Bush the universalist

bushmosqueEvery time President Bush speaks of his Christian faith, the mainstream media get all roiled up. Here's how a 2003 story in The Christian Science Monitor began:

President Bush has never been shy about injecting his faith into the public arena -- his campaign remark that Jesus Christ was his "favorite political philosopher" was an early signal. But his rising use of religious language and imagery in recent months, especially with regard to the US role in the world, has stirred concern both at home and abroad.

In this year's State of the Union address, for example, Bush quoted an evangelical hymn that refers to the power of Christ. "'There's power, wonder-working power,' in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people," he said.

The media have written extensively, if poorly, about Bush's faith. There was that New York Times Sunday Magazine cover story about Bush's faith. And countless others which we've all read over the past decade.

And yet when President Bush celebrates other religions or otherwise expresses his universalism -- which he has done repeatedly -- the media barely notice. In an Oct. 4 interview with Al Arabiya, President Bush said:

Well, first of all, I believe in an almighty God, and I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God. That's what I believe. I believe that Islam is a great religion that preaches peace.

I don't know if the media ignore it because it doesn't fit with their preconceived notion of Bush as an evangelical extremist, but several days later, I have found only two stories about the interview. Mark Silva, writing for the Tribune Company's The Swamp blog/Washington notebook (I found it in The Sun) had this:

Touting his Iftaar Dinner last night for an evening breaking of the Ramadan fast, Bush refuted any notion in this interview intended for Arab home viewing that he is out to destroy Islam.

"I want to remind your listeners that one of the first things I did after September the 11th is I went to the local mosque. And I did because I wanted to send a message that those who came to kill Americans were young terrorists, and they do not reflect the views of the vast majority of peaceful people in the Middle East."

Jon Ward, The Washington Times' White House correspondent, also wrote up the remarks, which were similar to those Bush made in previous years. Here, for instance, is what he said in a 2004 interview with Charles Gibson:

CHARLES GIBSON: Do we all worship the same God, Christian and Muslim?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I think we do.

CHARLES GIBSON: Do Christians and non-Christians and Muslims go to heaven in your mind?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes, they do. We have different routes of getting there.

coexistIt's so interesting to me that the people who support, say, a priest who believes she is both Muslim and Christian tend to oppose "evangelicals" such as President Bush. And the evangelical support for President Bush doesn't carry over to someone like Hillary Clinton -- whose profession of faith is at least as strong as Bush's.

But perhaps part of the reason for this is how the media cover the various players.

On that note, here's another part of that interview with Bush:

And I believe people who murder the innocent to achieve political objectives aren't religious people, whether they be a Christian who does that -- we had a person blow up our -- blow up a federal building in Oklahoma City who professed to be a Christian, but that's not a Christian act to kill innocent people.

Um, someone might want to let President Bush know that Timothy McVeigh professed no religious belief. Lou Michel, the author of a well-researched book on McVeigh (he spent countless hours interviewing the terrorist before he was executed), had this to say during a CNN chat:

Question from chat room: Does McVeigh have any spiritual-religious beliefs?

Lou Michel: McVeigh is agnostic. He doesn't believe in God, but he won't rule out the possibility. I asked him, "What if there is a heaven and hell?"

He said that once he crosses over the line from life to death, if there is something on the other side, he will -- and this is using his military jargon -- "adapt, improvise, and overcome." Death to him is all part of the adventure.

Now some might be concerned that Bush equates terrorism done in the name of Islam with terrorism not done in the name of Christianity. Of course, near as I can tell, no mainstream media have even noticed this Bush statement.

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