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(DV) Sanders: Turning Out the Lights on the Enlightenment







Turning Out the Lights on the Enlightenment
by Ken Sanders
March 25, 2005

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The government's reaction to and intervention in the sad tale of Terri Schiavo is but the latest indication that the United States is gradually slipping farther and farther away from the moorings of the Enlightenment: rationality and empiricism over faith and religion. This dimming of the Enlightenment ideals upon which the U.S. was founded is spearheaded by Bush and the Republicans, who profess to be conservatives but behave like zealots.

It should not be news to anyone that President Bush, who famously declared Jesus Christ as his “favorite political philosopher,” has no qualms about making religion, specifically evangelical Christianity, a cornerstone of his presidency. Granted, all presidents invoke God in their speeches and statements. What makes Bush stand apart, however, is the number of times he references God and how he does so. One need only recall Bush's inaugural speeches and State of the Union addresses where he invoked God an average of 6 times per speech, more than any other president in history.

What also distinguishes Bush from prior presidents is the manner in which he invokes God. Unlike prior presidents, Bush does not speak as a petitioner of God, seeking blessing and guidance. Rather, Bush speaks as a prophet of God, declaring God's desires for America and the world. For instance, Bush has at least twice reportedly claimed that God speaks through him. Indeed, prior to running for president in 2000, Bush confided, “I feel like God wants me to run for president.”

Bush is not alone in thinking that his presidency is a matter of divine right. General William Boykin told an Oregon congregation, “George Bush was not elected by a majority of the voters in the United States. He was appointed by God.” Gen. Boykin, of course, is the one who declared that he defeated the Muslims in Somalia because his God was a “real God” while theirs was a “false idol.”

Bush's evangelism is reflected in his actions, as well as his rhetoric. In his judicial appointments, Bush has selected some who share his more restrictive form of Christianity. James Leon Holmes, confirmed as U.S. District Court judge last July, has asserted that “Christianity transcends the political order” and the “final reunion of Church and state will take place at the end of time, when Christ will claim definitive political power over all creation, inaugurating a new society based on the supernatural.” Additionally, Holmes is of the rather Biblical opinion that “the wife is to subordinate herself to her husband.” William Pryor, awaiting confirmation to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, was an early supporter of Alabama's Judge Roy Moore, who surreptitiously installed a 2-ton granite monument to the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the state Judicial Building. In his support of Moore, Pryor declared that, “God has chosen, through his son Jesus Christ, this time, this place for all Christians ... to save our country and save our courts.”

Bush's old-time religion is further reflected in his administration's tampering with and general disdain for science. In its zeal to foist abstinence-only programs upon American schools, the Bush administration has resorted to using false information and replacing scientific fact with religious belief. Abstinence-only programs teach that condoms do not help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Such programs also teach that 10% of women who have abortions will become sterile and that the risk of premature birth is increased following an abortion. Furthermore, abstinence-only programs state as proven fact that life begins at conception and that after 43 days a fetus becomes a “thinking person.” All of the above examples are directly contrary to established scientific fact.

Bush's evangelism is shared by Republican members of the Legislature, as well as by at least one justice of the Supreme Court. For instance, in the book One Electorate Under God?, Congressman Mark Souder of Indiana declares, “To ask me to check my Christian beliefs at the public door is to ask me to expel the Holy Spirit from my life when I serve as a congressman, and that I will not do.” Last week, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay remarked to the Family Research Council that, “One thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America.” In 2002, during a speech delivered at the University of Chicago Divinity School, Justice Antonin Scalia defended capital punishment not on legal grounds, but religious ones. “Few doubted the morality of the death penalty in the age that believed in the divine right of kings.”

Following Bush's reelection, much hay was made about the evangelical-Christian vote being the difference between Bush and Kerry. Indeed, Reverend Bob Jones III wasted no time in reminding the newly-elected Bush of the debt he owed to the evangelists: “In your re-election, God has graciously granted America -- though she doesn't deserve it -- a reprieve from the agenda of paganism.... You owe the liberals nothing. They despise you because they despise your Christ....”

It is difficult to prove exactly what and how large of a role the evangelists in particular and religion in general played in Bush's victory. Nonetheless, as evidenced by post-election articles in The American Prospect, recent speeches by Hilary Clinton, and by Democrats’ support for the Terri Schiavo bill, Democrats have taken the bait and have begun to find Jesus.

It would be a mistake for the Democrats to suddenly declare themselves born again. First, the cynicism would be so transparent that any new-found piety would likely blow up in the Democrats’ faces. Second, and more importantly, it would be wrong for them to do so. The United States was founded upon Enlightenment ideals of promoting reason over faith in government deliberations, as well as protecting minorities from the tyranny of the majorities, including religious ones. To that end, Jefferson and Madison fought to include constitutional separation of church and state in the U.S. Constitution. Bush and his cronies have demonstrated their lack of respect for constitutional separation. Democrats should not abandon theirs.

Ken Sanders is an attorney based in Tucson, Arizona. Visit his weblog at:  He can be reached at:

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Other Articles by Ken Sanders

* Bush, Schiavo, and the Stench of Hypocrisy
* Supporting the Troops
* Scoffing the Rule of Law
* Putting the "Mock" in Democracy
* Torture’s Our Business ... and Business is Good
* Remember Afghanistan?
* The United States’ Hypocritical Nuclear Policy
The “Other” Iraqi Conflict
* Cause for Alarm: Regime Change Redux
* Still Playing Cute With the Law
* The Boogeyman and Social Security