The "Crusade" against Evil: Bush's Fundamentalism

Article excerpt

For many Americans, the disaster of 11 September 2001, was a religious moment. At least for a short time after the attack prophetic utterances abounded. The spectre of sudden death on a mass scale strikes at the heart of people's beings. It was characterised as a "defining moment" for a country which had lost its way. There were overtones of the infidels being used, like the Assyrian coming down as a wolf to the fold, as the hammer of God to punish a wayward people. The right-wing evangelist, (1) and chancellor of Liberty University, Jerry Falwell, said that God had let the terrorists attack the World Trade Center because he was fed up with the pagans in America. (2) He announced on television that "the terrorist attack was the fault of ACLU (the American Civil Liberties Union), abortionists, feminists, homosexuals, and others, who provoked God's wrath". (3)

The President of the United States quickly saw the political danger in such pronouncements, and demanded that Falwell withdraw. Yet George W. Bush left no doubt that he himself saw the catastrophe as an occasion of prophetic import and that a more temperate religious response on his part could be politically useful. A little imaginative embellishment on the part of the hearer could easily infuse prophetic overtones into Bush's own announcement of a "wake-up call to America". In response to the call Bush intoned: "we have round out mission and out moment". In political terms, it was just as well, since by June 2001 Bush had experienced a steep decline in approval ratings following his first budget, a decline which "appeared to be fuelled by questions being raised about the president's foreign and defence policies and by the movement of the economy towards recession". (4)

The terrorist attacks brought the focus once more clearly on the President. The Vice-President of the National Association of Evangelicals, Richard Cizick, said: "Bush's stature as a leader rose right before your very eyes". (5) Bush's aide, Timothy Goegelin "agreed with the widespread community view that the terrorist catastrophe is 'absolutely a spiritually defining moment for the country and its leader'". (6) Bush's discovery of his kairos and his mission was accompanied by a surge of church members back to the pews, so that it was difficult to find parking spaces outside churches, synagogues and mosques. (7) Bookshops reported sharply rising sales of religious books. (8) One of Bush's first moves, shortly before he was to make his official statement to Congress on 20 September, was to call together a meeting of twenty-seven religious leaders, including Evangelical Christians, Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and Hindus. The President of the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church said to Bush:

   "Mr President, I have just come from the World Trade Center site
   in lower Manhattan. I stood where you stood. I saw what you saw.
   I smelled what you smelled", [Gerald] Kieschnik said. "You not
   only have a civil calling, but a divine calling [...] You are not
   just a civil servant; you are a servant of God called for such a
   time as this."

   "I accept the responsibility", Bush said, nodding. (9)

Bush had come to the Presidency as a religious vocation. "I believe God wants me to run for President", he had told a friend. After the attack he became convinced that he had been chosen for this mission.(10) All the signs were there for both President and a trusting public. "God is back", announced Wall Street Journal journalist, Peggy Noonan. And at the Chicago Tribune, Julia Keller wrote: "What lies in the mess in lower Manhattan and in the black gash in the Pentagon and in a field in southern Pennsylvania may be this, the end of post-modernism and its chokehold on the late twentieth century cultural imagination." (11) Apparently this demonstration of an unequivocally evil act set a base mark for a permanent scale of moral values. The newly awakening religious fervour even had its shrine, as Ground Zero became a sacred site. …