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the faith of George W. Bush

Slate editor Jacob Weisberg set himself a difficult task in trying to describe the content of George W. Bush’s faith, but he does so pretty deftly:

When religiously inclined writers try to describe Bush’s faith, they invariably end up talking about how Bush uses religion, how he relates to other religious people, and what faith means to him. But they seldom say anything about its content. They described all the things his faith is not—fiery, judgmental, dogmatic, exclusive—but don’t discover positions on even the most basic theological issues that divide and define denominations, such as whether the Bible is literally true, whether Christians should evangelize, or whether salvation comes through faith alone. They overlook the curious detail that he seldom goes to church. Often, they end up projecting their own beliefs and assumptions onto his blank screen. [link]

What I think Weisberg is trying to say here is that Bush’s faith is theologically empty; it helps explain why he does things, but it doesn’t really have any theological content. It “does” much more than it “is.” I think it’s a fair question to ask whether it matters whether a politician has a rich and orthodox theology to accompany his faith.

We don’t, after all, elect people in the hope they will believe things; we elect people in the hope they will do things, and by implication not do other things. And when we’re choosing who to vote for, which is usually the only choice most of us have, we hear what they’re promising to do; we listen for whether they speak our language; and we decide what sort of people they are, and what that implies regarding how they’ll behave in the future, dealing with issues and circumstances we can’t anticipate. And in a sense this is where a theology is supposed to come in: it’s supposed to hold a person together, spiritually speaking, and cause what they believe about one thing to matter regarding how they’ll behave when dealing with something similar.

To a degree Weisberg is casting doubt on how sensible this process is: he’s suggesting that Bush more or less spoke our language but it shed no light on what kind of person he was, much less how he’d make decisions.

Of course, a more disturbing but equally reasonable conclusion to draw here is this: that George W. Bush is thoroughly one of us, and we as evangelicals have faiths much like his: devout but unconnected and having no bearing on how we’ll think or act.

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