White House: Bush Jnr's blasphemous justifications of his obscene politics Print E-mail
 London -- Wednesday March 21 2007

God bless America

George Bush invokes the divine name with frequency, but he prefers a deity that can be used as a weapon of mass destruction in the national interest.
Simon Barrow

As the fourth anniversary of the Iraq war reminds us, President George Bush is languishing politically. Religiously, he remains unmoved however, as the concluding flourish of his 2007 state of the union address confirmed: "Our cause in the world is right ... God bless ... Thank you for your prayers."

Like the potentates of ancient kingdoms denounced by the biblical prophets, Mr Bush invokes the divine name with frequency. He invests in faith-based initiatives, of a certain kind. He employs an army of court preachers to bolster his belief that the Almighty is on his side. And his pact with the people who support him is cemented by tens of thousands of bumper stickers and window bills proclaiming, "God bless America".

"God bless America". It's not so much of an invitation, more a command performance. For those who deploy this slogan usually do so without the slightest scintilla of doubt that they know of whom they speak, and that they are vindicated by this God whose undying loyalty is pledged to them.

In theory it is Christianity which provides "One Nation Under God" with a relationship far more special than anything afforded by Tony Blair. But in practice, worship is directed toward Mammon, Moloch, Baal, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or any available deity who will sanction the latest buck or bomb. Dollars bills announce "In God We Trust". But, just in case, we've got the Federal Reserve and the biggest GDP and army on the planet.

This, then, is the heart-pledge of "Jesusland". Except it clearly isn't. When Jesus himself decided to dish out blessings in his Sermon on the Mount it was to a dubious rabble, rather than a mighty nation - the victims of religious-imperial order, not its perpetrators.

Those he singled out for plaudits were the poor (economically and in terms of official spiritual status), the hungry (instead of binge consumers), the peacemakers (people, rather than missiles), the merciful (not the legalists), the mourners (mothers of the disappeared), those with pure hearts (which cannot be bought by fat wallets) and little people prepared to make big sacrifices for social justice.

These are not the kind of persons who would find it easy to get past security at a modern state of the union address, less still to swallow its self-satisfied pieties while the homeless are ignored and the rest of the world burns. They would be (and were) among the protestors locked outside.

When the Emperor Constantine saw in the cross an instrument of state terror by which he could conquer, he made Christianity an "official religion", incorporating its symbol and structure into an imperial order. In exchange for respect, rights and security the church gradually became an adjunct of political power, as it has often been since.

Until then, many early believers, struggling with the subversive legacy of the Jesus movement, were known as "atheists". They were among the first to receive that honour. It came because they refused to bow in worship, citizenship or social practice to the gods of convenience who made up the Roman Pantheon, or to see Christ absorbed into a religion of domination. To them God was not "a god", a thing-like deity at our beck and call, but the mystery in whom we live and move and have our being, fleshed out in deeds of love rather than metaphysical propositions.

This radical tradition, an often-persecuted minority under Christendom, has persisted in different guises throughout the ages. In the US today, it is numbered among the "other America" which does not feature on the White House guest list - in many of the historic peace churches, among cross-community organisations, in the Catholic Worker movement and Sojourners, through Soulforce and nonviolence, via ecumenical initiatives, and in alliance with those of other faith or none.

Among those who reject the caricatured plastic saviour of televangelism, there is little comfort in the constant repetition of Jesus' name, reified into a god whose interests are diametrically opposed to the indiscriminate table fellowship of the man from Nazareth.

All of which poses an interesting question. What would happen if America really was blessed by God - but by the God of radical Jesus, rather than by the one hijacked and held as a political prisoner by Nasdaq, the religious right and the department of defence?

Loving enemies, showering the poor with money, sharing food with the hungry, blessing those who curse us, freeing prisoners, caring for the sick, abolishing debt and breaking religious restrictions to do good. Those might be some of the material signs that divine blessing was actually taking root.

No wonder President Bush and his allies prefer the deity who can be used as a weapon of mass destruction in the national interest, but whose constantly invoked "blessing" leaves what is being defended and attacked in God's name so damagingly untransformed.

By contrast (and though I have no desire to make "anonymous Christians" out of principled non-believers), Congressman Pete Stark's non-theism is a rightful protest against this idolatry.
Simon Barrow is the co-director of Ekklesia, a Christian think tank which examines religion in public life.