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From the Edge, a conversation with Elaine Pagels on the politics of Christianity:

The kind of Christianity that pervades the religious right in this country divides the world between the saved and the damned, between God's people and Satan's people, between good and evil. We have all seen how this is played out in our politics. I used to think that President Bush was using this language as a political ploy. I still think he is, but I also think—to my disappointment—that he also believes it. His conviction that he is God's chosen one to "rid the world of evildoers" blinds him to the evil that he—and we, as Americans—are capable of doing. The conviction that we are on the side of good—of God—is, however, an ancient one—enormously powerful.

Now Bush is a religious man, and I am not. I really don't like religiosity much at all.

But here I'm going to defend his use of the word "evildoers". Yeah, on the surface it sounds comic-booky. And yes, Bush's religious convictions come into play with the use of the word, though not in the way Pagel implies.

I don't think Bush sees this as a "holy war" or a "crusade". Do these words, spoken in the days following 9/11, sound like those of a man convinced this is a war between faiths?

I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them.

We can't know exactly what Bush believes...all we have to go on are his words and actions.

But while I'm not sure about the entire rationale or any ulterior religious motives linked to the use of the word "evildoer", I do think it clearly indicates this: Bush believes in evil, and he's not shy about labeling those who he believes act in evil ways.

And in this context, I agree with him. If "evil" is defined as "morally reprehensible", then yeah, I'm totally comfortable with putting people who hijack planes full of civilians and ram them into buildings in the category of "evil". I'm also completely comfortable with the label being applied to Saddam Hussein and his sons. Bush has called him an evil man. And it's damned hard to argue otherwise, when you're discussing someone who employed a variety of horrifying modes of torture as routine and engaged in ethnic cleansing. As many have pointed out, if Hussein isn't evil, then nobody is. You could just argue the "hate the sin, love the sinner" approach (which would perhaps be more in line with Pagel's reverence for the New Testament over the Old), but that mitigates an awful lot of personal responsibility, doesn't it?

After all, what is our character besides the sum of our words and actions?

So then, I don't have a problem with Bush using the word. In fact, I wholeheartedly agree. Perhaps his motivations in using it are completely grounded in religious zealotry, but Bush has at least publicly been very good about recognizing and respecting other faiths, and even sometimes people's lack of faith.

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