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Friends, fellow Americans, we never knew how bad things got during the George W. Bush era. And yes, I say that with full knowledge of what it implies. True, we saw the results of Bush’s policies: a catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil, a staggeringly mismanaged quagmire of war, torture and degradation of prisoners, the proliferation of radical Islam and anti-American sentiment around the world.

But, until now, we never fully glimpsed the mentality behind it. We had hints, but we never got the full picture of what was motivating Bush and his senior administration officials. Now the truth is revealed, and it’s exactly as bad as the most paranoid imaginings.

Journalist Robert Draper has obtained a set of cover sheets for the Secretary of Defense Worldwide Intelligence Update, a classified daily briefing that was hand-delivered by Donald Rumsfeld to George W. Bush and a tiny inner circle of White House officials. Astonishingly, these top-level documents were prefaced with photos of America’s war effort, blazoned with Bible quotations.

These were not mere inspirational platitudes, as bad as that would have been. No, these verses were clearly chosen to convey the message that God was commanding America to go to war in Iraq, and would grant us victory if we obeyed.

One shows soldiers in camouflage, heads bowed in prayer, assault rifles clasped in their hands, with a caption reading, “Here I am, Lord; send me” (Isaiah 6:8). Another shows a soldier squatting behind a belt-fired machine gun, with an Iraqi highway sign in the background behind him; the caption reads “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed” (Proverbs 16:3). A third shows a collage of three pictures – an infantry column, an advancing tank, a fighter plane – and a caption from the genocidal Book of Joshua: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (1:9). And the crowning horror, a picture of Saddam Hussein on Iraqi TV, below the caption: “It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the foolish talk of ignorant men” (1 Peter 2:15).

Whether these documents convinced George W. Bush to wage war on Iraq, or whether they merely echoed thinking that was already in his mind, either way they are horrifying. They reflect a White House that was firmly in the grip of messianic religious delusion and a president who believed himself to be a holy warrior carrying out God’s will to cleanse the world of evil. When Bush infamously referred to America’s wars as a “crusade”, it was likely no simple slip of the tongue, but a window into the processes that were even then unfolding in his thoughts.

We did not know it, but for eight years, this nation was in the grip of theocracy. It had a Christian flavor rather than an Islamic one, but aside from those superficial trappings, all theocracies are the same. Just like the Taliban of Afghanistan or the ayatollahs of Iran, George W. Bush believed his primary duty was not to obey the will of the people, but to serve what he believed to be the will of God. And as a result – because of the religious beliefs of desert-dwelling nomads of the Iron Age – the military of the most powerful nation in the world of the 21st century was sent to war. Aircraft carriers and Abrams tanks were dispatched to battle because of myths recorded by people for whom the most advanced weapons of war were chariots and spears.

If this news had become known during the Bush era, it should have provoked a national crisis and calls for impeachment. The United States of America, led into war by a scripture-quoting president who thought the Bible contained coded messages intended for him! Forget the Founders rolling over in their graves – this should have been cause for them to burst from their graves and advance on the White House in a zombie horde. No words can describe how utterly this betrays the values America was founded on. No words can describe the outrage of thousands of American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis killed, and tens of thousands more wounded or maimed, all in the service of the delusions of this religious zealot who thought God had appointed him our president. And then there are the indirect effects: our prosperity mortgaged to a trillion-dollar war; a nation shattered by ethnic cleansing, its history gone up in flames; the entire Middle East destabilized; and the seeds of an undying anti-American enmity sown throughout the Muslim world. All this to unseat a petty tyrant who, no matter how brutal he was, was no worse than the simmering religious war and semi-anarchy that Iraq is now plunged into.

When revelation takes the place of reason, the results are always disastrous, and the catastrophe of Iraq stands as the supreme example. Faith allows – indeed, encourages – human beings to make decisions with no thought for what is rational, practical, or most likely to succeed, and when the person making the decisions commands the power of the American president, this is the result. The Iraqi people, the American military, and the world have suffered beyond measure because of one man’s messianic delusions. How many more will suffer the same fate before we learn our lesson? How much more bloodshed and death will result before we realize that we cannot rely on religious myths to steer the course of our civilization?

DAYLIGHT ATHEISM—Adam Lee is an atheist author and speaker from New York City. His previously published books include "Daylight Atheism," "Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City," and most...

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