- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S.
President George W. Bush's frequent description of Osama bin Laden as "the
evil one" is raising eyebrows in theological as well as political
- Bush first used the phrase in a news conference on Oct.
11, one month after the suicide hijacking attacks on New York and Washington
that killed around 5,000 people.
- Referring to a video by Saudi-born militant bin Laden
praising the attacks, Bush said: "On our TV screens the other day,
we saw the evil one threatening, calling for more destruction and death
- Since then, Bush has repeated the phrase many times.
But in historical and cultural terms, who is "the evil one?"
- In Christian theology, he is The Devil. That's the way
many Americans, especially conservative and evangelical Christians, immediately
understood the reference. Bush was literally "demonizing" his
- "As I understood the statement, he was using a theological
term. In Christianity, the term is used to refer to Satan. Bush, as a conservative
Christian, appeared to be asserting that Satan was behind the Sept. 11
attacks," said Lynn Mitchell, who teaches Christianity and Christian
ethics at the University of Houston.
- "Bush views the world in Christian terms. He didn't
leave Christianity at the door when he entered the White House," Mitchell
- BUSH ASSERTS CHRISTIAN BELIEF
- In his presidential campaign last year, Bush often asserted
his Christian belief and at one point said that the thinker who had influenced
him the most was Jesus.
- In some modern translations of the Lord's Prayer (Matthew,
chapter 6), possibly the most familiar prayer in the Christian liturgy
which millions know by heart, one line is rendered, "Deliver us from
the Evil One."
- Daniel Dreisbach, a professor of religion at the American
University in Washington said an interpretation of Bush's words depended
on whether the term "evil one" took capital letters.
- If Bush intended to speak of bin Laden as "the Evil
One", then he was referring to Satan. If he merely intended "the
evil one", he probably just meant that he was evil. Unfortunately,
Bush has not submitted a written text clarifying the point.
- "To me, his use of the phrase evoked (former) President
Reagan's description of the Soviet Union as 'the evil empire'," Dreisbach
- By using the phrase, Bush was not only assuming the mantle
of Reagan, who is revered by many Americans, but also suggesting that,
like the Cold War, the battle against terrorism was likely to last for
a generation or more.
- "In general, Sept. 11 has forced intellectuals to
confront and debate this concept of evil in the world. Since the attacks,
it's been almost impossible to escape that discussion and Bush may be trying
to nudge it along," Dreisbach said.
- LESS POTENT IN SECULAR CIRCLES
- In more secular American circles, the term "the
evil one" seems less potent. In the popular Austin Powers movies,
the jokey arch-villain was called Dr. Evil. At Drevil.com, one of many
Internet sites devoted to the character, one can download sound bites and
video clips and buy "evil merchandise."
- There is another, more prosaic explanation of Bush's
use of the term -- that he was simply fed up of mentioning bin Laden by
name and possibly adding to his stature and repute. Bin Laden is widely
admired in sections of the Islamic world.
- Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan caught both interpretations
in a TV interview immediately after the Oct. 11 news conference.
- "As you know, it is the phrase that is used by many
orthodox Christians and conservative Christians and born again Christians
and all the houses of Christianity. The evil one is the little phrase that
is used for the devil," she said.
- "So I was struck by it, too. That seems to be his
almost gentle-sounding and yet quite deadly label for this person whose
name he's apparently tired of saying. So why not just sum up who the heck
he is and let it go?" she said.
- The theological roots of Satan, the Devil, the Evil One,
Lucifer, Beelzebub and all his other personifications is obscure. In the
Old Testament, Satan is the Hebrew word meaning "adversary" and
does not necessarily imply supernatural powers.
- But in Matthew 4, Jesus is "sent by the Spirit into
the wasteland to be tested by the Evil One."
- The western picture of the Devil was considerably expanded
by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) in his Divine Comedy. But perhaps the most
abiding image of "the Evil One" was created by John Milton (1608-1674)
in his Paradise Lost, where the Evil One becomes a fallen angel, cast out
of heaven for daring to challenge God.
- In Paradise Lost, Book Two, Milton describes him:
- "Incensd with indignation Satan stood Unterrify'd,
and like a comet burn'd... In th' arctic sky, and from his horrid hair
Shakes pestilence and war."
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