"Tutu spoke to NEWSWEEK’s Arlene Getz from his home in Johannesburg about the tsunami tragedy, God, Iraq and his astonishment at the re-election of George W. Bush.
The United Nations relief coordinator has accused wealthy Western nations of being “stingy” in their aid to the affected nations. What type of aid would you like to see?
One just hopes that the world will continue to respond with what is usually remarkable generosity and compassion. Obviously, the more prosperous you are, the more one would hope you would be able to do that.
You said George Bush should admit that he made a mistake. Were you surprised at his re-election?
[Laughs] I still can't believe that it really could have happened. Just look at the facts on the table: He’d gone into a war having misled people—whether deliberately or not—about why he went to war. You would think that would have knocked him out [of the race.] It didn’t. Look at the number of American soldiers who have died since he claimed that the war had ended. And yet it seems this doesn't make most Americans worry too much. I was teaching in Jacksonville, Fla., [during the election campaign] and I was shocked, because I had naively believed all these many years that Americans genuinely believed in freedom of speech. [But I] discovered there that when you made an utterance that was remotely contrary to what the White House was saying, then they attacked you. For a South African the déjà vu was frightening. They behaved exactly the same way that used to happen here [during apartheid]—vilifying those who are putting forward a slightly different view.
Talking about religion, much has been said about the role it played in the White House race. What do you say to those who believe that Bush was chosen by God?
[Laughs] I keep having to remind people that religion in and of itself is morally neutral. Religion is like a knife. When you use a knife for cutting up bread to prepare sandwiches, a knife is good. If you use the same knife to stick into somebody’s guts, a knife is bad. Religion in and of itself is not good or bad—it is what it makes you do… Frequently, fundamentalists will say this person is the anointed of God if the particular person is supporting their own positions on for instance, homosexuality, or abortion. [I] feel so deeply saddened [about it]. Do you really believe that the Jesus who was depicted in the Scriptures as being on the side of those who were vilified, those who were marginalized, that this Jesus would actually be supporting groups that clobber a group that is already persecuted? That’s a Christ I would not worship. I'm glad that I believe very fervently that Jesus would not be on the side of gay bashers. To think that people say, as they used to say, that AIDS was God’s punishment for homosexuality. Abominable. Abominable.
Is this bigotry masquerading as faith?
No. I think there are people who do believe things genuinely. Bush followed the example of President [Ronald] Reagan—to be very simplistic. Bush said we are the goodies, those are the baddies, [just] as Reagan said about the Soviets—that they were the evil empire. President Bush has found much the same kind of thing: that people don't like ambiguities.