Every truly religious person can tell the story of his or her moment of conversion. Mine came when I heard that the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq would now be called Camp Redemption. I can think of 100 more appropriate names, including the International House of Torture, Leashland, or Symbolic Pile of Rubble. But no, Camp Redemption it will be. I didn't see God, exactly, upon learning of the holy camp. It's more like I saw our president's God clearly, for the first time. Yea, I did shiver at the sight of his flaming sword!

Who or what, exactly, will Camp Redemption redeem? The people who committed the torture? They're currently either being sacrificed in show trials or slowly having their names erased from our collective memory by some sort of sinister government mind-control device. Is it our international reputation? That would have to be one whale of a camp. Or what about the prisoners themselves? Come, you heathens! A ticket to heaven awaits you at... Camp Redemption!

Like everything else churned out by the Bush administration, Camp Redemption is an Orwellian nonsense term. It's a big old jail, people. Get over yourselves. I'm offended nonetheless. We all know that "redemption," under this president, can only be handed out by one mythical figure, Jesus Christ himself. I have no truck with the many good men and women of the United States who believe in Jesus, but that doesn't mean that I share their specific belief. Heaven help me, I'm an American, not a Christian. I don't want my tax dollars going to help Halliburton "build" bridges, and I don't want my semi-hard-earned money going to "redeem" anyone in my name. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, my ass. This is a secular country.

- - -

Writers for alternative newspapers on the West Coast generally aren't prone to making hyperbolic, paranoid statements, but I'll smash the mold: Our country is being run by a lunatic Christian cult. The evidence grows tumescent. Example one is General Jerry Boykin, a deputy undersecretary of defense who, after September 11, started making the rounds of evangelical churches preaching that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein would "only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus." The U.S. is in a "holy war," he preached, against Satan, who wants to destroy our "Christian army." Guess what work Boykin was engaged in while making those speeches on the weekend? That's right. He was helping Donald Rumsfeld craft the specifics of Operation Copper Green, that top-secret Christian program that got us into so much trouble at Camp Redemption. At one of his preaching sessions, Boykin established the pecking order of moral authority. "George Bush was not elected by a majority of voters in the U.S.," he said. "He was appointed by God." Yes, sir! God approves of making prisoners masturbate each other, sir!

Hah-hah, you say. This is just one crazy general, an aberrational escapee from the lost reel of Dr. Strangelove. I mean, a guy who throws a retreat at Fort Bragg for Baptist preachers, like Boykin did in April 2003, must be one of a kind. One reverend wrote in an invitation letter, "It is believed by you, me, and others that we must find a group of men who are warriors of FAITH, pastors who have the guts to lead this nation to Christ and revival!" But still, this isn't the kind of country where preachers go to military bases to watch a demonstration of "today's war-fighting weapons" with a high-ranking federal military officer.

Actually, it is. This is also the kind of country where the president meets with the members of a radical, far-right millennialist Christian sect three weeks before he counteracts all known international law and opinion regarding the Israeli-Palestinian situation. That sect, known as the Apostolic Congress, opposes any deal with the Palestinians because it believes that Christ won't return to Earth until all of Israel belongs to the Jews and Solomon's temple is rebuilt. To those of us who like a dose of sanity in our morning coffee, such ideas are anathema, but to President Bush, they're a daily briefing. Even Ronald Reagan, that holy-rollerist of presidents, didn't give apocalyptic Christians weekly telephone briefings on White House policy. It's almost impossible for Kofi Annan to get a meeting with the president, but Robert G. Upton, of the United Pentecostal Church, can say, as he did a couple of weeks ago in that house organ of fundamentalism, the Village Voice, "We're in constant contact with the White House."

We're currently living through Ronald Reagan's canonization as a secular saint. It's tempting to say that the Reagan administration was a religious preface to the White House reign of Captain End Times. Reagan was certainly a millenialist. He opened the White House to fundamentalist Christians. But that mostly electoral strategy. The man didn't go to church. And even if Reagan believed in Armageddon, he didn't actively try to bring it about. You can't say the same about George W. Bush.

- - -

My mother-in-law attends chapel every Sunday. She prays quietly to herself before bed, serves on the committee that oversees the church's daycare center, and practices with the hand-bell choir. She's humble, pious, and unobtrusively dedicated to good works. Now that's a Christian.

President Bush prays every night as well, and sometimes during the day. David Aikman's book, A Man of Faith: The Spiritual Journey of George W. Bush, tells the story of a courier making an important delivery to the Oval Office only to find the president "lying prostrate on the floor in prayer." The very image gives me the chills, but if you're a true believer, you might find it warming.

Allow me to invoke the rhythms of my favorite Jewish holiday song here. If President Bush had been an alcoholic who needed Jesus to get sober and be a better family man, it would have been enough. If he'd used his faith to help the Republican Party coalesce the important evangelical Christian vote, it would have been enough. If he'd made Christian values the cornerstone of his time in the Texas governor's mansion, it would have been enough. If he'd declared Christ as his favorite political philosopher during a Republican presidential primary debate, it would have been enough.

But when he starts invoking church doctrine in a holy war against "evildoers," well, that's enough. If, like me, you happened to have seen the Frontline documentary The Jesus Factor, then you saw the president speak in coded language to his evangelical followers. You saw the president say that the Bible is the "guidebook" for federal social policy. You realized that Bush really does believe he's God's right-hand guy. When you were through shivering with fear in your bedroom closet, you knew for certain that President Bush is a fanatic who will get us all killed if he isn't stopped.

The website for The Jesus Factor features excerpts of an interview with Jim Wallis, the editor of the liberal theology magazine Sojourners. The man makes sense. Wallis has a problem with Bush's theological references in his speeches. In particular, he blanches at Bush's use of the phrase "wonder-working power" when describing the abilities of the American people. The problem, he says, is that "wonder-working power" describes finding faith in Christ, but now "all of a sudden it's [about] supporting American foreign policy, when it wasn't about American foreign policy. It's about the light of Christ in the world. It was about the word of God in history. It wasn't about the American people and their values."

I do declare! We have a state religion! Why, that's not in the Constitution at all! I quote Wallis at length, because, unlike me, he knows what he's talking about:

"The Bible is being used to justify our policies, not to call them into question. When Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney talk about the necessity of American power and supremacy, military supremacy in the world as the only way to peace, I understand that as a foreign policy. I think it's not a wise foreign policy, but I understand it.

"When President Bush adds God to their formulation and says God's purpose or intention is somehow linked with American military preeminence, that's a very dangerous thing. [After September 11,] President Bush and the White House basically choreographed a liturgy at the National Cathedral. President Bush was a chief homilist. In the pulpit of the National Cathedral, he made a war speech. He called the nation to arms in the pulpit of the National Cathedral, and he claimed a divine mission for our nation to rid the world of evil. That is not only bad foreign policy or presumptuous foreign policy--I would say it's idolatrous foreign policy to claim God's purpose for that mission. And in the language that Mr. Bush has used, he does this again and again and again. Our role, and his role as president, this is acclaiming a righteous [decree] that Pax Americana is God's foreign policy. This is a very unsettling thing."

- - -

Color me even more unsettled when you consider that this is a country where, according to a recent ABC News poll, 61 percent of the people believe that the world was literally created in seven days, where public schools are teaching evolution as "just another theory," and where churches fill theaters with audiences dying to watch a nasty snuff film about Jesus. Americans, like people everywhere, are mostly good. But they're also quite susceptible to manipulation by charlatans. How many of you, in the last year, have had a conversation where someone casually threw out the funny suggestion that "Bush is the Antichrist"? I see a lot of you raising your hands. Well, it's no joke, sister.

Millions of Americans believe that Armageddon is coming soon. Revelation states that the first stage of the apocalypse will be a battle where four angels, "which are bound in the great river Euphrates," will be unleashed to "slay the third part of men." Then Israel and its allies must occupy the rest of its "biblical lands," which happens to encompass most of the Middle East, and then they have to build the Third Temple where the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque now stand, and... well, you see where this is going.

Wake up, people! It's worse than you imagined! The United States of America has been hijacked by religious nutballs who are trying to bring about the end of the world! We have to stop them now! The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Wolf! Wolf!

But how, you ask, do we pull the brakes on this steaming train of holiness? The answer isn't simple, but it is righteous. You beat them at their own game.

Perhaps you've heard of the Presidential Prayer Team. This is a nonprofit group that's registered 2.8 million people to "pray daily for the president." Bill McCartney, the founder of the Promise Keepers, is on the board of directors, along with such cultural figures as Christian singer Michael W. Smith, "Painter of Light" Thomas Kinkade, Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo, and Ricky Skaggs. So obviously, if you're reading this essay, it's not the group for you. The Prayer Team likes to circulate an image of President Bush bowed in reverence with an illumined cross behind him. On one side of Bush, the ghost of Abraham Lincoln lowers his head while grasping Bush's shoulder. On the other, a spectral George Washington does the same. Jesus Christ, that's creepy!

A sample prayer goes: "Pray for the president as on Monday he begins a series of speeches detailing the handover of power to the Iraqi interim government. Pray for godly wisdom and protection as Mr. Bush delivers Monday's speech at the Army War College which will be followed by a speech each week at other sites."

There you have it. A group of people more than twice the size of the largest march ever organized on Washington says a daily prayer for the success of the White House's latest propaganda initiative. The bearded martyr who divided loaves and fishes would be so proud. As McCartney says on the Prayer Team's website, www.presidentialprayerteam.org, "God's Word instructs us to honor and submit to our government's leadership. Prayer is the first and most powerful way to do this."

No, Captain Promise Keeper, God's Word says no such thing. I sincerely doubt you were praying for Bill Clinton in the '90s.

Breaking news: In key states, the Bush reelection campaign is trying to find "friendly congregations" where Bush supporters can sign up voters and spread the gospel of George W. A campaign spokesman said, "People of faith who feel strongly about the president are people we want to be a part of our campaign."

Even more recent breaking news: Last weekend, the Texas Republican party approved a platform that refers to the "myth of the seperation of church and state," and proclaimed America a "Christian nation." The platform also declares that the Ten Commandments are "the basis of our Freedoms."

I'm certain I speak for many people of faith who feel strongly about the president when I say that I'm deeply offended that religious belief and the awesome power of prayer have been hijacked for no higher end than the furtherance of one man's political career, particularly when that career is buttressed by a base of support whose political agenda is closer to the Taliban than to the Founding Fathers. Despite what George W. Bush might think, God does not want him to be president. God does not speak to him directly. At least my God doesn't.

Before Bush came to office, I was essentially an atheist who liked Passover food. But the past three years have changed all that. I, like many of you, pray every day for the moment that George W. Bush is no longer president. So it's time to call to prayer all people of faith who agree with this principle, who don't like seeing their precious faith used for strange and bloody military ends. I implore Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, Protestants, Catholics, and even evangelical Christians to pray for a new president. Why should George W. Bush supporters hold a monopoly on prayer?

To that end, I call for the establishment of an informal coalition of reasonable people of faith everywhere. Please assume whatever prayer position is appropriate for you, and pray along with me: "Dear [Higher Power of Choice], give us the will to restore religion in this country, as our Founding Fathers intended, to an abstract guiding principle, not the theologically unsound justification for a twisted foreign policy. Let us fight our enemies with peace and wisdom, not anger and indiscriminate force. Allow our country to serve as a symbol of what's good in humankind, not what's corrupt. Most of all, grant us the strength and wisdom to remove President George W. Bush from office. In your name, we say: Amen."

Say that prayer every day from now until November 2. Say it twice a day if you want, or four times. Say it all day on Saturday, if that's your preference. I'm not going to get all MoveOn.org on your butts, but I've set up a website to make the praying easier. Go to www.prayforreason.org, sign the guest book, and join the true moral majority. People of faith who believe in secular government, unite!

God willing, someone will answer our prayers.