I read this in Today's Philadelphia Inquirer, and I completely agree with it. Anyone else care to read and comment please.
|Posted on Tue, Feb. 11, 2003|
|Jane Eisner | President Bush's religious language may be heartfelt - but what if it's also exclusionary? |
How to speak of the spirit to all of us
By Jane Eisner
So here's what I did this weekend: The neighborhood Kabbalat Shabbat was in our home; the davenning was wonderful. There was a fine Havurah service the next day at shul, capped by an interesting d'var Torah on the shape of the mishkan and its relationship to the historicity of the Exodus. There was a shiva minyan down the street for a neighbor whose mother died.
I don't usually speak like this in mixed company.
In public, before non-Jews or even Jews who are not especially observant, I'd say that the prayers and singing at our Friday night service were wonderful. And the talk on the Torah the next day was interesting. And we gathered for prayers at the home of someone observing the seven days of mourning. Or I might not say anything at all.
The haphazard mixture of Hebrew and English (with a smattering of Yiddish) thrown into the everyday lexicon of my private religious life does not easily translate into my secular public life. That's understandable - we all shape our speech to our audience and intuit what to say and how to say it before those who may not share our religion, race, culture or language.
It's a balancing act, performed every day by the Hispanic who leaves Spanish at home or the African American who judges when it's safe to use the cadence of the street. Misjudge the boundaries of generally acceptable speech, and you risk alienating and excluding your listener.
Consider, on the other hand, President George W. Bush. With his persistent use of the language of prayer and his insistence on speaking from a particular brand of Christianity, he risks not only alienating Americans who don't believe in God. He also risks excluding anyone of faith who doesn't happen to share his theological approach to history.
He has forgotten that he's talking to mixed company.
I appreciate and respect the fact that he is a man of deep religious conviction. He doesn't wear his faith on his sleeve; it's his entire wardrobe, clothing his worldview in a fabric that seems sturdy enough to give him the strength and confidence to manage crises of global magnitude. That likely reassures Americans who want to believe the nation is led by someone with an explicit, consistent set of faith-driven values.
But it's his faith, not mine or necessarily yours. No American is obliged to adopt it. Last I looked, the United States of America was not declared a Methodist nation, or even a Christian one (even though everything closes on Christmas and Easter).
Lately, the President has often sounded as if his worldview is normative when, in fact, it is not.
For example, although Bush obviously believes in a life after death on this Earth, how can he know that all the grieving families of the Columbia astronauts - Christians, Jews and Hindus - share that belief? Yet at the recent memorial service, he told them, "In God's own time, we can pray that the day of your reunion will come."
Another example: Bush obviously believes in a God who intervenes directly in history, who guides, strengthens and, yes, sides with those who stand for liberty and justice in a cosmic struggle between good and evil. Many of us who witnessed the massacres and the miracles of the 20th century have great difficulty with that argument. It is a serious issue on which good people of faith can disagree.
To the President, though, there seems to be no room for disagreement. In the State of the Union address last month, he told Americans preparing for war with Iraq to "place our confidence in the loving God behind all of life, and all of history."
And at last week's National Prayer Breakfast, he told a group of religious leaders: "Events aren't moved by blind change and chance. Behind all of life and all of history, there's a dedication and purpose, set by the hand of a just and faithful God." While that was truly preaching to the choir, Bush speaks this way no matter the audience. That's the problem.
I don't question the President's right to such beliefs. I question whether he has a right to frame the foreign policy of this nation in such terms. True, there are political advantages: Now that he has clothed foreign policy in biblical language, which of our brave politicians will choose to pick a fight with the Almighty?
Michael Gerson, White House policy advisor and chief speechwriter, defended Bush's ecumenism in a recent interview, noting that the President refrains from mentioning the words Jesus or Christ and adheres to a "principled pluralism that respects the important role of faith, but does not favor any sectarian creed."
I appreciate the thought. But Gerson must not be reading his own speeches very closely. Laced throughout the language that Gerson writes are sectarian creeds, approaches and answers that are not even shared by all Methodists, never mind all voters. (A prominent Methodist bishop is in a TV ad preaching that a war with Iraq "violates God's law and the teachings of Jesus Christ.")
Bush's religious language seems genuine enough, a natural outgrowth of the well-publicized conversion that brought him away from alcohol and toward a sober, public service-oriented evangelical Christianity.
But, with the zeal of a convert, he seems to have decided that all people of faith believe in the same kind of God, the same definition of history, the same trust in grace and Providence. He needs to find a language that includes, not excludes; that unifies, not divides. He needs to remember that, indeed, this is a nation of mixed company.
Contact columnist Jane Eisner at 215-854-4530 or [email protected].
Edited by - badwillie on 11 February 2003 20:44:43