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March 30, 2003

As usual, it’s all about him
Posted by Teresa at 08:39 PM *

“They may be the ones facing danger on the battlefield,” says ABC News Online, “but US soldiers in Iraq are being asked to pray for George W. Bush.”

Thousands of marines have been given a pamphlet called “A Christian’s Duty,” a mini prayer book which includes a tear-out section to be mailed to the White House pledging [that] the soldier who sends it in has been praying for Bush. “I have committed to pray for you, your family, your staff and our troops during this time of uncertainty and tumult. May God’s peace be your guide,” says the pledge, according to a journalist embedded with coalition forces.
The pamphlet is the work of In Touch Ministries, which is a part of the Charles Stanley Institute for Personal Living and the In Touch Foundation, Inc. Their not exactly nondenominational site offers you a quiz on how well you know God, asking questions like Have you ever asked Jesus to be your personal lord and savior? and: If you die tonight, do you know without a doubt that you will go to heaven? They do have a piece called A Christian’s Duty in Times of War, but it’s very general advice, diffusely written, which boils down to “pray fervently, and do what God wants.” Those who feel that adults are entitled to a little more rigor than that might want to check this out.

But back to that pamphlet. Apparently it offers a daily prayer to be made for Mr. Bush et al. I had a moment’s hope when I saw today’s prayer, which was that Mr. Bush and his advisers “will seek God and his wisdom daily and not rely on their own understanding.” But given Monday’s prayer, I doubt that Sunday’s will do much good. Monday’s asks that Mr. Bush and his advisers will “be strong and courageous to do what is right regardless of critics.” Ignoring criticism is perhaps the one area in which Mr. Bush and his cronies need no help from anyone.

I find the whole enterprise grossly offensive. Which part of a Christian’s duty is it to pray for George W. Bush, except insofar as we are enjoined to pray for all our fellow critters? Yes, it’s traditional to pray for our leaders—but a pamphlet with set prayers, and a tear sheet you fill out and send in? The tear sheet is nominally sent in as a pledge, but I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts its real purpose is to gauge what more straightforward industries would refer to as market penetration.

I first heard about this from Erik Olson, a little while ago, but we just now got a spluttering, outraged letter about it from Andrew Phillips as well. He actually swears. I’ve known Andrew since the late 1970s, and I’m not sure that’s not the first time I’ve heard him swear. He’s normally the politest and most moderate of men. His letter continues,
If your stomachs are strong, I also just stumbled on, but I’ll warn you that it’s as bad as or worse than the URL suggests. Its front page asserts that divine mandate has put that feebleminded, morally challenged, inbred, penny-ante usurper in charge of the US. If you go, your visit will be counted, and I’m not sure if that’s a good idea. … I’m furious with this twit and his crew of sycophantic, self-enriching toadies.
No kidding.

I’d better finish up and get this posted, because we just heard from Susan Palwick about it. She said, “Jesus would be spinning in his grave, if he had one.” Also: “I’m certainly praying for him. I doubt my prayers are the ones he wants; but hey.”

Just so. Exactly so.

Comments on As usual, it's all about him:
#1 ::: Darkhawk ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2003, 10:11 PM:

(I discovered the livejournal RSS feed for this today. Yay! I've missed your words.)

I want to say "What is it with all this religious looniness?" but I rather suspect I know the answer to that one.

I do wish I had the power to add to their 'Key Scriptures' section on the matter of prayer my favorite portions of Matthew 6. . . .

#2 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2003, 11:42 PM:

I'm praying for more powerful pretzels.


#3 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2003, 01:26 AM:

Considering some of the places I have lived and some of the stupid things I have done, it is usually hard for spiritual obtuseness to leave me gobsmacked. This did it.

I have no problems with various groups sending various books and stuff off to "our boys at war" -- that freedom to do that is what our forces are supposed to be fighting for and soldiers in the field are pretty good at working out the most worthwhile use for whatever they receive. (Think about it.) But the arrogance behind asking them to send in that little slip of paper -- I'm speechless.

If you a believer, you should be praying for the President, at least once a day -- more would be good. I try to. But my feelings may be better reflected by Anne Lamott in Friday's Salon:

I am going to pray for George Bush's heart to change, so that he begins to want to be a part of the human family. He really doesn't want to gather at the table with God's other children, because he might have to sit with someone he hates. Iraqi soldiers, or someone like me. I really, really know this feeling. It is something he and I have in common . . .

. . . He's family. I hate this, because he is a dangerous member of the family, like a Klansman. To me, his policies deal death and destruction, and maybe I can't exactly forgive him right now, in the classical sense, of canceling my resentment and judgment. But I can at least acknowledge that he gets to eat, too. I would not let him starve, and I will sit next to him, although it will be a little like that old Woody Allen line that someday, the lion shall lie down with the lamb, although the lamb is not going to get any sleep. That's the best I can do right now. Maybe at some point, later, briefly, I will feel a flicker of something more. Let me get back to you on this.

#4 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2003, 01:52 AM:

O Lord, grant our leaders wisdom, that they may find a True Path through the world's troubles to the Light.

I think that would just about cover everything and everyone, whoever the leader and whatever one might think of him.

#5 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2003, 02:12 AM:

The other day, the local news carried a few shots of a "support our troops" rally. One of the marchers carried a sign reading:


Man, what did we _do_ to get on God's bad side?

This scares me, badly. If, say, the Administration decides to suspend the next election, on account of the State of Emergency declared when the war spills over into Georgia and Kenya, I have an awful feeling that a good chunk of the population will probably *support* the dissolution of democracy.

#6 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2003, 02:47 AM:

It would be very deeply disturbing to observe the Republic in dire need of the ghost of John Wilkes Booth.

#7 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2003, 02:50 AM:

Stefan . . . you -did- mean the Joe Dzugashvili Georgia, not the Newt Gingrich one, right?

#8 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2003, 05:39 AM:

This reminds me of United Way pledge signups. They were "voluntary", but if you didn't participate you'd get a chiding letter from your manager.

In the military, consequences could be a bit more severe.

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2003, 09:06 AM:

During communal prayer at my church, world and national leaders usually come in for special attention. The emphasis varies from week to week. Sometimes it's a subcategory like law enforcement or educators; sometimes it's an issue, like that all leaders everywhere should be mindful of economic justice for their citizens. Once in a while George Bush gets mentioned by name. That's okay with me; I figure he needs it. This Sunday, very fittingly I thought, we prayed for our armed forces overseas, and for the people of Iraq.

Also this week, the choir had been scheduled to work up "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God", but we took a vote and did "America the Beautiful" instead. This was partly the normal patriotism of New Yorkers in time of war, and partly for the sake of the bit that goes:

America, America, God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

#10 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2003, 10:58 AM:

Jon writes: "In the military, consequences could be a bit more severe."

There is an equivalent to the United Way in the military. It's called the Combined Federal Campaign. On board ship, coordinating it is assigned to the most junior ensign. I've seen the captain of a ship tear up the paperwork. Refusing it isn't a problem. Really.

#11 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2003, 11:58 AM:
All the brass insturments and big drums in the world cannot turn "God Save the King" into a good tune, but on the very rare occasions when it is sung in full it does spring to life in the two lines:

Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks!

And, in fact, I had always imagined that the second verse is habitually left out because of a vague suspicion on the part of the Tories that these lines refer to themselves.

— George Orwell

#12 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2003, 12:29 PM:

Kevin Drum (I think) made a comment a while back noting that the Bush presidency had gone beyond "Imperial" to "Papal," in terms of the lack of acess allowed to the principal member of the administration.

This strikes me as merely the next logical step in the process...

#13 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2003, 12:33 PM:

John M. Ford: Of course, but the latter would be even funnier.

#14 ::: Jennie ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2003, 02:13 PM:

This is deeply creepy.

#15 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2003, 03:31 PM:

Jon, at the risk of being insufficiently paranoid, I doubt that there is any pressure on the troops to mail in their damp hankies of celestial shmooze. I see no evidence that this is being sponsored or backed up by the Army -- it's a private document being distributed to the troops at private expense, like Red Cross cigarettes or offers to use your GI Bill benefits at XBox Technical College Online.

Grunts have always (and I mean caligae-and-onagers always) understood when they are being bullfeathered. Some will no doubt send in their pages in all seriousness, others with the deepest possible irony (I expect a few will go with editorial emendations).

If there were any suggestion that the Army were trying to give orders -- however informally -- regarding the troops' conduct of their relationship to the Infinite, there would not only be very acute constitutional issues, we'd hear about it from the soldiers themselves; I would think that the most authentically devout, regardless of faith or sect, would be the first and most vocal to, you'll pardon the phrase, draw a line in the sand.

Telling GIs that they ought to send notes of approval to their Commander in Chief, for whatever reason, is crass and offensive. Adding blasphemy to the formula is just icing.

#16 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2003, 03:53 PM:

Chad wrote, quoting Kevin Drum: 'the Bush presidency had gone beyond "Imperial" to "Papal,"'

I think it might be more appropriate to spell that "Paypal".

Kinda accentuates the cash flow angle a bit more.

#17 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2003, 04:48 PM:

>I think it might be more appropriate to spell that "Paypal".

It would be reassuring to me if I were convinced that this whole mess were to anyone's rational advantage, financial or otherwise. It has seemed to me for a while to be out of control in a World War 1 kind of way -- even those angling for their own interests are way out of their depth.

#18 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2003, 04:50 PM:

When I heard about this, I thought it might be kind of nice if George Bush prayed for the troops. Each one. By name.

#19 ::: Nancy Hangber ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2003, 09:17 PM:

Yeah, I'm the one who pointed it out to Andrew, having found out about the "prayer pamphlets" via The Agonist. And you should have heard the swears he uttered in person. It would have dropped you on the spot, T.

#20 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2003, 10:15 PM:

"If you die tonight, do you know without a doubt that you will go to heaven?"

This crowd truly is incapable of recognizing blasphemy when they commit it. Or the sin of pride, in believing they know God's political opinions.

Those sufficiently lacking in respect for our (allegedly) elected Leader may wish to go this site:

Move your mouse around the screen, and all will become clear. Or transparent, or something.

#21 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 02:48 AM:

I dunno, Lis.

I always figured that an X-ray of George W. would reveal Zippy the Pinhead's cynical twin brother.

* * *

John M. Ford makes a good point. It could be that these pamphlets will end up being abused in the same way that my collitch friends and I abused Jack Chick tracts. Or their form factor will make them useful for something, such as being shoved in a crack to eliminate a rattle, or rolled up to plug a hole in a chemical protection suit.

#22 ::: Debbie Notkin ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 02:11 PM:

Sometimes it feels like my life is a process of coming to terms with the honest and powerful spiritual beliefs of my friends and intimates and working to leave behind my deep distrust of how religion is used, and then being pushed right up against how religion is used, which makes it more challenging to come to terms with the honest and powerful ...

Thanks, Teresa, I think.

#23 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 06:29 PM:

"If you die tonight, do you know without a doubt that you will go to heaven?"

The specific sin there is presumption.

#24 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 08:23 PM:

Stefan, I admit the justice of expecting Zippy's cynical twin, but I thought the demon eyes were a particularly telling point.

#25 ::: Berni ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 09:47 PM:

"I’d better finish up and get this posted, because we just heard from Susan Palwick about it. She said, 'Jesus would be spinning in his grave, if he had one.'"

He had one once, but the wheels fell off.

#26 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 01:55 PM:

It could be that these pamphlets will end up being abused in the same way that my collitch friends and I abused Jack Chick tracts.

Indeed, someone I met at the Parliament of the World's Religions said he always took Chick tracts whenever anyone handed them out (and you can bet there were plenty around that meeting). "I pulp them and make spell paper," he said.

I am also reminded of Voltaire's succinct response to a detractor's letter: "Dear Sir. I am in the smallest room of my house. I have your letter before me. Soon it will be behind me."

One of the really great things about our military is that they have been (until recently) extraordinarily tolerant of religious diversity. Judy Harrow (a famous Witch) was asked to write a section of the Army Chaplain's manual about Wicca, and soldiers can certainly have Wicca listed on their dogtags (there was a recent attempt to remove it as a choice, but I think it failed). I once met a just-discharged (honorably) Wiccan soldier who showed me his tags, along with his (I think) Blue Star tattoo, and told me no one had ever given him one whit of trouble over either one (and yes, they knew what both symbols meant).

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