President Bush said yesterday that he doesnt "see how you can be president without a relationship with the Lord," but that he is always mindful to protect the right of others to worship or not worship.
Heres Sullivans (over)reaction:
So, out of his beneficence, he wont trample on others religious freedom. But the White House? Thats for Christians only. No Jews? Or atheists? Notice also the evangelical notion of a personal "relationship" with the Lord. That also indicates suspicion of those Christians with different approaches to the divine. I must say this is a new level of religio-political fusion in this administration. To restrict the presidency to a particular religious faith is anathema to this countrys traditions and to the task of toleration. The president surely needs to retract the statement.
Heres Jonah Goldbergs reaction, which is spot-on:
First of all, how new is this, really? Do we really think that Jimmy Carter, never mind George Washington, never said that having a relationship with the Lord was helpful to being president? This is how I read Bushs remarks. Second, How different is this from the spirit of all of Bushs previous statements (including in two national campaigns) in which he made it clear that he draws sustenance and strength from his relationship with God. I am flummoxed as to why Andrew should be surprised that Bush said it again. Third, the fear that Bush is suspicious of non-evangelical Christians or non-Christians rings a bit hollow considering that yesterday he nominated a Jew to run homeland security and before that he nominated [an Episcopalian](and longtime loyalist) to be his Attorney General. Given his latest hires, how exactly does this new level of "religio-political fusion in this administration" translate itself into policy?
Here, for those less inclined than Andrew Sullivan to fly off the handle is a much longer chunk of the Washington Times interview. The relevant passage (with context):
So thats whats on my mind. My enthusiasm is high for the job and looking forward to it. Put a good team together. This office is the kind of place where you sit here, people stand out there, and they say, "Im going to tell him what-for," and they walk in here and they get just overwhelmed by the Oval Office and the whole atmosphere and the great beauty of this place, and they say, "Man, youre looking good, Mr. President." [Laughter.] So I need people walking in here saying, "Youre not looking so good." And I put a good team together in the first four years; Ive got a good team this second four years, and ready to lead.
Wesley Pruden, editor in chief: Well, Mr. President, your point there about faith and how we look at it — many Christians today think that faith is kind of under attack in America, and theyre even talking about whether you should use the Bible to take the oath of office. What would you say — what do you think is the proper role of your personal faith in the public arena?
Mr. Bush: First of all, I will have my hand on the Bible. I read the article today, and I dont — its interesting, I dont think faith is under attack. I think there are some who worry about a president who is faith-based, a person who openly admits that I accept the prayers of the people, trying to impose my will on others. I fully understand that the job of the president is and must always be protecting the great right of people to worship or not worship as they see fit.
Thats what distinguishes us from the Taliban. The greatest freedom we have — or one of the greatest freedoms — is the right to worship the way you see fit. And on the other hand, I dont see how you can be president — at least from my perspective, how you can be president, without a — without a relationship with the Lord.
I think people attack me because they are fearful that I will then say that youre not equally as patriotic if youre not a religious person. Ive never said that. Ive never acted like that. I think thats just the way it is. On the other hand, I think more and more people ... understand the importance of faith in their life.
America is a remarkable place when it comes to religion and faith. We had people come to our rallies who were there specifically to say, "Im here to pray for you, let you know Im praying for you." And I was very grateful about that.
This has gone on pretty long, so Ill just note a couple of things from the interview, which is worth reading in full. The President leads with and situates his own faith in the context of religious freedom. His faith is personal and gives him strength. He recognizes his own fallibility and his own humanity (which includes the temptation to overstate his own powers and abilities) and consequently acknowledges his own need for a relationship with God. I would never argue, as Sullivan does, that GWBs language here is "code" for an evangelical "personal relationship." It seems to me that any genuine theist in the Judaeo-Christian tradition would similarly acknowledge fallibility and dependence upon God. And I might not vote for someone who was so utterly confident in his or her own abilities as not to not to acknowledge fallibility. But not offering someone my vote is a far cry from not tolerating him or her. Im not persecuting. Im not imposing a formal legal religious test. All Im saying is that--like the President--I find it hard to believe that a certain kind of atheist would be appropriately humble before the responsibilities of the office and appropriately cognizant of human limitations.
Finally, since Im not convinced that Andrew Sullivan is as stupid or thoughtless as his reaction makes it seem, Im forced to wonder why he said what he said. Any ideas out there?