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John Wilson

Christian Realism

Wherever I turn these days, whatever the ostensible subject, I'm likely to bump into someone editorializing about the evils of George W. Bush and his company of wreckers. The New York Times Book Review asks John Ashbery what book of poetry, published in the last 25 years, has meant the most to him, and on his way to plumping for James Tate he arches his brow: "Democracy is after all what our land is all about, or was until fairly recently." Ireland's Abbey Theatre commissions Seamus Heaney to undertake a new version of Sophocles' Antigone (The Burial at Thebes, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and Heaneya reviewer in the Los Angeles Times Book Review tells usremarks that "his translation could have been called 'An Open Letter to George Bush,'" since "the poet found a ready parallel to the bellicose, intransigent Creon … in the American president."

Why does the crudity of this surprise me? Maybe in part because one of the principal charges against Bush and all those who voted for him is their allegedly simplistic view of the world. And the "ready parallel" between Creon and George W. Bush is … subtly nuanced?

In 2003, I contributed an essay to a book called Spiritual Perspectives on America's Role as a Superpower (Skylight Paths). I beg your indulgence to quote from it here:

In the contention over American power and how it should be used, vigorously and often rancorously conducted on talk shows and op-ed pages, in think tanks and policy journals, the matter of a distinctively Christian understanding of the question has hardly been at the forefront, but neither has it been neglected. Indeed, two answers have been heard again and again, two sharply different responses, both of which seem unsatisfactory to me.

The first answer might be called the Way of Renunciation. It is well represented by Daniel Berrigan's book, Lamentations: From New York to Kabul and Beyond, in which Berrigan reflects on 9/11 and its aftermath in the light of the Lamentations of the ...

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