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William Wilberforce and George Bush??

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Just when you think you've seen it all..... Friday was the opening of the new movie about William Wilberforce's struggle to end the slave trade in England during the latter part of the 18th century (Amazing Grace, trailer here). I suppose one should expect that all kinds of bizarre comparisons will come to the light of day. It is hard to imagine one more bizarre than the one that appeared in my local paper attempting to favorably compare Bush's "staying the course" in the war on Iraq and the work of Wilberforce on the slave trade. Surely, strange ideas come to our minds from time to time, but most of the more ridiculous of those strange ideas, fortunately, die a quiet death long before they make their way onto the editorial pages of a regional newspaper. Alas, this was not the case here.

In a nutshell, the writer argued that Wilberforce faced a hostile audience, but maintained his resolve for decades before the victory was finally won. There were side points (the obligatory misrepresentations with which such articles are generally replete), but this was the essence of the piece--George Bush is the modern equivalent of William Wilberforce, a resolute man of faith engaged in a long term, but unpopular struggle. If that were not strange enough, this writer also took the time to appeal to such names as Martin Luther King and Ghandi, suggesting that his argument was strengthened by appeal to those struggling for civil rights, women's rights, etc. Can such a comparison stand? Hardly, let us consider just a few of the problems.

First, and most obviously, it is shocking that someone would try to link the war in Iraq with the voices of these men who championed non-violence. Can you imagine Martin Luther King (much less Ghandi!) supporting Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq? If asked, do you suppose either would agree that what they were doing bore any resemblance to the war in Iraq? One can imagine many statements King or Ghandi might have more for Bush, but one can rest assured that "stay the course in Iraq" would not be one of them.

Second, the direct comparison was with Wilberforce, and the writer of this piece seemed ignorant of Wilberforce's own objection to war, having argued against the war with France strenuously enough to suffer a period of estrangement from his good friend Pitt. Oddly, Wilberforce would have been more akin to contemporary war objectors who are smeared with the charge of being "unpatriotic" or of being an "appeaser" because he thought war inconsistent with Christian faith. In short, we have every reason to believe Wilberforce would object to Bush's war in Iraq. No, methodologies matter, and to think Wilberforce's work can be compared to Bush's is just wrong-headed.

Third, throughout his life, even beyond involvement with abolition of the slave trade, Wilberforce used his resources to benefit those oppressed or otherwise on the margins of society. He argued for a better school system and for prison reform. The focus of his life was on making society better and on improving the lot if his fellows. Bush, just the opposite, has used his position of privilege to benefit himself and to benefit the wealthy, generally at the cost of those most on the margins of our society. Once again, the comparison fails.

At the end of the day, I think the summary Charles Fox gives in the movie is hard to improve on (my best recollection):

When we remember the great men of history, we often remember men of violence, like Napoleon. Rarely do we remember the men of peace. Yet, contrast their returns home. Napoleon will return to pomp and circumstance, at the height of human ambition for power, but his dreams will be filled with the oppressions of war. When William Wilberforce returns home and, at night, when he lays his head on his pillow, he will recline knowing that the slave trade is no more.

When Bush lies down to sleep, it will be to the dreams of hundreds of thousands killed in his war of choice and of the poor damaged to benefit the wealthy. At virtually every turn, Bush is the antithesis of William Wilberforce. It is further testimony to so much that is wrong with popular Christianity in the US that one who claims to follow the prince of peace could see any analogy between the two.

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