The 2004 Debates
WHO DOES GOD WANT?
by Mister Thorne
American Reporter Correspondent
San Francisco, California
SAN FRANCISCO -- It was the 13th of December, 1999; it was Des Moines, Iowa. George W. Bush was debating the other candidates hoping to be the GOP's nominee for president. Near the start of the debate, Bush responded to a question from Tom Brokaw about "an evolving culture of violence and rage in America."
Bush said, "There is a problem with heart in America." Alan Keyes responded to that question by saying, "If our rights come from God, then we ought to shape our children's consciences in the fear of God." Gary Bauer spoke of a shining city on a hill and he said, "our liberty comes from God." Steve Forbes warned of "the bloody consequences of not realizing there's a higher authority, that there is God, and that life emanates from God and God only."
Towards the end of that debate, John Bachman, Brokaw's co-moderator, put this question to each of the hopefuls: "what political philosopher or thinker do you most identify with and why?" Forbes said it was John Locke. Keyes mentioned the "founders of this country." John McCain talked about Theodore Roosevelt. When it was his turn, the governor of Texas had just this to say: "Christ, because he changed my heart." Bachman asked for more.
BACHMAN: I think that the viewer would like to know more on how he has changed your heart.
For the upcoming presidential election, Sen. John F. Kerry and President George W. Bush have agreed to three debates: one on foreign policy, one on domestic issues, and one that's limited to foreign policy and domestic issues. I don't know about you, but I'd like to hear more about their favorite political philosophers.
I think a discussion of the candidates' philosophies and beliefs would be much more interesting than any debate about gun control or energy independence. Why spend all the time discussing temporal matters? After all, politicians can and do change their minds on these things.
Want one good example? Here's one. In a debate with Al Gore in October, candidate Bush said, "I don't think our troops ought to be used for what's called nation-building." But today, our troops are being used to build schools and hospitals and roads in Iraq. Ditto for the other candidate, whose remarks have been so inconsistent that candidate Bush can claim candidate Kerry takes both sides on most issues.
But a man's fundamental beliefs ... those things don't change very often, now do they? And if the actions of a conscientious man are guided by his beliefs, then knowing what those beliefs are should give us the very best sense of what we can expect from the man, right? No matter what happens.
So, I say, let's have the candidates share their beliefs with us. More correctly - since they've given us some little snippets of what they believe - let's have them fill in a few of the blanks. They both talk about God; by golly, let's ask them about God.
Let's start by asking them about their acceptance speeches, and what they said about God in those speeches. Now, picture this:
MODERATOR: Mr. Kerry, in your acceptance speech, you said, "I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side." I'm sure the people in the audience here, and those watching from home or listening somewhere would like to know this: how can you tell the right side of God from the wrong side?
The question is entirely reasonable. Kerry brought it up, and so we might as well ask him about God's side. Does God take sides in worldly affairs? Does God care who wins this election or the war in Iraq? Does God favor abortion rights, as Mr. Kerry does, or does God want a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, as Mr. Bush does? It might seem downright silly to even ask such questions, but when the candidate says he wants us on God's side, then we might as well ask him just what that is.
We should ask Bush about his acceptance speech. At the start of it, he said he'd say what he believes, and then he listed ten I believes. He started with "I believe every child can learn," and he ended with this: "I believe all these things because freedom is not America's gift to the world; it is the almighty God's gift to every man and woman in this world." And then he capped his list of I believes with this: "at least you know what I believe."
I don't. I listen to him speak and then I think of international test scores in math and science. Did students in Eastern Europe rank better or worse, compared to students in the U.S., before or after the fall of the Berlin Wall? If students in godless, totalitarian states regularly outscored their peers in the nation under God, then what should we believe?
MODERATOR: Mr. Bush, in your acceptance speech this past August, you said, "Our nation's founding commitment," is to, "extend the frontiers of freedom," around the world. I'm sure the viewers would like to know how you came by that. Are you referring to the Declaration of Independence?
High school students are going to watch this debate because they're going to discuss it in class the next day. What they've been taught so far is that the revolution started as a popular tax revolt. They can tell you who first said the famous phrase, "no taxation without representation;" they can give you the date of the Boston Tea party. They've read the Declaration of Independence. They've studied the preamble, read the litany of abuses, and discussed the reference to the merciless Indian Savages. Wouldn't they like to know how Bush came up with this? I sure would. There are many such questions I'd like to see put to the candidates. Like this:
MODERATOR: Mr. Bush, in your acceptance speech you referred to 'the sin of slavery.' Now, it's been widely reported that you start each day by reading the Bible, and I'd like to ask you about Leviticus. In Leviticus, God gave Moses many laws to live by, among them, laws on the treatment of slaves. But those laws don't prohibit slavery; they endorse it. My question is this: was God mistaken about slavery?
Of course, Bush can't say that God was ever mistaken. He can't even say that our Founding Fathers were mistaken. That would be secular blasphemy. The Declaration of Independence says that all men have unalienable rights - rights that men can't give up even when they don't want them. Among them is the right to liberty. Yet, many of the men who signed that declaration, including its principal author, owned slaves.
My guess is this: Bush will talk about the Civil War. Maybe he'll conjure a quote from President Lincoln who, in his first Inaugural Address, had this to say: "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so."
MODERATOR: Mr. Bush, a follow-up question. On previous occasions, you've been given the opportunity, but you've refused to call homosexuality a sin. Going back to Leviticus, God's law calls for the execution of homosexuals, adulterers, and unruly children. Do you agree with the God's law? Isn't homosexuality a sin? Shouldn't it be a capital crime?
What can Bush say? That God is wrong about what is sinful and what is not? Preposterous! What he could say is that all those laws in Leviticus were given to a particular group of people long, long ago. We are not that group of people, and this is now. Of course, this might be a bit disheartening to all those who, like Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer, want the Ten Commandments posted in public school classrooms, as well as to those who hold that our modern laws are based on those ancient laws.
MODERATOR: Mr. Kerry, the governor of Florida said recently that hurricanes were, and I quote him here, "God's way of telling us that he's almighty and we're mortal." Do you agree with that? Are hurricanes the result of ocean currents and wind patterns, or are they supernatural reminders of our mortality?
I can imagine a homily on how we mortals can only know so much, how our science can help us learn about the natural world, but how dim is our understanding of what lies behind nature. What I'd like to hear the moderator ask is a direct question about the very notion of an almighty god. Is God almighty? Can God do anything? Can God create a rock so heavy that God can't lift it? Or is the concept of an almighty god primitive and juvenile, the creation of prehistoric minds that figured it perfectly obvious that the sun moves and the earth stands still? Who knows? The candidates don't know what causes hurricanes. But they know there's a god. Often enough, they say they know what God wants and what God thinks.
MODERATOR: Mr. Bush, a Dr. Richard Land, whom you appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, is quoted as saying that when you were governor of Texas, you told him, "I believe that God wants me to be president." Is that true? Did you say that?
Given that Bush has been studying the Bible for nearly "0 years, let's assume that he's familiar with Paul's letter to the Romans which includes this: "All governments have been placed in power by God." And then connect the dots. If Bush is a good Evangelical then, by definition, he believes the Bible is the inerrant word of God. And so he believes that governments are not determined by the people, as the Declaration of Independence asserts, but by God. Might Bush also believe that God decides who shall be president of the United States?
Others believe it. Consider U.S. Army Major General William Boykin, the Pentagon's Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence and point man in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Boykin says that bin Laden is not our enemy; our enemies are demons from the Principality of Darkness. Boykin claims to know what motivates these demons: "They're after us because we're a Christian nation." Since the attack on the World Trade Center, Boykin has gone to church congregations and shown them classified photographs of demons and he's said that, despite the fact that Bush didn't win the popular vote in the last election, "He is in the White House because God put him there."
At the Republican National Convention this past August, two high-profile speakers - Rudolph Gulliani and George Pataki - both suggested that Bush wasn't elected by the citizens of the U.S., but that he was selected by God.
What does Bush believe? In an interview published by George Magazine in September "000, Bush says he called televangelist James Robinson and told him, "I've heard the call. I believe God wants me to run for president." Of course, wanting someone to run for president is not the same as wanting someone to be president.
According to Stephen Mansfield, the author of a book on the president's beliefs, after that phone call, Robison met with Bush and his adviser, Karl Rove. Bush told Robison, "I feel like God wants me to run for president." According to what Mansfield says Robison said, Bush said, "I can't explain it, but I sense my country is going to need me. Something is going to happen, and, at that time, my country is going to need me. I know it won't be easy, on me or my family, but God wants me to do it."
But that was before the "000 election. This is about the "004 election. Does God want Bush to be reelected? Maybe not. Maybe God wants Bush to lose this election so Kerry can come in and screw things up so, come "008, the public will be eager for a return to the good old days. Maybe then God will select a man who doesn't believe the course of hurricanes can be predicted by meteorologists and their computers, but that they are heaven sent to remind us that we're mortal. Consider what former president George H. W. Bush had to say about his own defeat to Bill Clinton in 199": "If I'd won that election in 199", my oldest son would not be president of the United States of America." He continued, "I think the Lord works in mysterious ways."
MODERATOR: Mr. Kerry, do you believe God wants you to be president? Mister Thorne is a writer living in San Francisco. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org