Mayfield: God and politicians
Vail CO, Colorado
It was really scary reading about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s religious beliefs. Ahmadinejad, the current and most discomforting president of Iran, centers his Islamic faith on a Shiite conviction of the imminent return of Imam Mahdi who has been dead for over 1,000 years now, but is currently in constant contact with Mr. Ahmadinejad. Indeed, Iran’s president declared this past month that the long dead imam is directly involved in the day-to-day workings of the current Iranian administration.
Such claims have caused more than a little consternation among Western observers of Iran who have long worried about the emotional stability of Ahmadinejad, but it also is of great concern to the Shiite clergy in Iran who believe they hold a monopoly on any theological decision-making and don’t take friendly to anyone, including even the president, usurping their authority. Some of the clergy’s concern has to do with the perilous state of economic affairs in Iran. Given double-digit inflation, high unemployment and a general dissatisfaction among the Iranian people, the Shiite clerics find the president’s attempts to link his current political policies with the long deceased but soon to arrive Mahdi a no-win situation.
Ahmadinejad’s beliefs seem pretty weird to me but waiting for the return of a long dead religious figure certainly isn’t limited to Shiite Islam. There is a very popular movement within Christianity that espouses close to the same image. Some 60 million copies sold of a book series entitled “Left Behind” are frighteningly indicative of similar theological shenanigans only the thesis here is that it will be Jesus who will be coming back to clean up the streets of Dodge. And what a clean up it will be! With all manner of tribulations and trials to come, culminating in the extinction of all those who don’t believe exactly the way the authors of “Left Behind” believe.
Religious weirdness isn’t limited to these bizarre examples, of course. Any time people start making claims that have to do with God doing their bidding, I start shifting in my seat. George Bush’s conviction that God was a primary backer of his illegal incursion into Iraq places our president smack dab in line with a long list of theological crazies. Some of you will remember right after the capture of Saddam Hussein, our president used the occasion as an illustration of what can happen when you go against God … and, not coincidentally, Bush’s idea of God: “I believe, firmly believe ” and you’ve heard me say this a lot, and I say it a lot because I truly believe it ” that freedom is the Almighty God’s gift to every person, every man and woman who lives in this world. That’s what I believe. And the arrest of Saddam Hussein changed the equation in Iraq. Justice was being delivered to a man who defied that gift from the Almighty to the people of Iraq.”
One can’t help but wonder if the fact that the war has gone so miserably wrong makes claiming God’s unambiguous blessing a little, shall we say, presumptuous?
Of course, George W. isn’t the only president who has had flights of theological fancy. According to his own Chief of Staff, Don Regan, the late Ronald Reagan, the darling of collective conservative memory, relied heavily on his wife’s astrologer before making decisions about the future of the entire world. Regan reported that Mrs. Reagan generated great chaos in the White House disrupting the president’s schedule over and over again because it wasn’t aligned with the stars.
Religious weirdness isn’t limited to Republicans of course, although they do seem to get more than a fair share. The recent blessing of John McCain by Pastor John Hagee is a case in point. Hagee, an influential and very successful evangelical, has made it quite clear God intends for Christians to assist the re-population of Palestine by Jews. His theory is justified by a particularly distorted reading of the Bible, a reading, one would hope, not shared by Mr. McCain. And we need hardly remember the late Jerry Falwell and the still-with-us Pat Robertson, Republicans to the core, who blamed homosexuals and other pagans for a God-delivered Sept. 11.
I do confess to being more than a little queasy back in the ’70s when a certain peanut farmer from Georgia claimed to hear the voice of God while walking in the woods out back of his house. I worried as I wondered what would happen if less sympathetic folk had similar sorts of conversations with the almighty. In the intervening years, I found out.
Rich Mayfield is the author of “Reconstructing Christianity: Notes from the New Reformation.” E-mail comments about this column to email@example.com.