BELIEFNET: In what ways did your personal faith affect your notion of what it means to be a compassionate conservative?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: A lot. A genuine philosophy reflects the experiences of a person. And in my case, I was raised a Christian, recommitted myself to Christ. Got into the Bible. My life changed in many ways. An outward manifestation is I quit drinking. I was a more dedicated, more focused person. Not to say I wasn't a dedicated person beforehand, but it was a life-changing moment.
I also recognize that a walk is a walk, I mean, it's a never-ending journey. And I've got a lot of imperfections like anybody else. And the more I got into the Bible, the more that admonition "Don't try to take a speck out of your neighbor's eye when you've got a log in your own" becomes more and more true, particularly for those of us in public life. And so my style, my focus, and many of the issues that I talk about, you know, are reinforced by my religion.
You see, if you believe that we're all sinners, as opposed to you're a sinner and I'm not, then I think it helps you, at least for me. It's made me a better governor. It helps bring people together, and that's what is needed on some very practical issues that the country faces. A classic example is Medicare and prescription drugs.
BELIEFNET: Obviously, we both agree that it's certainly not impossible for a person who is very secular to lead a moral life, but do you think it's harder for a very secular person to lead a moral life?
BUSH: I think it is for me, it would be for me. It's hard for me to put myself in anybody else's shoes about their personal lives. All I can tell you is it's made my life better and easier to understand, and clearer. It's made my walk clearer. And I emphasize the walk because life's journey is, you know, there's pitfalls and there's challenges.
Heck, I'm going through one of the greatest challenges of all. And yetI'm sustained by my faith.
When people walk up to me, like they did here in Tennessee, east Tennessee, and the number of people on the rope lines said, "I'm praying for you," I know what that means, and I feel supported by the thousands of people who pray, because I understand prayer.
BELIEFNET: I've seen that in the past when you've been asked how people could pray for you, you've said to ask people to pray that God will protect your children because people are going to say ugly and hurtful things about their father during the campaign. What do you mean by that?
BUSH: I want them to understand, as best as they can, at the age of 18 years old, what the run for the presidency means, from their perspective. I guess, I hope that intercessory prayers will help ease their mind and calm their fears.
BELIEFNET: About what?
BUSH: Well it's about what they hear and, you know, about people saying ugly things about their daddy. We're a family of love, and I know what it means to have somebody criticize my dad. I didn't like it at all, and it's hurtful.
BUSH: Gosh, that's a very good question. I really don't pray for, you know, "Gosh, I hope I get 48% of the vote in the so-and-so primary." That's not a prayer I offer up.
I have [felt that my prayers were answered]. I have. There's some situations where I've prayed for inner calm, and I felt calm.
BELIEFNET: Around a particular event?
BUSH: Well, for example, big press conferences at times. You'll notice, for example, I will bow my head just quietly just before I walk up to the mike. There are a lot of situations in which I find myself where there is a lot of pressure and, you know, a lot of attention, and those are moments where you just need to be clear thinking and resolute and calm.
BELIEFNET: Do you think that all major religions are equally true?
BUSH: I think that we're all God's children, and far be it from me, as a lowly sinner, trying to decide who gets to go to heaven and who doesn't, for example. I mean at one time, in 1994, I said, "My faith says you must accept Christ to go to heaven." And there was a significant backlash because, as typical in politics, the full story wasn't told. And there was a typical backlash amongst, you know, some Jewish people in Texas that basically felt I had said that they can't go to heaven. I worked hard to make it clear to people, far be it from me to tell you I get to decide who goes. I'm working on myself. I'm focused on me.
And so to answer your question, there are great religions in the world, and it's important to recognize that there are great religions in the world. And there are many shared tenets of the great religions. "Love a neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself." And there are some wonderful callings. I just happen to be a Christian.
BELIEFNET: If you believe that the way to the Kingdom of God for you is Jesus Christ, in a sense don't you have a moral obligation to try to urge other people to follow the same path?
BUSH: Not in my line of work I don't. My line of work is political. My line of work [my job] is to walk the walk, and respect others, and respect their religions. And secondly, I'm not so presumptuous as to play God. There are many great religions in the world.
God is all-powerful and all-knowing, and, you know, we'll never know until we get to heaven the ultimate answers to many of the religious questions.But the president of the United States' job is not to try to convert people to religion. The president of the United States' job is to set an example, to make sound decisions, to respect religion, and, if asked, to herald religion. But the key is not to hold out, you know, my religion is better than yours.
BELIEFNET: Under your proposals for helping faith-based organizations, money might go to something like a prison fellowship that teaches prisoners the Bible as part of the program to help people toward recovery.
BUSH: Yes, absolutely.
BELIEFNET: How would you feel if government money instead was, say, subsidizing the Muslim group that taught prisoners the Qur'an?
BUSH: The question I'd be asking is what are the recidivism rates? Is it working? And secondly, is there a secular alternative available? So the answer to your question is I wouldn't object at all if the program worked.
BELIEFNET: Even though, effectively, it would mean that taxpayer money would be going to help a group teach the Qur'an or the Bible?
BUSH: Right, that's right. But effectively, what I'm focusing on is the prisoner and the result of the program. I mean, I answered this question a lot in Texas. It can be any religion. And the question was, "Are you promoting religion by using people's, taxpayers' money?" And I said, "No, I'm promoting lower recidivism rates, and we will measure to make sure that that's the case."
A results-oriented world says "let's achieve some common objectives and some common goals," and if teaching Bible study or the Qur'an is a method that works, we should welcome it, so long as it's a voluntary program and people, of course, there is going to be a secular alternative that's called 'regular jail.' But so long as the prisoners can pick and choose.