October 19th, 2004 by Clark Humphrey

Jeff Sharlet interprets Bush’s religion not as orthodox Evangelicism, but more like one of those PoMo spiritual melanges, made up of a little Jesus and a little New Age magic. Sharlet particularly notes the extent to which Bush and his team are absolutely certain they can achieve anything they want just by believing hard enough that it can and should be done:

“Bush believers long for absolutes, but they don’t care about empirical definitions. They’re not literalists, in the sense that they don’t cling to language. In fact, they don’t trust language, which is why they read clunky, soulless translations of scripture, when they read it at all. The Community Bible Study approach to biblical education through which Bush found his faith is not based on intense reading, but on personal meditations built around a sentence or two. Bush himself doesn’t study the Bible; he samples phrases and invokes them like spells….When he speaks of ‘wonderworking power’ (a reference to the gospel standard “Power in the Blood”), as he did in his now infamous ‘mission accomplished’ speech, he is drawing that power into being, to make his desires into reality. Politics, strategy, books, the Bible — everything falls away in the realm of magical realism.”

Suddenly, a lot of aspects of these past four years begin to make sense.

For I’ve been studying New Age thought factions on an amateur, part-time basis for the past almost-year. I’ve listened to, read, and in a couple of cases interviewed people who promote versions of the positive-thinking mantra. Some versions are more spiritual than others. Some versions are more individualistic and materialistic than others.

The British seminar leader and hypnotherapist Paul McKenna, loves to rhetorically ask his audiences, “What would you do if you absolutely KNEW you couldn’t fail?” Meanwhile, local ex-ad copywriter Rebecca Fine promotes “The Science of Getting Rich,” a “Certain Way” towards personal wealth, based on the teachings of 1900s pamphleteer Wallace Wattles. (To Fine, “certain” means both specificity and doubtlessness.) Follow the program, Fine says, and the dough will flow your way.

There are a few catches in Wattles’s plan. He didn’t like charity, antitrust actions, or organized labor; instead of forming schemes to redistribute wealth, he wrote that concerned citizens should help the poor learn to generate their own wealth. And you have to really believe you’re channelling the flow of material energy your way. As Fine writes: “Wattles says that instead of questioning how these principles work, you’ll need simply to accept them and begin to practice them.”

This ties in well with Bush’s famous refusals to admit ever having made a mistake. Christianity is big on self-doubt and self-denial; “not my will but thine be done.” But in the positive-thinking realm, doubting yourself’s about the worst sin you can make.

So: Bush isn’t really a Bible thumper; though he’ll gladly seek Bible-thumpers’ votes. He’s really one of the globalization-era spiritual fusionists. He’s part of the target market for Wayne Dyer pledge-drive books and Successories motivational posters. He could be a leader of “no money down” seminars. The Force is with him (albeit, in my opinion, it’s the Dark Side).

I imagine some voters have interpreted this insistant attitude, which scoffers such as myself have derided as “hubris,” as just the sort of can-do mindset they want in a leader. Top-heavy tax cuts WILL stimulate the economy! Iraq and Afghanistan WILL become stable democracies! Abstinance-only education WILL eliminate unwanted pregnancies! Privatization WILL make Social Security more solvent! Why? Because WE SAY SO, that’s why!

But I, for one, still belong to the skeptics (or, as a Bush aide quoted in the NY Times derided us, “the reality-based community”). I believe an acid-tripper, no matter how devoutly he believes he can fly, should be led away from the temptation of an open fifth-floor window. I believe the most assertive, positive-thinking management wasn’t enough to keep certain dot-com ventures alive.

And I believe corporate cronyism is neither good for government nor for business.

I believe no one country should, or even can, unilaterally impose military conquest and shock-therapy economics across the globe.

I believe marriage is not profaned but enhanced by being expanded to more possibilities.

I believe one-sided “news” coverage is not “fair and balanced.”

I believe freedom is not slavery. I believe war is not peace. I believe ignorance is not strength.

And I firmly, positively, believe we can do better.

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