Jewish World Review Jan. 18, 2005/ 8 Shevat, 5765

Wesley Pruden

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The grim nightmare of secular hysterics | W. Bush is about to send a lot of people to the dentist.

If history is a guide, when the president takes his oath at noon Thursday he will include in his remarks an affirmation of religious faith in American life, a tribute to the cherished convictions that most of us follow (or say we do).

The grinding of teeth in the enlightened precincts will be long and loud enough to wake the newly dead. The dust of molars and the residue of bicuspids will lie heavily upon the land. The president's predecessors, not just the devout John Adams but the doubting Jefferson and skeptical Lincoln as well, to a man offered testimony to faith and acknowledgment of the nation's place in divine will.

George W., in fact, has lately become more sensitive to secularist sulking than most of those predecessors. He has toned down the telling of his embrace of the born-again religion of the Methodist camp meeting. He first set liberal teeth on edge in the 2000 presidential debates when, in answer to a question, he identified Jesus Christ as his favorite "philosopher." (This irritated more than a few of his fellow evangelicals, who regard Christ not as a philosopher but as the unique Son of G-d.) When he goes out of his way now to reassure the blockheads who insist on misreading what he says, the president is careful to refer to the divinity in more or less neutral language.

He isn't quite as bland as Dwight D. Eisenhower, who, like generals will, imagined that he spoke to G-d as (at least) an equal. Mr. Eisenhower neatly summed up the prevailing Potomac piety five decades ago: "Our government makes no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith   —   and I don't care what it is." Presbyterian, Pentecostal or Hottentot, all same-same.

This is not far off par for our present day. "When an American president closes an address by saying 'G-d bless America,' " writes Michael Lind in Prospect magazine, "this is not a signal that the United States is about to become a theocracy. It is the equivalent of 'may the Force be with you.' "

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As unhinged as even this mild gesture gets the secular hysterics, it puts our presidents well within the traditions of the Enlightenment often invoked by those who imagine themselves to be intellectuals above the hokey sentiment of Sunday morning.

"The French, at least, ought to understand this," writes Mr. Lind. "Robespierre and the Jacobins initiated a similar ecumenical cult of the Supreme Being, which permitted them to spurn orthodox Christianity while denouncing atheism (which on both sides of the Atlantic has connotations of immorality). Here is Robespierre in 1794: 'Did not His immortal hand ... write the death sentence of tyrants? Did not His voice, at the beginning of time, decree the [French] republic, making liberty, good faith and justice the order of the day for all peoples?' "

So who says George W. Bush does not have a similar way with words 200 years on: "Yet I know that liberty is not America's gift to the world   —   liberty and freedom are G-d's gift to every man and woman who lives in this world." (Who would have thought that camp-meeting rhetoric was a gift of the Enlightenment?)

The churlish resentment of religious faith, coming to a head this inaugural week in Washington, manifests itself in mean and petty ways. The Washington Post exposed a plot only the other day to give 300 Indonesian orphans a break in the wake of the tsunami that killed their parents in Banda Aceh province. An American evangelical mission obtained permission from the Muslim government to take in the homeless orphans at their orphanage in Jakarta   —   to nourish them, to put clothes on their backs, to fix their teeth, to give them their first medical attention, to educate them   —   and to love them. This was an incredible opportunity, an offer of a life beyond the grim poverty of the Sumatran outback.

The Post reported darkly that the orphanage, working with native Christians, wanted "to plant Christian principles as early as possible [in the orphans]." Once "exposed," of course, the Indonesian government had to bow to Muslim pressure to rescind permission. The Post reported triumphantly the next day that it had foiled the sinister conspiracy: "the children [are] still in the Muslim province."

as the news was for the disappointed orphans, it was a rare spot of cheer for the secular hysterics in a week when, at noon Thursday, their worst nightmare comes true.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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