The Common Good

Bush's Dangerous Religion

Sojomail - August 20, 2003

Quote of the Week Ahhhnold: Deep thinker
Hearts & Minds Dangerous religion: George W. Bush's theology of empire
Building a Movement A college degree in activism
Soul Works Strategies for soldiers of shalom
By the Numbers Varied national reactions to weak Iraqi military resistance
Funny Business Paul Newman is still HUD
Biz Ethics Beer for charity
Culture Watch Matrix III is in the can
Boomerang SojoMail readers hit reply
Web Scene The U.S. religious experience | "A deep and tenacious love" | The right Christians

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"I'm for the children and stuff."

- Arnold Schwarzenegger, responding to questions from the media about his plans as governor of California.

Dangerous religion: George W. Bush's theology of empire
by Jim Wallis

Jim Wallis

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Since Sept. 11, President Bush has turned the White House "bully pulpit" into a pulpit indeed, replete with "calls" and "missions" and "charges to keep" regarding America's role in the world. George Bush is convinced that we are engaged in a moral battle between good and evil, and that those who are not with us are on the wrong side in that divine confrontation.

But who is "we," and does no evil reside with "us"? The problem of evil is a classic one in Christian theology. Indeed, anyone who cannot see the real face of evil in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is suffering from a bad case of postmodern relativism. To fail to speak of evil in the world today is to engage in bad theology. But to speak of "they" being evil and "we" being good, to say that evil is all out there and that in the warfare between good and evil others are either with us or against us - that is also bad theology. Unfortunately, it has become the Bush theology.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the White House carefully scripted the religious service in which the president declared war on terrorism from the pulpit of the National Cathedral. The president declared to the nation, "Our responsibility to history is already clear: To answer these attacks and rid the world of evil." With most every member of the Cabinet and the Congress present, along with the nation's religious leaders, it became a televised national liturgy affirming the divine character of the nation's new war against terrorism, ending triumphantly with the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." War against evil would confer moral legitimacy on the nation's foreign policy and even on a contested presidency.

What is most missing in the Bush theology is acknowledgement of the truth of this passage from the gospel of Matthew: "Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye." A simplistic "we are right and they are wrong" theology rules out self-reflection and correction. It also covers over the crimes America has committed, which lead to widespread global resentment against us.

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote that every nation, political system, and politician falls short of God's justice, because we are all sinners. He specifically argued that even Adolf Hitler - to whom Saddam Hussein was often compared by Bush - did not embody absolute evil any more than the Allies represented absolute good. Niebuhr's sense of ambiguity and irony in history does not preclude action but counsels the recognition of limitations and prescribes both humility and self-reflection.

And what of Bush's tendency to go it alone, even against the expressed will of much of the world? A foreign government leader said to me at the beginning of the Iraq war, "The world is waiting to see if America will listen to the rest of us, or if we will all just have to listen to America." American unilateralism is not just bad political policy, it is bad theology as well. C.S. Lewis wrote that he supported democracy not because people were good, but rather because they often were not. Democracy provides a system of checks and balances against any human beings getting too much power. If that is true of nations, it must also be true of international relations. The vital questions of diplomacy, intervention, war, and peace are, in this theological view, best left to the collective judgment of many nations, not just one - especially not the richest and most powerful one.

In Christian theology, it is not nations that rid the world of evil - they are too often caught up in complicated webs of political power, economic interests, cultural clashes, and nationalist dreams. The confrontation with evil is a role reserved for God, and for the people of God when they faithfully exercise moral conscience. But God has not given the responsibility for overcoming evil to a nation-state, much less to a superpower with enormous wealth and particular national interests. To confuse the role of God with that of the American nation, as George Bush seems to do, is a serious theological error that some might say borders on idolatry or blasphemy.

To read the entire article, which appears in the September-October 2003 issue of Sojourners magazine, go to:

A college degree in activism
by Joe Garofolo
San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco's New College of California is offering something for the socially conscious this fall that they'd never get marching in the streets: a college degree in activism.

For $5,500 to $6,000 a semester, the 32-year-old Mission District school is offering bachelor's and master's humanities degrees with a concentration in "activism and social change." While schools from Vermont to Santa Cruz boast versions of do-gooding curricula, degrees in activism are hard to come by. "Students can shape their own (activist) program at other schools," said Michael Baer, senior vice president at the American Council on Education and former provost at Northeastern University. "But to have it all together - the theoretical and the practical - under one roof and labeled as such is somewhat rare."

Read more at:

Strategies for soldiers of shalom
by Vernon Grounds

Advertisement1. Pray daily!

2. Keep informed regarding the development of international and national affairs: Be concerned about the world, not just the church.

3. Unambiguously denounce and renounce war.

4. Study and ponder biblical ethics.

5. Critically examine traditional and prevalent viewpoints and doctrines with respect to military policy - e.g., the just war theory, pre-emptive strike, the pacifist and non-resistant options.

6. Recognize that Christians, while grateful citizens of a particular country, belong to a kingdom that is global. Refuse to be an uncritical nationalist or an idolatrous American.

7. Support the historic right to dissent.

8. Take seriously the New Testament demand for Christian nonconformity.

9. Recognize that obedience to our Lord Jesus is the master-criterion of discipleship, not political effectiveness nor pragmatic success.

10. Use whatever political and propaganda resources are available to oppose those forces, ideologies, and institutions that foster an anti-peace mindset and a pro-war mentality.

11. Stress the interconnectedness of justice and peace. Battle injustice insofar as that is possible.

12. Collaborate with all peace-lovers in peacemaking regardless of theological and ideological differences but within the limits imposed by conscience.

13. Seek to be an agent of shalom in all personal relationships.

From "Transformed by Love: The Vernon Grounds Story," by Bruce L. Shelley. Discovery House Publishers.

Varied national reactions to weak Iraqi military resistance

Were you happy or disappointed by the lack of Iraqi military resistance to the U.S.-U.K. invasion?

Morocco: Happy - 3% Disappointed - 93%
Jordan: Happy - 8% Disappointed - 91%
Turkey: Happy - 13%Disappointed - 82%
Indonesia: Happy - 15%Disappointed - 82%
Palestine: Happy - 16%Disappointed - 81%
S. Korea: Happy - 26%Disappointed - 58%
Brazil: Happy - 40%Disappointed - 45%
Russia: Happy - 24%Disappointed - 82%
Nigeria: Happy - 54%Disappointed - 38%
France: Happy - 59%Disappointed - 30%
Israel: Happy - 77%Disappointed - 17%
Germany: Happy - 81%Disappointed - 11%
Italy: Happy - 83%Disappointed - 11%
Canada: Happy - 79%Disappointed - 10%

*Source: The Pew Research Center interview of 16,000 people in 20 countries in May, 2003.

Paul Newman is still HUD
by Paul Newman
The New York Times

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The Fox News Network is suing Al Franken, the political satirist, for using the phrase "fair and balanced" in the title of his new book. In claiming trademark violation, Fox sets a noble example for standing firm against whatever.

Unreliable sources report that the Fox suit has inspired Paul Newman, the actor, to file a similar suit in federal court against the Department of Housing and Urban Development, commonly called HUD. Mr. Newman claims piracy of personality and copycat infringement.

In the 1963 film "HUD," for which Mr. Newman was nominated for an Academy Award, the ad campaign was based on the slogan, "Paul Newman is HUD." Mr. Newman claims that the Department of Housing and Urban Development, called HUD, is a fair and balanced institution and that some of its decency and respectability has unfairly rubbed off on his movie character, diluting the rotten, self-important, free-trade, corrupt conservative image that Mr. Newman worked so hard to project in the film. His suit claims that this "innocence by association" has hurt his feelings plus residuals.

A coalition of the willing - i.e., the Bratwurst Asphalt Company and the Ypsilanti Hot Dog and Bean Shop - has been pushed forward and is prepared to label its products "fair and balanced," knowing that Fox News will sue and that its newscasters will be so tied up with subpoenas they will only be able to broadcast from the courtroom, where they will be seen tearing their hair and whining, looking anything but fair and balanced, which would certainly be jolly good sport all around.

Paul Newman, an actor, is chief executive of Salad King.

Read more at:

Beer for charity
by Neal St. Anthony
Minneapolis Star Tribune

Saving the Corporate SoulSince 2000, Jacquie Berglund has been the president and sole employee of Finnegans Irish Amber, a beer company, and she expects to double in sales this year.... Berglund is what's known as a "social entrepreneur." She's running one of what may be thousands of for-profit businesses that are created, at least in part, to fund causes or charities. Such entrepreneurs may also run nonprofits that form for-profit businesses to raise revenue on top of fundraising.

In 2000, Berglund also read the book "The Cathedral Within," by Bill Shore, a former top U.S. Senate staffer, who quit to start Share Our Strength, a nonprofit that has raised nearly $100 million to combat poverty and hunger. In the book, he urges Americans to build on their internal "cathedrals" - the skills that they can use to make a difference, whether as a part-time volunteer or by focusing their business on a social problem.

The book resonated with Berglund.

It was time for Berglund to embark on her own mission, starting with the house beer.... Berglund says peddling suds every day, with only a portion going to charity, is not a contradiction in mission. Her purpose, she says, is to spread awareness - as well as raise cash from sales - to motivate patrons. "I believe in this business model and I hope one day to make a middle-class living from this," she said. "I believe that by competing in the marketplace, I'm helping to bridge people through bars and beer with the homeless and working poor and poor kids."

For the entire article, see:

To find out more about Berglund's nonprofit, go to:

Matrix III is in the can

In "The Matrix Revolutions," the third and final part of the movie trilogy, hero Neo (Keanu Reeves) gets in contact again with his nemesis Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). Due for worldwide release on November 5, "The Matrix Revolutions" comes with the tagline "everything that has a beginning has an end." And, says the hype, while the second of the trilogy, "Reloaded," was about life, "Revolutions will be about death."

A climax of "Revolutions" will be a 17-minute battle conducted on the scorched earth of the nuclear-ravaged real world, littered with crumbling cathedrals and leading Neo to his true destiny, says 7 days editor Jenny Dillon.

Read more at:,4459,6986772%255E10431%255E%255Enbv,00.html


Jeanie Diamond of Roswell, Georgia, writes:

Paul Loeb's essay, "A New Peace Movement" [in last week's SojoMail], is right. Most of the Democrats in Congress, as well as those campaigning for president, haven't said much about the war, or the aftermath, except for Howard Dean. Dean has spoken out against the war in Iraq and is continuing to hold Mr. Bush accountable for what's going on over there now. Howard Dean is the only candidate to voice what so many of us are feeling: I'm for peace and I want my country back!


Maryann Crea writes from Durham, North Carolina:

I am surprised to read in the Paul Loeb article his comment that there has been "minimal questioning by Democratic leaders" of Bush's policies in Iraq. Anyone who has followed Representative Dennis Kucinich, the Democratic candidate for president from Ohio, knows that Kucinich has been a consistent and vocal proponent for peace on the floor of Congress and in the media. He has also been a voice in the wilderness in developing strategies to address poverty, access to health care, and economic policies that promote the common good. I think it is time for those with a progressive view to take a long and serious look at Kucinich.


Harles Cone writes from Liberty, Missouri:

While I appreciated and agreed with Mr. Loeb's observations, especially those dealing with how helpless and muted those committed to peace felt during the first rushes of military success, I felt myself suspended at one particular point. How many times must we go through this pattern of feeling good about the possibility of violence leading to some redemptive good, Vietnam, Kosovo, Gulf War I, Afghanistan, Gulf War II, WW II, etc., only to discover the pain and destruction of values, persons, and property that inevitably results before we become mature enough to challenge that initial rush? It seems that the most critical time to challenge our assumptions about the use of violence to end violence is when we are most certain that it will.


Karen Davison writes from Shepherdstown, West Virginia:

I was one of those despairing marchers for peace that had to go underground for a while after the war started. I did feel so very alone and frankly wished I could leave the country, that's how ashamed I was. Then in July, I went to the Presbyterian Peacemaking Conference in Montreat, North Carolina. This was a life-altering experience for me. I was completely renewed by being surrounded by more than 500 people who wanted peace as desperately as I did. The keynote speaker was Dr. Walter Wink, who gave us all hope by informing us not only how we have gotten into such a fix but what we could do about it. We think that the only way to eliminate violence in the world is to become violent ourselves, thus becoming the evil we deplore.

There is another choice that we never give any thought to and that is nonviolent direct action. This is the teaching of Christ, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and other great people of the past. We need to listen to them. There is a way to eradicate violence without continuing the vicious circle we have gotten ourselves into. Wars to end all wars will never do so because violence only begets more violence ad infinitum. We are going about it all wrong. I highly recommend that everybody read "The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millenium," by Walter Wink. In just 200 pages, he spells out the answer to all our prayers. The solution is there. Now we peacemakers have to get busy and spread the word. We only resort to war and violence because we do not know what else to do.


Jane Hawes writes from Emporia, Kansas:

I'm hearing a lot of back-and-forth in the media and elsewhere on the length of soldiers' deployments in Iraq. Many soldiers and their families are discontented - indeed, frustrated - by not knowing how long they'll be there. Some have had their deployments extended and are not happy about it. Some people accuse these soldiers and their families of "whining" because tours of duty in Vietnam and WW II were longer than the deployment to Iraq has been.

I sympathize with these discontented people, even though my brother spent a year in Vietnam. The problem is one of expectations. When my brother went to Vietnam he knew from day one that he would be there for a year. He knew what he was facing, and we knew what he was facing. Before we began fighting in Iraq, the civilian leadership was all over television saying the war would be a "cakewalk," that we would be hailed as liberators, that everyone would love us, and that it would all be over in a matter of weeks. Now it's been months, and nobody knows how much longer our troops will be there. It was highly irresponsible of our leadership not to plan for rotation of troops - indeed, it was irresponsible to go into Iraq in the first place, but now that we're there, we need to be giving our troops some realistic expectations, not the pipe dreams that the Bush administration has been feeding them, and us.


Tristin Hassell writes from University of Edinburgh, Scotland:

In response to Chaplain Kruse [last week's Boomerang]: Isn't it possible for the church to be political whilst refusing to use the tools and skills given to it by America? There seem to be two problems with your suggestion that it can't: (1) It allows the church to become comfortable in the world, and (2) it threatens to dilute Christian speech into a language acceptable for the public square. Both of these are incredibly dangerous for a people on pilgrimage.... The politics of the church does not allow it to withdraw from the world, but neither do the church's politics allow it to see this world (including America) as home. We are the church, being presently the good work that God has already done in Christ...being a priest on behalf of the world. In the same way that Christ is broken and fed to us in the Eucharist, so are we to be broken and fed to the world. This is the foundation of our politics. Secondly, voting has the potential for diluting the peculiarity of the church. When Christian language is translated into the public square it almost inevitably ceases to be Christian.... I think it might be best to follow the advice of Father Michael Baxter, professor of theology at Notre Dame, who says: "Don't vote, it only encourages them." See "Voting: the Noble Lie," by Andy Baker and Tristin Hassell:


Dominick J. Di Noto writes from Cloverdale, California:

That post I submitted, that Rev. Wrisley so highly criticized [in last week's Boomerang], was in response to another lady who questioned the separation of church and state. The Religious Right fanatics - if you will, any religious group - have no business in politics when you're talking about anyone's civil rights. Faith in Jesus belongs in the churches, just as does any deity [in whom] people believe. It is not for our politicians, all of whom have different religious outlooks, to discuss and decide who should get civil rights and who should not, or even argue in a debate whose religion is right or wrong or better. We shouldn't be using God's good name to further our own causes in a political arena.

I suppose you would tell an atheist or agnostic, or even someone of a different religious background, in our government, he/she has no right to make a decision concerning laws of our people since he/she doesn't believe in the same things you do. I'm sorry my friend, like I said, I am a Democrat (proud of it) and a Christian (also proud of it) but the two don't mix and shouldn't mix in politics when deciding someone's fate or their civil rights or making laws for this land, or telling a nation how to pray and who to pray to! This country was founded, in part, on religious freedoms and no government official has the right to cram their religious beliefs on any of us.


Rev. Dr. Linda M. Maloney writes from Saint Cloud, Minnesota:

Re: last week's "By the Numbers": File it under the heading of news that looks good on the surface. If women are out-earning men in King County, Texas, and similar rural counties, it is because they have relatively stable, though still mainly underpaid, jobs as teachers, nurses, etc., while the men are for the most part engaged in agriculture, and not as landowners, you may be sure. In greater Minnesota, where I live, the family farmers are being steadily squeezed out, the land overrun with factory farm operations worked, in many cases, by immigrants paid the lowest possible wage. This is not progress.


Alex Araujo writes from Washington state:

The message from the mayor of Las Vegas put me to thinking: I am somewhat amused by his affirmation that "The city of Las Vegas does not tolerate any illegal businesses operating in the city limits." First because he must say that; what else is he supposed to say? Second, Las Vegas represents the legalization of so many gray areas in human behavior, vice, and exploitation that to say they only tolerate what is legal seems rather beside the point. Las Vegas was born, if I understand its history correctly, to provide in a rather unregulated state what other states considered illegal or marginal. Since its birth it has had no significant reason to exist except as a place of exceptions. Imagine a whole city founded and developed to be - its whole self - a combination gambling den/night club. It boggles the mind.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views. The views expressed are not necessarily those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Send Boomerang e-mails to the editor:

*The U.S. religious experience

A rich resource of feature essays and book reviews for anyone interested in religion in the United States. Link to:

*"A deep and tenacious love"

Participants at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, held several weeks ago in Minneapolis, made several critical decisions. Click here to read the Presiding Bishop's sermons and addresses to the General Convention in their entirety:

*The right Christians

"It's time for the Christian Right to meet the right Christians." That's the headline that greets visitors at this blog run by a Lutheran minister from South Carolina. Rev. Allen Brill is looking for ways to create a social and spiritual vision that cuts across traditional religious boundaries. Go to:

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