Regardless of 'God Talk,' We've Got a Job to Do

“How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?”

That was the now-famous headline in the London Daily Mirror. Less reported was how those 59 million Bush voters were described in the Mirror: “The self-righteous, gun-totin’, military-lovin’, sister-marryin’, abortion-hatin’, gay-loathin’, foreigner-despisin’, non-passport-ownin’ rednecks” who believe “God gave America” the right to push everyone else in the world around so that their country can be “free and strong.”

Things were hardly less livid at the New York Times. Seeing a takeover by American “primitivism,” here’s how columnist Maureen Dowd summed up the election on Nov. 7:

    “W.’s presidency rushes backward, stifling possibilities, stirring intolerance, confusing church with state, blowing off the world, replacing science with religion, and facts with faith. We’re entering another dark age, more creationist than cutting edge, more premodern than postmodern. Instead of leading America to an exciting new reality, the Bushies cocoon in a scary, paranoid, regressive reality. Their new health care plan will probably be a return to leeches.”

Two days after the election, the Times ran “The day the Enlightenment went out,” a column by Garry Wills, a Pulitzer Prize-winning adjunct professor of history at Northwestern University. Like Dowd in seeing the beginning of a new dark age, Wills asked, “Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an Enlightened nation?”

We got to where we are in America, wrote Wills, because of “Enlightenment values — critical intelligence, tolerance, respect for evidence, a regard for the secular sciences.” Today, he warns, that spirit of free inquiry and open-mindedness in America is being shoved aside by a growing insularity and illogicality, pushing us toward something that’s very far from Jefferson and too much like the Taliban.

“Where else,” asked Wills, “do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity? Not in France or Britain or Germany or Italy or Spain. We find it in the Muslim world, in al-Qaida, in Saddam Hussein’s Sunni loyalists. Americans wonder that the rest of the world thinks us so dangerous, so impervious to international appeals. They fear jihad, no matter whose zeal is being expressed. It is often observed that enemies come to resemble each other. We torture the torturers, we call our God better than theirs, as one American general put it, in words that the president has not repudiated.”

On that last point, Wills most likely is referring to Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, promoted last year to deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, with the critical mission of coordinating intelligence with special operations in order to knock out high-value terrorist targets.

During the same month he was confirmed to his new position by the Senate, June 2003, Boykin, appearing in dress uniform, told a religious group in Oregon that they were mistaken if they thought the enemy was bin Laden or Saddam: “The enemy is a spiritual enemy. He’s called the principality of darkness. The enemy is a guy called Satan.”

During a church speech in Florida, Boykin explained why he was successful in capturing a Muslim fighter in Somalia: “Well, you know what I knew, that my God was bigger than his.”

Similarly, Boykin customarily told audiences that it wasn’t voters who put George W. Bush in the White House: “Why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him. Why is he there? I tell you, he’s in the White House because God put him there.”

Needless to say, all this God talk scares the hell out of some people. And, equally obvious, there’s another crowd that sees scaring the hell out of people as exactly their job, so that more of us go up instead of down when it’s all over.

I’ve no idea where all this leads. Hopefully, someone understands that we’ve got to get our act together and run a smart war on terrorism, whether our God’s bigger or not, and that things will only get worse if we keep delaying the overhaul of Social Security, whether God put W. in the White House or not, and that we’ve got a big job to do in getting federal spending under control and cutting the trade deficit, Jesus or no Jesus.