"God has ordered you to cut their throats." Reading editorials in the last few months, you would think that line comes straight from President George W. Bush. In fact, this bellicose statement came from Saddam Hussein in the first week of the Iraq War. Yet it is President George W. Bush who alarms pundits because he often uses religious language to discuss his policies.

Georgie Anne Geyer, writing in the Chicago Tribune of March 7, argued that the President's intention to invade Iraq "is based primarily on religious obsession and visions of personal grandiosity." In The Times (London) of March 1, Stephen Plant wrote, "Bush's supporters have inherited the idea of manifest destiny. For them war on Iraq is not about oil, it is America's next date with salvation."

Three typical complaints can be dismissed quickly.

  • Religion and rationality. On a recent McLaughlin Group broadcast, Eleanor Clift said she worried that Bush's "religiosity" doesn't allow "logical, rational thought," and Princeton University religion professor Elaine Pagels said, "Religious language … bypasses the brain and goes straight to the gut." It surprises us that, with Christianity's impressive intellectual tradition (consider Augustine and Aquinas), educated people are still saying such things. If one were mean-spirited, one might argue that secularism doesn't allow for logical, rational thought about religion.

  • Religion and debate. "When you use religious language you stifle debate," said C. Welton Gaddy, a Baptist pastor and president of the Interfaith Alliance, and an op-ed piece in The New York Times repeated the charge. Apparently such commentators have never seen the sparks fly at a denominational meeting or a theological society. And they are apparently not reading many newspapers, for religious language seems to be having the opposite effect. That strikes us as a good thing in a democracy.

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Christianity Today
Free Speech for Politicians
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May 2003

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