Thursday, July 15, 2004

Bush vs. Lincoln and Roosevelt

A Newsday essayist complains about the fact that Bush made a speech with religious overtones after 9/11, and compares it to the secularism of Roosevelt and Lincoln:

Like most Americans, I responded to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, with an immediate wave of anger and grief so powerful that it left no room for alienation.

Walking around my wounded New York, as the smoke from the ruins of the World Trade Center wafted the smell of death throughout the city, I drew consolation from the knowledge that others were feeling what I was feeling - sorrow, pain and rage, coupled with the futile but irrepressible longing to turn back the clock to the hour before bodies rained from a crystalline sky.

That soothing sense of unity was severed for me just three days later, when the president presided over an ecumenical prayer service in Washington's National Cathedral. Delivering an address indistinguishable from a sermon, replacing the language of civic virtue with the language of faith, the nation's chief executive might as well have been the Reverend Bush. Quoting a man who supposedly said at St. Patrick's Cathedral, "I pray to God to give us a sign that he's still here," the president went on to assure the public not only that God was still here but that he was personally looking out for America.

* * *

Bush's very presence in the pulpit represented a significant departure from the behavior of other presidents in times of crisis. Franklin D. Roosevelt did not try to assuage the shock of Pearl Harbor by using an altar as the backdrop for his declaration of war and Abraham Lincoln, who steadfastly refused to join any church even though his political advisers urged him to do so, delivered the Gettysburg Address not from a sanctuary but on the battlefield where so many soldiers had given "the last full measure of devotion."
She's technically right about the location of those speeches. But did Roosevelt and Lincoln shy away from using religious -- even explicitly Christian -- rhetoric? Here's a sampling from their public speeches:

Franklin Roosevelt, radio address, October 27, 1941:
Your Government was in its possession another document made in Germany by Hitler's government. It is a detailed plan, which, for obvious reasons, the Nazis did not wish and do not wish to publicize just yet, but which they are ready to impose a little later on a dominated world -- if Hitler wins. It is a plan to abolish all existing religions - Protestant, Catholic, Mohammedan, Hindu, Buddhist, and Jewish alike. The property of all churches will be seized by the Reich and its puppets. The cross and all other symbols of religion are to be forbidden. The clergy are to be forever silenced under penalty of the concentration camps, where even now so many fearless men are being tortured because they have placed God above Hitler.

In the place of the churches of our civilization, there is to be set up an international Nazi church -- a church which will be served by orators sent out by the Nazi government. In the place of the Bible, the words of Mein Kampf will be imposed and enforced as Holy Writ. And in place of the cross of Christ will be put two symbols -- the swastika and the naked sword.

A god of blood and iron will take the place of the God of love and mercy. Let us well ponder that statement which I have made tonight.

* * *

Today in the face of this newest and greatest challenge of them all we Americans have cleared our decks and taken our battle stations. We stand ready in the defense of our Nation and the faith of our fathers to do what God has given us the power to see as our full duty.
Franklin Roosevelt, radio address, May 27, 1941:
Today the whole world is divided between human slavery and human freedom -- between pagan brutality and the Christian ideal.

We choose human freedom -- which is the Christian ideal.

No one of us can waver for a moment in his courage or his faith.

* * *

We reassert our abiding faith in the vitality of our constitutional Republic as a perpetual home of freedom, of tolerance, and of devotion to the word of God.
Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address:
If the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with His eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail by the judgment of this great tribunal of the American people.

* * *

Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulty.
Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address:
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful. You have once again disproved a claim the author never made.

2:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is no doubt that politicians throughout history have invoked God or quoted scripture. I imagine that is not the real problem the author of the article has with Bush.

Our current foreign policy and domestic policy (or lack therof of the latter) has religious beliefs at its core. In recent times, arguably more recent than FDR or Lincoln, the role of money and social agenda setting by people of certain strong relgious beliefs (read evangelical Christians) have more influence in the shaping of our policies than is warranted by our Constitution. After all, invoking "our" God to fight a (misguided) war against other extremists is rather ironic, isn't it?

4:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know the Nazis were no great lovers of the existing churches, but the "document" that Roosevelt cited sounds as fishy as some the "solid" evidence of WMDs that was cited as grounds for going to war with Iraq.

12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know the Nazis were no great lovers of the existing churches, but the "document" that Roosevelt cited sounds as fishy as some the "solid" evidence of WMDs that was cited as grounds for going to war with Iraq.

12:40 PM  

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