Paul Vallely: Whether God speaks to him or not, Bush's religious fanaticism has shaped our world

His view of the world as a battle between good and evil coloured his approach to his 'war on terror'


Some bloggers reacted with derisive horror; the man hearing the voices is, after all, the chap with his finger on the nuclear button. Others offered supportive disbelief; the Bush "quotes" had been disclosed by Palestinian politicians reporting private discussions with the President over the future of the Palestinian state. It was, said Bush's defenders, in the Palestinians interests to make out that the President had said: "And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, 'Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East.' And by God I'm gonna do it."

The White House was swift to deny that the President had said any such thing, though officials did not offer the mitigating explanation - helpfully offered by one website contributor - that the confusion was to be explained by Bush's apparent dyslexia: he had mixed up the voice of his God with that of his dog.

In one sense, however, it doesn't matter what he actually said. What is alarming enough is that it is the kind of thing he would say. Every line of it is entirely consonant with George Bush's religious worldview.

When President Bush first met Vladimir Putin the first thing they talked about was not the failure of communism or the triumph of the market. Rather they spoke about God. Bush later invited the visiting president of Macedonia - a fellow Methodist - into his study, where the two men knelt in prayer. Their mutual Christian faith was also a bonding factor for Bush and Tony Blair, though the Prime Minister exploded with irritation when Jeremy Paxman asked if they too had prayed together.

George Bush Jr was brought up an Episcopalian - the US version of Anglicanism - and though he became a Methodist when he married, his faith has adopted the heavy evangelical accent of the Bible Belt home state of Texas. The President reads his Bible every morning. He worships at the services led by military chaplains at his country retreat in Camp David, or at impromptu services on the presidential plane or wherever he and his entourage find themselves. He prays on the phone with a minister in Texas. Cabinet meetings often begin with a prayer. "I pray all the time," he once told Fox News. Polls say that the majority of US voters approve.

But George Bush's faith does not simply inspire and motivate him. It affects his decisions on individual policies, as with his ruling that US researchers will get no funding if they create new human embryos from which to harvest stem cells. And he has channelled billions of government dollars to faith-based welfare programmes.

Few people would suggest that the war on Saddam Hussein was religiously motivated. Indeed, plans for it had been made by Bush's neocon advisers long before he came to power. But it was clear from the outset that George Bush's Book of Revelation view of the world as a cosmic battleground between good and evil coloured his approach to his "war on terror".

It is a mindset which is spectacularly ignorant of - or recklessly indifferent to - other views. From the outset he characterised his fightback as a "crusade" clearly unaware that in the Muslim world few have forgotten that when the Crusaders entered Jerusalem in 1099 they went on an orgy of butchery in which 70,000 men, women and children were slaughtered in a holocaust that lasted three days. The evangelists of the Christian Right who are Bush's support base made matters worse with febrile condemnations of Islam, saying things like its founder, Mohammed, was "a demon-possessed paedophile" and a "terrorist".

General William Boykin, whom Bush appointed to lead the hunt for Osama bin Laden, went round announcing that God had spoken to him too, saying of one Muslim opponent: "I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol." In public prayer meetings he repeatedly described America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as "a Christian Holy Crusade against Islam", a religion he suggested was aligned with Satan. When critics called for the man to be sacked Mr Bush promoted him to be deputy undersecretary of defence for intelligence and put him in charge of transferring the Guantanamo "stress and duress" methods of interrogation to a prison in Iraq of which few people knew the name at the time. It was Abu Ghraib.

That is not all. Leaked minutes reveal that Bush's White House has been holding secret meetings with Christian fundamentalists who believe that the Second Coming of Christ can happen only after Israel's re-emergence as a nation, which is why support for Israel is at the very top of the Christian Right's agenda. They also believe that the great Jewish Temple in Jerusalem must be rebuilt for a third time before the Messiah can return. That will mean knocking down the al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's holiest shrine after Mecca and Medina. So conflict with Muslims is both necessary and desirable. One of the leaders of these End-time Christians claims he is given telephone briefings by the White House at least once a week.

This is not a fringe activity. There are estimated to be as many as eight million pre-millennial Christian fundamentalists in America for whom Armageddon is always just around the corner. The White House can deny all it likes that Mr Bush said the words at the centre of the current controversy. But there can be no doubt that the President's religious thinking has shaped the world we now find ourselves in.

Nor is there any doubt how dangerous it is. It allows him to dwell happily with insufficient real knowledge about those he has branded as the enemy. It creates in him a delusional sense that he and his nation have been chosen by God for special responsibilities and special favours - fostering the perilous perception that his norms are absolute norms, his form of government automatically superior to all others, and his spiritual tradition the only really true religion.

And, most dangerously, it allows him to classify "the other" as evil. Demonising our opponents is the psychological equivalent of declaring war. We cut off the possibility of dialogue. In the process we absolve ourselves of any obligation to treat them as human beings. And we let ourselves off the hook of having to ask what part our own actions may, even in a small way, have contributed to the problem. There is plenty about that in the Bible. Perhaps it would be a good idea for God to whisper in Mr Bush's ear to tell him where to look.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of IT (Not-for-Profit sector) - East Sussex

£45000 - £50000 per annum + 5 weeks holiday & benefits: Ashdown Group: Head of...

Nursery Nurse

£25 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery nurse needed in th...

Supply Teaching jobs in Thetford

£21588 - £31566 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

KS1 teachers needed in Peterborough

£110 - £125 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education are ur...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Texas Gov. Rick Perry might try to run for president again in 2016  

Rick Perry could end up in jail for the rest of his life — so why does he look so smug?

David Usborne

August catch-up: architecture, suitcases and ‘pathetic figures’

John Rentoul
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape