Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production

Vol.4.2: Faith and Light

The Bushes are nothing if not clever at coming up with ways of providing social services that do not involve much governmental expenditure. They are not the first by any means, their immediate predecessor being Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say ‘No’” anti-drug policy still holding the record for Republican parsimony. Of course, as we know all too well, this allows the GOP to just say “yes” when their rich and corporate contributors ask them to ante up with tax cuts, de-regs, and sweetheart Halliburton deals.

Boy George’s version of the “cheap-out” is his Faith-Based Initiatives, a transparent policy gizmo that shovels some ingratiating bucks in the direction of the religious right and helps in his favorite hobby of snatching bricks from the wall between church and state. In a twisted mimic of the ACLU, Mr. Bush promulgates his initiative on the bizarre logic that not allowing religious organizations a chunk of Federal largesse (forget the tax breaks) violates their civil rights. 

The Faith-Based Initiatives guidebook, titled “Protecting the Civil Rights and Religious Liberty of Faith-Based Organizations: Why Religious Hiring Rights Must Be Preserved” Bush is quoted in its preamble as claiming that “. . . government can and should support social services provided by religious people, as long as those services go to anyone in need, regardless of their faith. And when government gives that support, charities and faith-based programs should not be forced to change their character or compromise their mission.” [If you are going to throw up now, please turn away from your computer.]

Hopefully, this little back door play will go the same way as his dad’s forgettable “1000 Points if Light”. Remember that one? People would just volunteer to do things for their communities and country; they would shine as a “point of light.” Well, at least Bush I’s program was a secular one and not some charade to pay the Religious Right to turning junkies to mainlining Jesus. And, back in 1989 Bush Pere’s cheap-out was was more mysterious, too.


Un Point De Lumiere 

Like Gov. Dukakis and many other Americans I probably spent more time than it was worth trying to figure out what George Bush meant by “a thousand points of light”. Bush used the phrase in his nomination acceptance speech, and since nobody bothered to ask him what it meant, he employed it numerous times in his campaign. Dukakis finally put the question to him in one of their television debates, but ironically, Bush supplied no illumination on the subject. When one of my students of American Civilization at the University of Paris asked me if I could explain this curious idiom to her I was forced to admit my ignorance.

That very night, as I lay awake in bed still pondering this mysterious metaphor, a sign of its possible revelation seemed to miraculously appear before me. There, on my darkened ceiling, shone a single point of light, less than an inch in diameter, put there by a tiny hole in the window drape which allowed a beam of light to deposit this spot of illumination directly above me. It was as though I, like some zealously pious person hankering for a metaphysical clue, had been chosen as the prophet who would reveal to the relief of a perplexed world the meaning of “a thousand points of light.”

But I soon learned that the revelation would not come without some effort. Perhaps prayer was necessary, or maybe speaking in tongues or some endlessly repeated mantra was required before the revelation, like the light that felled Saul of Tarsus from his horse, would come. I tried them all. Nothing worked.

The hours of deep night slid by and my frustration mounted, worried that my single point of light would melt away in the approaching daylight if the answer didn’t come soon. I felt like Tantalus; so near yet so far. It was excruciating.

Why had George uttered this profundity in the first place, I asked myself. Was he some preppie prophet of the New Age who had the final answer to the world’s ills, but first the world would have to decipher his mysterious message, the true meaning of “a thousand points of light”? Why was I chosen to be his instrument of revelation? Why would I have to be the one to release Dukakis from the torment of this conundrum?

The night wore on and I was growing desperate. The little point of light taunted me; it almost seemed to be laughing at my struggle. Maybe it’s something altogether different, I thought; maybe a UFO, maybe not the Bush mystery at all. I debated getting up and throwing open the drape to see if Speilberg was shooting a movie outside. But I dared not because the little point of light might not return. I remained convinced that the meaning of the other 999 points of light lay in the one on my ceiling. I needed to try something else to get the answer, and soon.

Bush is president now, I pondered; maybe the answer lay there, in his deeds since occupying the Oval Office. So I began to review his policies and accomplishments since his inauguration. The budget, I thought, maybe the answer is in his budget for the nation. Were there any points of light in that? No, nothing I could see, only a little snipping here, a little addition there, nothing different or definite, nothing like some brilliant plan to reduce the deficit—now that would use up a few points of light. But there was nothing.

Maybe there is a clue in his policy on drugs; that problem could use a few points of light. But nothing special there either, a drug czar, a bit more money and a lot more platitudes. Just more of the same, and no points of light.

Crime? I tried that one, too. George was going to rid the world of the Willie Hortons, I remembered. Another dead end. In fact, George hasn’t much enthusiasm for ridding the nation of automatic rifles, or “hunting rifles,” as he calls them. 

I tried foreign policy as well; but there doesn’t seem to be one. No policies, no points of light.

It was becoming maddening. The point of light hovered overhead, but I could hear the church bells of Paris. Morning was only minutes away now. The point of light would be gone soon, and with it my chance a place in history! I was exhausted, mentally, physically and spiritually. I could do nothing but mindlessly stare at the little point of light.

Then! What was that? It appeared to move. Yes, it was definitely moving. The little point of light was trying to tell me something. What? “Talk to me, little point of light,” I pleaded, “talk to me!”

Finally the answer was mine. Did the little point of light talk to me? No, not actually. No, but some inspiration sent me to my old Psychology 101 book, to the section about optical illusions. It told me that a single point of light when stared at in the dark, will appear to move. But the movement is only an illusion. That was the answer: Nothing is Moving! 

So now I had the answer, although I didn’t feel much better for knowing it. By George, I thought, as a president that guy is one helluva psychologist. He sure had me fooled with those “thousand points of light.”

I picked up the phone and dialed Dukakis.

“Hello, Mike?” Is that you? How’s Kitty doing? Great! . . . Listen, Mike, are you sitting down . . .?”

©1989, ©2004, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 1.6.2004)

Radio Essay No. 44, Aired KPBS-FM, July 27, 1989