Three cheers for a Boston Globe essay that may calm some fears of George W. Bush as the End Times President. The essay is by Alan Jacobs, an English professor at Wheaton College, which may be enough to disqualify him in certain provincialist circles. (Recall how only last month the Globe’s competition, the Boston Herald, instructed its readers that Wheaton “counts holy roller Billy Graham among its alumni.”)
Jacobs responds to a scathing essay by Joan Didion in the October 2003 New York Review of Books (available for purchase from the Review‘s web archives). Didion’s essay would have left evangelical-fearing readers with the impression that Bush gleans his foreign policy from each new bestselling novel in the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.
From Didion’s perspective, Bush is scary because he believes in the same God as the religious right. She writes, by way of illustration:
The fundamentalist approach to information, whether that approach is innate or learned, does not encourage nuanced judgments. Bill Keller, in The New York Times Magazine, reminded us that “Bush bonded with Vladimir Putin over the Russian’s story of a lost crucifix.” (“I was able to get a sense of his soul,” Bush himself said after his first ninety-minute meeting with Putin.)
Jacobs mentions Didion’s essay, kindly describing it as evidence that “some pretty smart people” disagree with his sense that Bush’s faith has minimal effect on the administration’s policies. And he mentions a speech in which Mark Crispin Miller worries that Christian Reconstructionists have Bush’s ear.
In fact, it is precisely because they don’t believe in an imminent Second Coming that Reconstructionists are so determined to use Biblical law as the foundation for civilization. They’d like to build a world that Jesus would want to return to.
President Bush could scarcely be a premillennialist and a Reconstructionist at the same time — at least not with any consistency. “Aha!” you may reply, “but is someone like Dubya likely to be consistent? I think not.” And I think not, also. But that’s precisely why I don’t share the fears of Didion and Miller. The scenarios they construct require Bush and his key advisers to be people who read the Bible in light of a coherent theology that yields a specific political program (rather than politicians whose chief concern is getting reelected). The danger would lie in consistency itself — in Bush’s willingness to get policy from theology as a mathematician derives an equation. Yet even if that were true — even if Bush’s mind worked that way — these fears could only be realized if he were a premillennialist in foreign policy and a Reconstructionist on the domestic front.
Harvey Cox reported, way back in 1995, that postmillennialism dominates at Pat Robertson’s Regent University, but that’s still another story. For a lively discussion of the dominant views of the End Times, see The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views.
Rolling Stone managed to confuse premillennialists with Reconstructionists in covering LaHaye. “LaHaye is a strict biblical reconstructionist — taking the Good Book as God’s literal truth,” Robert Dreyfuss wrote. “His books depict a fantastical, fictional version of what he and his followers think is in store for the human race.”
And behold how Dreyfuss attempted, despite scant evidence, to transform Bush into a true believer of LaHaye’s views on the End Times:
LaHaye professes no knowledge of whether President Bush buys into his views. “I have seen nothing from this president that would indicate that he is influenced one way or the other by my prophesy teaching,” he says. But for Bush, an emotional, evangelical president who has repeatedly described the struggle against Saddam as a conflict between good and evil, LaHaye’s views resonate with his. And though it’s not known whether Bush has read any of the Left Behind books, he is a regular consumer of writing by other evangelists.
There’s a technical term for that kind of writing: guilt by association.