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If I were able, I’d place blinking lights around the story on the following page, for it probably goes as far as any analysis to explain President Bush, what motivates him as a leader and what shapes his view of the world.

And I find it a frightening tale.

It is one thing for a group of well intentioned guys to show up at a Christian businessmen’s breakfast, or some such gathering, and, with theological limitations and biblical scholarship mistakes in tow, decree their certainty about God’s will for themselves, the country and the rest of humanity. It is quite another for the president of the United States to show up convinced that his election represents some kind of divine mandate.

In his inaugural address, Bush summoned the God “behind all of life, and all of history” and said, “We go forward with confidence, because this call of history has come to the right country. May he guide us now.”

I don’t doubt the sincerity of Bush’s religious convictions, nor do I doubt the depth of his recent conversion experience. I just would rather not have Bush, in his newfound religious enthusiasm, interpreting the God of history for me or for the rest of the country. I have difficulty enough with his interpretation of economic initiatives.

Most of all, I find it scary that the God of all life and all history would be enlisted in our military and economic pursuits. This seems to me cultural/civic religion of the highest order that at its most extreme is idolatrous.

I have difficulty envisioning Jesus launching Cruise missiles or commanding a tank squadron or helping to bury the enemy alive in desert ditches in some corner of Iraq.

The stories on the opposite page are fair warning that this presidency perceives itself -- and surrounds itself with aides and speechwriters and even some cabinet members who think likewise -- as specially chosen by God to carry out some divine plan.

Such is the talk of zealots who thrive on a Manichean view of the world and who know themselves best not by what they embrace and celebrate but by what they hate and fear.

Haven’t we had enough failed empires that were convinced they had God on their side?

I didn’t know Maury Maverick except by phone and regular mail. He would call and, in his signature raspy voice, go on at length with a string of embarrassingly enthusiastic endorsements of NCR. He loved the paper and he called or wrote to let us know about an NCR story or editorial he was referring to in his next column for the San Antonio Express-News.

He wasn’t Catholic, he would say almost every time he called, but he read NCR religiously. Maury died Jan. 28 at the age of 82.

I knew Maury was a liberal lawyer and legislator turned newspaper writer.

What I didn’t know until I read his obituary was that his great-grandfather, Samuel Augustus Maverick, made the family name a word for nonconformists in the 1800s when he refused to brand his cattle. When cowboys came upon one of his unmarked cattle, they would call it a maverick.

Maury wore the name, with all of its iconoclastic resonance, well. He once argued the case against a Jim Crow Texas law that banned professional boxing matches between blacks and whites. The court agreed with him and overturned the law in 1954.

In 1965, he won a case, Stanford v. Texas, that went before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case is viewed as a landmark in limiting search and seizure.

Here’s how the Austin American-Statesman put it: Maury “was a legal legend who hated the business of law. He was a state representative who gained fame -- and short-circuited his career -- by standing up against the hysteria surrounding the Red Scare of the 1950s. He was a history teacher who did his best teaching after he left academia. He was a disputatious newspaper columnist hired to air his liberal views with the approval of the reactionary Rupert Murdoch, at the time the owner of the San Antonio Express-News, the home to Maury’s Sunday column for more than two decades.

“For those scoring at home, that’s four careers in the wonderful life of Maury Maverick Jr.”

In the last column he wrote before he went into the hospital two weeks before he died, he applauded the Catholic bishops for their statement questioning the wisdom of waging war with Iraq.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, February 21, 2003