With God On Our Side: George W. Bush & The Rise Of The Religious Right In America

2004, Movie, NR, 96 mins

Review

WITH GOD ON OUR SIDE: GEORGE W. BUSH & THE RISE OF THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT IN AMERICA
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Conceived as an addendum to With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America (1996), a six-hour history of the politically active evangelical U.S. Christian movement made for the U.K.'s Channel Four, this 100-minute update originally aired the week before America's 2004 presidential election, but arrived on U.S. shores on the eve of George W. Bush's second-term inauguration. Reactions to this eye-opening but relatively unbiased documentary will no doubt be entirely a matter of perspective. The religious right will embrace it as a celebration while those who maintain belief in the separation of church and state will take it as a deeply troubling warning. Despite the subtitle, much of the film's running time is given over to a concise summary of Christian evangelism's rise as a political movement during the second half of the 20th century, first as a crusade against godless communism, later as a movement dedicated to returning prayer to public schools and overturning the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Filmmakers Calvin Skaggs and David Van Taylor hit all the flash-point issues: Christian groups position themselves in relation to Washington, cozy up to candidates and move ever closer to the forefront of politics. The evangelical outcry over JFK's Roman Catholicism, Richard Nixon's close and very public friendship with the Rev. Billy Graham, Jimmy Carter's open avowal of his intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Ronald Reagan's embrace of the increasingly powerful Moral Majority, televangelist Pat Robertson's run for the White House and the formation of the more pragmatically flexible Christian Coalition in the wake of his defeat. The second half focuses on the Bush family, specifically George H.W. Bush's failure to fully engage the Christian Right and son George W.'s ascension from sinner with a serious drinking problem to deeply devout political figure, using the parable of the prodigal son to spin both a DUI conviction and his lack of a proper political education. For many, his ability to see the world in good vs. evil terms and act with a decisiveness borne of religious conviction rather than experienced statesmanship is perfect for a post-9/11 America. For others, it leaves no room for diplomacy. Skaggs and Van Taylor rely mostly on the evangelical commentators to tell their own story, so it's hard to gauge whether, for instance, George W.'s ties to the Christian community really did determine his father's win over Michael Dukakis in the 1986 election. But as an explanation of where we are today, the entire film makes for crucial viewing. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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