President Bush said yesterday that he senses a “Third Awakening” of religious devotion in the United States that has coincided with the nation’s struggle with international terrorists, a war that he depicted as “a confrontation between good and evil.”
Bush told a group of conservative journalists that he notices more open expressions of faith among people he meets during his travels, and he suggested that might signal a broader revival similar to other religious movements in history. Bush noted that some of Abraham Lincoln’s strongest supporters were religious people “who saw life in terms of good and evil” and who believed that slavery was evil. Many of his own supporters, he said, see the current conflict in similar terms.
“A lot of people in America see this as a confrontation between good and evil, including me,” Bush said during a 1 1/2 -hour Oval Office conversation on cultural changes and a battle with terrorists that he sees lasting decades. “There was a stark change between the culture of the ’50s and the ’60s — boom — and I think there’s change happening here,” he added. “It seems to me that there’s a Third Awakening.”
It’s my understanding that the business of dividing the Cosmos up into Good and Evil started with Zoroaster, a guy who (probably) lived sometime between the 18th and 6th centuries BCE in that part of the world we now call Iran. The notion that Good and Evil will duke it out in a final Judgment Day battle, plus most popular beliefs about angels and demons, are Zoroastrian in origin, also. Here’s a pretty good article about Zoroastrian influences on right-wing Christianity, from CounterPunch.
The President’s assumption that “religious devotion” somehow depends on accepting Zoroastrian dualities is, IMO, a tad peculiar. It also reveals a deep and vast ignorance of the spectrum of human philosophies, experiences, and practices that might be considered “religious.” But that’s another post.
As near as I can figure, this view of good-evil duality sees Good and Evil as distinctive forces or powers, and people are said to be “good” or “evil” not because of what they do, but because of which side they root for. I say this because of what Bob Herbert wrote in his column today.
The invasion of Iraq marked the beginning of the change in the American character. During the Cuban missile crisis, when the hawks were hot for bombing — or an invasion — Robert Kennedy counseled against a U.S. first strike. That’s not something the U.S. would do, he said.
Fast-forward 40 years or so and not only does the U.S. launch an unprovoked invasion and occupation of a small nation — Iraq — but it does so in response to an attack inside the U.S. that the small nation had nothing to do with.
Who are we?
Why, we’re the Good team! And we had to go to Iraq to get Saddam Hussein, who was a major player with the Evil team. If the invasion, directly or indirectly, ends up causing as much death or suffering as Saddam did, that’s a mere technicality. In BushWorld, actions or consequences don’t have anything to do with who is Good or who is Evil.
Another example: There was a time, I thought, when there was general agreement among Americans that torture was beyond the pale. But when people are frightened enough, nothing is beyond the pale. And we’re in an era in which the highest leaders in the land stoke — rather than attempt to allay — the fears of ordinary citizens. Islamic terrorists are equated with Nazi Germany. We’re told that we’re in a clash of civilizations.
Clearly, Herbert does not understand the nature of Good or Evil. When you’re playing against Evil, rules and principles are for wimps. And appeasers. It’s OK to do terrible things in the name of defeating Evil. What’s not OK is disloyalty to the Good team.
If, as President Bush says, we’re engaged in “the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century,” why isn’t the entire nation mobilizing to meet this dire threat?
That’s an excellent question that I wish someone would press Bush to answer. Another question is, how do you win an ideological struggle by military means? Bush’s rhetoric notwithstanding, World War II was not a struggle between ideologies but among nations. Most people chose sides in that conflict based on loyalty to their nations, not to a belief system. Victory was achieved not by changing peoples’ minds but by compelling the enemy nations to surrender.
The president put us on this path away from the better angels of our nature, and he has shown no inclination to turn back. Lately he has touted legislation to try terror suspects in a way that would make a mockery of the American ideals of justice and fairness. To get a sense of just how far out the administration’s approach has been, consider the comments of Brig. Gen. James Walker, the top uniformed lawyer for the Marines. Speaking at a Congressional hearing last week, he said no civilized country denies defendants the right to see the evidence against them. The United States, he said, “should not be the first.”
And Senator Lindsey Graham, a conservative South Carolina Republican who is a former military judge, said, “It would be unacceptable, legally, in my opinion, to give someone the death penalty in a trial where they never heard the evidence against them.”
How weird is it that this possibility could even be considered?
I’ll tell you how weird it is; it’s so weird that the Right Blogosphere isn’t discussing it at all. So far, based on google and technorati searches, I don’t believe anyone’s come up with talking points to support executing someone without producing evidence at trial.
If Bush continues to push this issue, however, team loyalty will inspire expedient frames and phrases eventually. And if the Good Team is doing it, it can’t be Evil.
The character of the U.S. has changed. We’re in danger of being completely ruled by fear. Most Americans have not shared the burden of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Very few Americans are aware, as the Center for Constitutional Rights tells us, that of the hundreds of men held by the U.S. in GuantÃ¡namo Bay, Cuba, many ‘have never been charged and will never be charged because there is no evidence justifying their detention.’
Even fewer care.
We could benefit from looking in a mirror, and absorbing the shock of not recognizing what we’ve become.
On the Right, of course, there’s a hazy faith that if someone’s being held at Guantanamo there must be a good reason. However, I have said before, and I still believe, that someday when the full story of Guantanamo is told, a whole lot of Americans are going to be shocked and sickened and want to know why no one spoke out sooner.
And some of us will say, we did speak out. Why didn’t you listen sooner?