Dangerous Religion: George W. Bush's Theology of Empire. Once There Was Rome, the Barbarians, and the Christians. Now There Is a New Rome and Lots of Barbarians. the Big Question Is, What Will the Christians Do?. (Cover Story)

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Religion is the most dangerous energy source known to humankind. The moment a person (or government or religion or organization) is convinced that God is either ordering or sanctioning a cause or project, anything goes. The history, worldwide, of religion-fueled hate, killing, and oppression is staggering.--Eugene Peterson (from the introduction to the book of Amos in the Bible paraphrase The Message)

"The military victory in Iraq seems to have confirmed a new world order," Joseph Nye, dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, wrote recently in The Washington Post, "Not since Borne has one nation loomed so large above the others. Indeed, the word 'empire' has come out of the closet."

The use of the word "empire" in relation to American power in the world was once controversial, often restricted to left-wing critiques of U.S. hegemony. But now, on op-ed pages and in the nation's political discourse, the concepts of empire, and even the phrase "Pax Americana," are increasingly referred to in unapologetic ways.

William Kristol, editor of the influential Weekly Standard, admits the aspiration to empire. "If people want to say we're an imperial power, fine," Kristol wrote. Kristol is chair of the Project for the New American Century, a group of conservative political figures that began in 1997 to chart a much more aggressive American foreign policy (see "Project for a New American Empire," page 27). The Project's papers lay out the vision of an "American peace" based on "unquestioned U.S. military pre-eminence." These imperial visionaries write, "America's grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible." It is imperative, in their view, for the United States to "accept responsibility for America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles." That, indeed, is empire.

There is nothing secret about all this; on the contrary, the views and plans of these powerful men have been quite open. These are Far Right American political leaders and commentators who ascended to governing power and, after the trauma of Sept. 11, 2001, have been embolded to carry out their agenda.

In the run-up to the war with Iraq, Kristol told me that Europe was now unfit to lead because it was "corrupted by secularism," as was the developing world, which was "corrupted by poverty." Only the United States could provide the "moral framework" to govern a new world order, according to Kristol, who recently and candidly wrote, "Well, what is wrong with dominance, in the service of sound principles and high ideals?" Whose ideals? The American right wing's definition of "American ideals," presumambly.

Bush Adds God

To this aggressive extension of American power in the world, President George W. Bush adds God--and that changes the picture dramatically. It's one thing for a nation to assert its raw dominance in the world; it's quite another to suggest, as this president does, that the success of American military and foreign policy is connected to a religiously inspired "mission," and even that his presidency may be a divine appointment for a time such as this.

Many of the president's critics make the mistake of charging that his faith is insincere at best, a hypocrisy at worst, and mostly a political cover for his right-wing agenda, I don't doubt that George W. Bush's faith is sincere and deeply held. The real question is the content and meaning of that Faith and how it impacts his administration's domestic and foreign policies.

George Bush reports a life-changing conversion around the age of 40 from being a nominal Christian to a born-again believer--a personal transformation that ended his drinking problems, solidified his family life, and gave him a sense of direction. He change his denominational affiliation from his parents' Episcopal faith to his wife's Methodism. …