Friday, March 24, 2006

Apocalypse and Reason

I happened to see on CSPAN the other day, where President Bush was asked to confirm his belief in the impending return of Christ. From the CNN transcript:
QUESTION: Thank you for coming to Cleveland, Mr. President, and to the City Club.

My question is that author and former Nixon administration official Kevin Phillips in his latest book, "American Theocracy," discusses what has been called radical Christianity and its growing involvement into government and politics. He makes the point that members of your administration have reached out to prophetic Christians who see the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism as signs of the Apocalypse.

QUESTION: Do you believe this, that the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism are signs of the Apocalypse?

And if not, why not?

BUSH: Hmmm.


The answer is I haven't really thought of it that way.


Now, it seems to me that there are two answers to this question. Either you think the chaos in the Middle East is a sign of the Apocalypse, or you don't. If someone asked me that question, it would be easy to answer. If someone asked Pat Robertson that question, I assume it would be just as easy for him. How can somebody not know what they think about this?

The audience laughed nervously, it was the sound of embarrassment. Everybody knows that Bush claims that God speaks to him, claims to be born-again, and it would be rude, really, to question or challenge that. It's not right or wrong to be a born-again Christian, it's a choice you make. You don't argue with somebody about it, or criticize them for it in public. A simple "yes" would have cleared up a lot, and I doubt it would have actually counted against him in terms of votes or political support.

The strange thing is that he wouldn't answer the question.

The book that the audience member mentioned is not in the stores yet, as far as I know, but reviews are coming out, and it sounds like a fascinating thesis. Sidney Blumenthal writes about it in Salon. I'll give you a paragraph about the author first:
...[I]t is almost certain that his Cleveland Q&A was the first time Bush had heard of Phillips' new book. Phillips was the visionary strategist for the presidential campaign of Richard Nixon in 1968, foreseeing in its lineaments the making of political realignment. His 1969 book, "The Emerging Republican Majority," spelled out the shift of national power from the Northeast to the South and Southwest, which he was early to call the "Sun Belt." He grasped that the Southern Democrats in reaction to the civil rights revolution would become Southern Republicans. He also had a sensitive understanding of the resentments of urban ethnic Catholics against blacks on issues like crime, school integration and jobs. But he never imagined that evangelical religion would compound and transcend these animosities to transmute the coalition he helped fashion into something radically new that now horrifies him.

In "American Theocracy" Phillips describes Bush as the founder of "the first American religious party," in a country that has "never had a national religious party of any kind." The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 gave Bush the pretext for "seizing the fundamentalist moment." Rather than forging a new realignment, Bush won narrow victories by manipulation of a "critical religious geography" and hyping of issues such as gay marriage. This was a politics beyond mere resentment. Phillips writes, "New forces were being interwoven. These included the institutional rise of the religious right, the intensifying biblical focus on the Middle East, and the deepening of insistence on church-government collaboration within the GOP electorate." The rise of the religious right, according to Phillips, portends a potential "American disenlightenment," already apparent in Bush's hostility to science.

Ooh, I've got to say, I like that. "American disenlightenment." It has a nice sound to it, doesn't it? Partly because, to get any meaning from the term, you'd have to understand (ironically) what "enlightenment" was in the first place.
Even Bush's failures have become pretexts for advancing his transformation of the American government. On March 7, for example, he issued Executive Order 13397, establishing a Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives at the Department of Homeland Security. He has already created such centers in other federal departments. Exploiting his own disastrous emergency management in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Bush is funneling funds to churches on the Gulf Coast as though they can compensate for governmental breakdown. Last year, the White House deputy director for faith-based initiatives, David Kuo, resigned with a statement that "Republicans were indifferent to the poor" and that the White House had "minimal commitment" to "compassionate conservatism."

As Bush's melding of church and state accelerates, the faith-based turns into the reality-based. The theocratic impulse has always been about earthly power and has provoked intense and unexpected opposition. Within hours of its publication, "American Theocracy" skyrocketed to the No. 1 bestseller on Amazon. At the movie theaters, "V for Vendetta" -- a dystopian thriller in which an imaginary Britain is a metaphor for Bush's America, ruled by a totalitarian, faith-based regime, where gays are rounded up and the hero is a Guy Fawkes-like terrorist who blows up the Parliament -- is a surprise No. 1 box office hit. Bush has succeeded in getting American audiences to cheer for terrorism. In Bush we trust

These are indeed strange times for American history, and I think we need to be careful. It's like there's a battle between the forces of Good and Evil, and the forces of Evil have given themselves the name "Good."

Recently, I ended a post about the Kansas state school board's craziness with this comment:
Will the voters keep this school board? Is this kind of thing gaining or losing ground? Midterm elections later this year will give us some insights. I am very eager to see if we can get our country back on its feet.

As I wrote those words, I worried that they would seem histrionic, but I am seeing now that many, many Americans are worrying about this same thing, and at the same time many are introspecting, analyzing their own anger and fear.

There's a blog in Kansas that's kind of like ours, only focused on the subject of evolution instead of sex-ed. Red State Rabble keeps track of the dynamics of the debate on that subject, focusing on the unique things that are happening in Kansas, but keeping up on related developments all around the country. He has a recent post there that explores this topic in just the way I am thinking of it.

It's a longish, thoughtful piece, and I encourage you to read it. Near the end, he ponders this question:
Opinion on the book [American Theocracy] ranges from the pessimistic view expressed by Michelle Goldberg, who writes that the book provides "a historical framework to think about the looming, ambient sense of crisis and breakdown that seems to pervade everything these days. Things in America certainly seem very bad to me, but it can be hard to grapple with the extent of our peril without falling into the secular version of Left Behind apocalypticism."

At the other end of the spectrum, Kevin Drum says that he can't make up his mind "whether Kevin Phillips was a visionary with an important wakeup call or a once-brilliant analyst who had let Bush hatred turn him into an obsessive crank."

Red State Rabble must admit that these are the very questions that have preoccupied us over the past year as we followed the controversy over science education. At various times, and in various moods, we've succumbed to each of these views in turn.

It is difficult to disentangle motives, that's the problem with our perspective. We don't have a book or authority telling us what we believe, we have to make it up as we go along. Are we fighting this fight for the right reasons? I'll tell you, the other side doesn't ask itself that.

He started this post with some quotes from Fritz Stern, a scholar and refugee from Nazi Germany, and he ends by going back to that:
Can a minority that believes that Armageddon is just around the corner really take over the largest, most powerful democracy in the world? If the religious right is a danger, what must be done to prevent them from seizing the reins of government. If moderates unite and take action, can we prevent the worst from happening, or is it already too late?

We can't help but think the decisions the American people make in the coming months will be crucial. Our nation has worked diligently to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists and rogue nations. Will we now, out of lethargy, turn the world's largest nuclear arsenal over to people who believe that the sight mushroom clouds blooming in the atmosphere above the world's cities is a welcome harbinger of the coming rapture?

Many in Fritz Stern's generation spent their lives pondering how the Nazi horror could have been allowed to happen. Will ours end up doing the same?

I think a lot of us are asking ourselves these same questions now. It's that lethargy thing you gotta watch out for.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A book on the same general subject was reviewed recently in the Washington Jewish Week. Here is the link:

March 24, 2006 4:17 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

It might be easier to use this URL for the article David is referring to:


March 24, 2006 4:19 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Theresa, he says all the time he's "religiously motivated." He knows the "Left Behind" books -- hey, he knows their author. It is impossible that this question has not occurred to him, that he has not discussed this issue with White House visitors like Pat Robertson, James Dobson, etc. The apocalyptic vision remains one of the two viable explanations to Helen Thomas' question, "Why did we go to war in Iraq?" (The other having to do with huge profits for defense contractors.) (Oh, and maybe a third: competing with Daddy.)

A reasonable person would require no time at all to say "No" to this question -- the idea that the wars in the Middle East are a chapter in somebody's fairy tale is simply unacceptable to a thinking person. Those who do live in the fairy-tale world should have no difficulty saying "Yes," rapture is in the next chapter of history, and these events set the stage for it.

What kind of a person straddles that line? Bush claims to be a born-again Christian but he rarely goes to church and, for instance in this case, does not seem to grasp the basic tenets of his professed religion.


March 25, 2006 11:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Theresa said...
Oh for goodness sake, you folks are ridiculous.

Theresa dear, your intolerance is showing.If folks here are so ridiculous...why are you here too?


March 25, 2006 1:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Theresa said,(about Bush) Seriously, how would you expect him to know the answer to this ?

Well that could be said about most questions asked of him.


March 25, 2006 4:08 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

doesn't have the bandwidth

First of all, that's a beautiful euphemism, Theresa. We'd agree on that, he doesn't appear to have the bandwidth.

But as for the question of whether he should know, as a born-again Christian, whether the chaos in the Middle East is a sign of the apocalypse ... I'd say Dana gave you the answer I would've. The best answer, politically and every other way, is, "I don't make my decisions based on religion." He did not say that, and we all know why -- (to spell it out) it's because he does, in fact, make his decisions based on religion. Which makes the question all that much more relevant. What religious principles does he consider explanatory in this context? Is Armageddon a factor in his decision-making, or when God talks to him does He neglect to mention that important element of His plan?

It's not a big deal for him not to know if these particular events are the expected signs that the apocalypse is coming. But listen, for most of us, the answer is easy: it's "no." For some people, the answer is a clear "Yes." But it is impossible to be a born-again Christian and remain unaware of the possibility that the rise of the nation of Israel and a great war over its sovereignty, a great war against Evil -- his word -- just might be a sign of the apocalypse. "I haven't really thought of it that way" is an impossible answer for someone who is what Bush says he is.

It seems like you have to decide, is he trying to avoid a political hot-potato here, or does he just ... not have the bandwidth .. to understand what his religion teaches? If he is dodging a hot-potato, then he has just denied his faith in doing so.


March 25, 2006 4:45 PM  
Blogger JimK said...


I am tolerant of religion, but we must be aware when our leaders are operating according to the principles of myth, rather than reason. And that's what's happening here. There's nothing wrong with myth, fairy tales, or the Book of Revelations, if you understand them in an appropriate way. But when you attack random countries and arbitrarily cancel the foundations of freedom, because you think you are destined to play an important role in mythology, then you must be stopped by reasonable people. Or at least criticized.

It would have been ok if he had said "Yes, the chaos I have brought to the Middle East portends Armageddon," or "No, the world doesn't work that way." An intelligent believer might have said, "The book of Revelations is hard to interpret, and we won't know when the time has come for Christ to return." But to say, "I haven't really thought of it that way," is 1.not true, and 2.not a satisfying answer on any level, not what you would hope for from the leader of three hundred million people.


March 25, 2006 10:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Talk about ridiculous! Do you honestly believe Bush isn't aware of the sway LaHaye's Left Behind books hold for his base, theresa? Just how uninformed do you think he is?

Here's another view of Bush's interview, an excerpt from an opinion piece published in The Salt Lake Tribune:

"In a rare public outing in which he took spontaneous questions, President Bush was asked last week in Ohio whether he had a biblical view of the war in Iraq and saw it as an apocalyptic struggle for the Middle East. 'The answer is, I haven't really thought of it that way,' Bush responded. 'First I've heard of that, by the way. I guess I'm more of a practical fellow.'

This is a little hard to believe from our born-again president, who initially used the word 'crusade' to define America's fight against Islamic terrorists and who justified going to war in Iraq with nomenclature straight out of the Left Behind series by preacher Tim LaHaye.

Former Republican strategist Kevin Phillips writes in his new book American Theocracy that Bush's call to remove Saddam Hussein included 'jeering at the United Nations,' proclaiming the evil of Saddam and pretending that democracy, not oil, was the motive. According to Phillips, that script followed nearly precisely what LaHaye had written in his Left Behind books (in which an evil antichrist rose to power within the United Nations and was headquartered in New Babylon, Iraq).

...This rapture-and-Armageddon crowd, more than any other group, make up the president's base, and he happily dances to their tunes. It is flatly disingenuous for Bush to claim that he never before considered the biblical currency of America vs. Iraq."

Bush's sidestep in this interview shows he knows that items that rally his radically conservative base make the rest of us wonder about the longevity of our democracy. Apparently the overworked White House staff didn't anticipate the question so Bush had to wing it. We'll no doubt hear the Rovespun answer before too long.

March 26, 2006 11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice try Theresa.

But as usual it does not stick when tossed against the wall.


March 28, 2006 6:22 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

So, Theresa, would you be offended if I called the Mabinogion a "fairy tale?" How about the Baghavad-Gita, or, say, the Upanishads? Hey, how about the Diamond Sutra, for that matter -- how bigoted would I be if I called these documents "fairy tales?"

This has nothing to do with bigotry, of course. I has only to do with perspective. To a Hindu, the Upanishads are holy writings, not something you trivialize. But I'm not a Hindu. And you're not a Hindu, so if I had made a comment about the Upanishads I am very certain you would not have complained.

It's like the attitude of the Danes when they talk about the cartoons of Mohammed that appeared in their newspaper. They say, huh? We're not Muslims, there's nothing wrong, to us, with cartoons of Mohammed. But by your reasoning, those people would be bigots.

It's not bigotry. It's just that the statement is only offensive if you subscribe to the belief system that holds that something is above comment. Once you get outside that bubble, it's possible to speak dispassionately about the Bible, just like any other document.


March 28, 2006 12:57 PM  
Blogger JimK said...


You are talking with JimK here, not TTF. Teach the Facts promotes comprehensive and inclusive sex education. JimK has opinions about religion.

I'll address your other comments later.


March 29, 2006 6:47 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

Theresa, that "I'll quote you" statement is a little on the strident side, isn't it? I already know you guys will quote me -- I sat at a CRC meeting a few months ago where Michelle Turner had prepared Powerpoint slides that took my statements from this blog's comments section out of context and displayed them to prove that I am unworthy to be on the citizens committee. I know you guys will quote me. I may be wrong sometimes, but I am honest and mostly not ashamed of myself. Uh, one other thing, I am not easily intimidated, and will continue to discuss these difficult topics even if you threaten to put them in a bad light somewhere.

Looking back on this conversation, I see that it was you who introduced the word "bigot," repeatedly, before I responded to your use of the word by saying, This has nothing to do with bigotry, of course. I has only to do with perspective.

As for your carefully worded "question," obviously you are trying to expose me contradicting myself, but it is not clear how.

How am I to take your first statement -- "I am tolerant of homosexuals but I believe that homosexuality is abnormal"? Do you mean "statistically unusual," or do you mean it's an illness? What does "abnormal" mean to you in this statement?

I don't care about defining the word "bigot." From my view, if you privately loathe gay people, but keep it to yourself, I am not going to worry about you. You will find that some of your conversations are more awkward than they need to be, for instance when you are talking to someone you believe is a freak, but they don't know it. But if you allow them to be what they are, I don't insist that you like it, only that you not interfere.

Your second statement "I am tolerant of religon but I believe that the Bible is a collection of fairy tales", is one you made up, and I don't see the point in addressing it, unless you are saying that the Bible is a collection of fairy tales -- I didn't say it. The Bible contains genealogy, myth, history, symbolism, hallucination, fable, law, prophecy; it contains factual contradictions and profound lessons in how to live; it has provided grounding for many generations of people, and is a central document to Western civilization. There are those who take it as the literal word of God; I, obviously, don't see it that way. I tend to consider the Bible to be a text comparable to others, comparable to the Rig Veda, say, or the Tao te Ching (yes, I know they spell it differently these days, I'm just old-fashioned, I guess). These are inspired, profound, insight-awakening narratives that have guided people for millenia.

The Book of Revelations is one of the most controversial and difficult books in the Bible. It has been in and out of the official Bible, and is not recognized by some sects as scripture. Its intent and meaning are so obscure that it can almost serve as a kind of Rorschach for diagnosing the Zeitgeist of a particular era or society. It is a book of prophecy, but its content is allegorical and mythical; thus there is confusion about what kind of interpretation to apply to it.

If the Book of Revelations is considered outside its biblical setting, we would probably assign it to the class of writings that includes the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, or the (Welsh poem) Battle of the Trees, or the Sepher Yetzirah, we would treat it as an arcane text. There are also many mysterious books in the traditions of alchemy and mysticism, not to be taken lightly, but not considered candidates for inclusion in the Bible. I will note that many fairy tales -- I mentioned the Mabinogion but I could have just referred to the Arthurian legends or the old tales written down by the Grimms -- share these characteristics of mystery, wisdom, and antiquity, and probably perpetuate a belief system, even a religion, from ancient times on the European continent, just as the Bible hints at mythologies that existed before its scripts were written.

In any case, it is not appropriate for the President of the United States to conduct government business with the intent of fulfilling the prophecies in the Book of Revelation. Those who believe the End is coming may find it appropriate, but most of us intend to leave offspring for many more generations, and would like our leaders not to propel us toward Armageddon.

Now, if you want to reduce this rich topic to the simple pursuit of catching me in a contradiction or exposing me as spiritually or intellectually impoverished, then ... go ahead; I know how this will turn out. If you want to discuss the topic at hand, please, join us here.

March 29, 2006 11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well here is what CRC Precious aka Retta Brown thinks and "worries about" as posted on CRC message board 3/28:

Full Member
Ask the Doctors over at
« on: March 28, 2006, 05:30:46 PM »

Retta says:

Maybe the children should be made aware of the problems they will face if they engage in oral and other high risk behavior.
Here are a list of some of the topics that people wrote in to ask because they were having problems.
Quite frankly, these people sound pretty stupid to engage in this behavior. You would think it would dawn on them that this is not normal sexual behavior!

The risks of oral sex...
Can't get no...oral sex satisfaction
Simple sore throat or STD?
Can saliva cure an STD?
Oral sex and a cold?

More was posted and Retta "lovingly" posted it all.


March 29, 2006 8:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not "normal?" !!!

The NCHS survey of "Sexual Behavior and Selected Health Measures: Men and Women 15–44 Years of Age, United States, 2002," publshed by the Centers for Disease Control, found that "90 percent of men and 88 percent of women have had oral sex with an opposite-sex partner." Man, that's as normal as apple pie. I think this person is reveeling more about herself here than she meant to.


March 29, 2006 9:09 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

I'm having difficulty locating that NCHS survey. Can you please provide its URL, PB?


March 30, 2006 10:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



March 30, 2006 11:21 AM  
Blogger Christine said...

Thanks, free!


March 30, 2006 3:00 PM  

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