No president of the United States has asserted his religiosity more than George W. Bush. And yet, as a person who takes his own religious tradition seriously, no president has so embarrassed me by acting in such a way as to violate the essential ethical message of religion and the teachings of its most honored founders.
As a twenty-first century American, steeped in this ancient literature, I cannot hear the present without also hearing the echoes of the past. I cannot read of what Bush and his administration have done in these five years without hearing the voices of the Torah, the prophets and Jesus reminding him and us that we as individuals and as a society can and should do better.
When President Bush makes countless executive decisions in which he sacrifices environmental concerns to the interests of particular industries, I hear the voice of Genesis. It is in the first book of the Bible that, after creating the man and placing him into Eden, God announces to us our species' job description. We are here to tend this global garden.
When President Bush pressures Congress to eliminate or limit a whole range of social and legal services designed for those who are in need, I hear the adamant voices of Moses and the prophets. For Moses, walking with God means taking care of the widow, the orphan and even the stranger who live among us. It means opening our hands widely to the poor. It means establishing a legal system and a civil administration which is neither influenced by money nor class.
For the biblical prophets, God judges a society, not on the basis of its martial triumphs, influence or wealth, but on how the powerful treat the powerless. For the prophet, a society is known by how the weakest live. For an Isaiah or a Jeremiah, a society's growth or decline is dependent upon the seriousness with which a ruler takes his social responsibility to the poor and the disenfranchised.
When President Bush, during this disastrous period of war and of record budget deficits, favors the wealthiest among us with tax decreases, saddling the middle class, the poor, and all our children with heavy fiscal burdens, I hear the voice of the President's "favorite political philosopher." Jesus of Nazareth taught on the mountain that those whom should be blessed and cared for are the poor, the meek and the peacemaker. Like his insistent prophetic predecessors, Jesus had no patience whatsoever for those who would show favor to the powerful over the powerless.
Many have argued that President Bush is too religious. On the contrary, I would argue that the President is not religious enough.
This president has not yet fully grasped the vast personal and social implications of taking the great wisdom of our ancient religious texts seriously. This president has not yet appreciated his personal and political responsibility to transform the highest ethical values of the Jewish-Christian tradition into a moral society in which all divine images are treated with respect.
George, please, for our sake, for God sake, it is time for you to find religion!
Dennis Shulman is a rabbi and a clinical psychologist-psychoanalyst. He is on the Kollel faculty of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (the Reform seminary in New York City). His most recent book is
The Genius of Genesis: A Psychoanalyst and Rabbi Examines the First Book of the Bible. He can be reached at Shulman@DennisShulman.com.