Religion in every orifice
Tom Baldwin on Bush, Blair and the Bible
Our Christian soldier leaders have marched onwards as to war, joined at the shoulder and with God on their side. Well, at times in the last few months we could be forgiven for thinking as much. While George Bush may not have seen war in Iraq as part of a religious crusade, he gives every appearance of believing his presidency is part of a master plan made in heaven.
Before his State of the Union address, Bush was going to talk about an 'axis of hatred', but changed it to one of 'evil' explicitly to make it more theological. Just in case there is any lingering doubt about his drift, there was this line from the same speech: "The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity."
David Frum, who once helped to craft such words as Bush's speechwriter, said recently that Bible study classes in the White House are not exactly obligatory, but nor are they exactly "unobligatory".
So what about the president's friend, chief ally and fellow Christian? A great deal has been written, in this magazine and elsewhere, about Tony Blair's new moral certainty and his burning desire for a place in history.
For critics from Clare Short downwards this is dangerous, "reckless" or even a sign of growing madness.
But a behind-the-scenes account in the Times of Blair's war shows his faith is that of an anguished Anglican, not some far-right fundamentalist. Unlike Bush, Blair has doubts. He worries about having to justify decisions to his Maker and admits that others who believe in the "same God" would assess the final judgement will be against him.
The Prime Minister does not bang on about a transformation like the "Goodbye Jack Daniels Hello Jesus moment" which Bush says set him on the straight and narrow path to the presidency.
Blair rarely refers to religion at all. When he studies the Bible it is in private and, unlike Bush, he also obsessively reads the Koran. Although he wanted to end his eve-of-war broadcast to the nation with the words "God Bless You", he was dissuaded by advisers who told him that people "don't want chaplains pushing stuff down their throats". The Prime Minister changed the script to make it less theological, muttering about being surrounded by a "most ungodly lot".
There are no Downing Street Bible classes. When one proselytising official tried to save the soul of a lapsed Catholic in Number 10, he was pretty quickly told where he could shove his crucifix. They are indeed an "ungodly lot".
Blair runs a secular government of a secular country. The British do not like Jesus being rammed down their throats such activities are tolerated, like buggery, only in the privacy of the home, or if they insist, a church.
In Bush's America, religion penetrates every available orifice.
Does this difference matter? You bet it does or at least you should better hope so.
Bush and Blair are not the same. They come from different directions, fought a war for different reasons and could so easily diverge for these same differences.
While Bush's fundamentalist allies describe Islam as evil and are launching missions to convert the Iraqi people, Blair has sought to be a more progressive influence on events.
The Prime Minister prevented any precipitate act of revenge on Afghanistan after 9/11 while building an international coalition for eventual action. He helped persuade Washington to seek a United Nations solution in Iraq and paid a heavy price for the failure of the diplomatic route. Now he is spending all the political capital he has amassed in the White House on a desperate bid to secure America's backing in deeds and not just words for the Middle East peace process.
There is a deeply committed Christian leader in the West who scares me, but it is not the one who once said "Jesus is a moderniser".
After six years of Blair in power we now understand that modernisation means little more than a well-meaning attempt at reform which often does not amount to very much. I am sure Jesus meant much the same, enjoying a brief period of popularity before the politics got a bit nasty and his own people turned against him.
The Prime Minister knows he will not be around for ever and wants to use well what time he has left. As for his place in history, he really should stop fretting.
Such matters are usually determined much later, by what others do in your name or how they choose to interpret your words. Bush and Blair are both Christians, so too are many millions of people who condemned the war. Maybe Jesus, as opposed to those who interpret his place in history, has no bearing at all on recent events.