mercredi, avril 12, 2006

The "Messianic" President

If it seems like Seymour Hersh has been around for quite a while, he has. Hersh, who exposed evidence of Vietnam's My Lai massacre and domestic spying by the CIA, won a Pulitzer prize for his reporting back in 1970. Now slightly over 70, he's still turning out investigations of corrupted power with scathing vigor. In a recent New Yorker magazine article, he examined the possibility that the Bush administration is planning a bombing campaign of Iranian nuclear facilities. Listen to him as he is interviewed, and you realize that the man has quite an edge to him. When one of his interlocutors signed off recently with a breezy "good to talk to you" Hersh snapped: "what is good about this?". Asked his opinion about our President, George W. Bush, he referred to him as "messianic." Whether President Bush sees himself as a Messiah figure is highly debatable. It is not his fault that the conservative Christian community has often tried to make him into one. I recall a local evangelical prayer breakfast at which the speaker prayed for President Bush, the man of God's choosing. I almost choked on my bagel. But perhaps it is understandable. After all, they had been in the political wilderness for a long time and he championed so many of their causes. How could he be anything but a stand in for the Messiah? If I had my druthers, we would fast from religious rhetoric until we had repented of our historic tendency to think of ourselves as somehow specially blessed with godly leaders by a peculiarly Christian God. That is idolatry, pure and simple. America is not a Christian state. We don't even have to have a Christian president. We surely do not need a Messianic President. For better or for worse, we do not believe that our leaders have a divine right to do what they wish. What would George Bush have been like if his admirers had held him accountable, had mentored and admonished him instead of giving him blind obedience? In this pluralistic culture, we instead need leaders who respect the Constitution, the law, and human rights. That is not to say that faith has no voice in the public square. But the overblown and triumphalist rhetoric of some on the far right has been damaging to the cause of public dialogue on faith and values. Which is not to excuse the Democrats tendency to either scramble for cover when religion comes up or avoid the hard work of thinking through a nuanced position on the many places where religion and politics intersect. The only thing saving the Democrats from making fools of themselves when trying to pick up the Republican mantle in this regard is that they can't agree on anything, let alone the role of religion in our national life. Thank God for that! The Messiah Christians profess to worship didn't come to reform the state. He was scorned, hated and finally crucified by the authorities, not venerated as a man of God. A true Messiah, he had no Messianic pretensions. It would be good for Christians of all political points of view to ponder why, as believers who profess to follow the man from Galilee, we are so easily drawn to raise up false Messiahs, to their detriment, and to our shame.

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