Laura Bush’s Crisis of Christian Faith: Why God Doesn’t Do Favors
I don’t usually write about subjects like Laura Bush’s personal life, but the N.Y. Times report on her new book struck me as particularly banal and troubling in terms of how she views the way God should work in the world.
When she was a teenager, she caused an auto accident that killed a popular student athlete in her high school. On her way to a drive-in movie with a high-school friend, she was chatting away and ran a stop sign. Her car plowed into the boy’s and killed him. Here’s how she describes the accident:
“In those awful seconds, the car door must have been flung open by the impact and my body rose in the air until gravity took over and I was pulled, hard and fast, back to earth,” she says. “The whole time,” she adds later, “I was praying that the person in the other car was alive. In my mind, I was calling ‘Please, God. Please, God. Please, God,’ over and over and over again.”
…“I lost my faith that November, lost it for many, many years,” she says. “It was the first time that I had prayed to God for something, begged him for something, not the simple childhood wishing on a star but humbly begging for another human life. And it was as if no one heard. My begging, to my seventeen-year-old mind, had made no difference. The only answer was the sound of Mrs. Douglas’s sobs on the other side of that thin emergency room curtain.”
As I read this Christian view of divine providence I compare it unfavorably with Judaism, which does not posit divine intercession on behalf of individuals (though I’m sure one can find a few instances of it in the tradition if one looked hard enough). God doesn’t do personal favors. God cares about and for His creation, but not for specific souls who seek miracles and the like.
What also struck me about Bush’s thinking was that she caused an accident which killed someone and instead of confronting that on a personal level she finds some way to put the blame on God for not doing what she should’ve done in the first place, which was to avoid the accident.
Let me be clear, every one of us who drive understand that there but for the grace of God could we go. We know how easy it would be to cause such an accident with the power of a motor vehicle at our fingertips. So I’m not blaming Laura Bush for what she did. But I am criticizing the way in which she responded in the aftermath.
Also, I understand that as a teenager, she may not have been fully capable of dealing with her own personal guilt. So putting it off on God is a way of avoiding some of the crushing burden that befalls the perpetrator. Further, Bush is describing her youthful response to the tragedy and not her adult perspective in retrospect. One hopes there is more maturity and complexity in the way she looks at things now.
But given this I wonder:
Mrs. Bush concedes that she and her friend were chatting when she ran the stop sign. But she also suggests a host of factors beyond her control played a role — the pitch-black road, an unusually dangerous intersection, the small size of the stop sign, and the car the victim was driving.
“It was sporty and sleek, and it was also the car that Ralph Nader made famous in his book Unsafe at Any Speed,” she states. “He claimed the car was unstable and prone to rollover accidents. A few years later, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration went so far as to investigate the Corvair’s handling, but it didn’t reach the same grim conclusions.
Once again, more diversions from personal responsibility. And if you think about George Bush’s own record, it is replete with such incidents in which he witnessed tragedy, failed to respond competently, and then blamed everyone and everything but himself for the result (Katrina, Iraq, etc.).
Finally, the way in which her parent’s shielded her from what she had done also troubles:
Mrs. Bush reveals that she was wracked by guilt for years after the crash, especially after not attending the funeral and for not reaching out to the parents of the dead teenager. Her parents did not want her to show up at the funeral, she states, and she ended up sleeping through it.
Imagine what a psychiatrist would say about someone sleeping through such a momentous event. And I understand the urge of parent’s to protect their child in such circumstances, but are they really doing her a favor by not allowing her to confront her own grief and that of the rest of the community? Were they really protecting her by shielding her from contact with the victim’s parents? I understand that these are hard questions and it is hard to blame anyone for doing what Bush’s parents did. But there are very real consequences for doing what they did. And I don’t think ultimately you do a child any favors by walling her off in a cocoon.
During the Bush presidency we all thought so poorly of him that we were eager to believe she possessed a humanity and compassion that he lacked. But given what I read here, I wonder.
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- Laura Bush Opens Up About Fatal Crash (nytimes.com)
9 thoughts on “Laura Bush’s Crisis of Christian Faith: Why God Doesn’t Do Favors – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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RE: “I understand the urge of parent’s to protect their child in such circumstances, but are they really doing her a favor by not allowing her to confront her own grief and that of the rest of the community?” – R.S.
SEE: So George, how do you feel about your mom and dad? By Oliver James, The Guardian, 09/02/03
…Barbara Bush is described by her closest intimates as prone to “withering stares” and “sharply crystalline” retorts. She is also extremely tough. When he was seven, Bush’s younger sister, Robin, died of leukaemia and several independent witnesses say he was very upset by this loss. Barbara claims its effect was exaggerated but nobody could accuse her of overreacting: the day after the funeral, she and her husband were on the golf course…
…Soon after arriving [at Andover], he was asked to write an essay on a soul-stirring experience in his life to date and he chose the death of his sister. His mother had drilled it into him that it was wrong when writing to repeat words already used. Having employed “tears” once in the essay, he sought a substitute from a thesaurus she had given him and wrote “the lacerates ran down my cheeks”. The essay received a fail grade, accompanied by derogatory comments such as “disgraceful”….
ENTIRE ARTICLE – http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2003/sep/02/lifeandhealth.usa
FROM WIKIPEDIA: Bush on the Couch
(excerpts) Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of a President is a 2004 book by psychoanalyst Justin Frank. The central premise of Frank’s book is that President George W. Bush displays signs of poor mental health…
…Frank argues that the death of Pauline Robinson “Robin” Bush and the way the family handled it greatly affected her elder brother’s personal development. Thus, despite Robin’s short life, Frank believes that she had a major impact on the world both through her father and through her older brother.
At the time she became ill, Robin was the future president’s only sibling (Jeb Bush was born eight months before she died) and a favorite playmate. His parents never told him that she was sick, although he was asked to stop playing with her when she became weak. Only after her death did they disclose to him her illness, which had lasted longer than doctors expected it to and had led the Bushes on a frantic quest back East to find a specialist who could treat her. These efforts kept them away from their son for long stretches of time, and he was not present when Robin died nor was he permitted to attend her burial….
SOURCE – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bush_on_the_Couch
What on earth is the point of commenting on a book that will be remaindered in three weeks? Please don’t give it more weight than it’s worth.
Gene has a point, but setting aside the book’s unimportance, I think you’re being a little hard on her. She was a 17 year old who wasn’t paying attention while driving–I imagine at one point or another that’s happened to 99 percent of all the teenagers who’ve ever driven and most of the adults. As you say, it really is “There but for the grace of God go I”. One moment of inattention at the wrong time and you’ve killed someone. Fortunately, for most of us our moments of inattention don’t come when there happens to be someone present we might run into.
If I were to criticize Laura Bush (and I have no interest in doing so), it would be for extremely poor taste in men.
I felt the same way when I read this article elsewhere. Laura Bush losing her faith because god didn’t save the other driver? Mrs. Douglas’ sobs were her “reality check”, that yes indeed, Laura, you are actually responsible for what you do here on earth. Except it doesn’t seem to fully sink in, if, to this day, Laura is still going on about the poor design of the Corvair. There is a disconnect, an indescribable insensitivity to the react appropriately, and she met her match in W. Not the kind of behavior I expect from a leader, either…
When you say Judaism doesn’t posit intervention on behalf of individuals, are you allowing for it to do so on behalf groups of individuals? Of course, I am thinking of the story of Exodus, isn’t that in fact, a claim of “divine” intervention on behalf of a group of people. The son of my orthodox Jewish neighbor was once at our house and he told me Jews were commemorating that week, the something of Av, the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. When I replied that I knew about that event, he informed me that “God made the Romans do that” (meaning destroy the temple), “because Jews were not being nice to each other.” I didn’t question him about this, as he was only a child. But is that not in fact, an example of divine intervention? Of course, you wouldn’t consider this particularly a “favor.”
I was raised in the Christian tradition, a Roman Catholic to be exact, but I am now a member of a Quaker meeting, who while appreciating the Quaker’s views of justice and equality, do not as a disbeliever in god, accept god beliefs.
Even were I a believer, I find it absurd that people think god would intervene in the affairs of humans at all.
No, I don’t think it just Christianity that believes in divine intervention.
It’s problematic to make hard & fast rules about what a religion believes or doesn’t believe. You can find examples in Judaism (usually ancient Judaism) in which God was conceived in a far more personal, direct manner in which he did intervene on behalf of individuals or an entire people (in the case of the Exodus which you point out). But Judaism, as a whole, tends to view God’s role in the world in a more abstract way. There are of course the more Orthodox who still tend to have more traditional notions & believe in divine intervention in personal affairs. But the overwhelming majority of Jews either are totally secular or if they are observant or spiritual don’t believe in this type of God.
We agree then after all, Richard.
I personally, like many, many Christians, do not believe in this view of divine providence. I do not think it is inherent in the Christian faith as such, but is something that is common in the more orthodox segments, while the more liberal segments reject it. I suspect the same goes for Judaism.
I find it hard to believe that divine intercession on behalf of individuals has no place in the Jewish tradition as the Bible itself is chockfull of such stories: Elijah, who brings the son of a widow back to life, after God has first saved the three of them during a severe famine with a miracle pot of flour and container with oil that never get empty. Hezekiah who wants to live and for him the sun even changes its course, Hannah who prays for a son and is heard, Naaman the Syrian who is healed of leprosy, Sadrach, Mesag and Abednego who are saved from the fiery furnace, Daniel who remains unharmed in the lion’s den, and the many psalms in which God is either begged to intervene in an individual’s life, or thanked for just such intervention afterwards (Ps. 40, 116, 151 to name a few). And what about Job? His steadfast faith in the end restores to him what was taken, as a personal favor from God.
There are similar stories of individuals being healed, fed, or brought back to life in the New Testament as well, and I think that both in Judaism and in Christianity different groups look at these stories in different ways.