Bruce Bartlett

When future historians try to explain the presidency of George W. Bush, his religious fundamentalism unquestionably will be a central focus. It has made him certain about the correctness of his policies, especially the Iraq invasion, and emboldened him to push forward where other presidents, including his father, would have been far more cautious.

Few writers feel comfortable discussing this aspect of Bush because tolerance for people's religious beliefs is deeply ingrained in American law, history and culture. Implicitly, we are therefore led to accept that we cannot judge others on the basis of their religious beliefs, no matter how crazy they may be. In effect, this gives a free pass for people to say and do things that would otherwise be condemned or even outlawed if motivated by something other than religion.

As someone who is not at all religious, it is particularly hard for me to interpret or even comprehend those with deep religious beliefs, whether they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or whatever. I have no frame of reference upon which to base an analysis that makes any sense to me.

Consequently, I am grateful when those who are religious raise the same questions I have in my mind about what motivates Bush and how his religion influences his policies. One who has done so is the well-known writer, editor and blogger Andrew Sullivan, who has just published an important new book, "The Conservative Soul."

Sullivan comes to his subject as a devout Catholic and a traditional conservative. It is also important to know that he is openly gay, which means that he necessarily stands apart from the Catholic Church and the conservative movement, both of which are operationally hostile to homosexuality. This makes Sullivan something of an outsider religiously and politically -- a useful position to be in for analytical purposes.

Basically, Sullivan's book is a brief against fundamentalism. As fallible human beings, we simply cannot know all the things that fundamentalists are absolutely certain about, he argues. Furthermore, although fundamentalists don't explicitly reject reason, in practice they do, making rational debate impossible. How can you argue with someone who believes that he knows absolute truth because it has been given to him directly by God through prayer or a sacred text? The answer, of course, is that you cannot.


Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.

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