In Heaven as it is on Earth? George W.
Bush's Troubling Theocracy
August 17, 2004
By Jeremy Yunt
aside the facts that we never found any weapons of mass destruction
in Iraq (the purported reason for attacking that country) and that
Osama Bin Laden is still on the loose, the capture of Saddam Hussein
and the supposed recovery of the American economy seem to indicate
a streak of good luck for George W. Bush. If you asked him about
these recent events you would, of course, get quite a different
For just as Bush seems to believe that material success is somehow
tied to one's status as a member of God's elect (the thesis German
sociologist Max Weber exposed in 1905 in his work The Protestant
Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism), he also believes that his
own policies are guided by the Almighty Himself. Bush's political
maneuvers are pure Divine Providence.
If you don't believe this, then just ask televangelist Pat Robertson,
one of Bush's chief supporters, and apparently his self-appointed
link to God: "I really believe I'm hearing from the Lord that it's
going to be a blowout election in 2004. ... The Lord has just blessed
him [Bush]. ... It doesn't make any difference what he does, good
or bad; God picks him up because he's a man of prayer, and God's
The problem with such a prediction - especially coming from a
man like Robertson - is that as a self-proclaimed Christian, Bush's
allegiance to the privileged among us just doesn't seem to square
with his blatant disregard for those Jesus referred to as "the least
among us" - the hundreds of thousands in America in dire need of
adequate health care, nutrition, employment, and a perhaps even
a warm place to sleep tonight.
Bush's selective reading of the Bible has turned his eye from perhaps
Jesus' most potent socioeconomic indictment: The rich will have
an easier time getting through the eye of a needle than they will
in entering heaven. With his typically rich use of metaphor, Jesus
distills for us here an archetypal truth resonating from the earliest
times of written history. Greed - the uncontrollable, and often
unconscious, fixation on owning and controlling more resources than
one can immediately use - is injurious to one's spiritual life.
Greed has clear psychological and physical consequences for those
at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder: economic anxiety, inadequate
access to health care and education, and/or a life of toilsome and
mind-numbing labor. But as strange as it may sound, those perpetrating
these conditions from their favored economic or political position
suffer, as well. And one day in the not-so-distant future, what
we now refer to somewhat humorously as "affluenza" - the inability
to distinguish between true need and insatiable desire - will receive
its rightful standing as a bonafide psychological disease.
Basically a dysfunctional relationship with money and the power
that accompanies it, the symptoms of affluenza are many and varied:
a false sense of entitlement; self-aggrandizement; alienation from,
and/or a feeling of superiority over those with less capital or
land; an inability to tolerate adverse physical conditions or delayed
gratification; an obsessive need to control one's immediate environment;
and an indefinable feeling of emptiness no matter how much money
is gained or spent. The root of such a disease might be denial and
narrow-sightedness, but its inevitable result is an unfounded sense
of pride and self-righteousness.
Nowhere does this seem to manifest itself more than in the political
and economic agendas of George W. Bush.
His simplistic melding of politics and religion in the service
of an elect corporate finance scheme allows him to think that when
the rich get richer and the poor poorer, this brightened economic
turn is simply a result of God's Will shining down on the deserving.
Bush has turned the Gospel on its head. And the right wing radicals
funding his mission - whether found on the New York stock floor,
sitting on his Cabinet, or rallying from the pulpit - couldn't be
happier. It's Social Darwinism at its finest: The fittest surely
will survive; that is, as long as Dubya is watching over their interests.
One of the main problems with Bush's quasi-religious ideology
is that its logic is circular. When he (and anyone he's anointed
with some degree of political and economic stature) stacks up the
cards so those who are already on top come out the winners, it should
be no surprise when the cards hit the table. Need I say anything
more than Enron and Halliburton (of which VP Dick Cheney was CEO)
to make this point any clearer? Well, yes, perhaps I should.
It should be no secret by now that one of George W. Bush's central
political missions is to make himself and his corporate sponsors
money. . . and lots of it. So in assembling his Cabinet after taking
the office of the Presidency, he left no business out in the cold
- regardless of any glaring conflicts of interest.
Because these Cabinet appointments are supposed to be impartial
representatives of the American public's interests (this is a democracy,
isn't it), it's worth naming a few of these people and how their
personal corporate histories fit into Bush's program of unchecked
- Ann Veneman (Agricultural Secretary), who served on the board
of directors of Calgene, the first company to bring a genetically-altered
food (the Flavr Savr tomato) to the supermarket;
- Spencer Abraham (Energy Secretary), a one-term Michigan senator
who was the number-one recipient of campaign contributions from
the automotive industry, receiving over $700,000 in contributions
from GM, Ford, Lear Corporation, and DaimlerChrysler;
- Tommy Thompson (Health and Human Services Secretary), who
as governor of Wisconsin was heavily funded by Philip Morris,
Merck, Abbott Laboratories, and Amtrak (a major recipient of
- Gale Norton (Interior Secretary), an attorney who represented
Delta Petroleum in court, lobbied for NL Industries in lawsuits
over child exposure to lead paint, and who served as the National
Chairwoman of the Coalition of Republican Environmental Advocates
- a group funded by, among others, Ford and oil giant BP Amoco;
- Condoleeza Rice (National Security Advisor), who sat on Chevron's
board and had an oil tanker named after her.
If these appointments don't raise your eyebrows just a little
and bring images to mind of the proverbial fox guarding the chicken
coop, then I don't know what will.
It has always been the fundamental premise of conservatism that
the free-market system - marked by increased competition, the logic
of supply and demand, and aggressive individualism - is the most
hallowed "law" to ever bless our great nation. Why, then, one should
ask, does the Bush administration subscribe to a blatant and highly
unmitigated corporate welfare system - the exact thing it finds
reprehensible on the individual level?
We're suppose to believe that unemployed members of society are
social pariahs when they receive a check every month for a few hundred
dollars to help them with life's necessities (and, sure there's
welfare fraud), but then turn the other way when billions of taxpayer
dollars are given to large private corporations and billed as "economic
The agriculture sector is one glaring example of this, receiving
$35 billion in 2002 for crop subsidies, export subsidies, subsidized
insurance, and various research programs. According to the Cato
Institute, "Congress and the Bush administration have agreed to
a new farm subsidy bill that will cost taxpayers $190 billion during
the next decade, despite heavy criticism from analysts across the
Besides costing each American taxpayer considerable amounts of
hard-earned money each year, this agricultural policy also causes
immense human suffering. Before such subsidies, farmers in underdeveloped
nations could compete with American farmers and export their goods
just to eke out a meager existence. Now, in gruesome testament to
the immorality of Bush's corporate-sponsored agricultural policy,
suicide rates among failing farmers in underdeveloped nations is
rising at a staggering rate. No matter how Bush twists the logic,
it seems the pernicious heart of capitalism cannot be silenced for
With such rampant corporate socialism taking place, conservatives
still want us to believe that government should exercise the most
extreme fiscal efficiency possible. This is what Bush built his
campaign on in the 2000 election. And now, less than four years
later? We have gone from a record federal surplus under the Clinton
administration to a record federal deficit under the Bush administration
- and I was no fan of Clinton, either.
While prison construction forges ahead full-speed, corporate CEOs
reap pay over 100 times that of their employees, and the military
budget seems to have no limit in sight, the average citizen sits
back and wonders why they are working harder, relaxing less, and
seeing diminishing returns on their hard-earned money. This siphoning
of wealth from the middle and lower tiers of society - while simultaneously
scapegoating the underclass as an economic drain - is a trademark
of conservatism. It's also absolutely counter to the central tenets
of the religion George Bush claims to follow.
It's important to remember that the very events leading up to
the inception of Christianity were determined by questions and confrontations
surrounding religious tradition and political economy. While attacking
the material excesses and overly-legalistic tendencies of his own
Jewish religious tradition, Jesus disavowed several other specific
groups: the Roman Empire (the hoarders and squanderers of peasant
wealth), usurers and tax collectors (who extracted wealth from the
peasantry for the upper classes and themselves), and the money-changers
(who sought to profit from their neighbors without actually producing
anything of value to society).
In all these cases, Jesus seems to make one point very clear: There
is a spiritual imperative in our seemingly mundane, secular economic
relationships. In other words, our material relations with others
- and the values we hold that determine them - either foster life,
love, material well-being, and equitability, or they deny and destroy
Of course, such a message does not sit well with the likes of
George Bush. For obvious material reasons, he prefers an otherwordly
escapist theology, with its emphasis on personal "virtue" and apocalyptic
salvation from the cursed earth to another pure heavenly realm.
It's a less complicated and messy worldview for sure, and it certainly
lessens the burden of having to actually care for the environment
and the less fortunate in society - except, perhaps, for a quick
Thanksgiving day meal serving at the local homeless shelter, or
a trip to one of our lovely national parks. And what great photo
ops those make!
The problem with having a leader who subscribes to an escapist
theology is that it has serious consequences for those of us who
actually believe that religion has vital implications for the world
and our lives in it. Let's go back to the early 1980s for an indispensable
example of what I mean.
When Ronald Reagan took office for his first term as President,
he chose a man named James Watt as his Interior Secretary - the
person responsible for overseeing the stewardship of our national
parks, wildernesses, other publicly-owned lands, and the general
health of America's environment. Watt was an adherent of "dominion
theology," a fundamentalist biblical interpretation which believes
the earth is here for humans to subdue and use for whatever purposes
it sees fit; that is, as long as such subduing doesn't adversely
affect the subduer and his or her immediate desires.
Upon taking his new post, Watt immediately began his crusade to
gut environmental laws that had been in place for decades - laws
which had firm scientific proof for their effectiveness in protecting
our waters, air, human health, and wildlife. The outpouring of protest
was swift and formidable. In 1981, not long after taking his post,
Watt responded: "I do not know how many future generations we can
count on before the Lord returns."
Wow! How do you respond to that sort of logic? If Jesus is coming
soon, then why not continue to drive that gas-guzzling SUV? Why
not loosen environmental regulations on polluting companies and
allow more cancers and birth defects? Fortunately, the pressure
was turned up so high that Watt had no choice but to resign his
But here we are in the next millennium with mounting scientific
evidence as to how humans are altering the environment, and thus
our own health, for the worse. And here we are again with a President
that couldn't seem to care less. Though he hasn't come right out
and reiterated Reagan's conviction that if you've seen one tree
you've seen 'em all, he may as well have with the environmental
policies he's rushing into law.
From pulling out of the decades-old Kyoto Treaty on global warming,
to trying to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil
drilling, to passing anti-environmental laws with misnomers like
the "Clear Skies Initiative" and "Healthy Forests Initiative," President
Bush is a true-blue proponent of dominion theology. And, again,
his corporate sponsors couldn't be more happy about it.
No matter how you look at it, Bush's theocratic ideology is elementary
and parochial, his vision of the future is improvident and life-denying,
and the immediate effects of his economic and environmental policies
are anxiety-producing. Like a schoolyard bully hiding his insidious
intentions behind a boyish grin, Bush wields his political, religious,
and economic power like a billy-club to keep people in a state of
constant fear. And worse, mass protests around the world against
his policies and highly focused opinions of dissent seem to fall
on deaf ears - regardless of how large they are (the protests, that
In the midst of a degrading environment and billions of people
around the globe struggling economically, Bush's egocentric theology
threatens the very existence of life on earth. An imminent plan
to resuscitate nuclear power - an economic and environmental nightmare
put to rest for very, very good reasons - is simply one example
Whereas Native Americans used to make decisions for their tribes
by considering the possible effects of those decisions on the next
seven generations, with Bush we're lucky if he thinks beyond the
next quarterly report of his stock portfolio. Which brings up an
interesting question: How can someone like Bush be anti-abortion
and assert the sanctity of life for a fetus, yet knowingly create
environmental policies that are pushing humanity and unborn generations
toward a future with a bleak horizon? Mortal life, it seems, is
but a dress rehearsal for a better one beyond the grave.
This sort of fundamentalism is finding widespread favor across
the globe because it is able to lay down a simple path of deliverance
to an ultimate goal: if one acts this way and believes these things,
then one will prevail. If not... well, we all know where that path
leads. In such a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible, religion
is reduced to two simplistic, ego-centered focuses: relentless moralizing
and an obsession with a personal, supra-cosmic salvation.
Unfortunately, one of the first casualties of this theology is
the ability for one to make connections between personal religious
views and the way these views can support systemic economic, sociopolitical,
and environmental oppression. From the religious perspective, it
is possible to say that our very neglect of the concrete suffering
right in front of us - in this time - will bring suffering beyond,
or above, time. In fact, with a proper reading of the world's religious
traditions we find this teaching almost universally. Take the Buddhist
concept of karma. What we do in this life in relationship with others
does, in fact, affect our being, our soul, in the next - however
we may conceive of that realm or state of mind.
The point all religions attempt to make is that we are not isolated,
separate individuals, for we all share in a common destiny. The
philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich put it this way: "The reunion
with the eternal from which we come, from which we are separated,
and to which we shall return, is promised to everything that is.
We are saved not as individuals, but in unity with all others and
with the universe."
Can you imagine how such a universal, and earth-loving, understanding
of salvation might radically alter our relationship with each other
and our world? I certainly can, but only if we reclaim the true
meaning of salvation, which comes from the Latin word salvus: healed
or made whole. Salvation is a concept embracing both the temporal
and the nontemporal, the personal and the social. If it does not
come in this life, it does not come at all.
For many people, religion is a force for positive change against
the sorts of economic and political injustices perpetrated by the
Bush administration. Many people pray, fast, gather in churches
to worship, volunteer their time to help the less fortunate, the
environment, or animals, and ultimately work towards embodying the
teachings of their religion's founder - be it the Buddha, Jesus,
Muhammed, or Confucius.
For these people there is a conscious recognition that one person's
efforts can matter not only to his or herself, but to the world
as a whole - to the living and to the unborn. Their religious acts
are based on a belief that in becoming a moral person one is actualizing
the very best, most essential part of their human nature. For them,
the moral act is not practiced for hopes of gaining a reward; being
moral is the reward itself.
For the sake of this beautiful world, it's time we reinterpret
and redefine the very nature of religion. Its time we rediscover
its potential for promoting real well-being for all people and for
our planet. Let's give George a ride back to Texas later this year.
I'll gladly donate the plane ticket.
Jeremy Yunt is a scholar and screenwriter with a Master's in
Ethics and Depth Psychology. Among others, his writing appears in
Philosophy Now (UK), The Journal of Humanistic Psychology,
the Mill Valley Literary Review, and the Santa Barbara
News-Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.