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Already completely overwhelmed by the sheer religiosity of it all (the showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore to see which could disgorge more flattering religious twaddle), I really had nothing to say by the time Bush was inaugurated. Where would one begin? Just listing the breaches of his first day in office would require more space than I give to this column.
His term since then seems to have been little more than a chain of opportunities to abuse the spotlight of his office to plug his private religious views. At times he's gone further, actually prescribing religious ritual. In so doing, he officiously pretends that the U.S. Presidency grants to its holder the "authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents," as President Thomas Jefferson so aptly described it when he was asked to recommend a Day of Prayer.
Jefferson said no: "Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the times for these exercises, & the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and this right can never be safer than in their own hands, where the constitution has deposited it." (Rev. Miller, 1808)
Bush's idea of "We, the People," seems to extend only to those who share his religious views. The rest of us, it seems to me (and many others), are simply guests, sojourners, if you will, in this land that was created and subdued for the private use of those who think George's Imaginary Friend is really real.
Now holy warriors say this Friend (real or imaginary) told them to kill thousands of civilians. The shock from this atrocity tore many of us apart inside -- particularly those of us who know that death is final: thus ends your one and only chance ever to live.
Had he not spent so much of his term promoting his own religion, perhaps I could forgive him during a crisis, just this once, for making our National Day of Mourning seem like so many Gospel tent sideshows. What he did surprised nobody, and that's why it was so wrong. So we pondered the finality of death our own way. Despite the strong urge, the guilt pangs, the taunts, we just knew it was wrong! Alone, once again, many of us wondered: Am I even a part?
I dreamed that while he was missing on the Day of Atrocity, Bush had been caught up in a visitation, à la Dickens, shown the meaning of Religious Liberty, and prepared to lead all Americans through this mess.
The ghost of Thomas Jefferson urged a way that lets everyone honor our dead: a simple Day of Remembrance, with religious exercises directed only by churches ("never safer than in their own hands"). The ghost of Jimmy Carter even taught him how to end a speech: "Thank you, and good night."
Some clergy spoke at the ceremony, but most prominent were the universally loved Americans who can reassure anybody: Ray Charles, Katie Couric, Christopher Reeve, Whoopie Goldberg, and more. Bush later graced the prayer vigil of a private church.
I wonder -- had this happened, had Bush experienced a change and decided to toe the Constitutional line as if the life of our country depended on it, would some have objected? (They faulted us for questioning what he did.) How could anyone have been anything but uplifted by the inclusiveness of a truly American Day of Remembrance?
Copyright ©2001 Cliff Walker; Portland, Oregon