faith-based law enforcement, faith-based education, faith-based medicine, and faith-based science. He could deliver on his promises because he stocked the agencies handling all these problems, in large degree, with born-again Christians of his own variety."

The staffing problem wasn't left to chance:

"The head of the White House Office of Personnel was Kay Coles James, a former dean of Pat Robertson's Regent University and a former vice-president of Gary Bauer's Family Research Council, the conservative Christian lobbying group that had been set up as the Washington branch of James Dobson's Focus on the Family. She knew whom to put where, or knew the religious right people who knew. An evangelical was in charge of placing evangelicals throughout the bureaucracy. The head lobbyist for the Family Research Council boasted that 'a lot of FRC people are in place' in the administration. The evangelicals knew which positions could affect their agenda, whom to replace, and whom they wanted appointed. This was true for the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, and Health and Human Services--agencies that would rule on or administer matters dear to the evangelical causes."

Wills proceeds, area by area, to show how the Bush administration organized itself to make good on the delivery of:

1. Faith-Based Justice

2. Faith-Based Social Services

3. Faith-Based Science

4. Faith-Based Health

and finally, yes, 5. Faith-Based War

If you have any doubt about the extent to which the Bush regime has serviced the phony-faith-based evangelical jihad, you owe it to yourself to read the Wills piece in its entirety.


At 5:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Garry Wills is just about the most intelligent man alive. The guy has read just about every book that was ever written and has thought through every complex issue, from history to religion. I have been reading his essays for years and I always learn something new.

At 11:40 PM, Blogger TFLS said...

Very cogent analysis. I couldn't agree more. I think David Kuo's point about contemporary Christianity (especially as channeled through the Bush administration) and how it has completely lost its way supports what Wills has to say. America will be digging itself out of the 12th century hole Bush has dug for the next half century at least. And there is the distinct possibility that the stench from all that faux religiosity will linger – polluting America’s chance to continue any meaningful leadership in a modern world.

At 9:17 AM, Blogger Milt Shook said...

I love Garry Wills, and I read his stuff voraciously, but I wrote about this years ago.

In the New Testament, Jesus himself warns of false prophets, and there are many other warnings scattered around the Bible that these people profess an absolute belief in.

Politicians have always used God to blunt criticism of their policies; that's why the Pilgrims came here in the first place, and that's why there is an absolute ban on a "religious test" in the Constitution. The purpose of the ban on religion in political discourse isn't to discourage religious people from running; it's to prevent them from using God to sway or scare their minions, by daring them to vote against God Himself.

I'm working on a column, which should be up in a day or so, that goes farther than Wills. The politicians who use God nowadays are, by and large, not religious in any way. There are a few exceptions, but not many. I don't care what he says, there is no evidence that George Bush is a Christian, and in fact, given the evidence that does exist, I'm comfortable in saying he's absolutely NOT a Christian, because a true Christian would NEVER give Christ credit for a decision that he himself made.

So, watch for my new column at; It actually goes Wills one better.



Post a Comment

<< Home