Beliefnet Editor-in-Chief Steven Waldman interviewed Al Franken about his book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, and about his own spirituality. Excerpts from the interview, which was first published on Beliefnet in 2003:

The first line of the book is, “God chose me to write this book.” Now why would He go and do a thing like that?

Because He’s pissed off at Bush, whose friends have been going around saying he felt he was chosen at this time to lead the nation, presumably by God. God actually chose Al Gore, and got him the popular and electoral vote, which is usually sufficient.

So God asked me to write the book.

What do you make of the use of religious language by President Bush?

Sometimes it’s ok and appropriate for a president to use God. I probably wouldn’t if I were president. He wears his religion on his sleeve and yet this is the least Christian administration I can think of, in terms of Christ certainly as I understand it.

How so?

Well, he seems to have very little regard for the poor and the meek…

There’d been this article about Bush & God in Newsweek. It describes this Bible group that Don Evans [Bush’s Commerce Secretary and longtime friend] got Bush into when he stopped drinking. [Newsweek writer Howard] Fineman describes it as scriptural boot camp. Ten guys and each week they’d study a chapter of a book over two years and analyze them line by line. Over two years, they read Luke and Acts.

So I was at the White House Correspondents dinner and found myself seated at the table next to Don Evans. I was all set to ask about the tax cut. And I said, “So you know what Acts is about?”

And I saw sort of this blank thing go over his eyes and then sort of a quick look of panic and he said, “No.” And I was absolutely shocked. And I said, “Well your tax cut so heavily favors the rich, and Acts is so socialist almost.”

And he said, “But, ah! Acts contains the Parable of the Talents.” Now just as it so happens, I knew that actually wasn’t true. I knew the parable of talents was from Matthew. And he said, “Are you sure?” And I said, “Yeah.” It was just a complete fluke that I knew that. My son the year before had been assigned some New Testament reading in high schools as part of a civilization class and talents was part of what he was assigned.

But I realized that these guys didn’t read these books line by line for two years and discuss them for two years –- they couldn’t have! I know these guys aren’t the smartest guys in the world but they’re not that dumb. I remember stuff I read in high school that I didn’t really read that well but we discussed in class for a like a week—-ya know what I mean?

I just have to believe that what he told Fineman was a lie. That was the only conclusion I could come to. Then I talked to Fineman and he remembered talking to Bush during the primaries in New Hampshire. Howard asked him what selection of the Bible he’d read that day because the campaign was saying that Governor Bush read the Bible every day.

And we tracked down the transcript and Bush was totally defensive and it seemed to me from the transcript that he really didn’t read the Bible every day. He just said he did –- which is, like, a very weird thing to lie about.

So I’m sort of fascinated by the extent to which he really is born again, and how much a part of his life this really is. It’s possible he thinks it is.

So you don’t think [faith] actually plays a central role in his life?

I don’t know! I don’t know. It’s really hard for me to figure. He might think it plays a central role in his life and it may not. It could play a very shallow role? Might be a very central role for a very shallow man. It may play a very deep role for very shallow, immoral man? I don’t know. It’s very puzzling to me how you would try to create that myth that you read the Bible every day.

And then I also read a thing like when he was asked about whether Jews went to heaven and he said, “No.”

Did you mind that?

Yes, I minded that a lot! And how the press saw that as a huge gaffe and how Karl Rove thought that was like the best thing he said in the campaign, because it just assured the Christian right that he was one of them. That’s how these guys think.

Obviously part of the premise of my book is that this is not the most honest administration. So I don’t know what to think of his religiosity. I really can’t tell you – but I’m suspicious. I’m very suspicious of the way he uses it. I’m suspicious that it’s done for political purposes and that he really isn’t as religious as he makes out to be. But he might be. I don’t know.
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