Over recent weeks we've watched Sen. John McCain dabble at being a "candidate for change" to counter Sen. Barack Obama. From attempts to seek any distance available between himself and Dubya and establish that yes, he's still a "maverick" to flip-flopping, McCain's trying it all. While some of his moves are little more than party politics, such as the scuffles over Pres. Bush's role at the RNC, others represent a likeness to Bush that chills me to the core. Most significantly is the choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.
Beyond both being governors of oil-rich border states, both Bush and Palin speak about God in a way that is different and a cause for concern. Many American politicians talk about God in their rhetoric; Jimmy Carter, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, Pat Buchanan and others in this New York Times article by Gustav Niebuhr, even today's Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Obama. The difference between these references and those made by Bush and Palin is clear. While they all speak about receiving gifts from God or wanting to be an instrument of God to do his will; only Bush and Palin claim to have the inside track that they are already chosen and been told what God's will is. That leads to the scariest, most personal form of an in-group/out-group dichotomy.
Yes, the speech given by Palin to the commission students at her church in June of this year was given at a church to Christians. I expect any speaker in this venue to mention God. I especially expect this church-member-turned-state-governor to say "I came from this church and am out doing good things, you can do it too!" What I don't expect to hear are things like:
"Pray for our military men and women....that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending them out on a task that is from God. That's what we have to pray for; that there is a plan and that it is God's plan."
"I think God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built."
"I can do my job...but really all of that stuff doesn't do any good if the people of Alaska's heart isn't right with God."
Excuse me? I thought Palin was a move forward, not a move 800 years backwards. The Iraq War is a "task from God?" A pipeline is "God's will?" All the work Palin does is worthless unless all of Alaska is Christian and agrees with Pastor Kalnins? Let's look at these. (Caveat: if I speak of "God" or "God's will," I am speaking of the Christian God that both Bush's and Palin's faith espouse as I understand it.)
The military talk sounds like something you'd hear as a serf in a public square during the Crusades extolling the deeds of the brave knights fighting to reclaim Jerusalem from the lowly Moors. Last time I checked, the Christian God really wasn't into the "Shock and Awe" war-making business. Seventeen years in Catholic and Christian schools - I may have been out-to-lunch in a few classes, but I figured out that Jesus' God was a peaceful God. Not the same guy who torched a couple cities a few thousand years ago, this was the God of The Beatitudes and The Golden Rule. I'm not quite sure how occupying a sovereign foreign nation fits with treating others how we would like to be treated. Apparently Bush and Palin know. Bush was "chosen by God" to perform what Palin calls a "task from God." How far is that really from saying the Iraq War is "God's will?"
Like Bush, Palin is no stranger to saying she is working to implement God's will. As governor of Alaska, she presided over recent negotiations regarding a natural gas pipeline. She referenced this project in her June speech saying that unification to see this project through was "God's will." As Palin led this project to fruition, I would say that Palin would now assert that she did "God's will" in doing so. Again, I won't say I caught everything, but I know God in Genesis gave us many gifts of the Earth to use as we needed, to "subdue the Earth," and I don't see where it says "destroy the Earth" or "take over animals' pastures" or "pollute the air with multitudes of gasses without regard to consequence." I would think that unity is of God's will. However, I think God would like to see us in unity with all creation, not just to feed our own greedy need for energy.
The scariest is that third quote; it gives her the easiest back-door escape route known to the religious-based politician. "What I said I would do didn't happen? Well that's YOUR fault for not getting yourself right with God!" And that is where it gets really scary. You see, when we have a president saying he was "chosen by God" and a vice presidential nominee saying she "does God's will," that automatically unbalances the scales like we see Lady Justice holding. Her blindfold is apt as well, as subjects with religious intonations often preclude the debaters from seeing the full picture beyond the filter of their own religious beliefs. Anyone who doesn't believe what they believe automatically ends up on the defensive. This fosters a sense of tension and aggression instead of freedom to discuss ideas and beliefs. I'm right, you're wrong, that's that. Sounds like what we've been told by Bush for quite some time, like "You are either with us or against us" or "Mission Accomplished."
Palin's Pastor Kalnins played minstrel for George Bush. Not only did he disagree with those who voted against Bush, or any Republican for that matter, he challenged the one thing that spiritual humans hold sacred and dear and private: their souls. Pastor Kalnins is a Bush-supporter, and has been quoted as saying, "I'm not going to tell you who to vote for, but if you vote for this particular person, I question your salvation," while speaking in 2004 about Sen. Kerry. I thought the Catholic God was harsh for looking down on you for eating meat on Fridays or an hour before Sunday Mass. But a God who would send you to hell for all eternity over a vote in an earthly election? That's a bit draconian for me.
So I'm still left wondering why a "maverick" candidate would take so many pages from his predecessor's playbook, especially one that he seems to want to run from, screaming. McCain has been shown to offer more of the same of what the last eight years have brought. Palin shows the same messianic delusions Bush has shown, and that's McCain's running mate. And I'm left praying that my Christian God of peace is stronger than Bush's and Palin's Christian God of War, and that war is not a task of God, fuel does not come from drilling, and officials are directly answerable to the people they govern, not their diety.