President or Prophet?

David Domke and Kevin Coe point out, in an interesting article for The Revealer, that Bush’s religious language is radically different to the religious language of other presidents:

The key difference is this: Presidents since Franklin Roosevelt have spoken as petitioners of God, seeking blessing and guidance; this president positions himself as a prophet, issuing declarations of divine desires for the nation and world. Most fundamentally, Bush’s language suggests that he speaks not only of God and to God, but also for God. Among modern presidents, only Ronald Reagan has spoken in a similar manner — and he did so far less frequently than has Bush.

They have analysed the inaugural speeches of all presidents and found that: “For presidents other than Reagan or Bush, only four of 61 addresses (7%) contained claims linking the wishes of God with freedom or liberty.” While “such claims were present in five of 12 addresses (42%) by Reagan and Bush.”

It is only a short article and I don’t find the examples they give entirely convincing although instinctively I think the distinction is useful. A detailed analysis of concepts of mission, religious destiny, fate and eschatology from the inaugural addressess may be an interesting way forward in my analysis of the intertextual relations between Bush and previous presidential texts.

One thought on “President or Prophet?

  1. This post referencing the Revealer’s discussion of Bush and Reagan as prophets – along with several other October posts exploring similar themes – brings sharply to mind one very important facet of theological history perhaps helpful in explicating much of the perceived tension between right and left in political manifestations of your thesis. With the notable exception of Daniel, there is little or nothing (apart from that discoverable only by the most tortured exegesis) in any of the Old Testament prophets of Israel concerning itself with so-called endtime prophecies; apocalyptics derives almost entirely from fixation on John of Patmos’ hallucinatory Christian visions and bears no discernible relation to the prophetic tradition Jesus relied upon and expanded in his own ministry. The prophets of Israel did not receive visions of fantastic doomsday scenarios; they were called to condemn oppression and injustice in the here-and-now; they were not sent to patriotically empower Israeli elites in their petty national struggles against neighboring kingdoms; they were sent specifically to witness against corruption and hypocrisy in their own society: the notable case of Jeremiah, in fact, saw the prophet repeatedly confronting his own king with instructions not to resist the invading power of Babylon, but to surrender and accept the yokes of servitude and exile.

    There is a far cry from the “unpatriotic, defeatist peace-activism” of Jeremiah to the Armageddon-expectant warmongering of Jerry Falwell and his ilk. Those who are spiritually-minded on the political left today see here the very clear continuation of an ancient split in the prophetic tradition: there have always been false prophets, sitting at the right hand of power, flattering kings as representatives of God on earth, encouraging their domestic agendas and foreign adventures as divinely sanctioned crusades. And there have always been true prophets, as well – Isaiahs, Jeremiahs, Ezekiels, Amoses, Micahs, Jesuses, Martin Luther Kings and Gandhis: denouncing oppression and economic injustice against the poor, calling rulers and priests to task for their cruelty, selfishness and hypocrisy, preaching actively universal love and humility in the face of God’s ultimate Judgment.

    The differences here are stark and unmistakable. There are those who encourage belief in some immanent, but never-actually-arriving “final battle” between Good and Evil, in which the “righteous” (e.g., the pious, productive, successful, superior, pure, monogamous heterosexual Christians) will stand as God’s indispensible allies in a cosmic War for All Time against the Powers of Darkness; such “prophets” will be seen very publically and approvingly ministering to the nations’ leaders and encouraging their stirringly noble, supposedly God-ordained national military adventures. On the other hand, there are those suggesting the real battle between good and evil is never-ending, microcosmic and right here-and-now; that the battlefronts in that war are hungry bellies, palsied limbs, fevered brows, and the stunted ignorant spirits of all those cast down by oppression, deprivation and want any- and everywhere; these true prophets of God will be excoriated and marginalized as utopians and dangerous fanatics by society’s leaders and opinion-makers: if necessary, they will finally be imprisoned or executed as traitorous rabblerousers.

    An interesting and very brief explication of these themes by Dr. Charles Ess of Drury University: “Prophetic, Wisdom, and Apocalyptic Traditions in Judaism and Christianity” (http://www.drury.edu/ess/alpha/prophet.html ). As the essay concludes: “Prophetic and apocalyptic emphases are not necessarily exclusive of one another – but the experiences and critiques of Douglass, King, and others should suggest that the danger of apocalyptic religious styles is that their focus on individual salvation in an afterlife may lead religious individuals and communities to neglect the prophetic concern for accomplishing justice in this life – a neglect which, at the extreme, can allow one’s ‘religion’ to serve simply as an ideological justification for the injustices of the status quo.”

    The Scriptures clearly indicate God is omnipresent, immortal, omnipotent and omniscient. Given these facts, sermons and exhortations positing the necessity of some future martial Armageddon to achieve the Divine Purpose – with armies of mortals playing putatively central roles in an adrenaline-pumping cosmic pageant – are absurd and childish in the extreme; they serve no conceivable rational purpose, but to sow complacency against real, existing evils and distraction from actually necessary battles at hand: against selfishness, greed, cruelty, arrogance and ignorance in every human heart. There have always been prophets and false prophets, the spiritually-minded Leftist insists; properly discerning the contemporary differences between the two is the task of every new age.

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