An Israeli listening to President Bush's speech on the first anniversary of Sept. 11 could be forgiven for being perplexed. Here was the President of the United States, a country in which the separation of church and state is enshrined in the Constitution, speaking as familiarly about G-d as any minister.
While ``G-d, motherhood, and apple pie" oratory has long been an American political staple, the President's speech was something entirely different. There was nothing pro forma or tacked on about his repeated references to ``G-d," ``the Creator," ``the giver of life." Those references were integral to the President's message.
The sincerity and depth of President Bush's religious belief was palpable. Referring to the tragedy of more than one hundred babies born this past year to women whose husbands were killed in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the President mourned for those children ``who will never know their fathers here on earth." Only someone for whom the afterlife is a constant reality would have thought to add the last three words.
Rather than viewing September 11 as a random, meaningless event, President Bush insisted that tragedy of such magnitude had left America a better, stronger nation. ``The loss of so many lives left us to examine our own," he said. And that, in turn, had led Americans to focus on those things that ultimately must give life its greatest meaning, among them ``gratitude for life and the giver of life."
Like all those who view life as lived before G-d, Bush eschewed the familiar dichotomy between private and public morality. Whether America would prove worthy of the mission thrust upon it by G-d - to lead in the building of a world based on liberty and security - depends, he maintained, at least in part, on ``the way Americans lead our lives."
In contrasting the American vision to that of the perpetrators of September 11, Bush again resorted to explicitly religious terminology. ``Our deepest national conviction," he said, ``is that every life is precious, because every life is the gift of a Creator, who intended us to live in liberty and equality. . . . We value every life; our enemies value none - not even the innocent; not even their own."
BUSH'S UNVEILED religiosity is obviously well designed to warm the hearts ofreligious Jews like myself. But all Jews have good reason to be grateful for the President's vision. Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Israel in Baltimore, used to say that American Jews are better off in a Christian America than an atheist America. Contemplating President Bush's September 11 speech, those words returned with a certain prophetic force.
Believing Christians today provide Israel with its bedrock support in America. And it is no accident that an American administration headed by a born-again Christian has consistently displayed the greatest appreciation of Israel's security needs of any administration in history.
Not just Jews, but people of all faiths and no faith owe the President a debt of gratitude. At a time when the threats to the peace and security of the world have never been clearer, Bush's clarity of vision offers the best hope to mankind.
Above all, Bush's religion has immunized him to the various excesses of moral and cultural relativism. ``To know all is to forgive all," could be the motto of the moral relativists. It is not Bush's. In his moral universe, not every human impulse, including that to murder unknown strangers, needs to be understood. Some must simply be thwarted with all the determination one can muster. Not once, for instance, has he shown a trace of interest in ``understanding the root causes" of homicide bombings.
Nor have the Susan Sontags and other denizens of the trendy Left given Bush the slightest pause with their blame-the-victim accounts of September 11: America brought on Osama bin Laden by its support of Israel, or by its wealth, or by dissing Islamic sensitivities.
For much of the modern intelligentsia the greatest sin is ``cultural imperialism," and the only unforgivable belief is that one set of societal values is superior to another. Thus have avatars of women's liberation as students in the '60s and '70s made their peace, as professors today, with Islamic societies in which female mutilation is widespread and women are
denied access to health care.
America's founding fathers were not cultural relativists; they believed it self-evident that all men are ``endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights." Bush hearkens back to that older vision. The Creator of all mankind, in his view, did not consign any group of people to lives of unrelieved misery or to the clutches of maniacal, bloodthirsty tyrants.
That vision has proven itself more sensitive to actual human suffering than that of the cultural relativists, who are so sure that other human beings require none of the freedoms they demand for themselves. The latter ridicule Bush for his ``simple-minded" talk of an Axis of Evil, as they once ridiculed Ronald Reagan for calling the Soviet Union an Evil Empire. They are convinced not only of their own intellectual superiority, but of their moral superiority as well.
Yet hundreds of millions of people today enjoy a level of freedom that would
have been unthinkable twenty years ago as a consequence of Reagan's decision
to confront that Evil Empire. Removal of the Taliban, as The New York Times' Nicholas Kristoff has pointed out, literally saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Afghani women. And the elimination of Saddam Hussein will liberate over twenty million Iraqis from the claws of a bloodthirsty, cruel tyrant, who has no more compunction about killing his own citizens than those of neighboring countries, while simultaneously removing a threat to millions of lives around the globe.
INDEED only one thing troubled me about President Bush's September 11 speech: the sharp contrast to our own leaders, who avoid like the plague any reference to G-d or to Jewish sources, with which they appear to have scant familiarity. One could argue that it is to our leaders' credit that they do not invoke G-d's name casually, as a mere figure of speech, and that their reluctance reflects an understanding that acknowledging His existence has immediate and dramatic consequences for one's life.
Still I cannot help but be saddened that the leaders of the Jewish state, inheritors of the richest and most ancient religious tradition, remain so disconnected from G-d. As President Bush has shown, when one's country is locked in a life and death struggle with evil, a connection to G-d provides the necessary clarity of vision and will.