Herman Melville once wrote that a sharing a bed with a sober cannibal was preferable to bedding down with a drunken Christian. After seven years of the Bush administration, the intoxication Evangelicals felt at having one of their own in the White House is giving way to a pretty nasty hangover. To put it mildly, there aren’t many on the religious right anymore who think George W. Bush has been the answer to their prayers.
How could the Bush administration – now recognized by most thinking persons as one of the worst ever – go so wrong when Bush and his followers so earnestly prayed to God for guidance? To paraphrase Nikos Kazantzakis, praying to God is like knocking on the door of a deaf man; one shouldn’t expect to get an answer.
The notion of a personal creator God, one that answers prayers and intervenes in history, is not an idea that attracts serious attention among the scientific and philosophically literate. Indeed, many leading thinkers privately believe that religious belief may be a form of mental illness. Certainly, watching the Bush administration self-destruct at it succumbed to its delusions it is hard not to conclude that rationality and religion are incompatible.
Many of the people who helped put Bush into power truly are loony; they believe in preposterous things like the speaking in tongues, Biblical inerrancy, the Rapture, and Armageddon. They also believed that electing a Godly man such as Bush would mean having God’s instrument in the Oval Office. Iraq, Katrina, Abu Ghraib and a thousand other failures of leadership have sorely tested that conviction.
There is nothing more painful than false belief, which is why so many evangelicals are in a state of disillusionment regarding their ill-fated fusion of politics and faith. Surely, the irony is so glaring even fundamentalists can see it: the morally suspect William Jefferson Clinton (the anti-Christ to some on the religious right) is widely regarded as both a successful and popular leader, while George W. Bush is widely recognized and reviled as a disaster.
One of the most salient examples of religious zealotry and foolishness going hand in hand can be seen in the case of Katherine Harris, the Florida Secretary of State who flagrantly used the powers of her office to delay and impede an impartial recount during the disputed 2000 election, effectively undermining the will of the electorate, both in the crucial state of Florida and the United States as a whole.
The flakey Harris, who went on to an undistinguished career in Congress (to put it charitably,) later articulated her belief that America’s leaders needed to be Christians in order to take the government back from the secularists. “If you’re not electing Christians,” she maintained, “then in essence you are going to legislate sin.”
It’s hard to square Harris’ sentiment with water boarding, the sexual abuse at Abu Ghraib, and countless other acts of corruption and lawlessness perpetrated by the Bush administration. But Melville would recognize the perils associated with self-righteous certainty and religious zealotry. After all, his monomaniacal Captain Ahab was convinced he was acting as “Fate’s Lieutenant” as he pursued the incarnation of evil, Moby Dick, “round perdition’s fires.”
Ironically, however, Ahab merely became an agent of the malicious evil he sought to extinguish in his quest to vanquish the great white whale. Tragically, of course, Ahab succeeded only in creating more orphans. There’s a lesson in there for George Bush and his crew; lash out at bogeymen and all too often you come to embody the characteristics you fear and loath.