“The faith-based initiative is not about a single faith. In this country we’re great because we’ve got many faiths, and we’re great because you can choose whatever faith you choose, or if you choose no faith at all, you’re still equally American. It’s one of the great traditions of America that we will always hold sacred, and always should hold sacred.” – George W. Bush, March 1, 2005
October 2005: George Bush addresses the faithful in his weekly radio broadcast
My brothers and sisters in faith: parts of the country may have gotten a little too much rain recently, but you’ve shown our waterlogged friends that religion is our levee, compassion our National Guard battalions, and prayers our evacuation plan. Faith has truly moved mountains–mountains of Pampers, electric blankets, and Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup to the Gulf Coast (can openers to follow shortly). The message is clear: just keep faith next to the duct tape and behind the bottled water, and you have an emergency response plan that can’t fail.
See, the beautiful thing about the massive swath of destruction left by Hurricane Katrina was how faith rode out the storm. Even while civic infrastructure collapsed into complete anarchy in the streets of New Orleans, inter-faith harmony persevered in the teeth of adversity–those looters pilfered Christian and Jewish businesses with equal impunity. I am inspired by people like Otis Murchason of Biloxi, MS: “why has God punished us?” I heard him exclaim while watching Anderson Cooper aboard Air Force One. We have all wondered sometimes why God made hurricanes and killer bees and crunchy peanut butter and Osama bin Laden. But He did, and it is truly admirable that Otis has enough faith to question the Lord, as opposed to, say, administration officials or FEMA.
I want to single out some instances of “faith-based initiatives” taking the lead in helping out the victims of the hurricane. Take a look at Jose Murillo, pastor of United Epiphany Second Church of Blessed Heavenly Rest. Pastor Murillo personally transported fifty thousand votive candles from Tucson to New Orleans to light up the Superdome, should the power fail. (And to think we might have wasted money on an emergency generator!) And who could not be moved by embattled Rabbi Schlomo ben Broussard of Jefferson County’s sole synagogue, who bravely salvaged the aron ha-kodesh containing the sacred Torah and kept the eternal flame of the ner tamid alight even as the flood waters obliterated the recently constructed Jewish Singles Annex and Rec Room. No federal funding will be coming Rabbi Broussard’s way for ten to eighteen months, but a hearty “Le’chaim!” is in order.
Now, I know some folk have accused my administration of secretly advancing the agenda of an intolerant brand of evangelical Protestantism. That’s as crazy as denying the biological evidence for an intelligent designer! There are many world creeds whose sophisticated belief structures and devoted adherents merit our respect and admiration. I refer, for example, to the flourishing Zoroastrian community of New Orleans, who continue to worship Ahura Mazda and his never-ending struggle with the Evil One, Ahriman, despite watery hardship. I hear they are quite peaceably sharing the gymnasium of a Forth Worth junior high with a band of displaced Scientologists and a small coven of Wicca. The toxic muck of Lake Pontchartrain also took its toll on the Ninth Ward’s oldest Shinto shrine (founded 1999), forcing the monks to relocate to the second floor of a Montgomery car dealership. A charity bake-off and raffle held among area Mormons, Lubavitchers, and Neo-Platonists resulted in a tidy sum for the monks’ continued pursuit of spirituality.
America will rebuild, and faith will be our mortar (since all the money for real mortar went to tax cuts–whoops). It is because of the awesome power of religion to motivate and compel that I’m taking money from inefficient or immoral secular programs, like sex education and free school lunches, and earmarking it for the people who deserve it most. So whether you identify as a Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Particular Baptist, Unitarian, Jew, Jew for Jesus, Buddhist, Baha’i, Hare Krishna, Jedi or Muslim, the federal government will be pleased to bankroll your social work/proselytizing mission. Heck, isn’t that what Jefferson said our country is all about–an extremely blurry line between church and state?
Thank you, and may Jehovah/Osiris/Thor bless America.