MORE THAN WORDS….Everyone is still buzzing about Ron Suskind’s frightening description of Bush’s decision-making process (if that’s what it can be called.) But as Ayelish McGarvey points out in a must-read piece over at The American Prospect, Suskind makes the same mistake that countless other reporters and critics of the President have: he takes Bush’s faith seriously.

McGarvey goes slightly further than I am willing to in raising the question of whether Bush can even be called Christian. But she presents some compelling arguments along the way, highlighting the fact that Bush’s mantle, “man of faith,” is based on flimsy evidence of his true convictions. Noting the rash of spiritual hagiographies that have been released in book or film form over the past year, McGarvey writes:

Though these accounts ramble on for hundreds of pages about his steadfast leadership and prayerfulness, they all curiously rely on one single event to confirm that Bush is a man transformed by a deep Christian faith: He quit drinking and took up running instead….But Christianity is more than teetotalism and physical fitness. Conservative believers liken a Christian conversion to a spiritual heart transplant — one that completely transfigures a person?s motivations, sensibilities, relationships, and actions….Judging him on his record, George W. Bush?s spiritual transformation seems to have consisted of little more than staying on the wagon, with Jesus as a sort of talismanic Alcoholics Anonymous counselor.

Both supporters and critics of the president point to his stirring religious rhetoric as proof of his faith–whether they believe his religious convictions are reassuring or disturbing. And yet those often eloquent and powerful words come from the pen of his head speechwriter, Wheaton College graduate Mike Gerson, not necessarily from Bush’s inner soul. As McGarvey writes:

Far too often, though, the press confuses Gerson?s words with Bush?s beliefs. The distinction is critical, as the press, as well as many of Bush?s most ardent supporters, curiously points to the president?s words, not his deeds, as evidence of his deep Christian faith. In Alan Cooperman?s recent Washington Post article, David Frum, a (Jewish) former Bush speechwriter, said of the president?s religious beliefs, ?If you want to know what George Bush really thinks, look at what he says.?

That religious standard turns two thousand years of Christianity on its head. Every young Sunday School student knows it’s not what you say, it’s what you do. And on that score, George W. Bush has failed to act according to Christian principles and values. That shouldn’t necessarily matter–that shouldn’t be a requirement for our country’s leader. But it’s simply a fact that many voters cast their lot with the guy they believe is led by a moral power greater than himself. I’ve heard countless voters say they disagree with Bush on the war, the economy, his environmental record, his education agenda, you name it–but they’re voting for him “because he’s a good Christian man.” The press has accepted uncritically that this is so. Maybe that was a mistake.

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Amy Sullivan is a Chicago-based journalist who has written about religion, politics, and culture as a senior editor for Time, National Journal, and Yahoo. She was an editor at the Washington Monthly from 2004 to 2006.