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April 20, 2004

George W. Bush, theologian.
“We will never show weakness in the face of these people who have no soul”
A question for Electrolite’s commenters. Is there actually any strain or denomination of Christianity in which some people are considered to “have no soul”? No, I didn’t think so either.

(Via Atrios and Whopundit, both of whom leave open the possibility that Bush is referring to our adversaries’ lack of James Brown and Aretha Franklin albums.)

Let’s all hold our breaths waiting for the people who’ve been slamming pro-choice John Kerry for being a “bad Catholic” to spend just as much energy on this particular point of doctrine. Oh, wait. Let’s not. [11:58 AM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on George W. Bush, theologian.:

Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 12:45 PM:

Reminds me of that skit from "Amazon Women on the Moon."

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 12:56 PM:

Sometimes I wonder if Bush & Co. wandered into our reality from an unpublished Cyril Kornbluth novel.

They hates are freedoms, so they must have no soul.

Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 01:13 PM:

No argument on your main point, and it's not certainly not official Christian doctrine, but there was a debate about whether fairies and merpeople had souls, ended pretty emphatically by Aquinas saying that if someone presented him with either, he'd then deal with the soul issue.

Those people who believed that the Angevins were descended from Melusine, the daughter of Satan, (or who just didn't like them and wanted ammunition for abuse) certainly threw their supposedly questionable soul status at them during the twelfth century.

(Poul Anderson dealt with this soul stuff absolutely brilliantly in more than one short story collected in his fantasy collection and in _The Merman's Children_ and in _The Broken Sword_.)

What Bush means, I suspect, is that they are not, in his eyes, people. Not real people, not human in the way he is. This is a very dangerous, as well as stupid, belief to hold about anyone, because it loses the possibility of your managing to understand why they are doing what they are doing. He should go to see the fascinating documentary _The Fog of War_ and hear Robert MacNamara explaining how they managed to avert global thermonuclear war at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis by understanding the enemy.

I can imagine bumper stickers saying "I have a soul, and I vote!"

Paul ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 01:18 PM:

<Robert Plant> ... I don't know, but I've been told--Muqtada al-Sadr ain't got no soul!</Robert Plant>

Maybe that's what he meant.

Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 01:42 PM:

Oh, the irony of George W. Bush invoking the name of Milton Hershey.

Quoth the Guardian:

[T]he town dreamed up by the 19th-century confectionery magnate Milton Hershey - a worker's utopia of good schools, free healthcare, affordable housing, theatres, parks and a zoo, built on profits from the ubiquitous chocolate bar and the conical, silver-wrapped Kisses.

A far cry from "No Child Left Behind" or the "Medicare drug benefit" methinks.

ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 02:03 PM:

I checked for soulless at m-w.com and then the Britannica link.

There are two types of listing: (1) beings (e.g., the sylph) deemed soulless by Paraclesus and (2) several referents to colonization, marginalization, and Enlightenment.

Mr. Bush appears to be continuing the "grand" tradition of demonizing the opposition and making the world safe for domination. Mr. Brooks's recent comments in the NYT denying the parallels to Britain/Iraq in the 1930s seem all the more hollow...

Rich Puchalsky ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 02:25 PM:

Every national Fascism has to have its own language for dehumanizing the enemies that it creates. Most fascisms preferred "vermin" or "disease". Bush, since he's appealing to Christofascists, prefers "no soul". Objecting that real Christianity does not consider anyone to have no soul is about the same as objecting that real people are not vermin or diseases. It's true -- but that's not the point.

r@d@r ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 02:26 PM:

maybe what he actually meant was "no [guitar] solos", thus trying to appeal to the nu-metal demographic.

ahhh, i got nuthin.

if anybody i've ever seen looked "not all there", it's georgie. he's like the old anna nicole smith, lately. "shuuut uuuup! what're you lookin' at! bring me my piiills! and some chocolate caaaaake!"

Paul ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 02:47 PM:

Or maybe Mr. Bush wants to revisit the Las Casas-Sepúlveda debates of the 16th century. Ginés de Sepúlveda's condescension sounds suspiciously like Mr. Bush's at times.

If that's the case, then Sublimus Dei is way ahead of him

Michael ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 03:01 PM:

Or maybe it's just a footwear problem. You can't show weakness in the face of people with no soles.

Ron ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 03:22 PM:

Nor can you do so in the face of people who don't eat a certain type of fish.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 03:43 PM:

Is Paraclesus the same guy as Paracelsus? If so, he coined the words "alcohol" and "zink", and was born with the name Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, which is so much better a name than Paracelsus (or Paraclesus) that I'm inclined to doubt the man's judgement.

bryan ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 03:45 PM:

well let's think of this shall we, if someone has no sole, it follows that they have no shoes, which indicates in turn that they have no money.

If they have no money this means they are not one of the productive members of society (by money I of course use the technical definition of the word, over 1 million dollars) if they are not the productive members of the society they are not helping the less fortunate. And I ask you, what kind of christian doesn't help the less fortunate. No kind of christian, now what kind of christian would be no kind of christian I ask you? Why the kind that has no soul that's what kind.


hmm, I wonder if we will ever show intellectual weakness to these people without a soul.

slacktivist ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 03:56 PM:

Talk of who does/doesn't have a soul reminds me less of theology than of the rules governing Joss Whedon's Buffyverse.

I take Bush's comment as further evidence that sees himself as the Chosen One, destined to slay the vampires and the evildurrs.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 03:57 PM:

So that's what all that Skull and Bones stuff was really all about. And Cheney is his Watcher?

Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 04:21 PM:

These are the times that try men's souls.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 04:53 PM:

Or maybe it's just a footwear problem. You can't show weakness in the face of people with no soles.

Interesting. I'm sure most of the Iraqi people would love to show Bush their soles. But he's too culturally ignorant to get it if they did.

MD² ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 05:05 PM:

Of women and souls
One of the soulless mythos I had trouble to track down and figure in my youth... Now the net made it real easy to find pertinent info on the matter...

Disturbed by the name "Fraternal Order of Police
Pennsylvania State Lodge" while reading the article, I couldn't but picture a secret society of some kind, I went to check their site
Now don't know why, but(scroll down svp)that NO DONUTS: Culinary Cops book project really makes me feel an awkward prescient glimpse of world domination conspiracies...

And there's no doubt in my mind that, with the Almighty's blessings and hard work, that we will succeed in our mission.
Is that only strange for me that he's waiting for god to actually do the hard work ?

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 05:25 PM:

OK, here is the entire paragraph, which is quite near the end of the speech:

And there's only one path to safety and that's the path of action. Congress must act with the Patriot Act. We must continue to stay on the offense when it comes to chasing these killers down and bringing them to justice -- and we will. We've got to be strong and resolute and determined. We will never show weakness in the face of these people who have no soul, who have no conscience, who care less about the life of a man or a woman or a child. We've got to do everything we can here at home. And there's no doubt in my mind that, with the Almighty's blessings and hard work, that we will succeed in our mission.
Well, is is more cohereent than the pararaph before it, and it appears that the expression "no soul" is in some ways hyperbolic, part of a stirring peroration. Combining it with the reference to the Almighty is, at the least, theologically unfortunate.

Skipping the soteriological malaprop, there is a deep problem in this paragraph, one of the defects of thinking that underlie our difficulties with fighting al Quaeda, wtih Iraq, and with most of the Muslim world. There is an story today on Slate by Dave Cullen about the Columbine killers that includes an excellent discussion of just what a real psychopath is. (I am resisting the temptation to go completely OT and get deep into the article -- read it yourself for some new insights into Columbine. Here is another article on the subject. Reading about this is fascinating in the same way as reading the technical details of judicial hanging.) A true psychopath is not psychotic, acts rationally and exercises free choice. But a psychopath is effectively without conscience in a psychological sense, without empathy for any other person, grandiose, and deceptive. Being a psycopath does not necessarily make you legally insane, but it may make you a serial killer.

The President's basic argument here is that those we oppose are conscienceless psychopaths, their motivations are therefore beyond our understanding or influence, and therefore vigorus violent action is the only response. While in this speech he is referring to domestic threats in support of the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, it applies just as much to many of the statements coming from official souces about the insurgents in Iraq. Any stated grievance against us must therefore be irrational, and should be ignored in determing the vigoruss course of action required. Sounds nice -- convenient and neat. We have carefully categorized our opponents, made them the perfect beast, and need no longer be concerned with them as persons, with why they did these things.

This only works if they really are psychopaths, and I have my doubts about that. Extremely radicalized -- definitely. Evil -- yep. But I think there are patterns of religious and political, as well as in some cases personal, motivations that are key to understanding what we face. In fact, in many cases, the kind of action that Bush is calling for may have precisely the opposite effect of what he intends. Consider the West Bank . . .

If they are not psychopaths, if they are merely the most radicalized members of a larger society that shares in varying ways the same influences, the kind of tactics we have been choosing will not work over the long term. We simply do not have a big enough army, and there is no feasible way to build one large enough. As long as you see our opponents this way, you are blind to the realities of why were are in this situation.

Rick Heller ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 05:56 PM:

Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Hassidism, wrote that people had two souls, a divine soul and an animal soul. Reminds me of the dual nature of Christ, fully God and fully human.

MD² ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 06:06 PM:

There's also the "Gros bon ange" and "Ti bon ange" in Voodoo as far as having two ouls is concerned (I was about to use the word dual, then realised how unfitting it was).

Thanks for the Slate article Mr Muncey, it made fascinating reading.

colleen lindsay ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 07:15 PM:

Yeah, even them there limbo babies got soul. Man, they used to freak me out when i was a kid in Catholic school, though. "Waddaya mean they can't go to heaven cos they weren't baptized? That's just mean."

Keith ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 07:19 PM:
Egyptian soul (From Wikipedia)

In Egyptian mythology, the human soul is made up of five parts: the Ka, the Ba, the Akh, the Name and the Shadow.

Akh
The Akh ("to shine") changed somewhat in the history of Egyptian belief. It was, at first, the unchanging unification of Ka and Ba, which united after the death of the physical body. In this sense, it was a sort of ghost. The Akh was then a part of the Akh-Akh, the panoply of Akhs from other people, gods and animals. Alternatively, the Ka changed into the Akh and Ba after death, rather than uniting with the Ba. In this system, the Akh went to the underworld and became the Ka again, while th Ba remained on Earth in the corpse of the deceased.
Alternative: Khu

Ka
The Ka was the spiritual soul of a person or a god, a type of mana. The Ka was created by Mesenet along with the physical form of the person, and then continued to the underworld after the death of the physical body.

Ba
After the death of an individual, the Ba was the shell or physical body that remained on Earth in its tomb. At some point the Ba was to reunite with the Ka and thus the body was mummified. Should the body be destroyed it was believed that a stone sculpture would suffice."

Perhaps Bush is simply refering to the Akh, in which case he could almost be excused, as dealing with Egyption Eschatological models is befuddling for even Egyptologists, let alone layfolk. However, if he is refering to their Ka, than, as I understand it, this is a serious insult. But our dear Leader wouldn't dish outinsults, especially elaborate, backhanded Egyptian insults, would he?

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 08:06 PM:

Mister? That hurts.

MD, if you are posting here, Claude is just fine.

Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 09:01 PM:

Claude: A true psychopath is not psychotic, acts rationally and exercises free choice. But a psychopath is effectively without conscience in a psychological sense, without empathy for any other person, grandiose, and deceptive.

This may sound flip (and if it does, my apologies), but that sounds like a description of the Bush White House to me.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 09:44 PM:

He's supposed to be a Christian, and he says that? It's a basic principle: Everyone has a soul. Not since they announced Operation Infinite Justice have I been so convinced that non-Chinos are far rarer in this administration than anyone admits.

TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 10:24 PM:

Operation Infinite Justice, did that come before or after Operation Just Deserts? It is so hard to keep track of all of them.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 11:27 PM:

I think there's something extremely creepy about a Born Again Christian referring to anyone else as not having a soul. I mean, even hell is off limits to these not-really-people? I realize that it was just a thoughtless remark -- like most of what Bush says. However, it does lead me to feel even greater antipathy towards his religious rhetoric. I don't normally expect politicians to be models of theological rigor, but here we have a man who says that he makes his decisions based on his discussions with God in prayer, and yet he can't remember that the most important thing about each and every person is that they were created in the image of God, and that they were endowed with a soul? If he's forgotten that, what other basic Christian principles has he forgotten? (Rhetorical question. Did you know that one of the signs of fandom is answering rhetorical questions?)

Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 11:43 PM:

Following the comments of others:
There was a debate at one time about whether women had souls. I think that was mainly mediaeval. How they could do it with the biblical examples and list of female saints is A Mystery, though neither Glorious nor Joyful. More recently there was considerable discussion about whether Negroes or -- as covered in the film The Mission -- the South American autochthonous population did (thanks Paul for linking more details).

Naturally, despite being dressed up with apparently rational arguments, the 'subtext' is usually that this is a way of dehumanizing a group so you can treat them badly, e.g. you can flog Negro slaves because 'they don't feel pain the same way', break up their families & so forth, (Do I remember passages in, Huckleberry Finn where this attitude is satirized?), or deny women, negroes or native races rights or advantages like owning property, managing money, deciding where or how to live or work, etc.

Yeah, and what Claude (Mr Muncey, sir) said too.

[There's a growing-commoner phrase in that quote that's irritating me too. "I could care less" which is obviously wrong for "I couldn't care less" - which must be what they mean. If you could care less, surely you do care somewhat, and aren't they trying to say they don't care at all? <seethe> ... then there's "beat up on" and this new thing of calling a par or para a graf that just makes for misunderstandings with graphs & graphics ... <hobbles off, shaking head, leaning on stick, muttering & grumbling>]

David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2004, 12:14 AM:

non-Chinos

[*]

Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2004, 02:10 AM:

(Looks at barbecue fork): These are the tines that fry men's soles

Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2004, 03:31 AM:

"The President's basic argument here is that those we oppose are conscienceless psychopaths, their motivations are therefore beyond our understanding or influence, and therefore vigorus violent action is the only response."

But even conscienceless psychopaths' motivations are understandable; it's their lack of inhibitions that's hard to understand. That is, psychopaths are motivated by greed, anger, envy, selfishness, hatred, contempt, emotions we all feel. The difference is that they don't share the feelings and beliefs that in most of us keep those passions more or less in check.

So even if our enemies were conscienceless psychopaths, we still might benefit from thinking about their motivations, even if only at the level of "how could we get them to hate each other more than they hate us?". Trying to appeal to their consciences would be useless, but I haven't heard anyone propose that anyway.

Interesting how "We've got to be strong and resolute and determined" implies that under Bush's leadership, we are currently doing that. The whole paragraph is an attempt to say "anyone who disagrees with my approach is a weakling and a coward", without making the idea explicit, and so subject to debate.

Oh, and Lydia, "I realize that it was just a thoughtless remark"... I took a look at the whole speech, and I'm pretty certain it was a scripted speech. It's possible that Bush stuck "no souls" in there alongside where his text said "no consciences" as he was reading, but I doubt it. So there's a good chance that several people (including presumably the President) read that line over at least once beforehand.

Phil ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2004, 06:33 AM:

What if there was a terrorist with no soul who was cursed by the gypsies so that he had one and could feel remorse? Does the President have a view as to whether this is possible?

Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2004, 07:46 AM:

I know at least one gypsy. Assuming the President isn't warded from curses, it's worth a shot.

ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2004, 08:21 AM:

Avram,

Thank you for the spelling correction. I guess all this soul stuff had my fingers trying to type Paraclete.

Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2004, 09:14 AM:

Speaking of Avram's spelling: You do mean "zinc," I hope?

I think what the President was trying to say was...Well, if some geeky kid got up at the mic and tried to belt out a rendition of "When a Man Loves a Woman," we might say he "had no soul," as opposed to, say, Wilson Pickett (or Percy Sledge). We wouldn't be implying he was actually lacking in a soul in the Christian sense, merely that he wasn't manifesting it in his behavior. In the same way, we talk of people who "have no heart" if they act in what seems a cold or merciless way.

Of course, while we don't have any extant recordings of Bush or Cheney getting musical (as opposed to Soul Brother No. 1, sax man Bill Clinton), John Ashcroft's recordings (e.g., "Blessed Be That City," from the self-released LP Gospel (Music) According to John, while heartfelt and sometimes lyrically clever, isn't exactly the sort of thing that would set Berry Gordy's heart a-thumpin'. Al-Sadr's cassette-only release "Slay the Infidel Dogs" b/w "Drive the Crusaders and Their Demon Lackeys Into the Sea," on the other hand, has an unstoppable beat and is heating up local world-music charts....Local distributors expect the breakout release to zoom to the top of the charts as soon as electricity is restored so people can actually play the thing....

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2004, 12:29 PM:

"By order of the prophet
We ban that boogie sound
Degenerate the faithful
With that crazy Casbah sound
But the Bedouin they brought out
The electric camel drum
The local guitar picker
Got his guitar picking thumb
As soon as the shareef
Had cleared the square
They began to wail..."

Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2004, 01:00 PM:

I think that "I could care less" actually is code for "I could care less about this, but I don't" which translates as "this isn't worthy of any/anymore of my attention than I'm paying to it, or want to pay to it."

For that matter, terms like "worthless" and "careless" are to an extent oxymorons, to what "less" is supposed to mean.

"less" isn't "null," or "lacking." "Careless" gets used to mean "lacking in care" as opposed to a value judgment of less care versus more care. "Worthless" gets used to mean "has no value" as opposed to having less value. "Meritless" denotes having no merit, not have less merit. "Depraved" denoted absence or lack of a quality, not "less". "less" is a comparative term...

Meanwhile, every time I head a broadcaster say "one year anniversary" or "five year anniversary" I want to scream at them. I do yell everytime I hear Bush say "noocular."

skippy ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2004, 01:19 PM:

i'm surprised nobody mentioned the fact that the showing of the sole of the foot is considering an insult in some parts of the arabic world.

ergo, awol is obviously stating that his enemies are fundamentally incapable of insulting him.

or something.

Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2004, 02:40 PM:

Uh, skippy, take a look at Xopher's post above.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2004, 03:30 PM:

"I do yell everytime I hear Bush say 'noocular.'"

Yes, well, Jimmy Carter said "noocular" too, and he served as a a noocular engineer on a submarine.

I personally would be just as happy to retire this particular bit of anti-Bush japery. Lots of people have trouble pronouncing "nuclear," and many of them are smart people who might well be on our side. You don't need it in order to demonstrate that GWB isn't the sharpest crayon in the box.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2004, 03:49 PM:

skippy: i'm surprised nobody mentioned the fact that the showing of the sole of the foot is considering an insult in some parts of the arabic world.

Me, somewhat upthread: Interesting. I'm sure most of the Iraqi people would love to show Bush their soles. But he's too culturally ignorant to get it if they did.

How's that?

You don't need it in order to demonstrate that GWB isn't the sharpest crayon in the box.

Or, as I've put it to friends: "You know the expression 'not the sharpest knife in the drawer'? Well, he's a spoon."

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2004, 03:51 PM:

<blush> How did I miss Jeremy's post? Hoist, petard, own, I'll just go sit in the corner wif by fub ib by bouf.

MDtoMN ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2004, 04:40 PM:

The gnostics thought that some people didn't have souls, but they don't have many adherents left.

Seriously though, this "no soul" comment is certainly at odds with OFFICIAL evangelical beliefs, though it is surprisingly common among many evangelicals I encounter. It also is certainly against Methodist doctrine, though since Bush almost never goes to church that hardly matters.

Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2004, 05:54 PM:

"You know the expression 'not the sharpest knife in the drawer'? Well, he's a spoon."

A plastic or wooden spoon, such as you might use to stir in your Teflon pots so as not to scrape the coating.

Temperance ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2004, 09:39 PM:

"I could care less ... [unspoken: but it's hard to see how]". I dunno, somehow it sounds better than "I couldn't care less."

Mr Ripley ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2004, 11:07 PM:

I always just assumed that "I could care less" was a sarcasm, more or less equivalent to "Hmph, like I care." I guess that's more or less the same as what other people here (can one say "other people here"? It's not the same as "you people", is it?) are saying.

I was reminded by Jo Walton's comment that, if you look at Oscar Wilde's "The Fisherman and his Soul," souls too can be pretty heartless.

MD² ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2004, 12:26 AM:

Sorry about the use of "Mr" if it hurt. A bad habit of mine.

Remembered some interesting reading on the matter of soul attribution, or denial, can be found in lots of jesuit's journals of the renaissance period. Don't know where to point at for english materials, sadly.

Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2004, 01:55 AM:

I used to say unkind things when I heard Clinton say "noocular," too.

Chris Noto ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2004, 12:46 PM:

A bit OT, but in reference to Seth Gordon's quote,
"These are the times that try men's souls."

Sign seen on the building that housed the timing and scoring crew at the 1968 "12 Hours of Sebring" sports car race, "These are the souls that try men's times."

David Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2004, 02:22 PM:

Maybe Dubya is a fan of The Stunning, a 90s era rock band from Galway in Ireland. One of their most powerful songs is Men Without Souls which is a condemnation of those who promoted terror in Northern Ireland.
"Men without souls
The whole world is filled with them
Dragging their filth with them
Madmen will kill for them
Their mothers will feel for them
Men without souls"