Sunday, January 30, 2005

More on the Inauguration Address

I know I've posted about this before but Beliefnet has published an article entitled, "Decoding Bush's God-Talk" which is considerably more broad-reaching than the information I offered you earlier about the biblical allusions within the inauguration address. I suggest you put the examples below together with the earlier post to get a really comprehensive picture of the religious language the president employed. Another helpful analysis of Bush's use of God-talk is found in an article by David Domke and Kevin Coe at Common Dreams.

I find it quite disturbing that the president is deliberately using code to speak to his base in ways that bypass the awareness of those who are not right-wing religionists all the while paying lip-service to tolerance. Here are the highlights:

"After the shipwreck of communism came years of relative quiet, years of repose, years of sabbatical—and then there came a day of fire."
[This phrase contains three religious allusions. The first is reminiscent of Hebrew Bible language, which refers throughout to Judgment Day as a day of fire; the second allusion is to the New Testament Book of Revelation, which also refers to Judgment Day as a day of fire; the third reference is to the story of Pentecost, found in the New Testament Book of Acts, in which the Holy Spirit descends to earth as wind and fire. In addition, "Day of Fire" is the name of an up-and-coming Christian rock band.]

"From the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this Earth has rights, and dignity and matchless value because they bear the image of the maker of heaven and Earth."
[Elegant phrasing that resonates with Christians, Jews and Muslims.]

"Across the generations, we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave."
[This is a reference to the Apostle Paul, writing in Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.]

"America's belief in human dignity will guide our policies"
[Resonant among Catholics because Pope John Paul II uses "human dignity" often when opposing abortion, euthanasia, and poverty.]

"You have seen that life is fragile, and evil is real, [This is a nod to evangelicals and conservative Catholics, have been united with the president in their disdain for moral relativism.] and courage triumphs."

"In America's ideal of freedom, the public interest depends on private character—on integrity and tolerance toward others and the rule of conscience in our own lives." [This is a way to show his religious tolerance and pluralism, particularly to seculars, as well as liberal Christians and Jews.]

"That edifice of character is built in families, supported by communities with standards, [These words will please evangelicals, particularly activists such as Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family.] and sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran and the varied faiths of our people." [Here, the president moves seamlessly to liberal God-talk that will soothe moderate Americans and will thrill the nation's Muslims, who say they've been betrayed by the Bush Administration's Patriot Act.]

"In America's ideal of freedom, the exercise of rights is ennobled by service and mercy and a heart for the weak." [Resonant with Catholics, who hear these words in liturgies, prayers and official writing.]

"Our nation relies on men and women who look after a neighbor [Vague reference to Jesus, who says in Matthew 22:39, "Love your neighbor as yourself."] and surround the lost with love."

"Americans, at our best, value the life we see in one another and must always remember that even the unwanted have worth." [Resonant with pro-life Christians.]

"From the perspective of a single day, including this day of dedication, [Resonant for most religious folks. For example: Protestants who hold "dedication" ceremonies for their newborns; Mormons who use the term when they "dedicate" new temples; Christians and Jews who understand the term to mean "sabbath" and who also use the phrase when "dedicating" new churches and synagogues; and Buddhists who use the term to describe specific holy days] the issues and questions before our country are many."

"We felt the unity and fellowship..." [Well-worn Protestant word, often used to describe Sunday coffee hours and the general feeling of community Christians have when they are together]

"And we can feel that same unity and pride whenever America acts for good, and the victims of disaster are given hope, and the unjust encounter justice, and the captives are set free."
[This one is loaded with meaning. The main meaning comes from the Bible, where it appears in Isaiah 61, and then again when Jesus declares in Luke 4 that God has sent him to "set the captives free." But evangelicals also use the term to refer to what they call spiritual warfare, meaning the war between Christians and the devil. They also use this term to refer to setting people free from homosexuality and from addiction to pornography. It is also used in reference to people who aren't Christian, who need to be "set free" from their current beliefs. In addition, it resonates among Jews thinking about Passover. And the phrase is a nod to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who often used words like this in his speeches.]

"We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; [Here, the president responds to particular criticism from moderates, who've been alarmed by conservative Christians who have been saying that America is a special country, a "chosen nation" akin to the Biblical Israel.] God moves and chooses as he wills." [Nice rhetorical switch. This phrase explains what more mainstream (but still conservative) evangelicals believe--that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and in control of all things. This idea harkens to the theology of John Calvin, whose theology centering on "the sovereignty of God" has gained renewed popularity among evangelicals. Click here for Deborah Caldwell's 2002 article about George Bush's religious rhetoric.]

"We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul." [Poetic language that resonate well with religious people because these are universally accepted spiritual words]

"History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction set by liberty and the author of liberty." [More Calvinist language]

"May God bless you, and may he watch over [Somewhat unexpected wording, again harkening to the "awesome God" of Calvin who is attentive to the world] the United States of America."

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