The Atlantic Rift
by Paul Walker
All the political pundits seem puzzled at the difference between
Europe and North America when it comes to Gorge Bush. There has always
been this difference in reaction to political people. But it is not too
much of a sweeping generalisation to say that Europeans simply cannot
stand President Bush and don�t understand how United States citizens can
possibly like him.
I would like to suggest that this goes beyond mere personality. It has
deep roots in religion.
As I understand it, most Americans, whether or not they are religious,
seem to think that George Bush and the Republicans are the Christian party
in the USA. Yet in Britain, the one thing likely to embarrass even the
most Evangelical of Christians is an association with George Bush.
As a liberal Christian in Britain I have found myself on three
occasions debating with conservative Christians over various issues. On
each occasion I have said something to the effect that if you want to see
Evangelical Christianity in action look at George Bush. On each occasion
my opponent has looked awkward and more or less stated that Bush and his
party are not really Christians. It turns out that George Bush is a gift
to those of left wing politics and liberal theology because in Britain he
and his politics are universally seen as bad or even evil.
Yet in North America, good people who wish to follow Jesus see George
Bush and the Republicans as deeply committed Christians who are truly on
the side of good in a war against evil. The fact that people like me
dislike the Republicans is probably seen as confirmation that they are the
good guys. Yet in most of Europe, the opinion that Republicans are simply
bad is axiomatic. It seldom needs to be argued for.
So if even Bible-believing Christian Europeans are uncomfortable with
George Bush, what is the difference between the relative views of religion
on either side of the Atlantic?
For many Christian Americans Jesus comes with a message of personal
freedom. So if the individual gives his or her entire life to Jesus, godly
blessings will surely follow. For over two hundred years this has been the
experience of many Americans. Hard work, sobriety, careful handling of
money and Church-going have all, as they perceive it, resulted in material
reward. The shock of September 11 was that such seemingly good and
hard-working people suffered unjustifiably. It has been quite surprising
that some religious groups have considered the dissolute life of many New
Yorkers to have been a contributory factor in causing the events of
In other words, many Americans still resolutely believe that faith and
hard work are directly correlated with material reward as a direct result
of personal salvation. As a result, Republican politics of minimal
government allowing individuals to freely flourish are seen as Christian.
Even tax breaks for the rich are considered good, because they are those
who have been blessed by God with wealth and should therefore be given
more opportunity to spend their money as God wills.
Such theology was common in Europe at the time of the Pilgrim Fathers.
Yet history has been less benevolent to the population of Europe. The
aftermath of the French Revolution created many deaths. Starvation was a
common experience throughout the nineteenth century. "Ethnic cleansing"
was attempted on populations throughout Europe, from the highlands of
Scotland to the Balkans. In the twentieth century this type of carnage
took on almost scientific proportions, first with the lost generation of
the World War I, and then the holocaust in World War II.
For Europeans, therefore, the idea that wealth and freedom are God�s
blessing for a faithful life, simply does not wash. Even the most
conservative Christian believes that government has a large part to play
in preventing bloodshed and feeding a population. For Europeans there is
no explaining away the horrors of terrorism. Innocent people die, good
people die. We know, it happens.
Hence the almost theological explanation of the war on terror as a
simple fight of good against evil is lost on Europeans. The louder certain
sections of American society shout, the deafer Europeans become to their
That is my analysis. Sadly I have no solution to the rift. One thing I
do know is that there are very saintly people on both sides of the
Atlantic and on both sides of this political divide.
My fear is that we have stopped listening to each other. And that could
be very dangerous for our world.