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Austin Cline

Is Karl Rove an Atheist? What Does George W. Bush Believe?

By April 28, 2007

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One of the most prominent and defining characteristics of the Bush administration has been its commitment to the promotion of religion ó and not just religion generally, but conservative evangelical Christianity in particular. An important architect of all the Bush administration's political activities has been Karl Rove who, it seems, may not be a conservative evangelical Christian himself. On the contrary, he may in fact be an atheist who doesn't believe in any gods and who doesn't follow any religion.

Vjack quotes from an interview with Christopher Hitchens in the New York Magazine:

Do you think an avowed atheist would ever get elected in the U.S.?
Yes. I do not believe any of the statistical claims that are made about public opinion. I donít see why anybody does.

Has anyone in the Bush administration confided in you about being an atheist?
Well, I donít talk that much to themómaybe people think I do. I know something which is known to few but is not a secret. Karl Rove is not a believer, and he doesnít shout it from the rooftops, but when asked, he answers quite honestly. I think the way he puts it is, ďIím not fortunate enough to be a person of faith.Ē

What must Bush make of that?
I think itís false to say that the president acts as if he believes he has Godís instructions. Compared to Jimmy Carter, heís nowhere. Heís a Methodist, having joined his wifeís church in the end. He also claims that Jesus got him off the demon drink. He doesnít believe it. His wife said, ďIf you donít stop, Iím leaving and Iím taking the kids.Ē You can say that you got help from Jesus if you want, but thatís just a polite way of putting it in Texas.

Although some might find this unbelievable, there are reasons to think it plausible that Karl Rove could be an atheist. Rove and other neoconservatives seem to use the political philosophy of Leo Strauss who taught, in part, that religion was necessary to control people. He wasn't religious himself, he simply considered necessary. In the book Toward a New Political Humanism, Katherine Yurica explains what she sees as the basic contradictions between neoconservative, Straussian thought and traditional Christianity:

First: Strauss believed that a leader had to perpetually deceive the citizens he ruled.

Secondly: Those who lead must understand there is no morality, there is only the right of the superior to rule the inferior.

Thirdly: According to Drury, Religion "is the glue that holds society together." It is a handle by which the ruler can manipulate the masses. Any religion will do. Strauss is indifferent to them all.

Fourthly: "Secular societyÖis the worst possible thing," because it leads to individualism, liberalism, and relativism, all of which encourage dissent and rebellion. As Drury sums it up: "You want a crowd that you can manipulate like putty."

Fifthly: "Strauss thinks that a political order can be stable only if it is united by an external threat; and following Machiavelli, he maintains that if no external threat exists, then one has to be manufactured."

Sixthly: "In Strauss's view, the trouble with liberal society is that it dispenses with noble lies and pious frauds. It tries to found society on secular rational foundations."

Yurica relies heavily on Shadia Drury's book Leo Strauss and the American Right for the above and it does suggest that neoconservatism and Christianity are at odds with one another ó or at least that they should be, if they were completely open and honest about their aims and principles. In some cases, though, like with the fourth and sixth points, it seems like Leo Strauss would sound very appealing to the Christian Right.

On the one hand, I know as well as other atheists that merely being atheists doesn't mean that two people have anything else in common. There are lots of atheists out there whose political, philosophical, and social beliefs are at odds with mine. Why should Karl Rove be any different? On the other hand, though, Rove's behavior and activities are so extreme that it's difficult not to experience a twinge of discomfort and even embarrassment at the possibility that he might be an atheist.

I think it's worth contemplating what such information, if true, would mean for the Christian Right. Some may see it as a further excuse to distance "real" conservatives and "real" Christians from the Bush administration, as if Bush and his followers hadn't been doing so much to benefit conservatism and Christians for so many years. It might cause other conservative Christians to experience more than a little cognitive dissonance. I wonder also if Rove might serve as one of those "atheist boogeymen" that Christians trot out as an example of how being an atheist prevents a person from being moral.

I think that Hitchens is wrong when he suggests that George W. Bush isn't sincere. That is certainly possible, but Hitchens doesn't offer any reason to think it is ó even his reason for calling Rove an atheist, while little more than hearsay, at least qualifies as a reason. Bush has stated more than once that he has been following God's orders. If Hitchens is going to claim that Bush doesn't really believe any of this, he'll have to do better.

April 28, 2007 at 9:39 pm
(1) EvilPoet says:

According to the book The Architect by James Moore and Wayne Slater, Rove is agnostic. So that’s two places that I read he is not a believer. If you get the chance, The Architect is worth reading. As far as Bush and faith goes, I’m with you on that one. I think Hitchens underestimates what religion means to the almighty Decider. Here is Seymour Hersh’s take on it…

“The President is more determined than ever to stay the course,” the former defense official said. “He doesnít feel any pain. Bush is a believer in the adage ‘People may suffer and die, but the Church advances.’” He said that the President had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney. “They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway,” the former defense official said. Bush’s public appearances, for example, are generally scheduled in front of friendly audiences, most often at military bases. Four decades ago, President Lyndon Johnson, who was also confronted with an increasingly unpopular war, was limited to similar public forums. “Johnson knew he was a prisoner in the White House,” the former official said, “but Bush has no idea.”" -Seymour Hersh, Up In The Air: Where is the Iraq war headed next? http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/051205fa_fact

Just some food for thought: If he really truly believes that he’s God’s emissary (which I think he does) – that not only makes him capable of doing anything but far more dangerous than if he were just saying it to secure his legacy. Someone like Pat Robertson always comes to mind here. Which is why I have said many times that I think Bush missed his true calling. The man would make a great televangelist. Given all the God talk he spouts, money he is able to raise, and laws he is willing to break he seems perfectly suited for the job.

April 30, 2007 at 12:42 pm
(2) Tom says:

Karl Rove is not a believer, [...] when asked, he answers, [...] ďIím not fortunate enough to be a person of faith.Ē

This sounds a lot more like something an agnostic would say as opposed to an atheist. I realize that atheism doesn’t guarantee unity on philosophic, social, etc levels, but I have never heard an atheist, even one sympathetic with theistic belief, make such a self-degrading comment concerning his own lack of belief.

May 4, 2007 at 6:45 pm
(3) John Hanks says:

Rove is a subversive agnostic waiting to be saved. He can join Guckert in the White House bible reading carnival.

The only real faith that Rove really has is in the perpetual hustle – the gouging and chiseling that makes manly men as they use force and fraud to stick a boot into another bogus man’s face.

May 4, 2007 at 8:55 pm
(4) Chuck says:

You may or may not know how much I HATE Bush and his cronies, but yes I do hate them sooo very much. Karl Rove is more like Joseph Goebbels then an atheist. I know your thinking not believing in any gods does not automaticlly make you a good person, but Rove just plain sucks! He’s a beliver in the $$, he’d sell out his mom (if he ever had one). And as far as my favorite “Most Impeachable Jerk of the Year” award Mr.”W” no way (Evil Poet) could he be an real televangelist have you ever heard the idiot speak? Marble mouth stuttering stammer mumbo jumbo.


May 9, 2007 at 4:24 am
(5) Ken says:

As a former Pentecostal preacher (now a Born-again atheist), I can say without hestation (and not afraid of being judged), that GWBush is NOT a born-again Christian (BAC), as evidenced by his inter-personal behavior and his behavior on the world stage. In the latter setting, his choice to become a “war president” re Iraq (contriving a 9/11 tie-in with Hussein) is 100% contrary to the philosophy of Jesus as laid out in the New Testament. His lack of interest in the number of people being killed in Iraq as a result of his “revenge war’ against Hussein has no ties with the Christian concept of charity.
As to the former, can you imagine Jesus (as portrayed in the New Testament)calling any of his disciples “Turdblossom”? Born-again Christians do not talk that way.
Rove found a way to embed Bush in the political philosophy of the Christian Coalition/Right movement with spectacular results that probably amazed Rove. Portraying GW as a born-again Christian has worked only because of the function of Colbert’s “truthiness” concept: the masses have believed him to be a BAC because they want that to be the case – not because it is.
No BAC, using the Bible as the standard of conduct — rather than a political agenda — would be able to say, “He is one of us.” He is, in fact, the antitheses of a born-again Christian.

May 22, 2007 at 3:01 pm
(6) Tony says:

All of these comments have missed the main point. All of those in the white house at the upper echelon are, as Vonnegut said, Pscychopaths. They are conscience-less and just plain don’t care. Calling themselves Christians or Atheists doesn’t matter to them, they lie about everything. The only thing they might care about is getting caught but only if they do. The greatest punishment available to any of them is impeachment and the consequences therefrom. How did the American public get duped into believing anything these guys have said? Because we believe that people have some small amount of honesty, even politicians. These psychopaths have none.

August 13, 2007 at 8:23 pm
(7) John Burkitt says:

I am a 62 y.o. Gay Liberal Atheist & a proud survivor in a very straight, Conservative, Christian country! I respect most all people & their beliefs. I know that heterosexuals are born “that way” & cannot help it. I think there is an innate human need to believe in a “hereafter” considering the rise of the most popular faiths in all part of the world that had no contact with each other. Is this all there is? Most people are afraid to say “yes”. The cliche that all politicians are crooks or liars denies their importance in our daily lives. This newspaper does a great job in engaging so many of us in this discourse. May your non-God go with you, Karl “the terrible” Rove!

August 16, 2007 at 5:15 am
(8) Dan Schwartz says:

The philosophy of Leo Strauss (as detailed in the text box above) is so repugnant, and so blatantly contradictory to the ideas of this nation’s Founding Fathers, that I do not understand how anyone who is known to be a follower of Strauss, or to surround himself with such followers, can possibly be elected to any office.

Have we no self-respect? “We the People” need to stand together and show these schemers that we will not allow ourselves to be “manipulate[d] like putty”, and that we want our children educated in a manner that will strengthen, not weaken, their resistance to such manipulation.

The philosophy of Strauss (and Rove) sounds like the philosophy of Adolph Hitler – and with good reason. Strauss was in fact a student of Karl Schmidt (or Carl Schmitt – spellings vary), who was Hitler’s chief lawyer and the apparent author of the infamous 1933 “Enabling Act”. But even without the Hitler connection, it is clear that the Straussian world view is just plain evil.

November 26, 2007 at 9:32 pm
(9) Sven says:

Karl Rove is soooooo eeeeeeeeeeeeeevil, he is even eviler than Skeletor! I read somewhere that he eats black children (baked with an apple in their mouth) for breakfast, and he also beats up women just for the fun of it. He likes to kill people just to see the expression in their eyes when they die. He hates all people that are not white, in fact he even hates all people that are white and don’t wear glasses. He shoots people who don’t wear glasses sometimes and then laughs with an evil laugh, which can be heard for miles.
All he wants to do is spread evilness in the world, and he also plans to tear down the White House and erect a Skeletor Castle in its place with smoke machines around it which make it look even eviler. There will be a torture chamber in the basement, because, as we all know, he loves to torture people, especially “little people”, which he calls “little devils”. We should all be really really scared of Karl Rove, the most evil man in history. And don’t read his Newsweek column, he is using brand new CIA developed mind control techniques in order to gain control over the nation and make us all commit suicide by laughing too hard and suffocating from watching too much Family Guy.

September 11, 2008 at 7:02 pm
(10) Kate Stein says:

Harry Shearer (Mr. Burns from the Simpsons) did a hilarious riff on Karl Rove. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the link – it’s definitely worth watching.


September 11, 2008 at 7:13 pm
(11) Kate Stein says:

Harry Shearer (Mr. Burns from the Simpsons) did a hilarious riff on Karl Rove. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the link – it’s definitely worth watching.

October 1, 2012 at 3:05 pm
(12) Carol Haynes says:

BO has got to go. Don’t try to sully the name of Karl Rove. He is a great mind and you are obviously brainless suppoeters of socialism.

October 4, 2012 at 10:25 am
(13) Austin Cline says:

Don’t try to sully the name of Karl Rove.

So, you’re are a bigot who thinks that “atheist” is an insult?

He is a great mind and you are obviously brainless suppoeters of socialism.

Then you should be able to demonstrate how.

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