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When Georgie Met Billy
It seems the story of how Billy Graham converted the President is merely P.R. hoohah. Craig Unger writes "How George Bush really found Jesus" for Salon:

Mickey Herskowitz, a sportswriter for the Houston Chronicle who became close friends with the Bush family and was originally contracted to ghostwrite "A Charge to Keep," recalled interviewing Bush about it when he was doing research for the book. "I remember asking him about the famous meeting at Kennebunkport with the Reverend Billy Graham...." Herskowitz said. "And you know what? He couldn't remember a single word that passed between them."

Herskowitz was so stunned by Bush's memory lapse that he began prompting him. "It was so unlikely he wouldn't remember anything Billy Graham said, especially because that was a defining moment in his life. So I asked, 'Well, Governor, would he have said something like, "Have you gotten right with God?'"

According to Herskowitz, Bush was visibly taken aback and bristled at the suggestion. "No," Bush replied. "Billy Graham isn't going to ask you a question like that."

Herskowitz met with Bush about twenty times for the project and submitted about ten chapters before Bush's staff, working under director of communications Karen Hughes, took control of it. But when Herskowitz finally read "A Charge to Keep" he was stunned by its contents. "Anyone who is writing a memoir of George Bush for campaign purposes knew you had to have some glimpse of what passed between Bush and Billy Graham," he said. But Hughes and her team had changed a key part. "It had Graham asking Bush, 'George, are you right with God?'"

In other words, Herskowitz's question to Bush was now coming out of Billy Graham's mouth. "Karen Hughes picked it off the tape," said Herskowitz.

There is yet another reason why the episode in Maine could not possibly have been the first time George Bush gave his soul to Christ. That's because Bush had already been born again more than a year earlier, in April 1984 -- thanks to an evangelical preacher named Arthur Blessitt.

Whereas Billy Graham was a distinguished public figure whose fame grew out of frequent visits to the Oval Office over several decades, Arthur Blessitt had a very different background. His evangelicalism was rooted in the Jesus movement of the sixties counterculture. To the extent he was famous it was because he had preached at concerts with the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, the Jefferson Airplane, and others, and had run a "Jesus coffeehouse" called His Place on Hollywood's Sunset Strip during that turbulent decade. His flock consisted of bikers, druggies, hippies, and two Mafia hit men. The most celebrated ritual at Blessitt's coffeehouse was the "toilet baptism," a rite in which hippies announced they were giving up pot and LSD for Jesus, flushed the controlled substances down the toilet, and proclaimed they were "high on the Lord."

In 1969, however, Blessitt was evicted from his coffeehouse and, in protest, chained himself to a cross in Hollywood and fasted for the next twenty-eight days. Over the next fifteen years, "The Minister of Sunset Strip," as he was known, transformed himself into "The Man who Carried the Cross Around the World" by lugging a twelve-foot-long cross for Jesus through sixty countries all over the world, on what would become, according to the "Guinness Book of World Records," the longest walk in human history. Blessitt delivered countless lost souls to Jesus. He went to Jerusalem. He prayed on Mount Sinai. He crossed the Iron Curtain. Finally, in 1984, he came to Midland, Texas, to preach for six nights at the Chaparral Center before thousands of Texans night after night on a "Mission of Love and Joy." He did not know it, but he was about to bring George W. Bush to Jesus.

As for the results, I liked the assessment in this letter to the editor from somebody who calls him or herself "New Fauve":

Born Again 20-some years ago...

Bush has supposedly been with Christ for 22-23 years now.

Even though I'm not a believer, I often find stories of a person's spiritual awakening to be fascinating, even inspiring.

Yet after two faith-based decades, Bush never seems to demonstrate his Christianity with any depth, or show any ability to describe it in a way that seems remotely convincing, let alone inspiring. He doesn't even seem to have the chops to quote a little scripture to sell the myth. Still, for some reason people buy this idea that Jesus is his "favorite philosopher."

I've always figured Christ is, to Bush, just another necessary political accessory, like a flag lapel pin, like the photo-op ranch. And just as he doesn't ride his ranch's leased horses, he doesn't ride with JC either.

Sadly, I think, for a lot of people, as long as someone pins on the flag, talks with inauthentic folksiness about a vague, simplistic religious faith, it's enough.

Bush's true savior is Karl Rove, and the gullibility of the general public.


Posted by aalkon at November 11, 2007 7:15 AM

Comments

Bush's problem is he is so eager tlie even when the truth would work better.

Its a psycological illness.

Posted by: lujlp at November 11, 2007 3:11 PM

I think politicians are a sleazy bunch -- or perhaps they're no sleazier than people in general when the stakes are high. A couple of examples of politicians who've crossed my mind today: Joe Biden, plagiarist, and Newt Gingrich, who was having an affair with a congressional aide while vilifying Clinton in the press.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 11, 2007 4:02 PM

First of all, if you credit their cosmology for nothing anyway, why bother to doubt the sincerity of those who claim to be believers? Whether they're sincere or not, you're assuming they're full of shit. So be expansive... Be generous... Fergeddaboudit.

In one of the recent interviews linked on his website, Hitchens claims that the year's most satisfying moment came when Newsweek asked him to comment on the news that Mother Teresa had experienced a profound loss of faith decades before her death. I don't understand this. He's already exposed her religious practice as destructive and corrupt. What's to be happy about?

What's admirable about an anonymous writer ("New Fauve") announcing that Bush hasn't convinced him/her of his Godliness? Why would we presume that's a standard worth meeting?

I've quoted this Ambrose Bierce aphorism so often here that Amy's blog is third on ask.com in a search for it. But let's go for second place:

"Treat things divine with marked respect - don't have anything to do with them."

Posted by: Crid at November 11, 2007 9:28 PM

I prefer quoting the Chink:

"I believe in nothing...everything is sacred."

"I believe in everything...nothing is sacred."

YMMV
o_O

Posted by: Flynne at November 12, 2007 1:22 PM

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