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Via Sullivan, this Focus on the Family candidate guide is something to behold.  How far out do your views on the Iraq war have to be for you to believe that Mike Huckabee is somehow insufficiently supportive of it?  Responding to a statement that Huckabee made that “we broke it, we have to fix it,” one man on the candidate guide video declares in disbelief, “We didn’t break Iraq.   Saddam Hussein broke it!…To say that we broke it, we have to fix it, rings a bit hollow.”  This is crazy stuff.  No wonder Huckabee can’t gain any traction on foreign policy, even when he repeats the party line on the war, “Islamofascism” and takes a position on the Palestinians far more extreme than Likud’s.

The Romney video states, quite inaccurately, that Romney has acknowledged that Mormonism is “not a Christian faith.”  He has done no such thing, and every informed observer knows that he hasn’t.  Viewed one way, this is a transparently pro-Romney deception aimed at putting the religion question to the side.  Then again, considering the target audience, the Romney campaign could reasonably complain that Focus on the Family has injected anti-Mormonism into its campaign video in a direct attempt to undermine his candidacy.  Whatever the intent was, the effect of this video will be to remind the audience that Romney is not a Christian, which is probably exactly the opposite of what his campaign wants to see from such organisations.  Huckabee’s people are trying to spin this as an endorsement of Romney, but if it is it is one of the most poorly-worded endorsements ever.

Romney is in denial about anti-Mormonism.  He has Article VI memorised!  He gets into the Europe-bashing act again.  Will he mention France before it’s all over?

That’s part of the reason why you don’t have as rich a set of religious institutions and faith life in Europe. Part of that has to do with the fact that, traditionally, it was an extension of the state. ~Barack Obama

As I said last month, most European churches had been disestablished by the 1920s, and many had been disestablished long before then, and there are numerous other, far more significant factors that explain the secularisation of Europe.  These were my main points then:

Here is a list, by no means exhaustive, of some of what were significant causes of the process of secularisation in Europe: scientific advances, materialist philosophies, the uprooting and deracinating effects of industrialisation and urbanisation, the introduction of ideological politics and mass political mobilisation, the material and moral ravages of the two wars, followed by the effects of two essentially materialist worldviews that claimed to “deliver the goods” more effectively or justly than the other.  Where the experience of Europe clearly differs from our own, and one of the reasons why Europe has gone further in its secularisation, is in their experience of the wars.  I have to wonder whether Americans would have been church-going and believing in the numbers that we are today if we had experienced the full horror of these conflicts and had endured the same losses.  There is a basic problem with the thesis that “faith thrives in a free market,” which is that there are now “free markets” all across Europe where there are no established churches or, where there are technically established churches they have no real authority over all citizens of that country who are not members, and yet faith isn’t exactly thriving and has been largely going into decline in the free, western European part since the war.  There has been some religious revival since the Cold War, but it is sporadic.  If “faith thrives in a free market,” Spain should not have undergone the rapid secularisation that it has experienced since the end of the Franco regime.  Italy disestablished the Catholic Church in 1984, which must be why religions of all kinds have been flourishing in Italy.  The Republic of Ireland hasn’t ever had an established church, yet it is experiencing the same secularisation that overtook Spain before it.  It has been the last twenty years of economic and social changes that have sapped the strength of religion in Ireland.  Clearly there is something much more complicated going on that cannot be explained with easy reference to establishment/disestablishment of religion.   

What strikes me about Obama’s comments is that they are perfectly conventional and could have come from the most anti-European neoconservative.  If Obama casts this in terms of the separation of church and state rather than describing religious pluralism in terms of “market forces,” he is nonetheless coming to the same liberal consensus answer that most Americans maddeningly endorse without thinking about whether there is any truth to it.  If our civilisation were devastated in two gigantic conflagrations and much of our territory subjected to the depredations of totalitarian governments for decades on end, we might find our religious life rather less “rich” as well. 

Everything in the exit polling breaks down much as you might expect, but one thing that continues to puzzle me is Romney’s strong performance among Catholic voters, which is not limited to South Carolina.  As  I mentioned earlier today, 38% of Catholics in the Nevada caucus supported him, and the same pattern has emerged in the earlier contests and in Florida polling.  Among all Catholics in South Carolina’s primary, he got 24%, and 28% of weekly church-going Catholics backed him.  Despite finishing a distant fourth overall, he placed second among weekly church-going Catholics.  If there are numbers breaking down Romney’s Catholic support before his religion speech and after I would be very interested to see what they are, because I would wager a nice steak dinner that his support among Catholics increased significantly after that speech and remained strong ever since.  My guess is that the themes he outlined in that speech did nothing to assuage the doubts and concerns of evangelicals, but it may very well have won over a substantial bloc of Catholic voters.  In a strange way, the anti-Mormon problem for his candidacy may have started to boomerang and work to his advantage.  Perhaps it benefits him by providing a kind of sympathy specifically from Catholics.  

It’s not hard for us irreligious types to see the point of something like fundamentalist Islam (or fundamentalist anything, I guess) — a faith that insists it is the only true faith, and regards doubters with hatred, scorn, or pity. It’s much harder to see the point of this mushy it’s-all-the-same-thing-really ecumenism. Why bother to master a lot of complicated rituals, and affirm a lot of complicated doctrines, if some other set of rituals and doctrines is just as good? ~John Derbyshire

I tend to have the same problem understanding this sort of ecumenism, but then I assume that it really matters what theological doctrines you hold, which I have to remind myself repeatedly is not how a great many people approach religious life at all.  Indeed, I would guess that religions that are focused most heavily on ritual are religions that do not seem to put, at least from the perspective of the everyday experience of the average believer, great emphasis on doctrine.  Converts to Orthodoxy, in my experience, tend be rather fixated on doctrine (as some might say that I am) and have a much harder time with all the details of orthopraxy.  You should understand that the distinction between the doctrine and praxis is essentially theoretical, in the same way that theology properly understood is first and foremost prayer.   Of course, these religions may have teaching authorities or scriptures that are held to be authoritative and doctrinal definitions that are binding, but it is through the rites and customary practices that most believers would experience their religion.  The question of superiority of one cultic practice to another would be almost beside the point: these are the rites of your family or your village or your people, and these are the rites you are obliged to keep.  This logic can work one of two ways, depending on the circumstances: it can cause extreme hostility to conversion and proselytes (the anti-Christian violence in Orissa recently stems partly from opposition to Christian missionary work among Dalits) because it is upsetting the existing order, or it can mean that there is no particular rationale or argument for doing things a certain way or believing a certain doctrine.  Which response you get will probably depend heavily on the surrounding society.  In the case in question, Bobby Jindal’s conversion to Catholicism was less likely to cause tremendous problems with his community in Catholic Louisiana and would not be a cause for many problems in some parts of India, while it might very well have been a cause of tension where Christians are in the minority or are perceived, as they are in Orissa, of challenging or interfering in the caste system.  

In Hinduism, from what I do understand, it is not usually a question of finding the optimal teaching or the best rite, but of fulfilling your duty.  Hinduism, which is outsider’s shorthand for a bewildering array of religious groups and practices, has everything from the philosophical discourses of Vedanta to the ban on harming monkeys because they are sacred to Hanuman (which has combined with deforestation to create a massive influx of monkeys into major metropolitan areas, much to the frustration of the inhabitants).  Some Vaishnavites have gone to far as to recognise Gautama Buddha and Christ as other incarnations of Vishnu, which at first seems like an ecumenical move and then you see that it is an appropriating and competitive one.  It is because of the great variety of cults and sects within what we call Hinduism that henotheism and panentheism become very attractive explanations, which can then be extended to other world religions.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t fierce sectarians and fanatics within this mix, as there are obviously are (Hindutva doesn’t come from nowhere), but even with a phenomenon such as Hindutva you see ”Hinduness” being defined in opposition to non-Hindus, which tends to minimise or efface the differences among Hindus to a certain extent. 

I’m a little late to this, but I wanted to add a few remarks to what Rod said about Huckabee’s allegedly horrifying remarks about God and the Constitution.  But first, Lisa “Go Pack To Dogpatch” Schiffren:

What do you think God’s standard is on anchor babies and birthright citizenship? (Manger!) Does Huckabee’s God believe in borders? What is God’s monetary policy? Is Jesus a capitalist? How much economic disparity will he tolerate? Wouldn’t God want us all to have health care? Nice shoes?

What about rendering unto Ceaser that which is Ceaser’s [sic], and unto God that which is God’s? Mike Huckabee is going to force those of us who have wanted more religion in the town square to reexamine the merits of strict separation of church and state. He is the best advertisement ever for the ACLU. Even if you share his ultimate views on the definition of marriage, or the desirability of abortion on demand.

Is this “Ceaser” the one who ceases and desists from something?  Tell us more about “Ceaser,” please. 

These comments, and others like them in recent days, are revealing about what some movement conservatives really think about religion in the public square, “values,” and eternal verities.  Religion in the public square is all very nice so long as we’re talking about nothing more than prayers at high school football games and maybe a creche here and there, but just watch these people who allegedly “have wanted more religion in the town square” run screaming the moment a religious conservative proposes to do something and to do it for religious reasons.  Suddenly the great friends of religiosity cannot get away fast enough, which suggests that their earlier interest in more religion was very weak or it was simply a pose for the benefit of their audience. 

What is most remarkable about all of this is that these reactions are coming from people who mostly support the exact same constitutional amendments on marriage and life that Huckabee does.  Most of them, I assume, have supported the life amendment plank in the GOP platform, and I assume virtually all of them have voted for candidates running on that platform in the past.  If they don’t agree with these amendments, it is also probably not because they think that these amendments represent some horrible intrusion of religion into the public square, but because they think they are politically misguided.  There is a good federalist, decentralist argument against both of these amendments, and that is the real issue with what Huckabee is proposing.  He is trying to set up candidates who still have some nominal respect for federalism as relativists, as he has done before.  The reaction against what Huckabee said seems to be driven entirely by the way that he said it and the fact that he dared to suggest that the laws of men should be in line with the law of God.  In this, he is making a standard Christian conservative argument.  By their reaction, they have shown how much contempt they have for that kind of argument and the people who make it.  That isn’t news to some of us, but it is a little surprising that they would express it with so much vehemence.

Instead, what we are seeing is yet more evidence that the Republican Party is not in the grip of the Religious Right. That has been a myth organized political evangelicals have been eager to promote and Democratic and Republican elites have, in gullibility, accepted. ~Daniel Casse

True enough, the GOP is not in the grip of the Religious Right, but the rest of this has things entirely backwards.  Yes, certain evangelical leaders have wanted to boast of their great influence (overcompensating for their lack of actual power) and some have enjoyed holding court and having presidential candidates seek their blessing, and some social conservatives took satisfaction in the apparently significant role of the famous “values voters” in swinging the election to Bush in 2004, but by and large the myth of the Religious Right’s stranglehold on the GOP has been promoted most of all by two groups of people in recent years: hysterical secularists on the left who would probably see ”floating crosses” in every Republican political advertisement and…secular conservatives on the right looking for scapegoats for the GOP’s recent electoral woes.  It couldn’t be Iraq, dithering on immigration for six years or massive incompetence in government that has hurt Republicans–no, it must have been that Terri Schiavo business!  Or so say the Ryan Sagers of the world.

Liberals have mistaken the importance of “values voters” to the GOP coalition for evidence of religious conservative clout in policymaking; some secular conservatives disturbed by the politics of the “values voters” and the GOP’s exploitation of wedge issues for GOTV efforts have developed elaborate theories about the religious radicalisation of the GOP, mistaking the deep cynicism of the GOP establishment for zealotry.  The one group that hasn’t been pushing the narrative of a Religious Right-dominated GOP in recent years has been…religious conservatives, who know full well that they don’t really dominate much of anything in the party.  Support for Huckabee’s candidacy is partly an outburst of frustration and dissatisfaction with this state of affairs, and he has lately started making that sense of frustration an explicit part of his campaign.  However, while a major part of the voting coalition, evangelicals specifically and religious conservatives generally wield much less clout at elite movement and party levels than you would expect given the outsized electoral importance of their issues to the coalition.  The current election has highlighted the lack of unity and organisation of religious conservatives.  It was significant that Giuliani’s campaign weakened on its own–it was not stopped by religious conservative leaders, some of whom even entertained or made accommodations with the mayor.  It was also significant that religious conservative leaders adopted an “every man for himself” approach to candidate endorsements, rather than uniting around any one consensus figure, and still more significant that many, though by no means all, evangelical and social conservative voters rushed to rally around the candidate many of the leaders distrusted or opposed outright.

Do these people actually want me to start rooting for Huckabee against all better judgement?  Because that’s what this ad makes me want to do.

Via Steve Clemons

Huckabee’s Catholic problem has just become much worse (via Ambinder):

Michigan Catholic Voter Alert:
What Michigan Catholics MUST Know About Mike Huckabee


FACT: Mike Huckabee has exhibited a willful blindness in associating with anti-Catholicism when it has benefited him politically.

FACT: Instead of supporting a healthy expression of religion in the public square, Mike Huckabee has used his evangelical protestant faith as a wedge to divide the Republican Party and gain support from fellow evangelicals.

FACT: While claiming to believe Catholics are fellow Christians, Mike Huckabee has kept close acquitance with evangelical leaders who have:

o Compared Catholicism to a disease requiring ‘recovery’ and rehabilitation;

o Said the Catholic Church collaborated with the Nazis to exterminate Jews;

o Accused the Catholic Church of pulling mankind into the ‘dark ages’.

FACT: Mike Huckabee has been endorsed by anti-Catholic author Tim Lahaye , who called Catholicism a “false religion” Lahaye’s Church also funded “Mission to Catholics”, a virulently anti-Catholic ministry.

And on it goes.  As near as I can tell, there is nothing in the email in question that is untrue.  The item also draws attention to Huckabee’s half-hearted response to an apparent anti-Catholic campaign aimed at undermining Brownback in Iowa, which soured relations between the two campaigns and marked the real kickoff of the religious dimension of the GOP nomination contest.  Frankly, besides Hagee’s anti-Catholicism, what worries me almost as much as about Hagee is the man’s role in founding CUFI and his insane cheerleading for the bombardment of Lebanon (which he called a “miracle from God”).  Unfortunately, that’s just the sort of association that should stand him in good stead with “national security” conservatives.

Query: why aren’t Catholic voters similarly put out by Romney’s acceptance of an endorsement from Bob Jones III?

Contrary to what you read here yesterday, Romney is apparently not in such bad shape in Michigan.  Rasmussen has him leading 26-25 over McCain with Huckabee in third at 17%.  The breakdown of evangelical and Catholic votes is exactly what you would expect.  Huckabee gets a healthy 32% of evangelicals, but just 4% of Catholics, which is low even for him.  Among Catholics, he is in sixth place behind Fred Thompson and Ron Paul.  Romney leads among every non-evangelical religious group.  The good news for Huckabee is that he was never expected to be able to win a state like Michigan, at least not at this stage, so a respectable third behind Romney, the “native son,” and McCain would not be such a bad outcome.  The only one who must win is Romney, and he seems to be in a good position to do it.  However, Romney’s position is once again deceptively strong: 58% of his supporters say they might change their mind or are unsure about supporting him, which is higher than for any other candidate.  McCain and Huckabee have pretty well locked down over half of their current supporters, which still leaves many impossible to pin down for certain.  Things could shift pretty quickly in the next couple of days. 

Curiously, Romney wins among both conservatives and liberals, but loses big to McCain among “moderates.”  As you would also expect, Huckabee also does best among the <$20K earners.  He also does well among the $65-75K earners, but he is actually leading among the lowest income group.  In every other income group, he trails Romney and McCain, each of whom gets about a quarter to a third of each income group except for the lowest one.  To give you a sense of how strange a mix Ron Paul supporters are, his best support (12%) comes from $20-40K earners and the $100K earners.  McCain’s support generally increases as you go into the higher income groups, while Romney’s fluctuates back and forth.

Some marginally good news for Paul supporters: Paul shows some added strength in Michigan, now at 8%, ahead of Giuliani and almost tied with Thompson.  It is a dubious distinction to be ahead of someone who has abandoned the state and almost tied with the guy who isn’t trying very hard up north, but it is better than previous polls I have seen.  The problem is that most of his support comes from non-GOP voters (he is second only to McCain in non-GOP support), which obviously doesn’t help in later closed primaries. 

Noted by several others, the results in Iowa show that Huckabee does not do very well with Catholic voters.  Crosstabs from this old Rasmussen Florida poll from last month suggest that there may be something to this.  In a poll where Huckabee registered 27% support, 17% of Catholics backed him, while receiving a whopping 46% from evangelicals.  Meanwhile, Giuliani received the second-largest share of Catholic support (26%), while Romney was backed by the same percentage of Catholics and non-evangelical Protestants (29%).  This has been the pattern in other states as well.

Rod, who endorsed Huckabee yesterday, said something in an earlier post that came to mind as I was thinking about this question:

For me, the Huck-as-change-agent theme comes down to this: an America led by a President Huckabee, and a conservative movement whose leader he is, might be an America and a conservatism where more people will read Wendell Berry — and for that matter, Catholic social thought.

If this pattern of limited Catholic support for Huckabee keeps up, barring the unlikely elevation of Michael Gerson in a future Huckabee Administration (there’s a scary thought), there may not be many who are supporting Huckabee who will be promoting Catholic social thought in any form.  More to the point, if this pattern continues, Huckabee probably cannot win a general election.

On one level, it makes perfect sense that Catholic voters would not respond well to Huckabee.  As a conservative Southern Baptist, he might appear to be no different from the Baptists who insist that Catholics are not Christians.  Catholic voters might conclude that the people who are voting against Romney and for Huckabee on account of religion may very well also view their church as a “cult,”  so they are withholding their support from Huckabee for that reason?  To the extent that the media have explained his political success, for the most part correctly, in terms of evangelical support, and to the extent that the media have, less accurately, talked up the anti-Mormon factor in discussing his campaign, it would not be hard for voters who know relatively little  about Huckabee to assume that he is simply the evangelical candidate with all of the possible anti-Catholic baggage that might entail.  On the other hand, why Catholic voters should respond so much more strongly to Romney is a puzzle.  He cannot claim any nominal or cultural connection to Catholicism, as Giuliani can, and his pro-life views are such a recent development that I find it hard to believe that he is winning over Catholic voters on this alone.  Is there some boomerang pro-Romney sympathy vote that has emerged in reaction against anti-Mormonism?  Perhaps Catholic voters are drawn to support the candidate who appears to be facing a “religious issue,” who currently hails from Massachusetts and who has invoked JFK’s speech on religion ad nauseam?

P.S.  The latest SurveyUSA Florida poll, while not giving any figures according to religious affiliation, confirms the pattern from the earlier poll.  Just look at the geographic distribution of Huckabee’s support: 40% in the northwest (the heavily evangelical Panhandle, including Pensacola) and 8% in the southeast (Miami-Dade and its surroundings).  Huckabee receives decent, but hardly overwhelming, support in the other regions of Florida (17-18%). Conversely, Giuliani fares best in the southeast (25%) and does horribly in the northwest (2%).  Romney runs strongest in northeast Florida (23%), receives 15% in SE Florida and receives only 8% in the northwest. Since Florida has something like 2.25 million Catholics living there, this could be a major hurdle for Huckabee (assuming that he does well enough in the rest of January that Florida still matters to his chances).  Huckabee’s other, unrelated Florida problem?  The elderly.  Voters 65+ are the core of McCain’s strength down there, while Huckabee leads among the youngest cohort and runs competitively in every other group.  Among the 65+ he is getting slaughtered by McCain 38-11, and he runs fourth overall among the eldest voters.  Somebody doesn’t like all that talk about the greatest generation being the one yet to be born.

Ross commented on Noah Feldman’s article on Mormonism recently, which reminded me that I had also wanted to respond to one part of it and arguments like the following:

Still, even among those who respect Mormons personally, it is still common to hear Mormonism’s tenets dismissed as ridiculous. This attitude is logically indefensible insofar as Mormonism is being compared with other world religions. There is nothing inherently less plausible about God’s revealing himself to an upstate New York farmer in the early years of the Republic than to the pharaoh’s changeling grandson in ancient Egypt.

Put that way, Feldman might have a point, except that the claim of new revelation is actually the least “ridiculous” part of the story.  It is, and always has been, the content of that revelation that has drawn the most criticism, and so for the most part the majority dutifully ignores or downplays how the content of this or that religion is theologically untenable.  To do otherwise would begin us down the road to taking one set of theological claims more seriously than another, which might even (gasp!) lead us to assign different significance and measures of truth to different sets of claims.  The problem with this argument is that, for the sake of promoting toleration for minority religions, it essentially grants that every religion is just as inherently plausible as any other, which not only makes discussion of doctrine pointless, but actually impedes the possibility of religious dialogue and persuasion.  Granting this equality of religions paves the way for exactly the kind of arational sectarianism that skeptics believe is unavoidable with religion in public life.    

There is this very strange attitude about religion out there, and it is held by more than a few observant Christians as well as secular skeptics, that says that no revelation is more plausible than any other, which implies that revelation is entirely outside the realm of rational discouse and demonstration.  This is essentially fideism or a kind of neo-Barlaamism, which holds that believers should hold to their traditional faiths primarily because they are ancient–there is nothing that we can actually say rationally about a doctrine of God.  One of the reasons why this bizarre idea can gain such currency is the lack of respect people have for theology and dogma.  In our culture, if you want to dismiss someone’s position, you say that he is being dogmatic, and if you want to discredit an argument you refer to his worldview as a “theology,” preferably preceded by adjectives such as arcane. 

Such is the depth of our divorce from Christian intellectual tradition that many people do not recognise the substantive difference between an elaborately reasoned theological view and the ramblings of a science-fiction author.  Simply put, we lack discernment.  Militant atheists are at least consistent in the implications of holding such a disparaging view of revelation–for them, it is all made-up and undeserving of any respect.  Out of some misplaced sense of solidarity with other religious people against the Christopher Hitchenses and Dawkinses of the world, Christians seem to feel obliged to make general defenses of generic theism or the even more amorphous category of Religion, and woe betide the bishop who attempts, as Pope Benedict did, to illustrate the implications of radically different doctrines of God.  This then forces these Christians to argue that all these things are purely a matter of faith, where faith is defined not only as something inspired and the result of God’s grace (which it is), but also as something arational, rather than understanding that it is faith rightly understood that is the highest form of rationality.  Having conceded the high ground and having bought into a functionally extreme apophaticism, the Christian finds himself at a loss to make any argument from revelation, because he has already effectively granted that speaking kataphatically is impossible.  Trying to include everyone in a big tent of ecumenical anti-secularism eventually leads to being unable to say something about God and maintain that it is actually true, when there is nothing more fundamental to preaching and evangelising than speaking the truth about God in prayer and homilies. 

This brings me, oddly enough, to the question of evolution.  Fideistic understandings of religion and materialistic philosophies that seek to exploit evolutionary biology to their advantage enjoy a symbiotic relationship, since they both thrive on promoting mutual antagonism between reason and faith.  Tell the Christian that he must either endorse evolutionary theory or accept the Bible, and he will typically take the Bible, especially if he is not grounded in an authoritative teaching tradition that tells him that this choice is a false one.  Tell the average educated secular person that revealed religion is incompatible with scientific theory, and he may very well conclude that those who continue to adhere to revealed religion must be either ignorant, insane or up to no good.  Huckabee is someone who falls into the former category, of course, and declares himself agnostic on ”how” God works in creation, which is actually a far more honest view–and one that a majority of Americans would share–than affirming evolutionary theory because you know that it is socially unacceptable in certain circles to admit that you don’t understand or accept the theory.  As Rod has said before, evolution serves as a “cultural marker,” and it is deployed as a litmus test to see whether you belong to a certain kind of educated elite.  Ironically, the cultural bias against dogmatism and theology in religion has come around and struck science by making it permissible, even admirable, to doubt statements made with certainty.  Were it not for the tendency of many religious and secular Americans to oppose reason and faith, there would be no difficulty in affirming the truth of revelation and recognising the reasonable, albeit always provisional, nature of scientific inquiry.  Obviously, approaches to faith that prize doubt and uncertainty simply reinforce the tendency towards extreme apophaticism and fideism that make it impossible for believers and non-believers  to speak intelligibly to one another (to the extent that people working in two significantly different traditions can speak to one another). 

Jim Antle and I are on the same page here:

Now I’m going to end up with the Thomas Boswell problem if Mitt Romney pulls out a win tonight, but he’s starting to look like the Mo Udall of this election cycle.

Tim Lee agrees that Huckabee is a competitive general election candidate, and he makes an excellent point about Huckabee’s religiosity:

I think a lot of members of the liberal (and libertarian) secular elite have a weird blind spot when it comes to religion and religious rhetoric in politics. They tend to find sincere religious sentiments so alien that anyone who is conversant with the language of faith sounds nutty to them. But like it or not, this is still a predominantly religious country, and lots of voters respond well to religious rhetoric of the non-angry variety. I personally find it every bit as off-putting as Matt does, but we’re in the minority.

It’s not such a weird blind spot when you think about it.  When religion seems to you to have little or no relevant or meaningful application to public life, you almost have to assume that anyone employing such rhetoric or actually pursuing policies on account of religious teachings is either totally cynical or a crazed theocrat (or perhaps, in the view of some secular observers, both at the same time).  The idea that religious politics need not be either utterly vacuous or profoundly threatening to society contradicts a raft of assumptions that secular people have about the intersection of religion and politics.  These people have also become so accustomed to the anodyne generic theism of our Presidents that it is jarring to them to hear someone cite Scripture with fluency and some modicum of understanding.

The false meme lives on:

No one thought to raise objections to Mormonism when Mo Udall ran for president, nor even when Mitt’s father, George, made a bid.

In fact, some raised objections in both cases, and opposition to a Mormon candidate was approximately as strong then as it is now.  If it was never as central to the campaign as it has been this year, it is partly because Romney’s father and Mo Udall did not run as a religious conservative and as the spokesmen for religious and social conservatives.  Romney is appealing to a constituency that was always going to be less receptive to him.  It is also the case that the media have pushed this angle since before Romney announced his candidacy.

As I said when I reviewed his book, I think Sullivan’s entire theory about the GOP as a “religious party” dominated by “fundamentalists” gets things badly wrong.  The “theocon consensus” to which Sullivan refers is one against which the party and movement establishment has been violently protesting for the last year, and one that prominent figures in the movement consigned effectively to the margins over ten years ago when the actual “theocons” were perceived to be questioning the legitimacy of “the regime” over the issue of abortion.  Party and movement elites really don’t want religion to have much of a meaningful role, and not just in the selection of candidates.  They prefer to use it largely for symbolic appeals and GOTV efforts, and things have reached a point where Christian conservative voters may have had enough of empty gestures and manipulation.  The drive to marginalise social conservatives and blame them for the party’s defeat last year and the Giuliani candidacy both showed that a significant part of the Republican Party’s leadership was trying to become even less focused on religious and social issues than it had been.  These attempts are failing, but that they were made at all shows the priorities of the leadership of what is still a very secular party.  What exacerbates the cultural hostility to Huckabee is the association of his evangelical Christianity with a politics of what Reihan has sometimes called the “lower-middle”–this makes Huckabee both culturally different and potentially somewhat opposed to the interests of corporations and leads him to favour trying to secure the economic interests of these voters.

Sullivan perceived galloping fundamentalism when religion was used mainly a stage prop by the GOP.  Now other secular conservatives are freaking out at the prospect of voters backing a religious conservative who seems to take religious conservatism seriously.  The general conservative rejection of Sullivan’s thesis was partly an acknowledgement that the GOP was very far from being anything like a “religious party.”  The current backlash against Huckabee is part of the effort to make sure that religious voters don’t upset the current arrangement, in which religious conservatives receive lip service and are supposed to accept gratefully whatever they are given.    

While the attacks are on valid issues, at heart, the attacks appear to be because he is a former preacher from the South — a country bumpkin and a Jesus Freak. ~Erick Erickson

Via Ponnuru

Well, yes, that is a very large part of the reason for the GOP and conservative movement establishment’s reaction against Huckabee.  Additionally, their problem is that he is primarily a social conservative candidate in a party and in an election cycle where the social conservatives were supposed to sit down, be quiet and support the appropriate “national security” candidate.  People in the heartland were, as usual, supposed to accept whatever the coastal elites–in this case, conservative coastal elites–threw at them. 

There are two ways to express this frustration with Huckabee: to focus on his poor tax policy record and basically non-existent foreign policy credentials, or to belittle the college he attended and deplore his religiosity.  The latter approach has started to become more popular.  This is why many conservative pundits have focused their criticism on the “Christian leader” reference, his views on evolution and his alleged “insults” towards Mormonism.  Religion is all very well and good for some of these elites, provided that it doesn’t get taken too seriously and doesn’t become too central.  There are some in the conservative movement and the GOP who could in one breath defend evangelicals against the old insult that they are “easily led,” and who in the next will complain that those same evangelicals are not keeping in their place.   

Some of this reaction is tied together with some pundits’ support for a Huckabee rival, and some of it is tied to legitimate criticisms of Huckabee’s record, but I think a lot of it is cultural hostility of some Republican and conservative elites to the broad mass of evangelical Christians who make up a significant bloc of the GOP.  The latter are useful allies, but are otherwise treated as the unwanted stepchild that the elite would prefer to banish to the basement whenever possible.  Thompson was an acceptable Southerner, because he was a Southerner who had adapted to Washington and was a lobbyist and actor, and he was someone who rarely attended church, while Huckabee represents, for good and ill, a lot of Southern Republican voters.  Thompson was the sort of candidate who could, for some reason, get the base excited and appease the elite at the same time, except that he was, in practice, an awful candidate.  Huckabee has captured Thompson’s supporters, but cannot satisfy the elite. 

Combine some inherited distaste or unfamiliarity with the South among some pundits with the fear that the GOP is already too defined by its Southern wing and that it risks becoming a regional party (an overblown fear that once again tries to blame the GOP’s woes on cultural and social conservative politics of the Southerners), and you have a recipe for tremendous opposition to a Southern evangelical candidate.  It is absolutely true that the reaction against him by the establishment has been disproportionate, considering how ready so many conservative pundits have been to give Giuliani free passes and the benefit of the doubt in every case: “He has indicted friends with mob connections?  Why worry?  He’s pro-choice?  So what?  Don’t you know there’s a war on?!”  Huckabee’s rise was tolerable to these people so long as they could persuade themselves that it might help Giuliani capture the nomination, but now that he has become a more credible threat to Giuliani it has become open season.  Support for Giuliani’s rise had already shown social conservatives that they and their agenda were not very important to the party leadership, and the withering contempt for Huckabee simply confirmed that understanding. 

Erickson continues:

The New York-Washington Corridor of Conservative IntelligentsiaTM bristles at the idea that a back water social conservative from Arkansas has excited the base in a way the others haven’t. We were, after all, suppose to go for Romney or Rudy. They told us so.      

Huckabee’s creationism is one of the things that I suspect irritates conservative elites the most.  After all, how can they really accept someone who doesn’t accept evolution?  Acknowledging the theory of evolution here really serves, as Rod mentioned in a recent bloggingheads in a slightly different discussion about Huckabee’s views, as a “cultural marker” that shows that you are sufficiently urbane and sophisticated.  It is a mark of belonging to a certain set of the educated elite and a way of showing that you are not really one of those people who literally believe the Genesis account of creation.  (Now there are perfectly good and correct exegetical and theological arguments against reading Genesis this way, but that is not what we’re talking about.)  It is fine to humour those people with preposterous notions such as teaching Intelligent Design in science class (a position that has quasi-intellectual respectability), but letting them take prominent national leadership roles is really going too far.  If voters perceive supporting Huckabee’s candidacy as a way to stick a finger in the eye of the party leaders, I think they may be just angry and disaffected enough to do it.  As I said earlier today, the hostility of East Coast pundits may translate into an advantage for Huckabee’s popularity.

Update: John McIntyre has the elite anti-Huckabee roundup.

Public political discussion of Governor Romney’s faith in recent weeks, however, has been marked by so many flagrant misstatements about that faith, and the repeitition of so many long-conventional bigotries about it, that it seemed to me to far beyond the limits of fair discussion. ~Michael Novak

So many flagrant misstatements?  Which misstatements are these?  Even if this is were tue, Novak’s point here seems to be that a little-understood religion is not well understood and open to mischaracterisation, so it is high time that we stop talking about it.  I confess that I don’t understand the complaints about unfairness at all.  Is it unfair to state publicly what a religion teaches?  If it is indeed the case that someone in this debate has erred and misrepresented LDS teachings, it seems to me that it is all the more important for those who see these statements as misrepresentations to step in and correct the record.  In the course of any other discussion, that is what would happen.  The natural response is not, “Everyone is being unfair to this presidential candidate, so I will endorse him.”  By the same token, I should endorse Obama if I think that it is unfair that people spread the falsehood that he is a Muslim.  This is, to put it mildly, a strange approach to political endorsement. 

It’s two centuries since the passage of the First Amendment and our presidential candidates still cannot distinguish establishment from free exercise. ~Charles Krauthammer

It seems clear to me from the article that it is exactly these things that Krauthammer seems unable to distinguish, or rather he seems unable to understand that they do not even apply to the role of religion in this campaign.  The establishment clause concerns a prohibition against any law establishing a religion at the federal level in the United States.  That is what it meant and what it still means.  It is elementary, which is why it is tiresome that so few people seem to grasp that this has nothing to do with expressions of public opinion or political preferences.  The hollowness of the objection Krauthammer and others are raising is evident once you notice that the only kind of political judgements about someone’s religion that they really find unacceptable is a negative one.  They may find positive judgements in favour of a candidate on account of his religion undesirable, but they do not usually make an issue out of it. 

If voting is an exercise of political speech (it is), and freedom of speech is guaranteed under the same First Amendment, there is nothing illicit or impropr in exercising that freedom, so long as it does not endanger public safety under very specific circumstances and conditions (e.g., inciting to riot, etc.).  The implicit complaint in this debate is that somehow disapproval of a candidate’s religious beliefs is a curtailment of that candidate’s religious liberty, which is not true.  The argument seems to be that free speech should, as a matter of practice and custom, end where there are strong disagreements and that this applies only to questions of religious difference, which I think is an appalling idea.  Mind you, this is not a violation of anyone’s First Amendment rights, because it is not the government that is trying to impose this rule.  Nonetheless, it is a very deliberate attempt to stifle one particular kind of political expression through the deployment of social pressures and the implied or explicit accusations of prejudice.  Conservatives who rebel against the principle of thought-policing rules on campuses and elsewhere should reject this argument, which is based on the same principle.  All thhose who constantly tell us how interested they are in intellectual diversity and open debate should have no problem with a debate that also includes religious beliefs.  If voters believe these things are irrelevant, they are perfectly capable of selecting candidates who do not engage in this kind of politics. 

What is so frustrating about this debate is that neither establishment nor the free exercise of religion is at stake here.  Religious liberty is not endangered, and no one is proposing an established religion.  We do indeed live in an increasingly religiously diverse society.  It seems bizarre that this would be the one aspect of our society that we would refuse to talk about in our political discourse.

In the same way that civil rights laws established not just the legal but also the moral norm that one simply does not discriminate on the basis of race — changing the practice of one generation and the consciousness of the next — so the constitutional injunction against religious tests is meant to make citizens understand that such tests are profoundly un-American. ~Charles Krauthammer

No, the injunction was meant and is still meant to prevent federal offices from being dependent on whether or not you confess a particular creed or religion.  When it was written, there were many state religious tests (because there were still a few state established churches), and there were likely members of the Constitutional Convention who had no problem in principle with religious tests in their own states.  What they would not accept is the religious test that someone from another church in another state might try to impose on them through the federal government.  Krauthammer does at least admit that the prohibition of religious tests is a prohibition against what the government does, not a statement about what citizens may or may not do in selecting their representatives.  It’s a funny word, representative.  Taken at face value, you might even think that it is supposed to mean that citizens select those whom they believe best represents them.  All this complaining about prohibitions against religious tests is a concerted effort to make people feel guilty for wanting what they regard as their best representation. 

But there is some hope for common ground: both Krauthammer and Huckabee seem to be of the mistaken view that laws establish moral norms.  This is particularly bizarre in the American context, since such laws would likely have never been enacted by elected representatives unless there was already some considerable moral consensus behind them that enacting the law, and enforcing existing moral norms, was the appropriate and right thing to do.   

Scott Richert has some additional thoughts on Mormon theology at Taki’s Top Drawer

He shows a Wikipedia-level appreciation of other religions, admiring “the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims” and “the ancient traditions of the Jews.” These vapid nostrums suggest his innermost conviction of America’s true faith. A devout Christian vision emerges of a U.S. society that is in fact increasingly diverse. ~Roger Cohen

I don’t think the speech presented a “devout Christian vision,” and indeed he was at pains to present anything but that.  The entire speech was premised on arguing for pluralism and against religious homogeneity or the cultural hegemony of any particular religion, boiling down the many religions to our “great moral inheritance” and a vague and minimally demanding theism.  It was a typical expression of the sort of superficial, smorgasbord approach to diversity that we have all grown up with in America.  For some reason, paeans to diversity seem to require “vapid nostrums,” because we must find something about every group that is distinctive yet not the cause of some offense among another group, which usually ends up leaving us with not much to say about them.  Had a non-Mormon given the speech, you could imagine him saying, “I admire the impeccable politeness of the Mormons.”  After all, to say anything in greater detail would be, by the standards of the speech, to establish a “religious test”!  

Romney could hardly have said, “I admire the spiritual journey of the Muslim who struggles in the path of God,” since this would mean that he is also admiring the mujahideen, so he was reduced to saying something meaningless.  Even Wikipedia-level appreciation would have offered more depth of understanding of other religions.  What was most disingenuous about this part of the speech was that Romney claimed to admire these elements so much that he wished they were part of his religion!  When he hears this speech, Cohen encounters the drippy multiculturalism of a religious studies seminar and mistakes it for religious militancy.

Thus the scandal of Jesus and Satan being brothers is one based entirely on extrapolation and syllogism. Yes, because both Jesus and Satan were created as part of the offspring of God, you could say they’re related, or even brothers. ~Ryan Bell

In other words, because Mormonism holds a doctrine similar to Arianism (i.e., that the Son is created), what Huckabee said is obviously horribly wrong, except that it’s actually correct.  I don’t think anyone will be hiring this guy to do spin control.  You do have to admire the gall of bringing Hitler into the debate.  That is always a good way to persuade and win new friends.

But I think attacking someone’s religion is really going too far. It’s just not the American way, and I think people will reject that. ~Mitt Romney

Romney said that on The Today Show in response to Huckabee’s question in the Chafets profileDavid Kuo made the right point about this:

I’m sorry but I am really confused about all of this. Since when is asking a question about someone’s religion attacking it?? This is bizarre.

Kuo referred to Romney’s appearance as “pathetic.” 

I am obviously just about as strongly opposed to Romney as you can be, but no one can possibly confuse me for a fan of Huckabee, either.  I think Romney’s Mormonism is something that is legitimate for voters to take into account, but I also know that Huckabee has stated publicly time and again that he thinks it should be irrelevant.  (Here he makes the statement as clearly as anyone could possibly want.)  As a matter of fairness and accuracy, it seems wrong to impute to Huckabee the views and motives of those who are going to vote against Romney on account of his religion unless there is evidence that he actually holds such views and has such motives.  Huckabee has plenty of flaws, all of which are amply detailed in the same Chafets profile.  Ironically, by focusing on this one sentence, the media and Romney are giving Huckabee an easy out  on his genuinely worrisome record and policy views.  By protesting about one sentence, which they must regard in itself as an irrelevancy, and ignoring the serious flaws in Huckabee’s ideas (or lack thereof in certain cases), the media are actually empowering the candidate who stands to benefit from the anti-Mormon reaction among Republican voters.  Whatever Romney may or may not have accomplished with his speech last week, he stands to lose by embracing the rhetoric of the oppressed minority (which, if you haven’t noticed, does not exactly win over conservative voters).     

The small but growing effort to tar Huckabee as some sort of sectarian campaigner or incipient theocrat strikes me as wrong on the merits and seriously counterproductive for those making the argument.  If I am a caucus-goer or a primary voter who has not firmly committed to another candidate, I could very easily see Mitt Romney as someone working with the mainstream media to accuse a social conservative candidate of bigotry.  Think about how that appears to a conservative audience.  It does not make Romney look better to them, let me tell you.  

It seems to me that you give people the benefit of the doubt in these cases.  Huckabee was probably innocently asking the question he asked, and he has since gone out of his way to make it clear that he thinks that the issue shouldn’t be part of the campaign.  He has had opportunities to say publicly whether he thought Mormonism was Christian or not, and he demurred.  He could have very easily said something else, but chose not to do so.  If you find all the talk about Mormonism disconcerting, you really don’t want to get things to the point where Huckabee feels compelled to start answering those questions by labeling Huckabee, pretty much baselessly, as a “sectarian” who is playing “the Mormon card.” 

More bizarre yet is Romney’s reaction.  The question that Huckabee asked actually reflects Mormon teaching with a reasonable degree of accuracy.  (You can say that it takes this view out of context and implies something that the LDS church does not teach, but I think this is a reach.)  If, in fact, Huckabee doesn’t know much about Mormonism, his question might reflect something that he has heard over the years and was asking in the natural give and take of conversation.  Now you can argue that he shouldn’t have said it, or you can argue that Chafets shouldn’t have included it, but Romney’s reaction doesn’t really make sense unless he finds the tenets of his own religion so embarrassing and strange that the mere mention of them constitutes an “attack” or unless you are a candidate, as Romney is, in need of something, anything, you can use to tear down your opponent.  Of course these beliefs are a political liability, as we all know, but if Romney believed what he said last Thursday that those who think these things matter “underestimate the American people” he cannot possibly see a mere question as an attack worthy of condemnation. 

Pluralism doesn’t mean that we all become silent about matters of great importance.  You do not really have a free society if asking questions is considered an assault.  More basically, you need something more substantial than this if you’re going to charge someone with attacking your religion.      

But without digging into the theological nitty gritty here, the bottom line is that however different the theology may be, Mormon morality is very much the same manichean [bold mine-DL], good vs. evil outlook as traditional Christianity. ~Mark Hemingway

In fairness, Hemingway clarifies in an update that he doesn’t use manichean here in a way that actually refers to, well, Manichean beliefs, and he certainly isn’t the only person who uses manichean in a very loose and inaccurate way, but it is notable that he uses this word in a post that is trying to explain and contextualise a heterodox idea in Mormonism.  In the Mormons’ defense, they do not have a Manichean understanding of the universe, and neither do Christians.  Manichees believe the created order is a prison for human souls that was created by an evil principle, and understand morality as a war of spirit and matter that is significantly different from the moral theology of both Mormons and Christians.  Since Manichee is one of the most overused heresiological tropes in history, it was an unusually unfortunate choice for someone who wanted to deflect criticisms of Mormonism.

P.S.  Hemingway’s update is itself unfortunate when he refers to the “dualistic notion of good vs. evil” in Christianity.  Christianity doesn’t have a dualistic notion of good vs. evil.  In the classic patristic formulations, whether of Augustine or the Greek Fathers, evil is the negation and absence of good.  A dualistic notion of good vs. evil would be…the Manichean understanding.

As America demonstrates, faith thrives in a free market. In Europe, the established church, whether formal (the Church of England) or informal (as in Catholic Italy and Spain), killed religion as surely as state ownership killed the British car industry. When the Episcopal Church degenerates into wimpsville relativist milquetoast mush, Americans go elsewhere. When the Church of England undergoes similar institutional decline, Britons give up on religion entirely. ~Mark Steyn

There’s something rather odd about this line of argument.  It’s a pretty obvious flaw that an acquaintance with the first 1,900 years of Christianity would reveal: established, state-backed religion flourished in Europe for most of European history.  Across Europe, institutional churches have lost the mass membership they once had, whether they are preaching “milquetoast mush” or very traditional orthodoxy (the latter undoubtedly fare somewhat better, but only relatively so).  Leave aside for now that the options in England aren’t just “Anglicanism or Bust!” and that Britons can (and sometimes do) choose to attend one of the other churches. 

This explanation of Europe’s greater secularisation is amazingly unsatisfying, designed as it is to vindicate “market forces” in every area of life.  I suppose that I expect it from a venture capitalist, but I also expect conservatives to question it.  I don’t deny that alliances between states and institutional churches (or, in many countries, the subordination of the church as effectively a department of government) over the last two centuries politicised the position of the church and radicalised opponents of the regime in an increasingly anticlerical and sometimes anti-Christian direction.  But that was not the “cause” of secularisation as such.  Here is a list, by no means exhaustive, of some of what were significant causes of the process of secularisation in Europe: scientific advances, materialist philosophies, the uprooting and deracinating effects of industrialisation and urbanisation, the introduction of ideological politics and mass political mobilisation, the material and moral ravages of the two wars, followed by the effects of two essentially materialist worldviews that claimed to “deliver the goods” more effectively or justly than the other.  Where the experience of Europe clearly differs from our own, and one of the reasons why Europe has gone further in its secularisation, is in their experience of the wars.  I have to wonder whether Americans would have been church-going and believing in the numbers that we are today if we had experienced the full horror of these conflicts and had endured the same losses.  There is a basic problem with the thesis that “faith thrives in a free market,” which is that there are now “free markets” all across Europe where there are no established churches or, where there are technically established churches they have no real authority over all citizens of that country who are not members, and yet faith isn’t exactly thriving and has been largely going into decline in the free, western European part since the war.  There has been some religious revival since the Cold War, but it is sporadic.  If “faith thrives in a free market,” Spain should not have undergone the rapid secularisation that it has experienced since the end of the Franco regime.  Italy disestablished the Catholic Church in 1984, which must be why religions of all kinds have been flourishing in Italy.  The Republic of Ireland hasn’t ever had an established church, yet it is experiencing the same secularisation that overtook Spain before it.  It has been the last twenty years of economic and social changes that have sapped the strength of religion in Ireland.  Clearly there is something much more complicated going on that cannot be explained with easy reference to establishment/disestablishment of religion. 

 I believe, of course, that there are thousands of people who are not of faith who are moral. ~Mitt Romney

As for the rest of the atheists and agnostics, well, he isn’t going to say more.

Bob Wright and Ramesh Ponnuru were talking about Mormon-related matters on bloggingheads recently, and something Ponnuru said stood out (since I had just been looking at the Pew polling he referred to).  He mentioned a word association result and claimed that the poll showed that 75% of the public used the word polygamy to describe Mormonism.  This is not what the poll said.  The figure was 75, but it was the number of times the word polygamy was mentioned in free association out of a total of 1,461 responses.  I think there is still fairly widespread, residual association of Mormonism with polygamy, but I don’t think it’s anything like 75%.  In any case, whatever it is, the Pew results show something else.

P.S.  While I’m in fact-checking mode, Ponnuru said that Robertson won the 1988 Iowa caucuses (at 7:14), when it was Bob Dole who won and Robertson placed second.  

As far back as 1967, only three-quarters of Americans said they would vote for an otherwise well qualified person who was a Mormon.  This year – some 40 years later — the results to this question are almost exactly the same.  ~USA Today/Gallup Blog

This reminds me of the remark you hear all the time in commentary on this question: in the 1968 election, George Romney didn’t face this problem.  This is not true.  He did face this problem, but failed to gain any ground as a presidential candidate before there was that much time for the issue to become a prominent one.  We may forget, as we now enter the eleventh month of this election campaign (11 down, 11 to go!), that Romney started his campaign for the Republican nomination in November 1967 and by the end of February he was out.  He was a declared candidate for a little over four months.  He had made his famous “brainwashed” remark earlier in 1967 before becoming an avowedly antiwar candidate (an example his son has definitely not followed).  His son started organising the preliminary elements  of his presidential campaign in 2005, and there has been active speculation about his presidential run since mid-2006 at least.  There has been much more time to ponder the implications of this factor, much more time to do a lot of polling on it, and much more time for pundits and bloggers to write endless commentaries on the topic. 

The issue has taken on added significance in the nominating contest because evangelicals, many of whom would have been Democratic voters in 1967-68, have since started voting Republican much more frequently.  As a Republican candidate before the 1968 realignment, Romney would have been more insulated from the early pressures his son is now experiencing.  Had he been a Democrat, the issue might have become more significant in the nominating contest.  Others cite the famed presidential runs of Mo Udall and Orrin Hatch, both of which went precisely nowhere in the end.  Udall’s attempt was somewhat more successful, and even though Udall was also not an actively practicing Mormon his membership in the LDS church was used against him during the primaries.  Udall lost to Jimmy Carter, so the Carter-Huckabee comparisons have something else going for them.  Indeed, Udall’s defeat can provide some clue of what might have happened had Romney been running in the other party. 

The idea that modern anti-Mormonism has somehow come out of nowhere in recent years is a myth.

“The Golden Compass” is a blatant attempt to duplicate the success of the “Harry Potter” franchise. The only thing missing is richly imagined characters, a comprehensible story line, good acting, and satisfying special effects. ~Peter Rainer

So, I take it that that’s a thumbs down.  I have been interested to read some reviews of The Golden Compass after commenting on this Atlantic article about it.  While it has received some good press, many reviewers are saying that it is confusing and mediocre.  (The title has also provided easy fodder for mocking the film’s direction, or lack thereof.)  I wonder if the movie has so softened and dulled the ideas in the book (even if they are ideas that would have made the movie much less popular and lucrative), as the article suggested it did, that it lost whatever coherence it may have had as a novel.  The Chronicle’s reviewer certainly thought this was the case:

It’s a story without a soul.

Perhaps materialists will take that as a compliment?


Largely unrelated to the theme of his speech, the main part of which I am refraining from discussing any further for a couple of weeks, Romney threw in some added Europe-bashing and Fred Thompsonesque disrespect for Allied war dead.  He said:

No people in the history of the world have sacrificed as much for liberty. The lives of hundreds of thousands of America’s sons and daughters were laid down during the last century to preserve freedom, for us and for freedom loving people throughout the world.

The last sentence is true, and the first sentence is not.  The last sentence passes over in silence all the hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers from other countries who were sacrificing every bit as much and were fighting “for liberty” as much as our soldiers were.  Once again, I would repeat that there is something unhealthy in ranking nations by tallying up body counts or pints of blood shed, but even if it were a contest our country would not “win” first place.  That doesn’t make one nation more admirable than another, since it was an allied effort.  

I don’t exactly know what the point of any of these direct and indirect shots at Europe was, except perhaps to advance the dubious and easily disproven thesis that religion and freedom need one another to survive.  Both can be desirable, but they are not necessarily or obviously complementary in all times and in all places.  Also, while we all presumably understand that England’s established church lost still more authority at the end of the seventeenth century with the Act of Toleration, it has never been all together clear how the post-1688/9 established religion of England was fundamentally at odds with constitutional liberties and parliamentary government.  Several American states continued to have established churches after independence (Romney’s Massachusetts gave up on an established church only in 1833).  It was the relative religious diversity among the states that was one of the reasons for anxiety about a federal government establishment of religion; the prohibition of a federal religious establishment was intended as much to protect state and local religious establishments as it was to protect dissenters.   

Alex Massie has more.

Romney’s campaign has released some excerpts of the speech he will be giving in about an hour.  It says pretty much what many thought he would say (it is much more Millman than Fox), which is simply a more elaborate version of his standard rhetoric.  He has said that he is not a spokesman for his religion before, and he is going to tell us that again.  Here is a reason why this stance is particularly unsatisfying.  As far as the balancing act goes, the speech is better than I expected.  The reference to religious tests will probably not go down well, since the religious tests to which the Constitution refers were tests imposed through law to screen for dissenters from a formally established, official doctrine.  You cannot have a religious test without a legally established church or religion to serve as the standard for that test.  It is one thing to say that he thinks it is not a relevant or appropriate topic for political discussion.  For what it’s worth, Ron Paul takes that view.  However, whether it is relevant or not, there is no question of a religious test here.  To call this a religious test or a prelude to a religious test is to conflate a formal and legal impediment to office with the attitudes and beliefs of citizens.  It would mean that trying to elect someone you believe best represents you is a kind of persecution of the candidates you do not select, which seems like a very strange way to view things.

There is also one line (”diversity of our cultural expression”), which is effectively a nod to the ”diversity is our strength” idea (an article of faith more irrational than anything taught by even the most far-out religions), that will have conservatives of various stripes smacking their foreheads.    

James Poniewozik asks the right question:

Speaking of which, why, exactly, does it constitute “bigotry” to vote against someone on the basis of their religion? Religious beliefs are relevant, strong and foundational–as political candidates never tire of reminding us. No one calls it bigotry when someone votes for a candidate explicitly because, say, he cites Jesus Christ as his favorite philosopher. Yet it seems that, as a society, we’ve decided that you’re allowed to make judgments based on a candidate’s religion–but only positive ones.

This speech is an opportunity to dispel misconceptions and inform the public.  If Romney wanted this question to go away or, since it isn’t going to go away, at least to go into the background, this doesn’t seem to be the speech he ought to be giving.

While qualifying his remarks, saying that he isn’t trying to be facetious or trite (I mean, why would anyone ever say that Mike Huckabee is trite?), Huckabee seems to attribute his rise in the polls to divine intervention.  Now I understand that one should glorify God rather than oneself, but there is something a bit strange in giving this answer as the entire explanation, as if it was beside the point that he is thriving in states where there are a lot of evangelicals and struggling in states where there are few. 

I think I would find this casual invocation of God’s assistance more appropriate if Huckabee hadn’t done this in the past.  It seems to me that you can acknowledge and revere God’s sovereignty over all things and recognise that all things are ordered by His Providence, or you can choose to use Him as a prop in a comedy routine.  You don’t really get to do both.

Prof. Fox, long-time friend of Eunomia, has offered up what he would say in Romney’s place tomorrow, which I think will noticeably outshine Romney’s own address in thoughtfulness and intelligence.  Here is a smart, interesting excerpt:

“Secularism” is much broader and much more complicated than the reductive, simplistic antisectarianism that some atheists preach, an antisectarianism that assumes everything religious is ultimately sectarian, part of a program to move the world in the direction of some very specific God or dogma. This is not the case. The secularism that properly adheres to the American character–a secularism which involves civility, toleration, human decency and human rights–is not a secularism that ever did or ever should launch crusades against sects, whether they be Catholic or Presbyterian or Southern Baptist, assuming those organizations break no democratically-determined laws; it is a secularism that rather emerged alongside a broadly Christian understanding of what the plurality of sects means for a society.

I don’t see a former venture capitalist using such words as metaphysics and antisectarianism, but if Romney were to give Prof. Fox’s speech he would come out of this episode with a reputation for serious thought.  Politically, it could go well, when he says:

I want to emphasize that I think it is perfectly possible to legitimately vote against a candidate on the basis of their religion; I know that, even in the simple and straightforward ways in which my daily beliefs have shaped my life, there is ground for criticism and doubt.

By not denying legitimacy to such opposition, the candidate could appear at once gracious and thoughtful.  Then again, it could suddenly take a bad turn, especially when he says:

But I take the American people seriously enough to believe that they will recognize and respond to an expression of faith which is Christian first and foremost, and sectarian second. 

This is one of the major claims on which the entire controversy, such as it is, turns, this emphasis on “faith which is Christian first and foremost.”  Would Romney want to give the impression that supporting him implied an endorsement of Mormonism as Christianity?  If one of the principal reasons for evangelicals and other Christians’ anxiety about and hostility to a Mormon candidate is the fear that his nomination or election would promote Mormonism as “just another denomination,” or something of the kind, this line is almost guaranteed to confirm these voters in their opposition. 

My initial response is that a speech given in this register would satisfy only those history and divinity professors and the philosophy and religious studies majors who would really, fully grasp what he was saying.  (This is partly because I think an average voter who hears the word  “sectarian” thinks about “sectarian violence” in Iraq and elsewhere and will be made more anxious about talk of sectarians in America; I don’t assume the vast majority to be in possession of a deep and abiding understanding of post-Reformation European history, whether they are religious or secular.)  I think there are problems with Prof. Fox’s description of secularism above (a practical one being that it is embraced by a fairly small and, I would guess, shrinking constituency of humane secularists and scholarly believers), but these are problems that I don’t think a majority of the country would necessarily see or consider to be problems.

This predicament really is a trap for Romney, as I and others have observed before: if he stresses what he has in common with Christian voters, he will be criticised for not being forthright and honest enough about his own religion, and if he acknowledges difference he is probably dooming himself to electoral oblivion by alienating Christian voters.  Yet recent polling shows that he is damaged even more by his evasiveness and reluctance to speak on the matter, which fits into the narrative that he is inauthentic (some might even say fraudulent).  Perhaps if Romney himself were not such an obviously protean, shape-shifting sort of candidate on his policy views, his unwillingness to speak about his religion would have appeared as wisdom and discretion, instead of coming across as yet another example of his inability to give a straight answer to a question.  (The good news for him is that he has not yet said that he would consult ”the lawyers” about whether he believes in God.)  

Update: Pew has new polling on public attitudes about Mormonism.  Pew’s polling shows a significantly higher percentage overall who would be less likely to vote for a candidate on account of Mormonism than the L.A. Times poll does.  The response is strongest, as we have seen previously, among white evangelicals (36% are less likely vs. the overall 25%) and weekly church-going evangelicals in particular (41%). 

Second Update: My Scene colleague Noah Millman offers a different kind of speech for Romney that is more likely to succeed politically, but which pretty carefully avoids saying anything definite about his religion.  I have to say that Noah actually captures Romney’s love of patriotic gushing quite well.  If you wanted to make it really sound like Romney (which I know Noah wasn’t trying to do), you would need to insert at least three or four “goshes” into the speech, as in, “Gosh, this country is the greatest.”  Or, as Romney actually said during one of the debates:

Gosh, I love America…. America for me is not just our rolling mountains and hills and streams and great cities. It’s the American people. And the American people are the greatest people in the world. What makes America the greatest nation in the world is the heart of the American people….It is that optimism about this great people that makes this the greatest nation on earth. 

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said Monday that he would not focus on his Mormon beliefs in a major speech on religion this week and instead would discuss his concern that “faith has disappeared from the public square.” ~The Los Angeles Times

So, after all of our fevered speculation about why Romney was going to address questions about his religion at this politically sensitive time, “The Speech” is going to be “some speech on religion.”     

Maybe some voters who are inclined to hold Romney’s Mormonism against him will feel guilty when Romney cites the principle of religious tolerance. ~Marc Ambinder

Perhaps, but for them to feel guilty they would have to have done something they actually thought was wrong.  Not voting for Romney because of his Mormonism is not intolerance, and it is a measure of how distorted, or rather inflated, the concept of tolerance has become that strong disagreement over religion can be equated with religious intolerance.

But I think it’s bogus to assert that the reason for Governor Romney’s upcoming speech is a rival’s poll numbers. Rather, it’s the fact that a rival appears to be running an overtly sectarian campaign — something that is just not good for America. ~Charles Mitchell

I'’m holding off commenting more about the speech for a while, but I did want to address this claim of sectarianism, which I think is excessive and a sign of how increasingly panicked Romney supporters are becoming.  I will say also that I think Huckabee’s rise is not a major factor behind the decision to give the speech.  It is not just Romneyites who have been accusing Huckabee of making a religious appeal, but they are virtually alone in claiming that Huckabee is running a “sectarian campaign.”  His recent advertisement, entitled “Believe,” has received criticism from almost all quarters for its graphic that reads, “Christian Leader.”  According to Huckabee on ABC’s This Week, where he appeared yesterday, the purpose of the ad was simply introductory.  Huckabee is an ordained minister, and he has been in the forefront of various Christian conservative endeavours, such as the promotion of so-called “covenant marriage,” both of which give him some legitimate claim to the description “Christian leader.”  Observers are assuming a sectarian and anti-Mormon motive behind to this part of Huckabee’s ad, when this is both unproven and seems directly contradictory to everything Huckabee says publicly and the general tenor of his campaign.  Might his ad have the effect of directing voters who do not want to support a Mormon towards Huckabee?  Yes, it might, but if you wanted to run a “sectarian campaign” you would make the appeal much more straightforward.  Huckabee isn’t running such a campaign, because I suspect he knows that this would grate on the sensibilities of a lot of voters.  He probably also believes that strongly affirming his beliefs isn’t the same, or at least doesn’t have to be the same, as ridiculing someone else’s. 

At most, the ad very vaguely alludes to his past work as a minister (which you would only recognise if you already knew this about him), but never mentions any of that explicitly, and it seeks to identify the candidate with his target constituency, Christian conservatives.  Unless it is now supposed to be illegitimate for a Christian to describe himself as such, I fail to see what Huckabee has done wrong.  Some Christian conservatives are rubbed the wrong way by such overt appeals to Christian identity, but then I suspect Ross was not won over by George Bush’s claim that his ”favourite philosopher is Jesus Christ” or by the story of his religious awakening.  The voters won over by these appeals see nothing the matter with a candidate stating and embracing his religious identity, and they think it is entirely appropriate to judge candidates based on this, because they do not think religion is something to be kept out of the public eye, nor do they think it is somehow shameful to speak about it in public.  If a person’s religion informs his “values” and shapes his judgement about matters of public policy, it should be something that voters take into consideration. 

The basic argument against this, and it is the one that Chait has made, is that this is unfair to candidates who are unrepresentative of the body politic in their religious affiliation, which is essentially a complaint that there is a majority religion and that candidates in a mass democracy are likely to come to from that majority religion in nationwide elections.  Short of completey removing religion from public discourse or awaiting the day when there are no majority religions, it seems inevitable in a mass democracy that religious identity will have an impact on elections, just as other kinds of identity have and must have in a political system that is, for good or ill, inherently identitarian.  Secular voters respond to secular candidates and react against publicly religious candidates in the same way, because they are interested in being represented by someone like them who shares their worldview.  Secular Americans treat an entirely non-religious politics as the norm and the neutral ground upon which publicly religious candidates intrude, but having that kind of politics is a preference that can and will be contested.     

In any case, it seems to me that the intended message of Huckabee’s ad seems to be not simply, or even necessarily, “You should vote for me because I am a Christian,” but rather, “Because my faith defines me, I have principles that will not change or waver.”  This ad does implicitly criticise Romney, not because he is a Mormon, but because Romney is an opportunistic fraud.  If you want to damage Romney with the voting public, you would never need to say a thing about his religion–just remind them of the man’s utter lack of scruples when it comes to public policy positions.  In the end, that will be more than enough.

P.S.  Incidentally, I agree with the argument that identity is a terrible basis for selecting candidates if you are actually interested in selecting the person best qualified for the office, because it will often cause voters to choose inferior candidates, but then democracy and selecting the most meritorious candidates have never gone together.  If you aren’t a fan of democracy (and I’m definitely not), this is probably one of the reasons why, but it is an unavoidable part of the process.

On the surface of it, Romney shouldn’t have to give a Mormon speech any more than Obama should have to give a Muslim speech. ~Patrick Ruffini

Except for the small matter that Obama isn’t a Muslim.  The remarkable thing is that Obama has spoken more openly and directly about his experience living among Muslims and about his Muslim ancestors, while Romney has avoided discussing his religion whenever possible.  The perceived connection between Obama and Islam is probably far more damaging to him than Romney’s Mormonism is (because public opposition to a Muslim presidential candidate is even greater), but he and his supporters keep talking up his time in Indonesia, apparently oblivious that every time someone mentions Indonesia and his great understanding of the “Islamic world” many voters hear, “Obama is a Muslim.”  One tries in vain to explain to these people that he lived there, but did not actually convert.  I attempted to explain the facts at a recent Thanksgiving gathering, but the Obama-is-a-Muslim meme is already becoming engrained.  They know that he lived in some Muslim country “over there” and that is enough to confirm their worst suspicions. 

Besides, wo we really think, given the state of affairs and the public mood, that if a presidential candidate were a Muslim that he wouldn’t have to address it publicly in some way?  Of course he would.  The perception that both candidates belong to non-Christian religions are clearly political liabilities, as poll after poll on Muslim and Mormon presidential candidates shows, but the difference is that the Obama-is-a-Muslim meme is a lie, while Romney is something like a fifth-generation Mormon and proud of it.  Obama shouldn’t have to give a major speech to debunk unfounded rumours.  If Romney wants to be competitive, not just in the primaries but also for the general election, he needs to confront the reality, troubling as he and others may find it, that at least a quarter of the electorate is currently opposed to considering voting for him for no other reason than his religion.  As polling on this reveals, this sentiment is more or less evenly spread across the political spectrum. 

Ruffini adds in an update:

The anti-Mormon bigots and the anti-Muslim rumormongers seem to exist on about the same level — and neither candidate should let these fringe elements define their campaign.

Well, if you want to define somewhere between 25-43% of the electorate as “fringe elements,” I guess you can do so, but I’m not sure how someone wins an election by ignoring such huge levels of built-in opposition.

As you may have noticed, I have had a few things to say about Romney and the “Mormon factor” in this election, so I suppose I should comment on the news (via Noam Scheiber) that Romney will be giving the long-awaited speech that is aimed at allaying fears and doubts about his religion.  I have noted before that Romney has an impossible balancing act to maintain when he addresses this question, which may be why he has carefully evaded it for months, but it is also the case that Romney cannot keep evading the issue so long as he wishes to define his campaign and his “values” in terms of being a “person of faith.”  The impossible balancing act is stressing the political irrelevance of the theological differences Mormonism really does have with Christianity while simultaneously claiming that this very same religion, whose distinctive substance is supposed to be irrelevant, informs and shapes his “values” that he will rely on to make judgements about policy.  Another part of the balancing act (which is where it becomes really dangerous politically) is to declare that it is “un-American” to judge a candidate based on his religion without insulting the millions of voters who consider a candidate’s religion an important part of selecting their preferred candidate, while also paying homage to the “separation of church and state” without actually endorsing the idea that the separation of church and state has any constitutional basis (which a fairly large number of religious conservatives doesn’t accept).  His speech will have to go something like this: “My faith, which is very important to me and has made me who I am, should not be important to you, but it is important that we have a person of faith leading this country, and that person happens to be me.”

I agree that the timing of this couldn’t be worse, but I wonder whether the timing makes that much difference.  The extensive opposition to a Mormon candidate wouldn’t have disappeared had he given the speech earlier.  However, by giving the speech now he may be exacerbating what is already a bad situation for himself.  Had he done it three or four months ago and laid the issue to rest, at least as much as he could, he could have reduced the publicity surrounding the speech and tried to contain the damage.  Now that there is just a month left until the caucuses, he is using valuable time and exposing himself to the backlash that we knew was coming at a time when he cannot afford to shed any more support.  In the end, Romney has always been in an impossible position: a sizeable percentage of his own party will never vote for someone of his religion, and these are the same people he needed to win over to become the unchallenged social conservative consensus candidate, which is why Romney’s campaign has always been a fool’s errand as I’ve said from the beginning.  My guess is that Romney gives the speech on Thursday and his campaign in Iowa begins to implode, as his shallow support there evaporates.

Ross has covered most of Chait’s article pretty thoroughly with a biting tone and plenty of vim, but he seems to have overlooked the most glaring problem with Chait’s argument–the concluding line.  Chait wrote:

If it makes sense to support public figures because they share our religious beliefs, then it also makes sense to oppose public figures who don’t.

Not that!  This is supposed to be the killing blow, the conclusion that shows us why “faith-based politics” is ultimately so pernicious: it leads voters to judge candidates according to their beliefs!  Religious beliefs, yes, but beliefs all the same.  Unless we think that religious teachings have no effect on the education and cultivation of the minds of religious people, it seems entirely arbitrary to declare one set of beliefs off limits to public scrutiny and out of bounds for public discourse.  The secularist declares quite confidently that voters should not take this into consideration, which is to say that voters are supposed to ignore what is generally granted to be an important element in the lives of most Americans.  Yes, this does mean that voters will oppose public figures who do not share their beliefs, or at the very least this difference of beliefs will create an obstacle that the candidate will need to overcome and address.  How is this ultimately any different from any other aspect of democratic politicking?  Candidates, if they are to be successful, must reach voters “where they live,” so to speak, and so long as Americans are at least nominally religious we can expect public expressions of this and we should also expect the influence of these views on the government.  

Separated from a coercive state apparatus mandating this or that doctrine, religious arguments or policy arguments that draw on religious language must rely on their persuasive power.  If this kind of language has real persuasive power and my political opponents were using it, I could see the temptation to keep it out of public discourse as much as possible.  Yet the core of the secularists’ own view of the world is that religious language is not persuasive (not to them anyway) and that appeals to Scripture, tradition and ethical arguments derived from these sources are spurious.  In short, secularists want to bar the door to a styule of politics that they themselves find entirely unpersuasive on the grounds that it is…too dangerously powerful.     

Then there was this section that jumped out at me:

The depth of American religiosity is precisely why secularism is so important. Since religion is premised on faith, theological disputes cannot be settled through public reason [bold mine-DL]. Even the most vicious public policy disputes get settled over time. (Americans now agree on slavery and greenback currency.)  But we’re no closer to consensus on the divinity of Jesus than we were 200 years ago.

What would constitute a consensus on this?  Who is “we”?  All Americans?  Christians have enjoyed a general consensus on this for a lot longer than 200 years.   How wide and broad is the neo-Arian movement these days?  There was a good deal more consensus about this among all Americans at a number of points in the last 200 years than there is now, if only because we used to be a much more religiously homogenous country to the extent that even larger majorities identified themselves with one part of the “Great Tradition” of Christianity or another.  In a strange way, what Chait seems to be saying is that a lack of consensus about the final conclusions of a debate means that we should not have an ongoing debate.  He takes for granted that there cannot be a consensus on such matters, since they are theological, but this is to misunderstand how theological claims are made and judged.  

At the root of Chait’s claim is a conceit about theology that bears no relationship to what theology actually is.  For the secularist and, I’m sorry to say, for more than a few believers, theology is something abstract and divorced from “real” religious experience.  As the Fathers teach us, theology is best understood as prayer and spiritual experience and only subsequently as formal doctrine that expresses the realities encountered in that experience in technical and philosophical language.  In the Church, those most expert at marrying these two, the life of prayer and spiritual experience and precise exposition of the Faith, are given the epithet Theologian (Sts. John, Gregory of Nazianzos and Symeon bear this title in the Orthodox Church).  The danger of the conceit that “theological disputes cannot be settled through public reason” is that it encourages the view that religious life is purely experiential and subjective and has no rationality to it at all.  This is what we all know as fideism, and it is not Christian theology (nor would other religious traditions recognise this arational form of their teachings).  There are axioms at the heart of any theological system, just as there in any philosophical argument, but the demonstration of theological truths has been since the early centuries of the Church a decidedly intellectual and rational enterprise. 

Obviously, divorced from praxis and a living faith this theology will not be sufficient, but there is a basic misconception here that theology exists outside the realm of the rational and is therefore unfit for public discourse.  It is a matter of record, however, that public discourse in pre-modern Europe was frequently entirely theology, and the rhetorical and intellectual traditions we and modern Europeans inherited from that history remain suffused with a theological dimension and the practice of deliberating on doctrinal matters in public.  Chait deploys the phrase “public reason,” which is a way of saying “a kind of reason that makes an a priori exclusion of anything related to metaphysics or revelation.”  In other words, a deficient kind of reason.  I agree that this sort of reason cannot settle anything, since it barely begins to grasp the fullness of reality.

Ross’ reply to Chait referred to this poll that shows that Democrats are more likely to say they would not vote for a Mormon than Republicans, which made me try to remember what that famous Rasmussen poll on that question had to say.  I went digging through the archives and found it again.  Sure enough, 51% of Democratic likely voters say that they would not even “consider” voting for a Mormon, compared with 40% of Republicans and 33% of “other.”  The overall “no” figure was 43%, which is higher than what most polls of the general public say (are likely voters really more likely to be anti-Mormon?).  For some reason, the 30-39 year olds are the most opposed to a Mormon presidential candidate, women are more likely to be opposed than men, blacks are more likely to be opposed than whites and political moderates and conservatives are virtual ties at 44% and 43% opposed respectively (liberals are at 41%).  Religion can intensify the general anti-Mormonism of the public, but this is not something limited just to those who engage in “faith-based politics.”  It is, as Ross suggested, as much the result of secularists wary of “faith-based politics” and wary of a specific religion as it is of voters who judge candidates by their religion. 

The point is, as I have said before, is that anti-Mormonism is widespread and every demographic participates in it to some significant extent.  It is unmistakable that the strongest concentrations of opposition are found among evangelicals (53% opposed) and, of course, those who think that a candidate’s faith is “very important” (59% opposed), but the concentrations in every other group are also very high. 

Chait obviously doesn’t want “faith-based politics” under any circumstances, but its capacity to generate opposition to candidates from this particular minority religion shouldn’t be one of the reasons he gives when some large part of every group in America doesn’t want a Mormon as President.

Ross is right when he says this in response to Chait:

Romney hasn’t been giving speeches about how Mormon theology is consonant with Trinitarian Christianity. Instead, he’s been dodging those kind of questions, while giving speeches arguing that his religious beliefs lead him to the same policy conclusions about abortion, same-sex marriage, and so forth, that conservative Catholics and evangelicals tend to reach. He’s arguing that his positions on the issues are more important than their theological underpinnings, in other words, not the other way around.

As the Byron York piece on Romney related, the rare exception to this strategy of evasion took place when Romney thought he wasn’t being recorded and was being challenged very directly to embrace and display his religion.  One of the things that has irritated some Mormons is Romney’s reluctance to speak about his religion, combined with his rare attempts to smooth over the differences (as he did when he was interviewed by Stephanopoulos), since it has given them (and others) the impression that he is somehow embarrassed or ashamed to speak publicly about it.  He says that this is entirely untrue and is proud of his religion–just not so proud that he wants to tell you about it.  When Romney evades these questions or his supporters make lame arguments about how we’re not choosing a “theologian-in-chief,” it declares to religious conservatives that he thinks that his religion is actually irrelevant to his “values.”  In Romney’s case, this is not hard to believe, since he has been a lifelong Mormon and has only very recently discerned that his faith, into which others should not pry, authorises or inspires policy views that it had never inspired before.  At that point, being a “person of faith” becomes rather more like a box that must be checked rather than being the core of the man.

As I have said more than once, one of Romney’s difficulties with religious conservatives is that he appeals to them thanks to the logic Ross mentioned (values, not theology) when I assume that many religious conservatives think that it matters how you obtain and arrive at those “values” and how you ground them in your religious teachings.  This may not take precedence over everything, but the assumption Romney is making is that it doesn’t matter how he has arrived at sharing the same “values,” so long as he shares them.  Yet what made George Bush such a favourite of evangelicals is that they could identify with how he had arrived at his beliefs and his conclusions.  Perhaps this is an idiosyncratic objection on my part, but few things annoy me more than when people try to reduce witnessing a living faith and acting as leaven in the world to an adherence to a set of “values” and when they then give precedence to those “values” over actual doctrinal truths.  That is fundamentally what Romney’s candidacy represents, it seems antithetical to what religious conservatives claim to believe, and it is why I expect that his currently broad but shallow support will collapse. 

“You know, the term ‘Christian’ means different things to different people,” Romney told me. “Jews aren’t Christian. That doesn’t preclude a Jew from being able to run for office and become president. I believe that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world and is the son of God. Now, some people say, well, that doesn’t necessarily make you a Christian because Christian refers to a certain group of evangelical Christian faiths. That’s fine. That’s their view. Others say, no, anyone who believes in Jesus Christ as the son of God and the Savior should be called Christian. That’s fine, too. I’ll just describe what I believe and not try to distinguish my faith from others. That’s really something for my faith to do and for the churches amongst themselves to consider.” ~Byron York

You would think that Christian conservatives would have a hard time swallowing this “I’m OK, You’re OK” approach to defining basic terms.  I suppose this is the sort of relativistic babble you end up having when you start out from a position of espousing shared “values,” but Romney is making a mistake here.  He will not say directly that he believes Mormons are Christians, which he seems to believe, but he doesn’t want to say that those who think otherwise are mistaken.  This attempt to have it both ways is going to dissatisfy a lot of Christian and Mormon voters alike.  

While I’m thinking about the topic of atheism and “hard secularism,” I thought I would make a few remarks about this Atlantic piece on the making of the movie version of The Golden Compass.  I haven’t read the Dark Materials trilogy, nor am I exactly rushing out to pick up a copy of the first book, so I am relying pretty much entirely on the article for the background, but something did strike me about an idea contained in one version of the script.  From the article:

The earlier scripts made passing reference to the Fall. In the Stoppard script, Asriel, in a rage about the Authority, mocks the “apple of desire” and the “fig-leaf of shame”; a few scenes later Coulter, the evil Nicole Kidman character, yells at Asriel, “You can’t conquer God!” Weitz told me he’d originally written an opening scene showing Lyra in a college chapel listening to a sermon about the alternative Genesis, “but that movie was not going to get made.” A Weitz script dated December 2004 makes no explicit reference to Genesis. Instead, the theology is mediated entirely through a discussion of Dust, which, according to your taste, is either more highbrow or just more muddled. Asriel tells Lyra that people believe Dust is sin and that it brings on misery. He says he will set out to destroy Dust and essentially reverse the consequences of original sin: “When I do—pain, sin, suffering—death itself will die.”

What this reminds me of more than anything else, aside from gnostic utopian insanity, is the Alliance assassin from Serenity, who seeks the annihilation of sin from what I think is supposed to be the other side of things.  For the assassin, eliminating sin was the ultimate goal of the totalitarian Alliance’s desire for control (against which our anarchic, vaguely neo-Confederate Browncoat heroes are resisting), which is the role that “the Magisterium” theoretically ought to be filling in a story that vilifies religious authority, but apparently it is not. 

In any case, there does seem to be something to the charge that The Golden Compass is “Hitchens taken to the kids,” though this may do a disservice to the movie, which might at least be entertaining.  Even the finished product’s somewhat more muted digs at Christianity are not going to be well-received, at least not by anyone who isn’t already a fan of the anti-clerical jabs of V for Vendetta and the dedicated blasphemy of something like Preacher

One of the surest ways that you can tell that it’s going to be badly lacking is the frequency with which people defending it in this article keep saying that it’s “highly spiritual.”  Talking about something being “spiritual” as a substitute for religion, or as a way of proving that something isn’t anti-religious, is a classic response, since it doesn’t actually have to mean anything and yet seems to provide some cover for the person saying it.  We’ve all heard the line: “Oh, I’m not interested in religion, but I consider myself a very spiritual person.”  How nice.  Even Sam Harris meditates, so I understand, and obviously entire sci-fi franchises are built on or involve hokey mysticism (Star Wars, Stargate) that might well have been derived from The Idiot’s Guide to Buddhism, so why can’t an adaptation of an explicitly anti-theist work of fiction also be “spiritual” in some entirely non-commital and thoroughly meaningless way?   

James, Ross, Michael, Will Wilkinson and Keith Pavlischek of the Ethics and Public Policy Center recently discussed the “New Atheism” or “hard secularism” (as Ross calls it) on an AFF panel called “Is atheism the new religious right?”  I had heard that the panel was happening, but today is the first time I’ve heard the audio from it.  Give it a listen if you have the time. 

We should not call ourselves secularists. We should not call ourselves humanists, or secular humanists, or naturalists, or skeptics, or anti-theists, or rationalists, or freethinkers, or brights.  We should not call ourselves anything. ~Sam Harris

Wouldn’t that just open them up to charges of being a very literal sort of anti-nominalist?  After all, if nomen est omen, and Harris doesn’t want to be superstitious, he would really have to abandon all names and resort to communicating through a series of hand gestures (and one suspects that he would be more persuasive than he currently is).  Regardless, I guess this means that Harris is against really goofy-looking atheist symbols, too, since both names and images are signifiers of something that Harris doesn’t think should be formally represented.

Read the whole of Michael’s article.  As usual, he has captured the memorable details from the conference very well.

Rod and Amy Sullivan appear on bloggingheads, discussing evangelicals and politics (and Kirkpatrick’s recent Times magazine article) and the intersection of religion and politics generally.

The Hebrew prophets have a political vision and it is not neoconservative.  ~David Klinghoffer

You have to laugh at Klinghoffer’s description of a prospective attack on Iran as “aggressive defense.”  What’s next?  Peaceful violence?  Charitable hate?  Lawful crime?  (Klinghoffer must be an expert in stating absurdities, since he is a fellow at the Discovery Institute.)

You do have to admire Klinghoffer’s intellectual contortions to justify the moral abomination of the “new fusionism.”  Aggression and moral reform marching side by side is a hard thing to defend, but he gives it his best shot. 

Then again, Klinghoffer never wrote (probably unwittingly) truer words than these:

Idolatry manifests itself in every age.  Its essence lies in setting up moral authorities in competition with, or to the negation of, God.

Quite.  That might be a powerful lesson on which the various warfare state-lovers could reflect and meditate.  Of course, it is precisely the neocons surrounding Rudy Giuliani who embrace the idolatry of nationalism, and it is those religious conservatives who ignore their own convictions in the name of fighting “Islamofascism” who are complicit in the same error.   

There was also this:

Yet the prophets had little to say against Assyrofascism or Babylofascism.

I wonder why.  Maybe because they weren’t morons.

I’ve been shocked, really, at the fact that it seems to — there seems to be a place in our culture for, gosh, saying that Mormonism is not a real religion. ~Lynne Cheney

Relatively few people are claiming that it’s “not a real religion.”  For its critics, it is only too real, and the thing some of them might find most shocking is that it does, in fact, exist and people believe it.  The real argument, however, is not incredulity at the Mormon creed, so to speak, as it is anxiety about the relationship between Mormonism and Christianity.  There may be the occasional secular person, a Damon Linker, say, who sees dire threats emanating from Salt Lake City, but the real problem is not so much that Romney’s religion isn’t “real” (it may be one of the very few things about him that isn’t fake!) as it is that his religion seems alien and bizarre to many of the people whose votes he needs to win the nomination. 

If Christian conservatives respond favourably to “one of their own” (as the recent Huckamania suggests they do), they are similarly unenthusiastic about those with whom they cannot relate and identify in terms of shared religious experience.  Even acknowledging Brownback’s less-than-charismatic persona and keeping in mind his ties to evangelicals as qualifications, the fate of Brownback may be telling for how this kind of identity politics works.  It probably did not help him with many of these voters that he had become Catholic.  He could still speak in their idiom and understand their perspective, but there were limits to his ability to claim to be “one of them.” 

Romney hardly helps himself by treating discussion of the subject as a source of embarrassment or lame humour, encouraging critics to regard his religion as something of which he is ashamed.  As a voter’s stupid question about “how many First Ladies can we expect” shows, modern Mormonism is not well understood or very familiar.  Anyone from a relatively poorly understood minority religion is going to carry the political burden of trying to relate his religious experience to that of the voters he’s addressing, especially if he wants to talk up his faith and his life as a “person of faith” in his campaign.

The “cult” charge is patently unfair and seems to reflect bigotry, but the perspective that Mormonism is more of an offshoot of Christianity than a variety of it seems fairly well-supported to me. Generally, when you add a new holy book, you have a new religion. ~Matt Yglesias

Perhaps the pejorative use of the term “cult” is a bit much, if by “cult” you mean a group of people who are mindlessly controlled by a cynical, villainous leader who exploits their gullibility.  Even if you think that is true of Joseph Smith’s career, it is hard to claim the same thing for his modern successors, who are, if anything, all together in earnest and sincere.  In another sense, “cult” refers to any religious group and could be fairly applied to the LDS church.  It is a bit intriguing how some cultural conservatives will make a point of noting how culture derives form cultus, referring a religious cult, but how others will use “cult” as an insult. 

In any case, the thing that intrigues me most is the idea that, for some people, “values” trump theology, even though it is allegedly from theology and church teaching that these same people derive their “values.”  One might suppose that how one reached these conclusions would matter quite a lot, but this “values” talk reminds us that there are some who don’t care how you reach the right conclusion so long as you get there.  At bottom, it really is a question of identity politics: can Christian conservative voters knowingly endorse someone who is not really Christian?  For some, “values” are enough.  But I imagine they are not sufficient for most.

But while I agree with his goal of working towards a rational, secular world, a triumph of enlightenment values, I disagree entirely with his proposed strategy, which seems to involve putting a bullet through every god-haunted brain. ~Pharyngula

It might be worth noting that the two are frequently paired in the last two centuries, and that the triumph of “enlightenment values” has often enough been associated with just such mass killing of believers.    Those who would like to insist that such mass killing-for-enlightenment has nothing to do with the “enlightenment values” cannot very well make the same connection between religion and violence committed in the name of religion.  It would require instead a non-ideological and intelligent appraisal of history, which secularists and atheists, at least of the militant variety, have never been interested in making.  Of course, a crucial difference, certainly in Western history, is that secular revolutionaries have no difficulty believing that the ends of advancing the cause justify the means, while for Christians in particular to make similar arguments they must betray Christianity’s moral and spiritual teachings.      

This gets to the heart of the absurdity of Hitchens’ view of religion.  If it “ruins everything,” as the subtitle of his book claims, how can a decent atheist stand by and let it go on ruining things so terribly?  Hitchens was simply showing the fanaticism that tends to accompany a view in which all believers are either dupes or power-hungry villains who have made the world a much worse place.  Once you have cast theism itself as a species of totalitarian groupthink, as Hitchens and his ilk do, it’s rather hard to say that you shouldn’t be willing to fight the totalitarians you have just so labeled, and to fight them tooth and nail.  Hitchens really is just taking his position to its logical extreme, which reveals the basic moral bankruptcy and evil at the heart of his ideas.  He has never been squeamish about endorsing revolutionary violence before, and his so-called “move to the right” over the last few years was simply his joining together with people who shared his faith in the redemptive and liberating power of violence.   

Like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has joined the ranks of militant secularism and has lately advocated “defeating Islam” in much the same way as Hitchens, Hitchens possesses the intense certainty that a supposed devotion to rationality and enlightenment require large-scale irrational slaughter and barbarism.  That is nothing new.  It is the inevitable venom of the disenchanted ex-believer or the bitter non-believer, who cannot simply cease believing and leave it at that, but must try to “free” everyone else from ”chains” that the latter do not see.  If they will not free themselves, they must be forced to be free–such is the bloody logic of “enlightenment values” and “freethinking” in action.  To get from the Freisinnigen to the death camps it takes only a few steps.

Romney is asked about Mormonism wherever he goes. In my travels, I find his religious preference cited everywhere as the source of opposition to his candidacy. His response to the former CEOs that only reporters care about this issue sounded like a politician’s tired evasion. Romney was indicating that either he was too obtuse to appreciate his problem or was stalling because he had not determined how to deal with it. Contact with his advisers indicates the latter is the case. ~Robert Novak


When will Christopher Hitchens berate those lousy Buddhist monks for sowing “discord” and “hate” in Burma?  After all, he knows how religion poisons everything*, so I anticipate his denunciation of those troublemaking fanatics any day now.

*I hadn’t thought of it before, but this is just an adaptation of a phrase attributed to Mao: “religion is poison.”  Keep the faith, Hitch.

A few pokes have made the structure wobble and sway, and if enough of us get together, we could push it all right over. ~Pharyngula

Via Sullivan

Yes, it’s not because atheist diatribes are feebly argued and pitiful that we ridicule and deride them, but because they are so powerful and threatening to the claims of faith.  That must be why atheism is taking the world by storm…oh, wait, it isn’t.  Of course these insults provoke religious people to indignant response, and especially because the arguments used are tendentious or inaccurate or intellectually sloppy (or all three together).  But this really is one of the weakest argument of them all.  It’s as if a man called your mother filthy names and then used your outraged response as proof that the accusations are true.

Then there is the old chestnut that any and all religion is a prop of tyrants and a license to abuse power.  I should have thought that this would have been revealed as absurd by the end of the twentieth century, but why would anything as trivial as empirically verifiable historical record disturb the comfortable and lazy habits of the atheist mind?  The Church at its best was historically the bane of arbitrary rulers and abuses of secular power, and even the most autocratic of Christian rulers would have never contemplated the mass slaughter of innocents that enlightened revolutionaries carried out.  Even in the worst persecutions of heretics (and I would note that one of the most ancient and most thoroughly Christianised polities, namely Byzantium, generally avoided any executions of heretics), it was typical that only recalcitrant heresiarchs would be punished.  Enlightened terror tries to wipe out entire communities, entire nations, for the “greater good” or “utopia” or some damned pseudo-scientific lie.  And, of course, plenty of enlightened atheists have accepted the political rationalisations of mass murder while they scoff at the punishment of heretics.  If the “New Atheists” want to play the game of “whose mentality is more likely to lead to tyranny and state-sanctioned killing?” they shall lose, and lose badly.

He goes on:

We can admire the scattered bits of rational architecture that have arisen from the flawed bases of religion … but what if all of humanity were building on the bedrock of naturalism and reason, instead of that quaking vapor of god-belief? We could reach so much higher!

Yes, as high as the tower of Babel…but then that didn’t go very well, did it?

Via James comes this claim:

Contemporary Japan and India, among other non-Christian countries, have also embraced the Great Separation.

This is pretty demonstrably untrue in the case of India, since Indian politics has been nothing if not suffused with religiosity of all kinds since independence.  It is technically true to the extent that the religious communities in question do not have institutional “churches” as such, but pretty clearly nonsense to the extent that religious activist associations wield enormous clout in Indian politics.  There is an idea that this has been bad for “Indian secularism,” but Indian secularism has not meant the separation of religion and politics but the incorporation of all communities into the political process.  Where Hindutva seems to some to threaten the system is in its majoritarianism and exclusivism.  But the Great Separation has nothing to do with it one way or the other.  Japan is more straightforward in that the divinity of the emperor was officially repudiated, but large numbers of people still respect the emperor intensely and the symbolic value of the emperor is incalculable.  The clearest example of actual separation is in Turkey, which is where the separation is being actively undermined by the democratic process, because the “separation of church and state” or the separation of religion from politics is fundamentally hostile to democratic principles in a religious country. 

Then there is this even more extraordinary claim:

Separating church and state works; mixing them tends toward disaster.

This is where the messy details and historical contingencies come in handy.  First of all, it depends on which church or religion and what kind of state, which this formula ignores.  I can also say, with just as much confidence, that mixing church and state works, while separating them tends towards disaster.  I can say this because I can think of cases that support both claims, just as Ms. Goldstein can think of cases that support hers.  To my mind, Rome (renowned as the most punctilious of religious societies) and Byzantium “worked” and the Soviet Union failed–consider their respective lifespans as political systems and “experiments” in having different answers on the church/state relationship question.  Byzantium wins, hands down.  Does that mean that we should all prostrate ourselves before an emperor?  Perhaps not.  What it does mean is that taking the particular experience of certain nations as a universal rule is probably unwise.  The details of church-state relations are extremely important in distinguishing between excessive subordination of church to state or subordination of the state to the church.  Separation works, except for all the times that it doesn’t and symphoneia works better. 

I will have to second Josh Patashnik’s post, in which he replies to Mr. Krikorian:

I’m going to offer the rival prediction that if and when the Iranian government falls, there will be no mass conversion to Zoroastrianism [bold mine-DL], no widespread beheading of Christians, and Iran will…remain Muslim.

The point about Zoroastrianism is basically guaranteed, since Zoroastrianism today is unique among the ancient world religions that originated in the Near East in that its adherents actively discourage conversion.  Also, it has not had any noticeable or significant presence in the land of its birth for many centuries.  Quixotic attempts by the Pahlavis to consciously revive pre-Islamic Iranian traditions and names were, shall we say, not wildly popular, associated as they were with a rather brutal dictatorial regime.  (For that matter, rampant Baha’i revivals are also unlikely, since the Baha’i faith hardly seized the imaginations of Iranians during the rule of the Pahlavis.)    

This reminds me of two things that would be widely considered major drawbacks to the separationist plan.  The first would be that an embargoed, isolated Islamic world (were such a thing possible) would almost certainly have a massive backlash against the native Christian populations, and the refugees we have seen fleeing Iraq for Syria would soon be fleeing the entire Levant for Cyprus and points west.  The second would be that it would make Israel’s position totally untenable in the long term.  No one would confuse me with an enthusiastic booster of the U.S.-Israel connection, to be sure, but the likely extinction of Judaism and Christianity in their native lands following the implementation of such a plan would be an unacceptable price for whatever “strategic goals” such an arrangement might serve. 

Fundamentally, the hope of this plan is that Muslims will judge the merits of Islam based on earthly successes and failures.  Though I cannot claim to know the minds of so many different kinds of Muslims throughout the world, my guess is that people raised up in a tradition that teaches them a theodicy in which trials and rewards are God’s will are not going to conclude that political tyranny or disastrous misrule are evidence that Islam needs to be fundamentally changed or abandoned all together.  It didn’t happen for the entirety of Ottoman rule, and it isn’t likely to happen in the future.  On the contrary, the woes of this world will make traditional Muslims all the more likely to turn to their deity for justice and mercy in direct proportion to the extent of the misery experienced.    

Presenting Mormon tritheism:

Just to clarify, Mormons in fact do believe that Christ is God. It’s really quite simple. There is one God, which is the Godhead, consisting of three separate beings [bold mine-DL] in the way that the Bush Administration is one administration consisting of many people. God the Father, Jesus Christ who is also God, and the Holy Ghost, who is also God. They are one in purpose. It’s not more complicated than that. Mormons do not believe in the Nicean [sic] Creed, but Christ’s role is not undermined.

In other words, Mormons do not share the fundamental doctrine of God that all Christians share and quite explicitly accept something that undermines monotheism.

The radio host interviewing Romney in this video, Jan Mickelson, raises some of the same objections to Romney’s “wall of separation” logic that I assumed conservative Christians would be making all along.  Here you have someone who wants to run as a religious conservative, but who won’t talk about his religion, and who explicitly denies that his religion is connected to his candidacy (except insofar as it allows him to portray himself as a “person of faith”).  When Romney endorses Kennedy’s handling of his Catholicism, Mickelson responds: ”the pro-life community here in Iowa call him [Kennedy] a cafeteria Catholic.”  In other words, you aren’t likely to win over religious conservatives by running away from or ignoring your religion (even if it is a religion that said conservatives may not care for).  Romney then goes on to say that he isn’t there to talk about “a religion or the principles of a religion,” but at the same time he wants to trade on the points of agreement that he has with religious, particularly Christian, conservatives, who hold the views on life that they do, at least in part, because of their religious teachings.  Romney wants to make distinctions that make it possible for him to maintain this balance, while the religious conservatives whose votes he needs and whose votes he is presumably trying to win don’t accept the validity of these distinctions.  Indeed, to the extent that they think they are real distinctions and not merely rhetorical dodges, they believe them to be misguided or perfidious.

During one of the ad breaks (while the camera kept rolling), Mickelson says: “I think you’re make a big mistake when you distance yourself from your faith.”  (As it happens, I agree with Mickelson’s point here.)  Part of Romney’s response: “There are Mormons in the leadership of my church who are pro-choice.”  I’m not sure why he feels compelled to mention this, since it clouds the issue for his potential supporters.  If Mormon church teaching permits the possibility of Mormons being pro-choice (and I’d grant that it does), Romney’s fidelity to his Mormonism will hardly reassure pro-life conservatives, since it is no way guarantees that he would remain pro-life as a matter of policy, but his awkward handling of questions pertaining to his religion gives the impression that he doesn’t think it should even be part of the debate.  He could turn this to his advantage by saying, “My church’s teachings do not require me to be politically pro-life, but I have taken this position anyway (or at least made a mildly convincing pander to that effect), so you should look at the political position I have taken and not dwell on what my church does or does not permit.”  That would be the smart way to handle it, but this is not how he handled it.  Instead, he seems offended that people keep talking about his religion.  He continues to give the impression that he finds it embarrassing or unsuitable for public conversation, as if to say, “The public square has nothing religious in it, and that’s the way I’d like to keep it, thanks very much.”

Mickelson catches him on this and, it seems to me, nails him to the wall as far as many religious conservatives are concerned: “When you bifurcate politics from religion, and you have this hermetically-sealed….you make a political category over here and a spiritual one over here.”  Shortly after this, Romney said, “My religion is for me and how I live my life.”  Perhaps that is a view of religion that most Americans share, but it is not a popular one among religious conservatives.

This is great.  In this one rather long YouTube video (via Eric Kleefeld) lie the seeds of doom for Mitt Romney’s campaign.

Update: To clarify, I don’t necessarily think that this one video will wreck his campaign, but watching Romney attempt to square the circle of running as a “person of faith” who doesn’t want to talk about his religion because he isn’t running ”as a Mormon” while saying that his opposition to abortion is a secular position is devastating to the rationale for his candidacy.  Brownback, Huckabee et al. have just had their prayers answered. 

Second Update: This exchange may help to convince people that he is, in fact, a human being who gets frustrated and angry because of criticism rather than a robot or mannequin.  This could help him win more voters who are not strongly opposed to Romney’s Mormonism, but who might find his normal plastic demeanour off-putting.  It is also fascinating to see Romney run up against hard-line strict constructionists and have no idea how to handle their views.  It’s as if he’s never even heard of the idea that judicial review is a usurpation (in fairness to him, he probably never has).

Separately, Rasmussen shows that only 35% of Republican voters think Romney is conservative, and only 54% of Republicans have a favourable view of the man.  Only McCain among the big four has worse fav/unfav numbers.  If Romney were to somehow win the nomination, GOP voters would probably be pretty unenthusiastic about his candidacy.

Update: Kleefeld receives word from Romney’s campaign manager on why the Romney campaign put this video on YouTube:

Because it shows Governor Romney standing his ground and making his case to an interviewer that took him head-on over the issues. He is confident and engaging during a tough inquiry. Folks who have seen the video says it is Governor Romney at his best, so we felt others should have the chance to see it.

This is Romney at his best?  I can’t say that I am surprised to hear that, but I find it curious that his campaign manager would be claiming it.  This episode is potentially very bad for Romney, so it is bizarre that his people would be spreading it around the Web deliberately.

I have to apologise for the delay in getting this up, since it has been available for several days.  Tom Piatak, who also often writes for Chronicles, has a superb, devastating review of Hitchens’ God Is Not Great.  If you haven’t already done so, you should read it. 

In “Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion,” David Gelernter, a Yale computer-science professor and a versatile and prolific public intellectual, makes a provocative claim: Such professions of faith express “belief in . . . a religious idea of enormous, transporting power.” Indeed, he contends that America “is a biblical republic and Americanism a biblical religion.”

This does not in any way detract, Gelernter is quick to clarify, from America’s commitment to religious freedom: Liberty, democracy and equality constitute the American Creed [bold mine-DL]. And Americanism entails a duty to not only realize these universal ideas at home, but to spread them around the world. ~Peter Berkowitz

It’s simply appalling in so many ways that I am at first overwhelmed.  In the first place, the title is a little baffling (why the fourth?), until you realise that he must mean to include Islam as the third great “Western” religion, at which point we can already take it as a given that words mean nothing to the author.  Then there is this bit from his book’s description

Gelernter argues that what we have come to call “Americanism” is in fact a secular version of Zionism. Not the Zionism of the ancient Hebrews, but that of the Puritan founders who saw themselves as the new children of Israel, creating a new Jerusalem in a new world. Their faith-based ideals of liberty, equality, and democratic governance had a greater influence on the nation’s founders than the Enlightenment.

It is hard to say which is the worse part.  You have this business about “secular Zionism” that is at once religious and not religious  side by side with misrepresentations about ” faith-based ideals of…democratic governance” when referring to 17th century Calvinists along with a New England-centric spin on the whole of American identity, as if the Randolphs, Jeffersons, Morrises, Washingtons, Madisons and Pinckneys of the early republican era were guided by the zeal of New England Puritanism.  Whether or not I dislike many things in the Enlightenment heritage of many of the Whig ideas at the core of the political philosophy of many of the Founders (and I do), I cannot pretend that it played second fiddle to some mythical Zionism.  To the extent that this did exist at all and influenced American political life, the phenomenon he describes has very little to do with the establishment of the Republic and much more to do with the “refounding” or rather destruction of the same in the War.  If this Americanism has as three of its patrons Lincoln, TR and Wilson, the question is not whether it is dangerous (since it clearly is), but whether it has so entered into the mainstream of American politics that it cannot now be expelled. 

If “liberty, democracy and equality” constitute “the American Creed,” I am glad to say that many of the more esteemed Americans in our early history were only two-thirds or even one-third believers in it. 

Then there is another item from the book description:

If America is a religion, it is a religion without a god, and it is a global religion. People who believe in America live all over the world. Its adherents have included oppressed and freedom-loving peoples everywhere—from the patriots of the Greek and Hungarian revolutions to the martyred Chinese dissidents of Tiananmen Square.

I don’t know what to call this except insane.  There was another global godless political religion that sought to spread all over creation.  Perhaps Gelernter has heard of it.  As its fate reminds us, the Lord does not suffer such blasphemies to long endure.  You cannot serve both God and Americanism. 

This claim about the other peoples of the world is also shockingly presumptuous, even for someone of Gelernter’s policy views.  It is as close to someone saying publicly that “inside everyone there is an American trying to get you” as I have ever seen in real life.  This idea is often implied in what many democratists say, and it can be inferred from many of Mr. Bush’s major speeches, but most have the good sense not to say such things quite so bluntly.  Quite obviously, the patriots of the Greek and Hungarian revolutions “believed” in Greece and Hungary, if we must use this language of “believing in” countries.  (The physical places exist whether or not anyone believes in them, and the cultural distinctiveness of Greek and Hungarian would exist whether or not any political revolutionary ever “believed” in a national cause.)  The latter made the mistake of trusting the shaky promises of foolish American ”rollback” advocates, but the heroes of 1956 did not “believe in America” or in Americanism.  If they believed in an -ism, it might have been Hungarianism or something like it.  Give Gelernter credit for a certain bizarre consistency: if all it takes to be an American is to buy into a few tired political slogans, anyone who embraces those slogans really must effectively be an American or at least an Americanist.

Then there is this last bit, which is just too funny:

Gelernter also shows that anti-Americanism, particularly the virulent kind that is found today in Europe, is a reaction against this religious conception of America on the part of those who adhere to a rival religion of pacifism and appeasement.

Or it might have something to do with prudential objections to policies that are perceived as dangerous and misguided.  However, as we can all see, that’s obviously far too outlandish of an interpretation, so the “religion of appeasement” explanation will have to do.  Does that mean that anti-Americans in Latin America and the Near East also belong to the broad church of appeasement?  Hugo Chavez, pacifist–you heard it from Gelernter first!  No wonder the description calls the argument “startlingly original.”  I am startled that it even got published. 

I have already done most of the commenting on Mormonism that I am going to do, but since the topic has come up again in Ross’ latest bloggingheads and prompted a reply to Ross’ request for a clarification from Prof. Fox, a longtime friend of Eunomia, I thought I might add a few comments.  Prof. Fox writes:

For example: Matt Yglesias claims in the Bloggingheads video that the Mormon church teaches that “the New World, in pre-Columbian times, was dominated by two vast rival empires.” (Those would be “the Nephites,” the people who carried on the family name and traditions of an early prophet named Nephi, and “the Lamanites,” a group named after his brother and enemy, Laman.) While the history of Book of Mormon interpretation over the past 180 years is actually pretty complicated, the basic facts are that Matt here is correctly describing what most Mormons who read the book believed…up until about 20-30 years ago, that is. The Book of Mormon itself never suggests the existence of massive, continent-wide, roaming empires; rather, serious readers have come to recognize that in fact the book talks about a couple (or actually more than a couple) pretty densely populated yet nonetheless localized tribes, and nearly everything presented in the book as fact takes place, according to its own narrative, within an area that a person on foot could cross within week, if not less. This is what we Mormons called the “limited geography” thesis: specifically, that the book isn’t telling us the whole history of the Native Americans (which many Mormons admittedly thought the primary purpose of the book was for decades), but rather telling the story of some relatively restricted groups, whose story God thought important enough to make certain it would be preserved and brought forth in our day.

However, the official LDS version of the Book of Mormon has this passage (Helaman 3:8):

And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea awest to the sea east.

And again, Helaman 11:20:

And thus it did come to pass that the people of Nephi began to prosper again in the land, and began to build up their waste places, and began to multiply and spread, even until they did acover the whole face of the land, both on the northward and on the southward, from the sea west to the sea east.

There may be ways to reconcile this language with the “limited geography” thesis (perhaps the land between the two seas is exceedingly small?), and I won’t pretend that I am anything close to being thoroughly versed in these matters, but it appears at first glance that the earlier prevailing view of vast territories is one that seems to have some direct support in a central LDS scriptural text. 

Incidentally, there are other things that will leap out at the reader of the online version of the Book of Mormon (especially since they are hyperlinked).  For instance, there are several references to weapons made of steel.  Leaving aside the technological question, this creates another problem.  The official site does the cross-referencing work for you, pointing you to citations from the Bible that (in the traditional King James language) also refer to steel.  This seems a strange thing to draw attention to, since these passages about steel weapons from the Bible are English mistranslations of the adjective for a bow made of bronze (toxon chalkoun in the Septuagint versions of 2 Sam. 22:35 and Ps. 18:34/LXX 17:34), which tends to confirm that the language was taken directly from the King James mistranslation rather than echoing the content of the Old Testament books to which it is being compared. 

These are probably familiar arguments to Prof. Fox and others, and they may therefore be as tiresome to them as shocked secularist discoveries of contradictions between the Gospel accounts are to me.  Nonetheless, if a Mormon defense of the historicity of their scriptures’ claims is to persuade anyone, it will need to sort out these contradictions.

It’s even making a difference at the ballot box. Liberals have spent much of the past six years straining to cut into the GOP’s advantage among religious voters. But when the Democrats finally shattered the Republican majority in the 2006 midterms, it was their consolidation of the secular vote that helped put them over the top. Despite all their efforts to close the God gap, the Democrats managed barely any gains among frequent churchgoers last November—but their share of the vote among Americans who never attend church at all leaped to 67 percent, from 55 percent in 2002. ~Ross Douthat

This would suggest that, for all of Obama’s “righteous wind” and John Edwards’ “faith-belief,” the Democratic Party is geared to become more aggressively secularist in the coming years than it has been.

Ross points to Prof. Coyne’s response to Brownback’s evolution op-ed:

What happens if scientific truth conflicts with a politician’s “spiritual truth”? This is not a theoretical problem, but a real one, as we see in debates about stem-cell research, abortion, genetic engineering, and global warming.

Like Ross, I am unimpressed by this dilemma.  This is the sort of dilemma that one is supposed to solve by chucking out “spiritual truths” all together, if at all possible, or at least by reducing them to wan insignificance.  To take a different tack, what exactly is the “spiritual truth” about global warming?  Brownback himself, like Huckabee, actually takes an interest in climate change and conservation, so this laundry list of science-related policy questions on which conservatives are supposed to be buffoons seems particularly inappropriate in a response to Brownback.  There are evangelicals who believe climate change alarmists, and there are evangelicals, non-evangelicals and secular people who don’t buy into the alarmism at all and a whole range of people spread in between.  I missed the passage in the Book of Genesis where it said:

And, lo, God said unto Abraham, “Thy children shall cause a great emission of chloroflourocarbons and shall cause the atmosphere to trap heat and gradually warm the entire planet.  And I, the Lord thy God, shall be angry with the children of Abraham for their refusal to pass a meaningful carbon tax.”

The point is that religious beliefs will usually have little to do with attitudes towards the truths discovered through scientific inquiry.  No religious teaching is offended or violated by the existence of climate change, regardless of its causes or severity.  Where religious convictions and ethics derived from religious tradition may well come into the debate concern the applications of scientific knowledge and medical research.  The “scientific truth” about an embryo is, at least in part, that it is a human being in the very early stages of development.  The ethical and moral arguments against killing humans in very early stages of development do not reject any “scientific truths.”  The opponents of abortion have come to significantly different conclusions about the significance and value of humans in very early stages of development.  Science does not necessarily settle the matter one way or the other.  The same might be said of stem-cell research or genetic engineering.  Science describes and studies empirical reality, but it does not normally provide prescriptions for how men use that understanding of reality.

There are strict literalists who will insist that evolutionary biology and Scripture cannot both be right.  This is, happily, not the view endorsed by the teaching authorities of most Christians.  Christianity affirms the unity of truth.  Indeed, belief in a Creator demands that we acknowledge that the study of the natural world cannot disclose anything that contradicts revelation.  If people believe they have discovered obvious contradictions, they have either not worked on the problem long enough or they have been interpreting either the scientific evidence or revealed truths or both in a mistaken way.  Most non-literalist Christians, which would be most Christians in this country, have whatever problems with evolution that they do because of the impression they receive, whether through relatively poor scientific education, the preaching of dogmatic evolutionists or popular culture, that if a theory of evolution describes how life on earth probably developed and changed everything their religion teaches eventually falls apart.  This isn’t true, but it is repeated often enough by polemicists on both sides that those with relatively poor scientific education are either going to fall back on their prior beliefs and reject evolution or accept evolution and reject their religious upbringing.  It does not help matters when you have prominent religious conservatives, such as Brownback, construct unsatisfying fideistic halfway houses that are not really faithful to either science or faith. 

To make matters worse, Intelligent Design just makes a mess of things by pretending that you can solve scientific problems by saying, effectively, “And here we can see that God is working.”  Indeed, ID-as-science seems to owe much of its momentum to visceral opposition to randomness: things can’t simply be randomly evolved, but must have a certain structure.  Even if, as Christians believe, the structure and orderliness in the natural world points towards a Creator, acknowledging this will not add any new insights to the research.  Even if everyone granted the ID activists’ point, our scientific understanding of the world would not have actually gone forward.  This acknowledgement may very well lend new meaning to the study of the natural world, but it does not change anything in the understanding of the natural world.  In its pretense to be science-plus-religion, rather than religious philosophy attempting to lecture natural science on its deficiencies, ID convinces no one who is not already a believer and manages to get itself lumped in, bizarrely, with creation science with which it has virtually nothing in common.

Ross is right to locate conservative anxiety about these questions in the “political and moral implications” of them.  However, this may be where conservatives have been going wrong for a very long time.  If I accept, say, Hitchens’ or Dawkins’ explanation of what the political and moral implications of evolutionary theory (or cosmology or whatever) are, I have already conceded that these implications, which I don’t like at all, must follow from this or that scientific theory.  This leads me to want to question the reliability of that theory and to propose quasi-theories that seem to subvert the authority of that theory, but in the end I have still yielded the crucial ground, which is to accept the hostile materialist’s most tendentious interpretation of the meaning of an empirical observation.  Obviously, by playing their game their way, you are bound to lose.  The simplest way around this, and the one with the most intellectual coherence and integrity, would be to accept the truths of evolutionary biology as the most reasonable understanding thus far of how life changes and develops on this planet, but to categorically refuse to grant that evolutionary biology must somehow jeopardise the truth that man is created or that Scripture is true and the revealed Word of God.  There is actually no good reason why it should, and a proper appreciation for science would teach us the humility about what we can and cannot know. 

Do you think any cool Trade Fair girl would give you the time of day if she knew the pathetic Bible-dancing goody-goody that you are? ~Fred (Chris Eigemann), Barcelona

Quasi-religious people attend services, but they’re bored much of the time. They read the Bible, but find large parts of it odd and irrelevant. They find themselves inextricably bound to their faith, but think some of the people who define it are nuts. ~David Brooks

While reading this, I was reminded of Barcelona and Ted’s “Bible-dancing” (in which he dances to the tune of Pennsylvania 6-5000 while reading the Bible) because late in the film one of the Trade Fair girls (Ted’s future wife) describes herself as quasi-religious.  For his part, Ted has something of a quasi-religious respect for the cult of management.  Cosa de gringos.

Peggy Noonan wrote in her column (which was actually all about Fred Thompson):

While the other candidates bang away earnestly in a frozen format, Thompson continues to sneak up from the creek and steal their underwear–boxers, briefs and temple garments.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the best joke ever told, but it wasn’t terrible.  Hugh Hewitt, pretending that he cares about religious prejudice because he has a pro-Romney book to sell, retorts in faux outrage:

If an orthodox Jew was in the running, would Peggy have added “yarmulke?” Or if a devout Catholic, a mention of a rosary or a scapula? I doubt it.  There are acceptable bigotries and unacceptable bigotries.  Anti-Mormon drive-bys that are good for a laugh play well in some circles –the same circles that used to indulge Catholic and Irish jokes.

Where on the body exactly does Hewitt think yarmulkes are worn?  And it plays well in those sinister Irish joke circles!  Not that!  Yes, I understand that Mormons take these garments very seriously and invest them with real religious significance, which is their business, but if Mormons or their would-be defenders (who are typically much more sensitive about these things than actual Mormons, because they are working overtime to show how enlightened and inclusive they are) want Mormonism to become better known and more widely accepted in American society they could all really do without the humourless whining of Hugh Hewitt.  The main problem that Romney has with his Mormonism, outside of the dedicated anti-Mormons who will never vote for a Mormon, is that he simply refuses to talk about it in any detail.  By trying to overcome prejudice or aversion to what some people see as a ”cult,” he treats it as a very secretive, almost embarrassing subject–in other words, he acts as if he belongs to a cult, and not in a good way.  Instead of seeing Noonan’s column as part of a process of normalising and “mainstreaming” Mormonism as an everyday part of American life, making it into something that pundits can poke fun at the same as any other American religion, Hewitt naturally assumes the worst.  Perhaps this is because he knows that among many conservative voters Romney’s Mormonism is a deal-breaker, so he overreacts to any instance of potential anti-Mormon sentiment in the conservative press because he already knows how dire the situation is for his chosen candidate.   

How could Christ have died for our sins, when supposedly he also did not die at all? Did the Jews not know that murder and adultery were wrong before they received the Ten Commandments, and if they did know, why was this such a wonderful gift? On a more somber note, how can the “argument from design” (that only some kind of “intelligence” could have designed anything as perfect as a human being) be reconciled with the religious practice of female genital mutilation, which posits that women, at least, as nature creates them, are not so perfect after all? Whether sallies like these give pause to the believer is a question I can’t answer. ~Michael Kinsley

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;     
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,     
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will                                    And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

Michael Kinsley can often be interesting (or is that “interesting!”?), but here his credulity undoes him.  No, these points give believers no pause, because they are not serious points.  They are the sorts of points one expects to hear from Jodie Foster’s character in Contact or a fifth grader who thinks he has discovered–for the first time ever–that there are differences between the different Gospels.  It’s a good thing we have folks like Hitchens to pick up on the loose threads, since no Christian has ever thought about any of this, but has gone about in mindless “god-worship.”  Personally, I prefer the phrase “god-worship” to religion, since it makes it very clear what cannot be included as religion.

Are these questions from Hitchens’ book, as related by Kinsley, actually at all interesting?  Are they even accurate statements about the beliefs he purports to destroy in a solvent of Hitchensian ridicule?  Well, no and no.  Leave it to an atheist to not understand the purpose of the covenant, which was not primarily ethical lesson-giving (rather obviously, murder was considered a grave sin from the time of Cain, but why worry yourself over details after having thrown back a few too many drinks?).  The covenant, represented in the giving of the Law, was the establishment of what was to be an eternal bond between God and His People.  The Law was the limit or the boundary set for those who would distinguish themselves as the chosen of God.  That is one point of the Law and the giving of the Law.  The keeping of the Law involves not murdering and not committing adultery, but the far more significant and prioritised Commandments concern the worship of the One God, reverence for His Holy Name and the rejection of idols.  Obviously, the Israelites did need to be told about these things, because they had either never known them or had forgotten them during the sojourn in Egypt.  Try to keep up, Hitchens.

Christ, of course, did die in His humanity, and the reality of His death is a point that the Gospels go to some lengths to insist upon.  Again, it is the paradox of the God-become-man dying that formed one of the great difficulties of Christian theology, but it was not some blind spot that Christians have never noticed.  Christians have come to account for it by stressing that it was in the flesh that Christ suffered and died, but it was nonetheless the Word’s own flesh that suffered and died.  Paradoxically, it can be said by traditional Christians that God died upon the Cross, but it will be said at the same time that God qua God is impassible and immortal.  It’s a complicated idea, and no doubt it causes trouble for Hitchens, but one thing it isn’t is some unaccounted for contradiction.  Hitchens’ objection isn’t new or clever or interesting; it is a sort of inverted Docetism, where he denies the reality of the Incarnation by attacking the divinity of Christ rather than the reality of the flesh.  Are African and Muslim practitioners of female gential mutilation paid-up members of the Discovery Institute?  That would be interesting if it were true, but we all know it isn’t.  When female-genital mutilators begin citing the “argument from design,” then we can start heeding something that Hitchens says.  

Why not argue against real adversaries rather than strawmen?  Why not take on the main challenge, rather than kick around the easy targets of Mormonism and Islam, as he does in the other excerpts available at Slate?  Could it be that the bold and flamboyant Hitchens cannot hack it against real opposition?

I’m curious: have I just not noticed books like this before? Or is it really true that there’s a sudden avalanche of popular books extolling the virtues of atheism? ~Kevin Drum

Drum cites Dawkins, Harris, Stenger and Hitchens as evidence of the “avalanche.”  Do four books constitute an avalanche?  It seems to me that some similar four or five-year period during the 19th century, which Kuehnelt-Leddihn mocked in Moscow 1979 as the true age of atheism, or the height of the Cold War must have produced as much atheistic printed material as the last five years have.  Did the era of rising political communism somehow manage to produce fewer tracts on behalf of atheism in a similar span of time?  In fact, these four books seem to be remarkable for how few of them there are.  If ever there were a time during the last 17 years when religion and belief in God should be enduring great scrutiny and opposition, it would seem that the last six years would be it.  Yet most people in the West, whether secular or religious, have come to one or more of the following three conclusions: 1) violence in the name of any religion has nothing to do with Religion; 2) crimes committed by religious extremists tell us nothing about the truth of any religion (obviously closely related to #1); 3) their religion may be violent and dangerous, but that doesn’t apply to all religions, especially ours; 4) faith is perfectly reasonable, provided that it doesn’t become all-consuming; 5) faith should be all-consuming, but should stand in opposition to violence; 6) every religion would be fine, provided that it was balanced with a little “enlightenment”; 7) this simply proves that our religion is true and theirs isn’t.  Virtually nobody anywhere has come to the conclusion that says, “There, you see, this just affirms my conviction that God is made-up nonsense.”  No doubt the atheist will say, “This is just another example of the foolishness of crowds and the persistent delusions of the ignorant.”  This is what he would have to say, because it can hardly encourage an atheist that the last few years have not seemed to produce a new generation of fellow non-believers.    

It is also remarkable how generally unrepresentative of the contemporary discourse on faith and God they are.  Of course, being representative of the Zeitgeist is not any measure of truth, but it is worth noting that even the skeptics have become much more skeptical of pure skepticism when it comes to matters divine.  Atheists always exude this aura of the poor, few truth-seekers oppressed by the masses of the deluded, because they are not part of any “avalance,” but normally appear on the scene as isolated little flurries that come quickly to an end. 

Are books dedicated to running down religion and theism as irrational the same as books “extolling the virtues of atheism”?  A book that attacks the existence of God, or rather denies the rationality of belief in God, tells you nothing positive about atheism.  It doesn’t have to, and it isn’t trying to tell you anything about atheism.  The atheist thinks, just as the theist thinks, but with less reason, that he is telling you about the ”way things really are.”  An atheist tract is, to the atheist’s mind, like a botanist telling you, “This is what a hydrangea is.”  It assumes that atheism is simply what you would have to end up with if God does not exist.  Atheism offers nothing, but promises that life is pointless.  Not surprising that all this miserable view can manage to produce is four books of any prominence in the span of several years.   

Are these books actually popular?  Yes, Hitchens’ book is currently #3 on Amazon, which shouldn’t be terribly surprising since it just came out last week and has received plenty of press, and Dawkins’ book is still at #25.  The other two are not in the top 100.  What do you want to bet that the same secularists and atheists who bought the books by Dawkins and Harris are also running out to buy Hitchens’ latest? 

Does John Edwards include Jews in his prayers? Or Muslims? Or Hindus?  Or any other non-Christians?

He didn’t the other day. The other day, in order to commemorate those killed at Virginia Tech, Edwards led a prayer “in Christ’s name” at Ryman Auditorium, which bills itself as “Nashville’s  Premier Performance Hall.”

Edwards has a perfect right to pray publicly or privately any way he wants to. But people who are not Christians often feel left out of prayers like his. ~Roger Simon

I have to agree with Yglesias: this Politico item reaches new depths of lameness.  In fact, it has passed far beneath the mere crust of lameness and broken down into the core of absurdity, where it will fortunately be consumed by tons of satirical magma.

John Edwards is a Christian.  It seems to me that the only way that he could pray without being tagged as a pandering, overly ecumenical buffoon would be to pray “in Christ’s name.”  It has to be embarrassing for all involved to hear politicians rattle off the new trinity of inclusiveness: “The strength of America is in our churches, our synagogues and our mosques!”  Presumably a Muslim candidate, were there ever to be such a one, would open his prayer with bismillah arrahman arrahim, or perhaps a translation of the same, because that’s part of how Muslims pray.  Give me a candidate who will not reshape his prayers to fit a focus group any day (even if his decision to give a prayer was apparently done on the advice of a consultant).  Spare me the treacly preaching of a Roger Simon when he asks:

Why not include all religions in your prayers?

Because that’s obviously fake and done for political purposes?  Because virtually no one, in his regular prayers, “includes” all religions in this way?  The reasons could go on. 

Much as I enjoyed the fellowship of the past weekend in Charlottesville, there was a persistent and palpable animosity toward politics and government generally held by many of the participants. For all the talk of community, it was a community bereft of the idea that communities require more than just good feeling, but laws and institutions as well as the willingness on the part of citizens to work publically toward the formation and enactment of the public good and the recognition that such work will result in conflict. There was something of a gauzy sentimentality and even anarchic libertarianism that pervaded the sessions. As much as I admire Wendell Berry, his work does not sufficiently attend to the needs for, and demands of, politics. Indeed, I was struck by the similarity between two camps that otherwise might be thought to be polar opposites - agrarian communitarians and libertarians. Both are wildly optimistic about human nature and the ability of humans to “do their own thing” without the “interference” of politics and government. ~Prof. Patrick Deneen

I heard Prof. Deneen’s talk in Charlottesville, and I was pretty sure there was nothing really troubling in it, but I went back through it again today and made sure.  Since I, anarchopaleo-retroneotradcon populist agrarian Bolingbrokean reactionary that I am, still haven’t found anything all that objectionable in it, and I didn’t notice the “gauzy sentimentality” in the attendees that Prof. Deneen noticed, I assume I am either missing something tremendously important or there has been an unfortunate misunderstanding somewhere.  Yes, there was much talk about Wendell Berry, such that it became the running joke of the conference, but it was not just aimless gushing about the grand old Kentuckian; the references and citations were all, for the most part, part of the defense of rooted, limited and human-scale living. 

The talk itself should have made any neo-Schumpeterian and neo-Schuhmacherian’s heart fill with joy and gladness, and the conference attendees should have reassured everyone that a room could erupt in applause at the mention of Ron Paul’s impending presidential victory and believe in and try to live rooted traditional community life at the same time and that they cheered for Ron Paul because they believed and lived in this way.  (Am I just imposing my own perspective on all the attendees?  I don’t know, but I don’t think so.)  The people who were there despise what the political class calls “politics” because I think they understand that this “politics” has nothing good or positive to do with the immediate political communities to which they belong.  They loathe “government” generally not because they think any and all government is undesirable, but because they believe this kind of government that we have today is significantly and dangerously corrupted.  Prof. Deneen may find in the enthusiasm for Ron Paul an example of precisely the sort of disengagement and lack of realism about politics that he thinks is the problem, but I would suggest that any expression of enthusiasm for a presidential candidate, even an extreme long-shot such as Rep. Paul, demonstrates a strong sense of engagement and perhaps almost undue preoccupation with politics as conventionally defined. 

There is a sense in which D.C. is less of a monstrosity as a city than Las Vegas or Phoenix, engaged in perpetual war with nature as those cities are, but there is also a very real sense in which those places could not thrive without the policies and priorities set in Washington.  Washington is not at war with nature, but it is at war with our America, and so it is not terribly surprising that people who consider themselves patriots regard it with special loathing.  For my part, in my visits to the Georgetown campus and the rest of the metro area, I have found some things to enjoy in the District and its environs, but on the whole I take Kekaumenos’ advice about going to the capital: don’t do it unless you absolutely have to, and leave as quickly as possible.  

Were there libertarians at the conference who had an unfortunately optimistic view of human nature?  Probably.  Did they make up the bulk of the speakers and attendees?  I am doubtful about that.  Are there some romantics who pine for settled communities simply because they like to have things to pine for?  Probably.  But that is not what anyone I met was talking about.  Maybe I didn’t meet enough of the people at the conference.  I would like to suggest, however, that the hostility to politics and government (which I suppose can hardly satisfy a professor of government) that Prof. Deneen encountered there was very far from a desire to live in a world beyond politics.  The ISI folks, as I understand them, view attempts to escape the inevitable realities of politics as fairly insane.  As Chantal Delsol’s book would have it, it is the attempt to eliminate the structures of power (among other things) all together that constitutes one of the grave mistakes of modern Western man.  The existence of power and the existence of disparities of power will be constants in human experience, and so there is the ultimate choice of attempting to constrain and limit the corruption that comes from concentrated power (according to the finest Anglo-American traditions of Bolingbroke, the Country party, the Anti-Federalists, who are the very same people who embody what Prof. Deneen calls the alternative tradition) or acquiescing to various degrees in the monstrosity of the Robinarchy on the grounds that there has to be a government somewhere.  To be against the Robinarchy does not mean that you reject authority or government, much less that you have an optimistic assessment of human nature, but that you would like to see government rightly ordered according to principles of legitimacy, lawfulness and justice. 

Over the past year it has been interesting to see reactions to the conservatism of virtue and place (this seems to be the most succinct name for what we are trying to describe) that has been on display at different points.  When traditional conservatism was advanced during the debates over “crunchy conservatism,” all of the talk of virtue and the criticism of megacorporations immediately aroused the suspicions of the enforcers of acceptable fusionism that some sort of lefty statist coup was in the works.  Citing John Lukacs saying negative things about paving over green fields was taken as proof that we wanted to collectivise the farms, or something like that.  Libertarian terror at the prospect of actually living your life in accordance with nature was palpable.  It was the foes of the traditionalists, paleos and “crunchy cons” who wanted to talk about a “partial philosophy of life” and who advanced the idea that politics somehow stops at the voting booth and the government office.  The anarcho-traditionalists, if we want to call them that, were the ones saying that political life is first and foremost concerned with the affairs of the institutions of your local political community and the needs of your family, and these are what ought to take priority.  They were proposing practicing politics as if the Permanent Things (i.e., virtues, among other things) really existed and actually mattered, and you could see the unmitigated horror this induced in every “mainstream conservative.”  

There was an equally harsh reaction in the other direction when the exact same people begin speaking favourably about “front-porch anarchism” and Wendell Berry and Dorothy Day in a slightly different context.  All of a sudden the same people who were a few months earlier supposedly attempting to regulate every aspect of your daily life with supposedly fascist dreams of transcendence were dangerously oblivious to the need for order and stability!  This would be the “gauzy sentimentality” objection Prof. Deneen voiced earlier.  However, I think I can explain how people keep having this mistaken impression.  

The “front-porch anarchist” folks were talking about ”anarchism” with the understanding that this means a rejection of consolidation, concentration and centralisation, a repudiation of war, the extraction of wealth by the state and the exploitation of the land and the people by corporate masters together with a rejection of the trashy culture, the degradation of the human person and the general ugliness of the age.  It is difficult to discern this at first, because the label anarchist is immediately off-putting to most conservatives (as it should be in its normal meaning of bomb-throwing assassins), but what needs to be understood is that these “front-porch anarchists” are irrevocably opposed to the kind of anarchist who believes that destruction is creative, since they are adamantly opposed to the kind of “creative destruction” that requires the destruction of all they love to create the bland, homogenous, dead world that they hate.  From everything I heard in Prof. Deneen’s talk, it seems to me that he and they are in more or less perfect agreement.  What have I missed that I think this? 


As a boy in Indonesia, Barack Obama crisscrossed the religious divide. At the local primary school, he prayed in thanks to a Catholic saint. In the neighborhood mosque, he bowed to Allah.

Having a personal background in both Christianity and Islam might seem useful for an aspiring U.S. president in an age when Islamic nations and radical groups are key national security and foreign policy issues. But a connection with Islam is untrod territory for presidential politics. ~The Los Angeles Times

As noted at The Plank, the Obama campaign hastily denied any Allah-bowing:

Senator Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim, and is a committed Christian who attends the United Church of Christ. Accounts in the L.A. Times that suggest otherwise are simply not true.

Was the next headline, “Obama Embarrassed By Muslim Ties”?  Somehow I don’t think it was.  Note how nicely the LA Times spun the story and gave it a pro-Obama title.  It wasn’t a story that stressed that he had actually been a Muslim for a short time or grew up as a religiously confused child, both of which could in any case be attributed to his mother’s decisions, but that one that said he had “crisscrossed” a “cultural divide.”  This supposedly shows that he is capable of uniting different religions, different cultures, different anything, because he can be on both sides of the fence at the same time.  He is Mug and Wump and everything in between. 

However, the story did say:

His former Roman Catholic and Muslim teachers, along with two people who were identified by Obama’s grade-school teacher as childhood friends, say Obama was registered by his family as a Muslim at both of the schools he attended.

This could be easy to spin as a case of bureaucratic formality where the step-father had to put down something for registration and picked his own religion as a matter of convenience.  Whether anyone would believe it or not is another question, but these full-throated denials don’t help Obama’s credibility more generally for people who would otherwise not necessarily care about this.  It is clear that Obama is embarrassed by this detail in his past and so eager to move away from anything that might conjure up an idea of foreignness or the phrase “black Muslim.”  As the first example of a presidential candidate’s Muslim ties being publicly revealed, it is hard to know whether this will become the equal and opposite version of the politician’s public embrace of his recently-discovered Jewish heritage.  However, from what can be found in this story Obama really has nothing to fear from his years as “Barry Soetero,” but he may well badly damage his credibility if he keeps strenuously denying that he was ever a Muslim.  To most people, if you prayed in a mosque, saying that you were never a Muslim is a bit like saying, “I smoked, but I didn’t inhale.” 

Actually, the bigger problem Obama might have with this story is the bit that draws attention to his knock on prayer:

In the Catholic school, when it came time to pray, I would close my eyes, then peek around the room. Nothing happened. No angels descended. Just a parched old nun and 30 brown children, muttering words.

Taken out of context, this citation makes it sound as if Obama is something of a great cynic about religion and prayer, as if anyone ever claimed that angels would be visibly descending or that anything should “happen” during class prayers.  That hardly fits with the man who likes to talk up the importance of faith and refers to a “righteous wind at our backs.”  Some people might begin to think that Obama’s religion talk is just a lot of self-righteous wind.

I wish we knew more about the theological differences between the historic American Muslim groups and Sunnis. ~Mollie


But the effort to marginalize, even demonize, Christian conservatives is unworthy of anyone who considers himself a member of the political movement that is trying to preserve the American tradition. ~Steven Warshawsky

Mr. Warshawsky makes many smart points, some of which I’ve touched upon in my numerous posts against skeptical and secular conservatives, and he represents part of what may be the beginning of a backlash against the hyperventilating of members of what Warshawsky calls the “atheist wing” of the movement.  The hyperventilating continues here.  Of course, in terms of total numbers, it is more like an “atheist feather” than a whole wing, but it is a useful designation as any (though it will be greeted with outrage by Sullivan, Vicar of Doubt and Defender of the Quite Possibly Untrue Faith).  Consider these sentences from near the beginning of Christopher Orlet’s piece in the New English Review:

But I, for one, am not so ready to concede that atheism is “against our reason.” Historically I have had the theologians on my side.

But this is absurd.  He hasn’t had “the theologians” on his side, historically or otherwise, since the entire enterprise of theology is the use of reason to make the ways of God known to man.  If believers assumed that reason was somehow naturally inclined to atheism, theology would never have come into existence in any religion.  It is precisely because Christian believers consider our Faith to be the most rational thing and in perfect agreement with the workings of reason that Christians took over and adapted Greek ontology, metaphysics and logic for the purposes of discoursing about the nature and works of God.  Mr. Orlet cherry-picks from Luther at his most anti-intellectual and somehow thinks he has proven his blatantly false claim, while ignoring the other two thousand years of Christian theology and philosophy.  Can the “skeptical” conservatives begin to see why their religious friends do not take their complaints very seriously?

What is one going to do with an article that begins so poorly?  I suppose we must soldier on, if only to get to the more ridiculous bits that come later.  Posing the question to Edmund Burke, whose quote about the innate quality of man’s religiosity opens the article, Mr. Orlet asks:

What then would Burke have made of his spiritual and intellectual heirs who have recently and publicly emerged from the closet of skepticism, and thereby suffered the enmity of the so-called fundies and theocons?

It is hard to say what Burke would have said, since the situation would probably have seemed very strange to him, but he might have said that it is not surprising that people so egregiously ungrateful to their ancestors and disdainful of the religious inheritance these ancestors received, added to and then passed on have been met with less than warm enthusiasm among those who believe that we have obligations to the dead and those not yet born.  This is where the Burkean conservative looks at the atheist and sees an impious fool–impious not really because he rejects God, but rather because he rejects the established customs and centuries-long traditions of his ancestors and thus cuts himself off from the contract binding past, present and future.  He separates himself from the great continuity and wisdom of the tradition, even though, as Kirk said, conservatives believe that the individual is foolish and the species wise. 

From Burke’s mildly religious perspective, he would probably marvel at these people, who are neither oppressed nor actually marginalised by anyone, complaining as if they have all suffered the fate of Giordano Bruno or Mennochio, the hero of Carlo Ginsburg’s cheese book.  Let’s be specific.  Who has “suffered the enmity of the so-called fundies and theocons”?  Mr. Orlet tells us:

We’re talking about a Who’s Who of conservative writers and pundits: Stephen Chapman, Theodore Dalrymple, John Derbyshire, Heather MacDonald, Andrew Stuttaford and James Taranto.

With the exception of James Taranto, who is obnoxious for any number of other reasons, I generally like the writing and work of all of these people.  Several of them have had articles appear in a magazine, The American Conservative, to which I have also contributed, and I am proud that TAC welcomes smart commentary from so many widely varying perspectives.  Thus Ms. Mac Donald and I have both ridiculed Mr. Bush’s vacuous “freedom is God’s gift to humanity” propaganda, but from entirely different perspectives and with somewhat different arguments.  The irony is that she does not seem to care that Mr. Bush may be simply using and exploiting Christians’ beliefs when he drags God into his awful foreign policy decisions.  Nor does she seem concerned that his conception of God is so far removed from that of traditional Christianity as to make the indictment against Mr. Bush irrelevant to her criticism of religious conservatives generally. 

When these writers make smart, well-formed arguments and present copious amounts of evidence to back up their claims, as they often will, they are among the better pundits in mainstream conservatism.  Mac Donald’s work on immigration, Chapman’s columns on civil liberties and Derbyshire’s blasts against Intelligent Design are breaths of fresh air after choking on the miasma of “nation of immigrants” pablum, panegyrics for the unitary executive and muddle-headed enthusiasm for pseudo-science that fill so much conservative commentary today.  Obviously, almost all of them are at prominent conservative or at least vaguely right-leaning journals and newspapers, where they have bigger and more prominent platforms than many a religious conservative, most of whom must be satisfied to eke out a living in the “provinces” of the movement.  It is like people living at the courts in Rome and Constantinople complaining that they lack the tremendous access to power and prestige afforded the monks at St. Sava’s in Palestine.  It is ludicrous, and I am frankly tired of hearing some of them whine about how the mean theocons have made their lives unpleasant.  I should emphasise that it has only been some of these people, as far as I know, who have complained at any great length about the perverse influence of religion on modern conservatism.  What have been the consequences?  Has anyone been fired from his or her position?  Has anyone even attempted to force them into the political or professional wilderness?  The answer to both of these questions is plainly “no.”   

But it should come as no surprise that at least some of these people have earned the enmity of “so-called fundies and theocons”!  For starters, they call their religious allies things like “fundie” and “theocon,” both of which are obviously disparaging terms intended to reduce intelligent positions with which they disagree into easily dismissed caricatures.  (Mr. Orlet has already shown that he prefers to keep his argument superficial and light as well by stating right away that he thinks theism and reason have historically always been at odds.)  Next, some will attack religious conservatives, often with great vehemence, as people who have somehow done terrible violence to the content of conservatism (as if it was religion, and not galloping ideological commitments to militaristic foreign policy and expansion of government, that had distorted or changed conservatism in recent years).  This is always a charged statement to make about any other conservatives, and it had better have something behind more than the fact that the critic is an atheist and doesn’t believe all this God-talk nonsense anyway.  It is unseemly that these skeptics and atheists have suddenly discovered their voice at the very moment when everyone and his brother seems to have a book out blaming Republican political woes and conservative disarray on the role of religious conservatives in the most dishonest campaign of scapegoating I have seen in many years.  It certainly doesn’t help when there seems to be an assumption among at least a few of the “skeptical” conservatives that their position is the natural and obvious one that conservatives ought to take, and that the connection with religion, or more specifically Christianity, is bad for conservatism.  This is not the plea of the persecuted dissident for toleration, but the demand of the ideological cadre for a takeover of the entire operation at the expense (obviously) of the religious-cons whose views they loathe so. 

The only trouble is that the religious-cons are not the wicked establishment that the heroic skeptical rebels are trying to overthrow.  Far from being a great and all-powerful force ruling over the movement, religious-cons are actually much more like the Kansan fellow behind a certain curtain who could put on an impressive show.  Much like religious conservative leaders, who enjoy boasting about their access and their influence far out of proportion to what they actually achieve in policy terms, he was able to convince people who were willing to believe in the display of power that he was much more powerful and mighty than he really was.  The heroic rebels are not so much engaged in a struggle to liberate the conservative mind as they are simply engaged in conservative fratricide as a way of pushing views they dislike even farther out to the margins than they already actually are.  It annoys the skeptical conservatives that many pundits and intellectuals pay lip service to Christianity or religious “values” as things important to the conservative movement, but what they never seem to grasp is that so much of this is nothing more than lip service.  It is weird how anyone could come away from the last six years and think that conservatism had been too much pervaded by the teachings of the Lord!

Mr. Orlet then goes on to say something that is categorically untrue:

This, and MacDonald’s earlier piece for The American Conservative, led to many loud catcalls for her excommunication from the communion of conservative Republicans.

One need only go back through the NRO archives to prove this false.  Many loud catcalls?  From whom?  How many?  How loud?  Mr. Orlet doesn’t say, and no wonder.  The response to her article was so low-volume that you could hear a door hinge squeak.  NR, ever that engine of ideological purges, bent over backwards to appease, flatter and butter-up Ms. Mac Donald.  Every criticism was prefaced by a paragraph of how much the critic liked and admired Ms. Mac Donald, and how she was just the best.  Her, I’m sorry to say, rather commonplace and predictable objections to revealed religion were treated as if they were the utterances of one of the Muses herself.  You see, there are deviationists on important things, such as the Iraq war, and they must be roundly denounced in the strongest possible way (”unpatriotic,” etc.), but those who deny the existence of God are typically sporting folks from the metropole with whom one can laugh about the mad evangelicals over cocktails.  There’s no need to turn your backs on people who reject the Creator, but those who reject the empire are clearly a bunch of lunatics. 

It’s true, most of her interlocutors there and elsewhere disagreed with her claims and her atheism (no surprises there), but far from calling for her “excommunication” many of the participants in the conversation almost seemed anxious to accelerate her on the path to conservative sainthood, so great was their praise of her.  Rather than simply ignoring her, as might be done to those whom conservatives wanted to shun and drive out, all of us from the various conservative factions engaged with her arguments; I found the arguments severely wanting, but there was never really any question in my mind of declaring her persona non grata (as if I were in any position to declare anything of the kind!).  I did question how it was possible to be a conservative while being an atheist, and I think it is a legitimate question, but when even Santayana makes it into The Conservative Mind I am inclined not to harp on the question as much as I could. 

Never has a dissident received a less stinging rebuke and correction than Ms. Mac Donald did at the hands of the First Things and National Review crowd.  This kid glove treatment is striking for what it said about the participants themselves and their perceptions of what was at stake in responding to Mac Donald: while some of her respondents are religious people, they seem to have endorsed the idea that numerous conservative pundits and intellectuals are not and they concluded that they risked alienating large numbers of these folks if they savaged Mac Donald in the way that they would denounce and belittle traditional conservatives talking about agrarianism or antiwar conservatives.  For them, Mac Donald represented a large number of their current allies, while other dissidents from consensus positions within the movement about, say, corporations or interventionism were of no consequence and could be run off without a second thought.  Going against God, or tolerating those who did, was easy; going against corporations or the foreign policy establishment would have required real conviction. 

While I opened up, figuratively speaking, with both barrels against Ms. Mac Donald’s spurious claims about the nature of modern conservatism (in which there is, she says, a “crippling” reliance on religion) and also against her atheism, I do not recall urging her anathematisation.  Indeed, if pressed I suspect Mr. Orlet will have a hard time coming up with even a handful of catcalls, loud or otherwise, calling for Ms. Mac Donald to be expelled from “respectable” (or even marginal) conservative company.  She is in no danger of any expulsion, because, as she herself has said, probably half of the pundits covertly share her views, thus proving that the core of her complaint about conservatism (i.e., it is too religious) is unfortunately based on the most superficial analysis of a few rhetorical and symbolic nods to religious voters.  The martyrology of Heather Mac Donald will have to wait for another day.

Mr. Orlet says in his closing remarks: “Conservatives have, in a sense, made a deal with the diety [sic]…”  But we know this to also be untrue, since Mike Huckabee has been languishing in the polls for weeks.

“That a person like (Bush), with the persecution of our migrant brothers in the United States, with the wars he has provoked, is going to walk in our sacred lands, is an offense for the Mayan people and their culture,” Juan Tiney, the director of a Mayan nongovernmental organization with close ties to Mayan religious and political leaders, said Thursday. ~AP

The “persecution of our migrant brothers”?  Clearly, these folks don’t know who they’re dealing with.  If only they knew just how non-persecutorial Dobleve is, they might reconsider their ritual cleansing and give him a hero’s welcome instead.  There are still the wars, I suppose, so maybe they could purify the land of just those war-related ”bad spirits” and be done with it. 

However, in spite of this, I believe that Mr. Bush might be able to find some common ground with the Mayan priests.  It is said of classical Mayan religion:

The life-cycle of maize lies at the heart of Maya belief. This philosophy is demonstrated on the Maya belief in the Maize God as a central religious figure. The Maya bodily ideal is also based on the form of the young Maize God, which is demonstrated in their artwork. The Maize God was also a model of courtly life for the Classical Maya.

If this holds true today, Mr. Bush could make an appeal to Mayan traditionalism by promoting ethanol, as he has been doing all over Latin America.  Sam Brownback really needs to get on the ball with his fight for Mayan rights.  As this would suggest, it would be the perfect marriage of his ethanol pandering and his bleeding-heart need to meddle in the affairs of other countries.

Dave Weigel (via Matt Yglesias) on the video of “awkward fanboy” Romney and Ann Coulter prior to Coulter’s failed joke:

The most interesting exchange is Coulter’s defense of Romney’s Mormonism (most probably how the media covers Romney’s Mormonism).

COULTER: No, they don’t understand! We hate liberal atheists! You can’t get these sectarian wars going with us. We’re all Christians.

ROMNEY: We’re not Sunni and Shia here!

Iraq civil war humor - slays ‘em every time. But seriously, this is evidence that Coulter doesn’t actually go to church. I’ve been to Baptist Bible studies where the question of whether Catholicism is a cult was heatedly debated. Romney may be doing a good job of papering over his differences with evangelical Protestants, but the differences exist.

I don’t know which is more amusing: that one of the few famous right-wing pundits to endorse Mormonism’s claims to being Christian is Ann Coulter (which pretty much proves those claims false right there if nothing else does) or that Ann Coulter has effectively affirmed here that she must approve of all theists anyway (which tends to render moot her whole “we’ll convert you to Christianity” shtick), since it is apparently only “liberal atheists” that “we” hate.  There is something grimly ironic about sectarianism jokes from the sort of people who wouldn’t have known or cared about the differences between different sects in Islam four years ago.  With the invasion they backed having stoked and even more sharply politicised those sectarian rivalries than they already were and turned them into the source of widespread violence, it is now a throwaway line to laugh about the supposedly enduring hatreds of two groups that this war has encouraged and inflamed. 

This is not unlike when ham-fisted internationalists were meddling in the early break-up of Yugoslavia, which precipitated open war between the constituent republics of Yugoslavia and then, through foreign recognition, turned that internal war into an international one.  Their own meddling, which helped reopen the old wounds and politicise the ethnic and religious identities of the peoples in the region, then gave way to scenes of exasperated Americans and western Europeans puzzling over the supposedly “ancient” and “centuries-old” rivalries between the different groups.  Having thrown fuel on the fire of relatively recent resentments from their own century, about which they knew nothing and cared even less, these buffoons then pretend that the entire conflict is some timeless, inscrutable blood-feud that cannot be understood by “rational” and “enlightened” people such as they are.  This allows them to pose as the superior, benevolent outsiders who have come to make the squabbling child races stop their petty bickering–but, remember, it is the people who acknowledge and take seriously the reality of ethnic and religious difference that are the ones denigrating the humanity of other peoples!    

There is something else worth noting.  Prior to the invasion and during the early years of the war, paying attention to those sorts of different identities would mean that you think other peoples privilege “tribe or religion or whatever” over sweet freedom (the public assertion of which is obviously “racist,” and we have that on good authority).  If these loyalties supposedly weren’t important for Iraqis in 2003 and afterwards, because that would evidently be a mark of some kind of backwardness (rather than being, oh, the normal experience of humanity), it is no wonder that Republican elite figures have no clue that the same kinds of religious and cultural identities make relatively quite strong claims on Americans (albeit not as strong as in many other parts of the world).  This tells you something about the superficiality of the religious identities they publicly hold if they literally cannot imagine how confessional or religious differences might cause tensions or political opposition.  In this they are as blind as they were when calling for the invasion of Iraq on the assumption that the “Iraqi people” would all join together in the work of rebuilding the country together.  On the other hand, to the extent that they might be able to acknowledge that such religious identities are tremendously powerful in this country, they would almost certainly view people committed to such identities as regressive or dangerous.  One gets no sense from this little exchange that these people use their respective religions as anything more than a flag with which they can rally seriously religious people to their side, while they meanwhile snicker and laugh about potent religious identities in private.  That is in its way far more damning of both Romney and Coulter than anything else they have said in the past, because it makes their public pose as some sort of Christian or religious conservative vanguard to be little more than a pose. 

And so I think people’s faith in the United States is their, certainly, you know, what it is. Each person has the right to choose whatever faith they want and it’s a very important part of our country. ~Laura Bush

And they say that she’s the one with the firm grasp on the English language?  Imagine the conversations these people must have.

The Romneyites and everybody else seem to be terribly annoyed with the Associated Press for running a story about Romney’s ancestors.  When the same evil media run stories on Barack Obama that talk up the fact that he is the “son of a Kenyan goat-herder,” no one assumes that they are hit pieces or attempts to destroy him, even though one might think that referring to someone as the “son of a goat-herder” could hardly be considered complimentary.  Instead, people assume that this is what journalists call “reporting.”  But there is nonetheless a lot of whining about how this is part of the nefarious media conspiracy to get the ”conservative” candidate (the language of the article is appaarently “ominous”!), and other moaning about how this is unfair coverage (”disgraceful hit piece”).  Here’s Philip Klein:

But to cite a sermon given by his great-great-grandfather almost a century before he was born in a desperate effort to associate him with the stereotypes people have of his religion, is really a new low for the media.  

But it isn’t a “desperate attempt to associate him with the stereotypes people have of his religion.”  First of all, it doesn’t associate him with those stereotypes.  It plainly states that he, Mitt Romney, has nothing to do with polygamy except through the most distant genealogical connections.  The story does yeoman’s work in exploding those stereotypes and showing them to be a thing of the past as far as the LDS church is concerned.

If I were Mitt Romney, I would be thrilled.  I’m absolutely serious.  Maybe it’s because I don’t like Romney the candidate and I have my strong reservations about a Mormon presidential candidate that I seem to be the only one to see this, but I think this story is great for Romney.  The less Romney says about the specifics and history of his religion, the more he reinforces misunderstandings and prejudices in the public.  Suspicious people begin to think, “He doesn’t want to talk about it because there is something embarrassing or scandalous about his religion–he has something to hide!”  Except that he doesn’t really have anything to hide, but he is acting as if he does.  Rather than proudly talking about it and displaying it as part of the “lustre of our country,” he treats it as if it were something that could damage him.  Maybe he is right to not want to talk about it, since I think opposition to a Mormon candidate goes deeper than misunderstanding (the people most fervently against a Mormon candidate believe they understand Mormonism only too well), but if he is to have any chance of overcoming the tremendous obstacles in front of him he would be better served to say a lot more about it. 

Part of the reason many people are wary of a Mormon candidate is that Mormonism is strange and unfamiliar to them, and every story that makes it seem less strange and more normal the better it will be for Mormon candidates nationally.  It may be that some people know plenty about Mormon doctrines and find them simply unacceptable in a candidate, and these people he will be unable to persuade in any case, but quite a few people probably know next to nothing about Mormonism.  The AP is showing the public that whatever may have happened in the past remains firmly in the past.  This may have the effect of improving Romney’s standing with many voters, in which case Romney critics like me should be the ones complaining about the AP’s obvious pro-Romney bias.  Of course, it would be silly to complain about that, just as it is silly to complain about the conspiracy to take down Mitt Romney.     

If Romney were as smart as his supporters think he is, he would make a big deal about this change in Mormon practice and he would turn it to his advantage.  How could he do that?  By using this family history to reinforce his own understanding of the importance of traditional monogamy for society.  He could say, “As someone whose family members experienced the suffering that other kinds of unions inflict, I am convinced that the best and only marital bond is a lifelong monogamous union between man and wife.”  This has the potential to offend some Mormons, who could see it as an attack on their church’s early leaders, but the upside for Romney here wikth other voters is tremendous.  He could make arguments that monogamy is better for women than polygamy, and use that as a springboard for arguments that various alternatives to traditional monogamy are worse for women than marriage.  He could potentially gain tremendous credit as a cultural conservative in this way (or he would if he were not a monumental fraud of a conservative).  Since it is often an argument against same-sex “marriage” that recognising such unions legally would pave the way for other kinds of “marriage,” such as polygamy, Romney could take this connection up and argue very forcefully that his background as a Mormon gives him special insight into understanding why anything other than the monogamous union of man and woman is wrong.  As the ultimate venture capital turnaround artist, he could take the tremendous political liability of his Mormonism and turn it into something of an asset.  Instead, he chooses to say nothing and play the “separation of church and state” card, which goes over like a lead balloon with his target audience.    

Journalists, doing their jobs as reporters of facts, are explaining things about present-day Mormonism, which is explicitly contrasted with past practices, that many people in this country apparently do not know.  The article gives a quick synopsis of the history of polygamy in Mormonism, which makes it clear that it is no longer accepted.  The story also states quite clearly that for three generations Romney’s family has had nothing to do with the practice.  Anyone who was skeptical of or hostile to Romney because of the false understanding that polygamy remains a modern LDS practice will come away realising that he was terribly wrong and ignorant.  This can only help Romney’s candidacy with poorly informed voters who don’t know very much about Mormonism.  

How does the AP story begin?  Like this:

While Mitt Romney condemns polygamy and its prior practice by his Mormon church [bold mine-DL], the Republican presidential candidate’s great-grandfather had five wives and at least one of his great-great grandfathers had 12. 

This is at least as interesting as the ”Thurmond’s ancestors owned Sharpton’s ancestors” story.  It’s a little weird, yes, but it’s part of the story of American history, and it makes for interesting reading.  This knocks down a prevailing misconception that the LDS church continues to allow and/or mandate polygamy and makes clear that Romney rejects the practice in the first sentence.  The nefarious media conspiracy will have to do a lot better at burying this lede if they want to destroy Romney’s candidacy.  (Of course, if the media wanted to destroy Romney’s candidacy, they need only to ignore him, since publicity is his best ally right now.)

The AP is doing the educating about Mormonism that he cannot afford to do while also running a presidential campaign.  He can apparently not be bothered to do it, and finds it annoying to have to talk about his religion at all.  The story manages to do several things: talk about something interesting and unusual (Romney’s polygamous ancestors) while clearly saying that Romney has nothing to do with his ancestor’s practices or beliefs in this area.  It is like putting up a big, blinking sign that says, “Romney’s own Mormonism isn’t nearly as strange as some of you people probably think it is!”  Romney should send the authors of the piece a fruit basket or something of that sort as a gesture of his appreciation.

I must be doing something right.  One of Andrew Sullivan’s readers has declared one of my recent posts, to which Sullivan linked, to be “conservative humbug.”  Unfortunately, in his haste to declare my view humbug he seems to have read in that post a claim that I did not make and don’t actually believe.  The Sullivan reader writes:

I find it difficult to stomach this kind of conservative humbug, that Modernity is anti-spiritual. Western society is the mechanism that allows groups like the Pentacostalists (and cosmos-loving atheists, and Wiccans, Buddhists, et al.) to exist. It is the ground in which they survive. What seems to irritate some conservatives is the fact that they cannot impose their will upon all of society and poison the soil which succors them. If anything, and the USA is the exemplar of this, modern Western society is besotted with spirituality. 

You cannot drive down a street in the greater Los Angeles area, a zone of the country supposedly noted for its secular ways, without encountering churches, synagogues, mosques, reading rooms, meditation centers, Scientology storefronts and other physical manifestations of the “higher” realms. Spiritual desert, bah! It’s an earthly garden of a thousand blooms.

I have had many things to say against modernity and even more against those who think there is virtue in modernism in most areas of life, but one thing I have not said and do not really hold is that “Modernity is anti-spiritual.”  Modernity is anti-traditional and possibly is inherently anti-Orthodox, but it is certainly not anti-spiritual.  I also don’t think I ever used the phrase “spiritual desert,” nor did I imply the existence of such a desert.  There is a spiritual desert in this country, but it is assuredly broken up by numerous oases.  As spiritual deserts go, it is much better than many.  Still, I defy someone to find anything remotely related to such claims in the post in question.  

What did I say?  I referred on numerous occasions to immorality and cultural decadence or, in one place, to “rampant immorality” and in another to “trashy popular culture.”  Perhaps the reader will be able to persuade me that Los Angeles (or any other major metro area) does not have more than its fair share of all these things, but I doubt it.  Perhaps the reader will disagree with what traditional Christianity would deem to be immoral, but that is an entirely different question.  What did I want to see as the remedies?  “Moral renewal” and “cultural regeneration” were my exact words.  Of course, those phrases call forth a number of questions (whose culture? what morality?), but since I took it as a given that my readers would understand that I meant the regeneration of a traditional Christian culture and a renewal of traditional Christian morality I did not go into greater detail about what I meant. 

Modernisation does not automatically equal secularisation and “de-spiritualisation” as such.  Islamic revivalist movements of the last three hundred years, Christian fundamentalist movements of at least the last one hundred years or so, Tenri-kyo and Soka Gakkai originating in 19th century Japan, the enthusiasts for Hindutva in India, Mormonism, and the ”progressive” Christianities of liberation theology and feminist theology, to take a few well-known examples, are all products of the modern age and are themselves modern.  “Modernity” is not all of one thing or all of another, but refers broadly to a mentality of self-determination and an orientation towards the self, and it also refers to a culture in which religious and political authorities have been stripped of their traditional claims to deference and obedience.  This is certainly not an exhaustive definition of an extremely complex subject.  Many modern religious movements, even those that stress quite seriously their fidelity to religious tradition, are based on the fairly anti-traditional assumption that it is acceptable to redefine, reorganise or refound a religious traditon.  In modern cultures, change and innovation often possess a predominantly positive meaning, such that even traditionalists and fundamentalists find themselves using the language of newness, dynamism, and choice, much to the annoyance of people like me.   

Obviously, critics of pluralism and ecumenism have no doubt that the modern world is beset by a rather staggering number of religious and other beliefs.  Some of these critics regard this great number of beliefs as the evidence of the inherent undesirability of pluralism, while others are content to stake their own claims in a pluralistic society.  Since I actually tend to lean towards the latter, one will be hard-pressed to find in me much of an enemy of the wide variety of religious expression in this country.  As an Orthodox Christian, I do not regard the claims of these other religions as true claims, and I think it is a crucial part of religious discourse in this country to state these oppositions and contradictions as flatly and plainly as possible.  Ecumenism offends me, for example, to the extent that it declares doctrine to be irrelevant to the proceedings and sees inherited truths as barriers to union to be removed rather than serious obligations that must be paid the proper respect.  Today being the Sunday of Orthodoxy, it is rather fitting that there is an opportunity to note the freedom afforded to the Orthodox in this country to gather for services today for the  reading of the Synodikon to remember and re-enact the condemnations of many old heresies (Demetrios of Lampe, this means you!), and to acknowledge that it is far better that the Orthodox are free to do this in a country that is overwhelmingly non-Orthodox.       

Intellectually sloppy models, in which we ignore truth and privilege some supposed underlying unity of all religious beliefs (as Romney would very much like to do), do seem to appear in the modern age with far greater frequency than in previous periods in human history.  This is not because these fundamentally ecumenist models are any more compelling than they have been in the past, but because it was not until the Enlightenment’s attempted emptying of religious doctrines of their claims to being the embodiment of absolute truths that it was even conceivable that vying religious truth-claims could be reduced to the category of opinion.  To the extent that religious doctrine and traditional religion in the modern age truly have been devalued and marginalised in social, political and cultural life, the mentality and culture of modernity are hostile to traditional religion and are very supportive of every wind of doctrine and vague “spirituality” that might work to undermine the role and the claims of our civilisation’s religion.  Modernity anti-spiritual?  Far from it.  It is all together too spiritual, like the ages of the Gnostics and Neoplatonists, and not grounded enough in an incarnate Faith.    

It’s true that the polls mean Romney’s religion is a legitimate news angle for political and religion reporters, but I think there might be something to Kurtz’s criticism. Sure, Romney faces some hurdles because of his religion. But at this point in the race, most of those polls are meaningless — imagine what a similar poll would have indicated about John Kennedy’s prospects in 1959. ~Mollie, GetReligion

But this is quite wrong.  Not only do we have reason to believe that the poll cited here is underreporting the level of anti-Mormonism among likely voters, but speculation has been focused heavily on whether Romney could somehow even manage to win the nomination of his own party because opposition to a Mormon candidate is so intense among evangelicals (Rasmussen claims 53% against).  In 1959, no one doubted that a Catholic could theoretically win the Democratic nomination, since ethnic Catholics made up a significant part of the party, they controlled party machinery in some states, and Al Smith had previously won the nomination (before going down to rather ignominious defeat in the general).  What fires the media coverage of Romney’s Mormonism (besides the relative novelty, unfamiliarity and potential for conflict, plus the “religion divides Republicans” angle) is the evidence that key voting blocs in his own party apparently cannot stand the idea of someone from his religion as President. 

Some hurdles?  Yes, I suppose Romney faces “some hurdles,” in the same way that Barack Obama has received “a little bit” of favourable media coverage.

It goes without saying that this argument can and should be, I think, at least partially contested on every point: it is not necessarily obvious either exactly how America’s culture and society fits into Western civilization’s historical Christian identity or how affirming that identity will strengthen us; a presidential election is far from a plebiscitary affirmation (and would Daniel even want it to be?); and the Mormon teachings on “the apostasy” are a good deal more nuanced and in flux then might at first appear, anyway. ~Prof. Fox

Prof. Fox is a long-time reader of and friend to Eunomia, and I appreciate his thoughtful engagement with my post on anti-Mormonism, especially when that post may have been more than a little irritating to him and any other LDS readers I may have.  First, an explanation about that post.  The article I was responding to seemed to say: ”You either object to Mormon candidates out of the democratic identitarian belief that your candidate should be like you in most or all respects, or you are a bigot.”  This implies that, unless you take the “Christian majoritarian” or identitarian approach, you oppose a Mormon candidate because you actually hate Mormons.  I believe this to be profoundly untrue for the vast majority of Christians who are averse to voting for a Mormon candidate, since I find it difficult to believe that many people could work themselves up into a hatred for Mormons (who are, as a general rule, the most unhateable people you are ever likely to meet), and so I wanted to explain just what it is about a Mormon candidate that concerns me rather than my usual shtick of explaining others’ reservations.  Perhaps few will find my reasons convincing, but it seemed important to insist that there were a number of other arguments, some of them that I think are fairly reasonable, that went beyond the two options, “I prefer Christians” or “I despise Mormons.” 

We live in a mass democracy.  This is the unfortunate reality.  I wish that it were not so, and that we had something much more like the Old Republic in which the mixed constitution of our ancestors provided slightly greater balance and sanity.  A country this large should not be selecting its government this way, or rather there should be no central government for an entire country this large; it is doubtful that any polity can be this long without sinking into demagogic despotism (and some of us would say that it already has).  But for the present, a working alternative is not on offer. 

In this mass democracy, we make the election of Presidents into plebiscitary endorsements of what a certain candidate represents or at least what he claims to represent.  The Electoral College, while still legally binding, slavishly follows the mass of voters in each state.  Our debased, televised political culture makes the selection of a President absolutely into a plebiscite on the two charged symbols of the major candidates.  Part of the flaw of mass democracy in a large nation-state of semi-literate, largely historically ignorant people with no interest in civic duties is that most voters will respond to candidates viscerally and emotionally, which inevitably makes the candidates into symbols to which voters ascribe meaning.  I am, if you like, acknowledging this sorry state of affairs, of which I don’t really approve, and then arguing over what kind of symbols we should be endorsing given that our political system is a hulking mess.    

Our method of choosing chief executives undoubtedly invests presidential candidates with far too much importance (just watch as all of us, myself included, get terribly involved in tracking the peregrinations of a dozen mediocrities you would not entrust with the most basic responsibilities of the neighbourhood watch or street cleaning to get a sense of how inappropriate our fixation on these candidates is).  That does not change the reality that Americans will continue to invest such candidates with this excessive importance and will continue to attribute meaning to the victory of one or the other.  Since this is the reality, and since we should strive to work in the real world, much as we may find many of its traits obnoxious and distressing, we ought to make the best of it. 

In this case, it is something of a moot point whether or not I think the election of a Mormon President represents a vote of “no confidence” in Christian civilisation or, if you prefer, a vote that endorses the practical irrelevance of Christianity in this country, since no such President will be elected in the foreseeable future, but it seems to me to be an objection worth raising.  I will continue.

Obviously, this kind of symbolic plebiscite is an inexact and often error-riddled process in which evangelicals could confidently rally behind a man like Mr. Bush, who could talk a good game about his faith and had a life story familiar to many who have had dramatic conversion experiences, even though the man was culturally, politically and socially alien to their world and worldview.  Even though he had virtually no intention of doing anything for the causes to which they were devoted, these voters have loyally stuck by the man in no small part because he is “one of them,” which has helped Mr. Bush get away with all sorts of un-Christian mischief.  (Most of this mischief overseas, I would note, is something Gov. Romney endorses and wants to see more of, so this is hardly helping his claims to be a defender of moral “values.”)  So voting on the basis of such questions of identity is often not the smartest kind of voting with respect to getting the policies that this or that group of voters claims to want, but then it is precisely because of the secondary importance of policy in making these decisions that we wind up with identitarian voting in the first place.  Thus, Christian voters can be satisfied with extremely superficial similarities and overlook the deeper divergences of belief and even “values” that lie beneath the surface; they can empower bad representatives and base their selection on a candidate’s claims to share their faith and values.  However, this appears to be an inevitable characteristic of our mass democracy so long as a significant number of Americans remains fairly religious. 

It is worth noting that this superficiality problem is also precisely the problem with Romney and his appeal to “shared values.”  In the same breath he tells us, “My faith teaches me my values, but let’s not get hung up on any of the details of what that faith is, because my particular religion is actually irrelevant to the question.”  Frankly, if Romney were truly confident that his religion was really fundamentally in agreement with Christianity on the essentials of these “values,” he would not have to engage in this double game.  Like many a “values” dodge, be it the “Judeo-Christian” or “family” variety, the appeal to “shared values” presupposes that, for instance, people coming from a significantly different religious cultures and backgrounds will actually be able to acquire the same “values” that are nonetheless tied into and linked to a specifically religious source.  This makes them eminently flexible and changeable while also retaining the sheen of immutable truth–but this is also obviously nonsense.  It is first of all this assumption that differences of religious culture are irrelevant to the shaping of political and cultural “values” that seems quite questionable.  If your religious culture and my religious culture appear to wind up producing the same generic “values,” the odds are that we haven’t come to agreement about these “values” because our religions are terribly similar (except in Romney’s lowest common denominator way) but because we have come to these “values” by another route and have convinced ourselves that our respective religions endorse these probably thoroughly secular “values.” 

This usually involves a lot of backtracing of basically secular political ideas back to some putative or real religious source, which can somehow be done by people of any number of religious backgrounds, or it involves the attempt to pare back doctrine and worship to get to the bare bones of “values,” usually meaning morality.  Yet you would be hard-pressed to find conservative-minded moral theologians who actually think that you can somehow abstract moral reasoning from within a religious tradition to get the “value” nuggets that you can then present to people from outside that tradition as generic and obviously desirable “values” on which everyone can agree.  Even the claim that there is a natural law accessible to the reasoning of every person comes from within a religious tradition and hinges on any number of potentially contestable assumptions about the nature of reason and its relationship to revelation that remain unspoken or out of view.  This is not a scandal for people who recognise the tradition-boundedness of all things, particularly all religious things, but it makes it difficult to believe that people from what are basically radically distinct religious traditions even use the same language and references when they discuss moral or other questions.  In many cases, they do not.  That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t try to discuss them and even seek those areas where they may be in agreement, but it does mean that you cannot take for granted that people of various religious traditions all mean the same things when they speak in terms of generic “values.” 

The “people of faith”/”person of faith” dodge signals to someone like me that the ”values” under discussion are so nebulous as to be almost indiscernible.  Take “marriage,” for instance.  All kinds of people are “for” it in the abstract, which is fine, but we would be kidding ourselves if we claimed that different religions all value and understand marriage in the same way–that would require us to believe as well that they all understood the roles of men and women, among other things, in essentially the same way.  It may be that some religions do have appreciably similar understandings of certain things, but that is a claim that has to be demonstrated.  The appeal to “shared values” takes it as a given that no demonstration is necessary.  In this view, what you mean by morality in your tradition is automatically what I mean by it in mine, but this isn’t true and, I would have to insist, can’t be true if either the teachings of your religion or mine have any significance and importance in the real world.  Whatever we think of the other fellow’s religion, we would have to acknowledge that the teachings of our religion are meaningful and important for how we conduct ourselves–otherwise, what are we doing in this religion? 

Presumably it is precisely the conservatives in each religion who are most confident that their doctrines and forms of worship are not mere frippery or there for the sake of elaborate decoration, but rather they assume that these things are at the heart of their religion and form the basis of their understanding of everything else pertaining to the religion.  If, in the Orthodox context, for example, Orthodox doctrine and mystical theology pervade the liturgy, and liturgical action forms a key component of ethical action and if sacramental life and prayer are inextricable from the life of the virtues, it is impossible to conceive of talking about moral “values” as some sort of category that is anything but integrally linked to the teachings of the Church.  Put bluntly, when I speak of justice as an Orthodox Christian, I am also indirectly confessing the Holy Trinity as the model of perfect interrelationship of persons.  Someone’s doctrine of God is pertinent to how he, as a religious person, engages in moral reasoning and it is relevant to his understanding of reason itself, as Pope Benedict’s inclusion of Manuel II’s provocative quote in his Regensburg address suggested.  If you do not have the same doctrine of God, let’s say, or do not have the same understanding of the Word Incarnate and His relationship to the Godhead, that will affect what you have to say about other matters.  Conservatives have tended to shun theological reflection, which I regard as one of the great failures of modern conservatism, since this effectively cuts conservatives off from the living water that nurtures their entire intellectual and cultural history or its forces them to turn back to this source of cultural renewal only sparingly in the most sporadic and arbitrary ways.  Yet it seems to me that it is only through a thorough reacquaintance with that theological inheritance that conservatives can once again make coherent arguments about the nature of society, human nature and political life that are not utterly dependent on false liberal assumptions.  As a matter of cultural renewal, it also seems unlikely that any enduring Christian culture can be built up in the modern wasteland without drawing on the deep wells of patristic wisdom that we have at our disposal.  To the extent that Christian conservatives are willing to chase after a superficially appealing non-Christian candidate out of nothing more than a mix of desperation and media hype, when that candidate is cut off from those sources and the tradition they represent, they commit themselves and this country to a path that is ultimately fruitless if the building up of a Christian culture is actually what Christian conservatives desire.   

Going back again to Romney, he says that he is not a spokesman for his church, but as a public figure and someone trying to put on the mantle of religious conservative leader, that is exactly what he is trying to be, because he wants to get the credit for being a faithful member of his church without accepting any of the potential political ramifications of that membership.  He wants to say that his faith and values are integrally linked, but not so integrally linked that anyone needs to consider what his faith is.  Having wheeled his faith into view, he tells us we cannot look at it and that he is not speaking on behalf of his religion, when the core of his credibility, such as it is, as a man of good “values” is his religious faith.  He just wants to avoid the inevitable complications that bringing his religion into public discourse has, while reaping the benefits of being a “person of faith.”  Since a great many Christians take it for granted that Mormons are not Christians, how he links his faith and “values” becomes a pressing question that goes to heart of the entire matter.        

All of this ought to be troubling to Christian conservatives, especially when they take it for granted (or at least I think they do) that the origins and underpinnings of their civilisation and the roots of American order are closely bound up with our Christian inheritance and are inexplicable without constantly referring back to that inheritance.  This sometimes leads to pious absurdities where modern Christians bend over backwards to show that the fairly conventional religiosity of many of the Founding generation “proves” the Christian foundations of our polity, that is, the confederation of the United States, when this is a quite distinct and very different sort of claim from the claim of being a Christian people in culture, history and habits.  Related to this assumption, then, would be an unwillingness to speak of “Western civilization’s historical Christian identity” and a desire to speak of Christian civilisation instead. 

Prof. Fox is right to point to Mark Davis’ telling remark that “a candidate’s faith is of no consequence…unless it harbors the possibility of guiding his or her actions in a way I would disapprove of.”  Even though I read things like this all the time in articles on this topic, I confess that I cannot quite understand such a statement.  What can it mean to say that a candidate’s faith is “of no consequence”?  At some level, if a candidate’s faith compels him to worship a radically different deity, surely that is consequential.  How you understand and relate to God has a great deal to do with how you treat and relate to your fellow man; a distorted image of God will lead to flaws in your relationships with others.  Mr. Davis’ statement is so all-encompassing that one might reasonably think that his disapproval might extend to actions including the worship of a radically different deity, but we can tell from the context of his article that he has absolutely no interest in such things.  This statement is a roundabout way of saying, “I wouldn’t trust a potential jihadi, but a Mormon is pretty harmless.”  Nonetheless, it is a remarkable statement for the extremely low opinion of faith it expresses.  In this, I assume that Mr. Davis is highly unrepresentative of conservative voters. 

Given the enthusiasm of plenty of movement activists for Romney, we can already see that some of these folks prefer chasing after the superficially satisfying “values” candidate rather than looking for someone representative of the broad Christian tradition.  Whether or not many Christian conservative voters will be willing to make that same leap will tell us a great deal about just what it is these voters are interested in building.          

As a candidate, he can appear slightly overproduced, a little too smooth for the hurly-burly of the hustings. Lately, Romney has been courting the evangelical vote, key to winning Republican primaries. He knows that some evangelicals regard his religion, Mormonism, as heresy (according to the National Journal, more than a quarter of self-identified evangelicals tell pollsters that they won’t vote for a Mormon). So last week, at a lackluster rally in the Bible belt of South Carolina where maybe 300 people half-filled an auditorium, Romney was trying, a bit unctuously, to show his down-home piety. As the crowd trickled out, Romney, his voice still at full decibel from his stump speech, grabbed the hand of state Rep. Bob Leach, a Baptist. “This man,” proclaimed Romney, “his prayers bring down the power of the Lord!” ~Jonathan Darman and Evan Thomas, Newsweek

Bob Leach must offer up some pretty impressive prayers.  So here’s a good example of what’s wrong with Romney.  He doesn’t just pander.  He panders really badly.  This is the religious version of “some of my best friends are…”  The thing is that you don’t get to play the diversity card when some old guy heckles you in Florida for being a “pretender” and then turn around and talk about how your political ally calls down the power of the Lord.  You don’t get to gin up the crowd with that old-time religion and in the same breath say, “We are blessed to have many persuasions and faiths in our great land!”  Something’s got to give. 

The Mormons, critics say, are secretive and strange, and they are controlling more and more of your world. ~Stephen Stromberg

As the blogosphere’s foremost critic of Romney (or something close to it) and as someone who has thought about the “Mormon issue” more than is probably necessary or reasonable, I can confidently say that this is complete nonsense.  Not once in any of the criticisms of Romney’s Mormonism have I ever read anywhere that people are wary of Romney’s Mormonism because of LDS expansion and property holdings.  Weisberg thinks Mormons are unusually gullible, and no one really cares what he thinks; Linker uses elaborate webs of logic to conclude that Mormon theocracy is just around the corner, but no one acquainted with any actual Mormons believes this.  For that matter, probably very few people are agreeing with anything I have to say about the subject.  But the most vocal critics are not saying what Mr. Stromberg claims we are saying.  

For people to know that the LDS church is expanding or acquiring more properties, they would have to know something about Mormonism.  For people to know that there is no clergy in the LDS church would require people to know certain details about that church, which I bet most people don’t know.  I wager most people know next to nothing about Mormonism, except for the condensed version of Mormon history as revealed to them by South Park and other such edifying vehicles of public education (”Joseph Smith was a prophet, dum-dum-dum-dum!”)–therein lies Mormonism’s biggest problem with the American public.  It is not an obstacle that can be overcome in a presidential campaign, as I feel compelled to repeat yet again, especially when the candidate is making no effort to address the issue at all. 

But Mormonism isn’t Scientology–critics and observers don’t think that the religion is a gigantic racket for making money and controlling other people’s wealth or some enormous con aimed at dominating more and more of society.  That is what Scientology is, but that’s a subject for another day.  The critics of Mormonism view it with skepticism on religious grounds or for one of the many other reasons outlined here, but “critics” don’t say that Mormons are “controlling more and more” of our world, because most of the critics are not terribly concerned about this kind of “control.”  High levels of involvement in church are least likely to strike highly active conservative Christians as “cultish” or weird, since they, too, are extremely active in their churches.  It is significant here to note that the strongest opposition to a Mormon President of any one group comes from people who attend church services more than once per week.  

Opposition to Mormonism is not nearly so great among Protestants and Catholics of the “Chreaster” variety.  These folks are more inclined to shrug off the “Mormon issue” because they aren’t that fired up about their own religious observance (however, even among the fairly lacadaisacal and the lapsed, anti-Mormonism never goes below 30% of any cross-section of the population).  It isn’t intensive church involvement that strikes Mormonism’s strongest critics as kooky and worrisome–it is (how can I put this diplomatically?) Mormonism that is the problem.

“We’re completely invisible to this debate,” said Eduardo Penalver, a Cornell University law professor who writes for the liberal Catholic journal Commonweal. He said he was dissatisfied with the Edwards campaign’s response. “As a constituency, the Christian left isn’t taken all that seriously [bold mine-DL],” Penalver said. ~The Politico

I await (almost certainly in vain) the avalanche of corrections that will be coming from progressive bloggers who believed that, “Oh, yeah, well so’s your old man!” (usually by digging up some of Bill Donohue’s more, um, colourful statements from the past) constituted a serious response to the controversy over Edwards’ two awful bloggers.  If run-of-the-mill Irish Catholic Democrats were also deeply offended by the trash Amanda Marcotte wrote, because what she wrote was actually hideously blasphemous and obscene, that would seem to suggest that complaints about her flagrant anti-Catholic and anti-Christian hatred are not simply the product of the “noise machine” and the “wingers.”  Of course, Edwards is under no obligation to fire the two women, and they are perfectly free to rant against Christians with as much obscenity, sacrilege and blasphemy as they please (such is the appalling kind of thing allowed under creative interpretations of free speech protections).  Then again, no one is under any obligation to view them with anything other than contempt.  Gauging from the average progressive’s reaction to this controversy, I would guess that the Christian left isn’t taken seriously as a constituency because most of their progressive allies regard them as amusing eccentrics and consider them to be occasionally useful for providing cover against the charge of the left’s obvious impiety and general godlessness; most of the time, they are completely irrelevant and are treated accordingly.

Michael Medved has no idea what he’s talking about when he writes:

When people respond to Mitt Romney at this stage in the campaign, they’re expressing their attitudes toward Mormonism –not their reaction to a specific and dynamic candidate.

Yet, as of the infamous Rasmussen poll last fall, only 19% of likely voters could identify Romney as the Mormon in the race, but this didn’t stop likely voters from giving him fairly high unfavourable ratings (30%).  It is possible that all of the voters who could identify Romney as Mormon had an unfavourable impression, but it is not likely.  Since then, Romney’s unfavs have gone up to at least 35%, which could very well mean that the more people get to know Romney, the less they like him.  While he remains a blank slate on which they can inscribe whatever they’d like, he’s much more of a desirable candidate.  In the end, it will be a combination of widespread anti-Mormonism (reflected in that same poll) and Romney’s own numerous flaws as a candidate trying to run as the social conservative that he probably still isn’t that will bring down his candidacy.  Medved also underestimates the depth and breadth of anti-Mormon sentiment if he allows only that roughly 20% would never support a Mormon for President–the figures are more likely in the high 30s or low 40s according to polls taken in the last four months.

Medved also errs badly here:

His devout adherence to the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter Day Saints may look like a huge handicap at the moment, but the vast majority of GOP voters will base their ultimate decisions on factors other than the faith of the candidates. 

Sure, Medved, whatever you say.  Even though the same Rasmussen poll tells us that 53% of conservatives and 72% of evangelicals believe that a candidate’s faith is “very important” and another 28% of conservatives and another 20% of evangelicals believe that a candidate’s faith is “somewhat important,” I’m sure Medved must be right.  Even though 48% of Republicans say that a candidate’s faith is “very important” and 30% say that that it is “somewhat important” (obviously more intense than the Democrats at 29/26%), I’m sure the view that Romney is from a little-known, non-Christian religion will not be a major obstacle for his campaign.  After all, once the voters learn about his egregious and almost certainly cynical flip-flopping on social issues, his signature on that horrible health-care bill and his well-nigh mad rhetoric about Iran, they won’t need to know that he is a Mormon to cause them to run screaming from the room.

The Politico is reporting that a “well-connected” McCain supporter is “circulating” the fact that Mitt Romney gave $250 in 1992 to the campaign of former New Hampshire Representative Dick Swett (D) has made a point of noting that Swett is a Mormon. Is this an attempt to bolster the Damon Linker note of caution that Mormon politicians hold their faith above their allegiance to their country? ~Marc, Law Students for Romney

Er, no, since the point of mentioning the donation would be that Romney was supporting a fellow Mormon who was a Democrat rather than being a good, little partisan and backing only GOP candidates.  As the story at The Politico says:

“Some activists are beginning to wonder: does Mitt support Mormons over Republicans?”  muses this person.

By “some activists,” of course, the McCainiac means “some activists who support John McCain.”  It’s rather funny that any of Romney’s opponents would attempt to make an issue out of this (if Giuliani tried to question Romney’s party bona fides, that would take some chutzpah).  What I think the McCain people are trying to do here is to cast doubt on Romney’s reliability as a Republican.  This will play on the “flip-flopping” argument that Brownback is using as a club to beat Romney, and it will tie into GOP primary voters’ anxieties about candidates from Massachusetts.  On the other hand, if Romney can show that he has a record of supporting candidates from both parties while also convincing people that he is now a serious conservative (no laughing, please), this might work to his benefit by combining his social conservative appeal with evidence of pragmatism.  It would, that is, were it not for the roughly 40% of Americans who have already determined they would never vote for a Mormon

These voters don’t need to know that Romney supported a Mormon Democrat in a congressional race nearly 15 years ago to view him with suspicion; they just need to know that he is a Mormon.  To the extent that the McCain people’s whispering about the donation emphasises Romney’s Mormon identity, it will have a greater effect on his candidacy than some meager donation he gave back in ‘92.  However, the purpose of the whispering does not seem to be aimed at his Mormonism in a Linkeresque or Christian conservative way.  Far worse than (obviously absurd) dangers of a national Mormon theocracy or adherence to a false religion in the eyes of the McCainiacs is a lack of lock-step allegiance to the Red Republicans.

Update: Something else about our Romneyite’s question just struck me as fairly silly.  Linker said some provocative and fairly insulting things about Mormonism, but he did not say that Mormons put their faith ahead of their loyalty to the country.  On the contrary, he identifies one of the principal threats from Mormonism to be their theologically-fortified Americanism.  As Linker would have it, this supposedly dictates that Mormon millennial expectations will drive Mormons to political action to hasten the return of Christ here in America.  As his critics have already pointed out, this is a fairly loopy argument in that it has very little to do with what actual Mormons are interested in doing.  Nonetheless, as wrong as Linker was about this and as bizarre as his complaint against Mormons was (they’re too patriotic!), he did not claim that they put their religion before their country.  The problem is supposed to be, rather, that their faith and their sense of patriotism are too closely intertwined.  The notion that anyone is accusing Mormons of putting religion ahead of country in a practical way is a product of misleading and annoying comparisons between old anti-Catholic tropes and present-day anti-Mormon opposition.  I swear, if I see one more mention of JFK… 

At a time when religion and politics are increasingly intertwined, it would be an opportunity to remind all Americans why the wall between church and state has served the country well. ~David Campbell & J. Quin Monson

Yet again, the conventional arguments deployed in favour of Romney (tolerance!  separation of church and state!) are the very sorts of arguments that make the people Romney needs as supporters grind their teeth.  Many Christian conservatives believe, quite rightly, that the “wall of separation” does not exist, or at least they hold that it is not enshrined in the Constitution and has nothing to do with the fundamental law.  The prohibition against establishment in the First Amendment was, is, not the same as an absolute ”separation.”  If ”the wall” exists now, it is a function of some of the very judicial excesses that have contributed to the judicial tyranny these voters have resented and opposed for decades. 

If Romney were to make an appeal for his candidacy in the name of a “wall of separation,” it would just be one more reason why many Christian voters in the GOP primaries could not vote for him.  He may be currently be good on the issues that matter to them (his spotty record here hardly helps him), but their acceptance of his candidacy would then be predicated on an endorsement of certain ideas, such as “the wall,” that they firmly reject as later misreadings of the law and an arbitrary interpolation of Jefferson’s letter to the Baptists into constitutional rulings (if only the Court were always so interested in original intent!).  Now, with a Brownback in the race they have no need now to “settle” for Romney’s late-in-the-day discovery of moral truths that Brownback has been defending, to some degree, for ten years.

Just like the challenge for Kennedy in 1960 and for born-again Christian Jimmy Carter in 1976, Romney’s candidacy will provide fresh opportunity for the US to reassert that its democratic traditions are above religion and serve as a protector of religion. ~The Christian Science Monitor

This may be the source of one of Romney’s problems with Christian voters.  It requires them to accept that, as the CSM rather clumsily put it, ”democratic traditions are above religion.”  Put like that, you might be hard-pressed to find a lot of conservative Christians who would want to endorse such a message, since “religion” for them means Christianity and we can be fairly sure that for many of them democracy is not “above” or ahead of Christianity.  This ties into the other reasons why Romney’s Mormon identity will be a problem for him.  On the one hand, his candidacy runs up against the natural democratic impulse to elect people like ourselves who represent us and in whom we can recognise ourselves, and on the other hand his appeal must seek to transcend and so, to some degree, set aside religious identity, which runs the risk of appearing to trivialise the place of religion in public life.  Like so many other pols, he turns to the weasel word “values” to convey his basic agreement with Christian voters on social issues of importance to them, but unlike most of these other pols on the GOP side he does not have the built-in credibility with many conservative voters that goes with being from a Christian background.  He is hemmed in on every side and, as the polls indicate, he just can’t win.

TOM Cruise is the new “Christ” of Scientology, according to leaders of the cult-like religion.

The Mission: Impossible star has been told he has been “chosen” to spread the word of his faith throughout the world.

And leader David Miscavige believes that in future, Cruise, 44, will be worshipped like Jesus for his work to raise awareness of the religion. ~The Sun

Presumably, the Scientologists will charge people for the privilege of asking for Tom’s forgiveness.  Just when you thought that he couldn’t sink any lower…

Religious zealotry has been responsible for killing more people than any other thing. ~Chuck Hagel

Taken on its own, there are few sillier statements.  If we can attribute the deaths of the French Revolution to liberalism, and I think we can, right there liberalism in France accounts for more deaths in the 18th century than religious conflict throughout the world in the same century.  Liberalism would seem to fare better in the 19th  For every extremely violent and extremely rare T’ai-P’ing Rebellion critics of religion can cite, defenders could point to ideologically-driven state-induced famines caused by collectivisation or nationalist genocides on the other.  For every Thirty Years’ War on one side of the ledger, defenders of religion could invoke the secular and nationalist Thirty Years’ War of 1914-1945.  In sheer numbers, ”religious zealotry” at its worst usually cannot compete with the power and passion of revolutionary ideologies.  (The death tolls from the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-1648 and the T’ai-P’ing Rebellion are as high as they are because of the famine and pestilence that resulted from constant, large-scale campaigning.)  The point is not to cheer on religious zealotry as such, nor is it my purpose to ignore the atrocities of zealots, but rather I am trying to recognise that there are far more destructive and virulent ideas out there that have done and will continue to do more damage.  This is not to dismiss the damage that religious zealotry can do, but to keep in perspective that there are worse things–and things that are responsible for killing more people–than that. 

I am unfortunately reminded here of Dawkins, who rattled off a list of all the violence that would never have happened without religion, all the while failing to notice that most of the killing done throughout history was done for entirely different reasons.  Predictably, Sullivan approves of this bakvas

You know that Romney has relatively high unfavourable numbers (35% at last check), but how does Mormonism itself do?  Alerted to the problem by Friday’s HotlineTV,  I was intrigued to find that the numbers are just as staggeringly bad for Mormonism nationwide as the earlier Rasmussen poll results indicated.  According to the new Diageo/Hotline poll from this month (question 10b), Mormonism has an unfav rating of 39% (17% strongly unfav) compared to a fav rating of 27%.  The main good news for Mormons?  34% had either heard of Mormonism but couldn’t rate it either way, or hadn’t heard of it or didn’t know enough to say, and it receives a barely more favourable response from the general public than Islam (18/41).   

Nonetheless, among Republicans, Mormonism is viewed somewhat or ”strongly” unfavourably by 48% (strongly unfav is 24%).  Mormonism receives the best response from independents (31/26) and fairly negative numbers among Democrats (27/38).  The infamous Rasmussen poll from last year showed that only 19% of likely voters could identify Mitt Romney as the Mormon in the race–how much worse will his unfavourables get when more of these voters learn of his religious affiliation?

Other interesting religious items from the poll: 24% of Republicans have an unfavourable opinion of Catholicism (which is higher than Judaism’s unfav rating of 16% among the same people), which may help explain why there has still never been a Catholic Republican presidential nominee (and one reason why there probably will not be one for a while yet). 

The current concern about Romney recalls anxieties about Mormons and Catholics from the nineteenth century, when both churches evoked suspicion. Critics thought of them as “fanatics,” a stereotype applied to Catholics, Mormons, Masons, and Muslims. They feared that leaders of these groups would employ their spiritual authority over blindly loyal followers to magnify their own power. Any prophet claiming to speak for God, they reasoned, must necessarily try to impose his beliefs on everyone else. But this argument, while based on logic, was impervious to fact. The real-world actions of Mormons and Catholics, and their protestations of innocence, meant nothing. ~Prof. Richard Lyman Bushman

It may be worth noting that Prof. Bushman frequently returns to this old charge of fanaticism when discussing this issue.  It is something like the lens through which he is viewing the entire controversy over Mormonism in our presidential politics today.  It was part of one of the replies (sorry, the TNR overlords have locked up the previously free debate) that he gave to Linker during their online debate.  Linker complained that he had never used the word fanatic–while doing everything he could to hint that Mormons were all basically fanatics-in-waiting–but Prof. Bushman had him pretty well cornered.  As I noted at the time, Linker was proceeding with a pretty impeccably logical polemic that brought his negative assumptions about the political dangers of Mormonism to their logical conclusions.  The only trouble with this was that the actual history, the reality of Mormons in American politics, did not support his nicely designed polemic.  Linker was convinced that he had proven his polemical point, and the targets of the polemic were equally convinced that he could not possibly be referring to them because he could not cite a single real episode where his fears of Mormon church interference in politics had been realised.

As I wrote at the time of the debate just a little under two weeks ago:

It seems to me that it is quite one thing to note that Mormons are not Christians and for Christian voters to take that into account when judging a Mormon candidate.  It is quite another thing to conjure up rather far-reaching, implausible scenarios of Mormon domination when the historical record suggests that nothing could be further from the minds of the Mormons themselves. 

To that I would add that Prof. Bushman’s latest article is very good but ultimately ends up targeting a kind of anti-Mormon criticism that barely exists anymore.  The concern of secularists who are anxious about a Mormon President is much more basic: they don’t trust anyone who believes as divinely revealed things they regard as patently absurd.  There is virtually no reasoning with such a view, since every attempt to show reasonableness or coherence within a religious framework will simply leave such critics cold.  Yet the Weisbergs of the world do not fear rule from Salt Lake City–they fear giving power to someone who thinks that the Lamanites actually existed.  Other opposition to Mormonism is of a fairly different nature as well.  The concern of most Christian voters who are put off by Romney’s Mormonism is not that Mormons are “fanatics” as such or that they are liable to follow the orders of their church authorities with blind zeal, but that they are Mormons in the first place.  It is a concern about what kind of symbolism and identity they are willing to endorse, and whether Mormons fit within their Christian identity.  Pretty plainly, a sizeable number of Christians hold that they do not fit. 

This should not distress true-believing Mormons, as I have said in the past, since they claim to be the true successor to the Church of the Apostles and view all others as frauds.  Given such a view, it is inevitable that Christians would consider Mormon and Christian identity to be mutually exclusive, just as Mormons, if they are serious about their founding claims, must see their true “Christian” identity and our “apostate” identity to be mutually exclusive.   

And yet, literally billions of our neighbors deem the contents of the Bible and the Qur’an to be so profound as to rule out the possibility of terrestrial authorship. ~Sam Harris

If I made it my business to be a professional religion-basher, and if I thought getting my criticism of religion was right as an important way to shine the light of reason on the darkened corners of religious minds, I would at the very least get my facts straight about certain key elements of the religions I was bashing.  Christians and Muslims agree that their scriptures are authored by God in the sense that they accept that the revelation comes from God.  They do not agree that revelation came in unmediated form and that the text as set down in its complete form (which, of course, was a redacted and edited form also in the case of the Qur’an) is the uncreated Word of God.  Muslims believe this, Christians do not. 

Therein lies one of the most significant differences between the two religions, and the one that has possibly has done the most damage of the intellectual culture of the Islamic world than any other.  As I understand it, the Qur’an is not open to hermeneutics of any kind, and there is no other way to understand it except literally, where by literally I mean there is no possibility of interpreting the same text in several different senses.  That creates certain obvious problems for the possibility of reconciling revelation and other sources of truth, since multivalence in a religious text is effectively impossible without some room for interpretation.  On the other hand, Christians acknowledge, as they have acknowledged since the beginning, that Scripture is a divine revelation mediated through inspired authors and the composition of the texts is attributed to various patriarchs and apostles.  (We can set aside for the moment the high criticism’s doubts about the traditional attributions of books of the Bible.)  Terrestrial authorship, in the sense that it was understood that the Scriptures themselves were set down by men according to the revelation, is not only a possibility for Christians, but it is taken for granted and assumed to be the case. 

Muslims do not have a tradition of remembering the Composers of the Qur’an as they remember the Companions of the Prophet, because they believe that Jibril spoke the Qur’an to Muhammad and that was it.  Christians commemorate and many venerate the Evangelists and others in recognition of what can only be called terrestrial authorship of Scripture.  That they also take Scripture to be true and inerrant is not surprising, but they plainly do not rule out “the possibility of terrestrial authorship.”    

There was an awareness from the beginning that the accounts of the Gospels differed and there was also an awareness of the potential problems and contradictions in Scripture.  Because of the possibility of having multiple senses in which one could read Scripture, it became possible to interpret revelation on the assumption that God guided the Fathers and the authorities of the Church in this work of interpretation and teaching.  Undoubtedly Mr. Harris will spew forth venom at all of this as well, but for him to do that he would first have to know about it, which he evidently does not from the comments that he made.  

Andrew Sullivan, the vicar of doubt, is debating Sam Harris, ueber-atheist, in a blogalogue.  For me, this is like watching the Raiders play the Cowboys: the only thing to do is simply root for injuries and mistakes. 

Yes, Gov. Romney is a Mormon. We are not. According to the liberal media, this is an unbridgeable gap, and evangelicals will never turn out to support a faithful Mormon like Governor Romney. As usual, the media have it wrong. And they root their error (as usual) in a fundamental misunderstanding about American evangelicals—seeing us as ignorant and intolerant simpletons who are incapable of making sophisticated political value judgments. ~Evangelicals for Mitt

A reader has alerted me to this pro-Romney site.  It is worth a look to see the arguments of evangelicals who are willing to look past Romney’s Mormonism and support him based on shared policy views.  For what it’s worth, I don’t think evangelicals who refuse to vote for Romney because of his Mormonism are “intolerant simpletons” incapable of making “sophisticated political value judgements.”  I think these evangelicals actually believe someone’s religion really matters for the formation of his worldview and they actually prefer having a Christian, probably preferably a Christian who shares their entire faith and experience as evangelicals, as the person to represent them.  This is completely understandable and even laudable.  There are evangelicals for whom Mormonism is a bridge too far, and there are those for whom it is not, but the first group outnumbers the latter and, I suspect, feels much more strongly about it.  In the primaries, the antis will overwhelm the pros. 

Back to the quote.  Perhaps it is because of their disdain for evangelicals that the liberal media have played up Romney’s Mormonism as being in conflict with evangelical voters, or perhaps it is because they enjoy pushing the “religious politics has come back to haunt the GOP” narrative, or perhaps it is just because they like to report on conflict that will generate interest in presidential election reporting in early 2007 when most people are more concerned with the NFL playoffs or paying off their Christmas bills.  I don’t know the real reason why they’re talking about it. 

But it probably has something to do with anecdotal evidence of anti-Mormon opposition among evangelicals and the slightly more scientific evidence that half of all evangelicals would never consider voting for a Mormon.  It certainly has to do with evidence that four out of ten voters from the general population would likewise not even consider it.  Maybe the other approximately half of evangelicals will enthusiastically vote for him and “evangelicals for Mitt” will not have the odd, out-of-place sound to it that “hawks for Kucinich” or “pacifists for Gingrich” have.  Even so, losing half of the evangelical vote before he was even officially in the race on the Mormon issue alone is a political death blow to an avowedly social conservative candidate. 

Let’s go back to those Rasmussen numbers and look at how they break down.  Who are these anti-Mormon voters?  It turns out that they are from pretty much every possible group.  Some are more likely to refuse consideration of such a vote, but there are high levels (30%+)of resistance across the board.  Remember that this is a straight-up yes or no question: would you ever consider voting for a Mormon for President?  Those opposed are not leaving Romney any room with which he can work: they will never consider it.

43% of Catholics say they would never consider voting for a Mormon, and 36% of Protestants (classified separately from evangelicals) and 53% of evangelicals say the same.  That’s a lot of people with religious affiliations who say, “No, thank you” when presented with a Mormon presidential candidate.  That’s without asking any other questions of him.  What about his policy views, his “values”?  These are apparently irrelevant. 

Opposition intensifies in direct proportion to a voter’s frequency of religious attendance: only 37% of those who rarely or never attend services are unwilling, 44% of weekly attendees are unwilling to consider such a vote and 59% of people who attend services more than once a week are unwilling.  This makes sense.  The more practically religious you are, the more a candidate’s religious identity will probably matter to you.  But that doesn’t get away from the startling fact that over a third of people who almost never go into a church will never vote for a Mormon presidential candidate.  Against such huge numbers and strong opposition no candidate can hope to prevail.  There is not enough time, even if he had the luxury of trying, to “educate” the voters on what it means to be Mormon.  This education is almost certainly needed, if only to root out egregious and obvious errors of fact that have lodged in the public consciousness, but the middle of a presidential campaign is neither the time nor the place for it.  In popular culture (see Big Love or Entourage), mainstream Mormonism is still associated, incorrectly, with polygamy, which has not been helped by Romney hamming it up with jokes about marriage being between “a man and a woman…and a woman and a woman.”  Yes, that’s very droll, Mitt, but it only works if everyone knows that Mormons no longer practice polygamy.  It would not be a surprise to me if a great many people still don’t know that or if they easily confuse Mormon splinter groups with the main LDS church.  In any case, Romney is banking on the public being relatively well-informed about the internal affairs of a relatively obscure religious group with which most people have no dealings, and this is a losing bet.   

The chances of a Mormon candidate are worse among women than among just about any other group: 47% would not consider voting for one for President, while only 38% of men would not.  Party affiliation does seem to make some significant difference.  Pat yourselves on the backs, Republicans–you are marginally more accepting of Mormon presidential candidates than much of the rest of America!  Among Republicans, 42% would consider voting for a Mormon, 40% wouldn’t.  Among Democrats, opposition is greater (32% willing vs. 51% unwilling).  Of the three options, those not affiliated with either are least likely to be opposed to considering a vote for a Mormon (42/33).

Ideology does not seem to matter in determining a refusal to support a Mormon candidate.  Each group (conservative, moderate, liberal) has equally high levels of refusal to consider such a vote (43, 44, 41% respectively).  Liberals are slightly more likely (44%) to consider voting for a Mormon, and conservatives the next most likely (39%).  Curiously enough, “moderates” are the least willing (34%).  People of indeterminate ideology (”not sure”) are just as opposed (43%) and even less willing to consider voting for a Mormon (25%).  The conservative numbers seem to mirror the overall national results of 38% willing to consider a vote and 43% unwilling.  Obviously, if Romney loses almost half of conservatives from the beginning before he even opens his mouth, he has no realistic chance in the primaries.  To have a fighting chance, he would have to get every single vote of those who are open to voting for a Mormon, and he simply isn’t going to get all those votes.

How important a candidate’s faith is to voters heavily determines opposition.  Among those who say it is “very important,” opposition is intense (59%), and among those who say it is “somewhat important” opposition is still considerable (38%).  Almost inexplicably, though, among those for whom a candidate’s faith is “not very” or “not at all important” there are still large numbers who would never consider such a vote (31 and 30% respectively).  There is clearly not just an intense religious opposition to a Mormon presidential candidate, but what seems to be a generalised, nationwide, cross-cutting cultural hostility that can be found in virtually every group of people in America. 

If Mitt Romney could somehow get himself elected President in the midst of this, he would have to be considered one of the great political and campaigning geniuses of the last century.  No offense to Gov. Romney, but however good he is he isn’t that good of a campaigner.  I don’t think someone with the political skills of Clinton and Reagan combined could pull this off.  What he is trying to do is, for all intents and purposes, impossible.  At best he might hope for a few decent second-place finishes in a few places and shoot for the VP slot, but even in that case his Mormonism seems likely to be a weight that will drag any GOP ticket down (after all, if all these people won’t vote for a Mormon for President, why would they vote for a Mormon to be first in line for the Presidency?).

With all of this in mind, there is something that needs to be said clearly and as often as necessary to make the point: Romney’s religion is a problem not just for the Jacob Weisbergs and evangelicals out there, but it is more or less a problem to some large degree for every kind of non-Mormon American out there.  It roughly splits the country down the middle between those who would never even consider the possibility of a Mormon President and those who are open to that possibility.  It would be worth inquiring how it is that Mormons can be distrusted this much by such a wide variety of people.  Christians are obviously more likely to view Mormonism poorly for religious reasons, and secularists are apt to view it at least as poorly as they view other religions, but how exactly does anti-Mormonism become such a general phenomenon such that at least one-third of every group into which they broke down this polling information was firmly opposed to a Mormon President?  Is it mainly a product of Christian opposition to Mormon theological errors?  Is it leftover disdain for past polygamous practices being transferred to the modern church?       

Do these overbroad claims for the necessity of religion suggest that the theocons are running scared? Perhaps.

Up to half of the conservative writers and thinkers whom I know are non-believers. And yet because of the rule that one may never ever question claims made on behalf of faith, they remain in the closet. At some point, however, they may emerge to challenge the idea that without religion, personal and social anarchy looms.

8) If you are 18 and figuring out what course of study to pursue for the next 4 years what changes would you make to your educational path now that you have some hindsight?

I would study a lot more history. Thanks to my college’s refusal to tell its ignorant students what an educated person should know-heaven forbid that it actually exercise intellectual authority!-I was required to study no history and didn’t know enough to do so on my own. ~Heather Mac Donald

Okay, for those who are in danger of being all “Mac Donalded” out, I have just one more thing to say about Ms. Mac Donald’s review before I turn to other things.  The juxtaposition of the remark about theocons arguing for the necessity of religion and Ms. Mac Donald’s admitted lack of study of history caught my attention.  It struck me that her admitted lack of a proper education in history, which she laudably wishes to remedy, might explain a lot about Ms. Mac Donald’s atheism. 

Atheists are great ones for posing what they think are really baffling conundrums for believers, but their acquaintance with history, as far as religion is concerned, is typically with the black marks and scandals.  There was religious fanaticism!  Well, yes, and there was far, far worse atheist fanaticism, so which would you rather see dominating society?  They seem uninterested to query why it is that every organised society from the earliest tribes to the most technically sophisticated civilisations have had one form or another of propitiating, worshipping and otherwise interacting with the supernatural and divine.  If they do ask the question, they have ready-made answers handy: ignorance, fear of death, fear of the unknown, opiate of the masses, etc.  It usually does not seem to trouble them that the greatest minds in every period of our history not only acknowledged one divinity or another but insisted on the importance of reverence for God or the gods for the well-being and virtuous life of man.  They were caught up in the superstitions of their time, or they were afraid to challenge the religious authorities, the atheist will reply.  Maybe, but what of the numerous philosophers who claimed to be able to show, by means of reason, the necessity of the existence of God?  Though all these men considered the possibility of atheism, at least in passing, the absurdity of it always prevented them from embracing it. 

It is no wonder then that, when faced with something like the ontological proof, which they no longer even attempt to answer, most atheists retreat to tired arguments from theodicy.  Having repeatedly failed to disprove God’s existence in the realm of logic, which was their only real chance, they now hope to shame believers with the scandal of the fallenness of the world.  “Look, a tsunami!  What about your loving God now, eh?” they cry.  This can sometimes scandalise believers, but it does not do much to disprove God’s existence.  

Doesn’t the awesome weight of all of these historical precedents make the ”skeptical conservative,” the conservative atheist, think twice about whether he has gone awry somewhere?  Surely it is one of the marks of conservatism to defer to the authority of tradition on the assumption that the “individual is foolish, but the species is wise” and that the tradition has accumulated the wisdom of centuries as compared against your brief lifespan.  These are not definitive proofs in favour of the claims of the tradition (deference to tradition is based heavily on experience and an assumption that time-tested ways are best, which do not yield proofs as such), but for the conservative they are important claims that have to be taken into account when forming a view about anything. 

Perhaps the most stunning thing about atheism is the sheer presumption of it.  I don’t mean simply the presumption against God, which would be enough in itself, but the presumption that you and a few other adventurous souls have figured out something that the vast majority of mankind has never known about a subject for which the atheist can obviously have no empirical evidence one way or the other.  Heady stuff, indeed.  Say whatever else you will about it, this setting of the ideas of the self over and against the inherited wisdom of ages is one of the main things that is unconservative about atheism.  Even if atheists were right, we should be clear that there would be nothing conservative about their position, but would, if adopted by society as a whole, quite obviously involve a cultural revolution and destruction of a significant portion of our cultural inheritance.  In the end, what is it that atheists would conserve of our civilisation, when so much of the substance of our civilisation has its origins in Christianity or in the cultural derivatives thereof? 

Would greater familiarity with history weaken an atheist’s certainty that religion is unnecessary for the healthy flourishing of society?  I almost have to think that it would.  The nightmare of the 20th century, defined to such a great extent in so many parts of the world by organised godlessness and the official repudiation of all religion, should give any convinced atheist pause.  If man does not flourish in a godless regime, and if godless regimes have a record of unusually great barbarity and human cruelty, it does at the very least suggest that religion aids in human flourishing and probably has some moderating effect on the use of political power.  On sheer pragmatic grounds alone, someone familiar with the historical record would have to conclude that atheism, at least if embraced officially, is bad for the health of society.     

I have always been amazed that the liberal media is willing to let stand the right’s equation between “religious voters,” “values voters,” and opposition to gay marriage, abortion, and stem cell research. There is no necessary relation between being religious, having values, or opposition to stem cell research or gay marriage, in my view. That having been said, the current obsession with homosexuality on the part of the Religious Right would seem to assure it a political relevance for the Republican Party for some time. ~Heather Mac Donald

This isn’t all that amazing when you think about it.  The media indulge this conceit, to the extent that they do, for two main reasons.  The first is that specifically tying “religious voters” to abortion, gay marriage and stem-cell research helps to confirm their image of these “religious voters” as intolerant, meddlesome, fanatical and potentially dangerous.  By setting things up this way, they have done religious conservatives no favours in the PR battle.  The message that comes across–the message they make sure comes across–is: “These people want to tell you what you can do with your own body and would rather see you die in agony than allow science to save you.”  This is tendentious and wrong in many ways, but that is why the media have been only too glad to emphasise these aspects of religious conservatism.  These aspects obviously exist and are important to religious conservatives, but by making these the end-all and be-all of what the rest of the public knows about “religious voters” the media succeed in making “religious voters” and their views appear very unattractive to “moderates” and independents.  In this way, they make the pro-life view into a test of religious fundamentalism: if you don’t want to be considered a fundamentalist, don’t oppose abortion.  Likewise, according to this narrative, if you don’t want to oppress people, don’t oppose gay marriage; if you don’t want to inflict endless suffering on the sick and dying, don’t oppose any kind of stem-cell research.  Of course, religious conservatives make up most of the people who oppose these things and they certainly make up a large proportion of the activists against all of them, so it is not entirely a media creation.  However, no one has suggested that it is impossible to oppose these things without being religious. 

The second–this is where the ”values” scam comes in–is that to call them “values voters” functions a way of avoiding any talk of morality or virtue as such.  Instead of, say, ”culture war,” which implied that one side was fighting for our culture and the other was fighting against it (and this had obvious negative political implications for the latter group), talking about “values” helps make the issues in question less powerful and can make the policy implications of the strength of a “values voter” bloc far more obscure.   To refer to someone as a “values voter” is actually not a move that invests them with some special claim to being concerned with living well or doing the right thing and so on.  This move undermines any strong claims about serious moral questions by making support for the virtues and opposition to vices into interchangeable, malleable preferences (”values”) rather than commitments to moral truth.  In end, speaking of them as “values voters” is much less favourable than referring to them as cultural or religious or socially conservative voters, since all of these other terms can sound appealing to many people.  In the end, calling them values voters is a way of lumping together a whole class of people who are voting on a number of disparate cultural concerns and putting them under a bland, meaningless label.  The phrase functions as a way of watering down the significance of these voters and effectively reducing their power by diluting or even negating what it is they stand for.  Voting against moral and cultural decline, for example, which might be conveyed by the label cultural conservative, sends one message and carries more weight, while voting for “values” carries as much weight in its effect on the political debate as going to a clearance sale.  Naturally, secular conservatives such as George Will and now Heather Mac Donald take offense that they have been excluded, so to speak, from the camp of “values voters,” not seeing that the entire “values voter” conceit is a way to reduce and weaken the impact of religious conservatism on the public debate.  They should instead welcome the empty-headed “values” talk, since it helps to reduce religious conservative views on so many questions of social policy to just so many preferences and/or prejudices.  It tacitly assumes that the people who “value” life and marriage are basically sentimental about what they “value” and lack good arguments for their preferences or it can imply that they devalue other people’s rights.  Either way, it is a way of subtly undermining religious conservatives.  It is not a compliment, and the possession of this label is not something that other people should envy.      

7) You’ve labelled yourself a ’skeptical conservative.’ Would you also say you are hopeful about the trajectory that this republic might take into the future, or do you warrant that the corner is likely turned and we’ll be fighting a rearguard action for most of our lives?
I will interpret your question to mean whether I think secularism will strengthen in the U.S. over time. I am not ordinarily an optimist, but I take heart from the incensed response to the existence of a mere three contemporary books debunking religion. While the proportion of Americans who believe in Biblical revelation remains depressingly high and doesn’t yet show much sign of decline, the reaction of religion’s conservative apologists to a few atheists sticking their heads out of the foxhole suggests to me a possible nervousness about religion’s hold in the future. First Things editor Joseph Bottum calls secularists “superannuated,” in the aforementioned book Why I Turned Right. Wall Street Journal columnist Dan Henninger claims a religious provenance for the following “American” virtues: “fortitude, prudence, temperance, justice, charity, hope, integrity, loyalty, honor, filial respect, mercy, diligence, generosity and forbearance.” Yet Classical philosophers and poets celebrated many of these “religious” virtues as vigorously as any Evangelist or Christian divine, and these ideals are in any case human virtues, which is why religion can appropriate them. As for Henninger’s suggestion that mercy and hope had to wait upon Christianity to make their appearance on the scene, I would need more evidence. Do these overbroad claims for the necessity of religion suggest that the theocons are running scared? Perhaps.

Up to half of the conservative writers and thinkers whom I know are non-believers. And yet because of the rule that one may never ever question claims made on behalf of faith, they remain in the closet. At some point, however, they may emerge to challenge the idea that without religion, personal and social anarchy looms. ~Heather Mac Donald

I don’t want to keep harping on similarities between Ms. Mac Donald and Andrew Sullivan, because this really isn’t fair to Ms. Mac Donald.  She is, for the most part, a clear and logical thinker who can make compelling arguments based on solid evidence.  Sullivan is a egoist who likes to throw tantrums and wrap them up in philosophical covering.  For the most part, it is complete coincidence that both he and Ms. Mac Donald call themselves skeptics.  She demonstrates an intellectual rigour and coherence, whatever else you would like to say about her views, that Sullivan does not possess.  She at least has the decency to throw religion right out the window rather than mangle it and distort it to suit her own preoccupations as Sullivan does. 

However, the first part of this comment, which I first saw at The Corner, was the thing that annoyed me and got me to read the interview in its entirety because it struck me as such an unreservedly silly thing to say.  Since there is no one who better embodies unreserved silliness than Andrew Sullivan, a comparison with him was unavoidable, but in this case there is another similarity.  As some may have noticed, whenever someone criticises Andrew Sullivan (not counting me, as he has so far studiously ignored everything I have said) he will write a post citing the criticism and then commenting on it with a remark that goes something like this: “Ha ha!  Now I’ve got them on the run!  I have hit them where it hurts.  See how they mercilessly reject everything I have said?  See how they have eviscerated my rather embarrassingly poor argument?  They will soon be mine!” 

Ms. Mac Donald’s comment, though not nearly as obnoxious as anything Sullivan has written in this vein, reminds me of this.  Strong and perhaps indignant response is, according to this view, a sign of weakness and proof in this case that the grip of religion is slipping.  The theocons must be very perplexed about all of this.  In the space of a few months they have been accused of being virtual masters of the universe and on the verge of destroying secular America (that’s Linker’s thesis) and now they are said to be nervously watching the collapse of religion in America and are possibly “running scared.”  I happen to think both are wrong in different ways, but it is curious how two people equally appalled by religious conservatism can come to such radically different conclusions about the strength of their foe.   

This part strikes me as particularly odd:

Do these overbroad claims for the necessity of religion suggest that the theocons are running scared? Perhaps.

First of all, this has to be the first time I have ever heard anyone call Daniel Henninger a theocon, but leave that aside for the moment.  What is the evidence that “theocons” are “running scared”?  Because they have responded to a few atheists with many arguments?  The “incensed response” to Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, to take two of the three atheists in question, comes from the natural irritation that their insult-laden polemics cause and from what must be the offensive nature of their claims.  Any given atheist advances his view by telling the vast majority of people that they strongly believe in utter nonsense, and everyone else quite understandably responds poorly to being told, for all intents and purposes, he is a fool and a cretin.  If the response were anything other than incensed, then perhaps the meaning that belief in God held for people might be said to be weakening.  Rarely does one see the active, robust defense of something that is shared by a great many people taken as proof of that thing’s decline.  It is when religion no longer inspires and no longer commands loyalty and defense that something can be said to be declining and failing.  Reaction is evidence that something is alive and still able and willing to fight.  If religious conservatives sat still and did nothing while they were figuratively prodded and poked by atheists and secularists, that would be much more clear proof that the spirit had gone out of them and their beliefs were headed for the scrapheap.       

Religion is an important buttress to social order.  Is it possible to have social order without religion?  Yes, but it will often be of a more brutal, unethical and tyrannical kind.  It will be much less likely to be good order.  More to the point, it is not so much anarchy, but the crushing weight of some form or other of totalitarianism that man without religion has to fear.  Dostoevsky reminded us that man has a natural need to worship something.  If he will not worship God, he will worship other men, the state or things of this world.  Personal anarchy is not the great threat of a man without God.  Some atheists have been the most regimented, humourless, abstemious people on the planet.  It is personal debasement and personal degradation within a godless system that makes the conservative turn away in horror from what an atheist society will do to its members.  As Eliot famously and memorably said, “If you will not have God (and He is a jealous God), you should pay your respects to Hitler and Stalin.”  

Incidentally, if half of all conservative writers and thinkers whom Ms. Mac Donald knows are non-believers, where would she ever get the idea that religion has come to rule over conservatism?

Around that time, I had started noticing the puzzling logic of petitionary prayer. What was the theory of God behind prayer websites, for example: that God is a democratic pol with his finger to the wind of public opinion? Is the idea that if only five people are praying for the recovery of a beloved grandmother from stroke, say, God will brush them off, but that if you can summon five thousand people to plead her case, he will perk up and take notice: “Oh, now I understand, this person’s life is important”? And what if an equally beloved grandmother comes from a family of atheist curs? Since she has no one to pray for her, will God simply look the other way? If someone could explain this to me, I would be very grateful.

I also wondered at the narcissism of believers who credit their good fortune to God. A cancer survivor who claims that God cured him implies that his worthiness is so obvious that God had to act. It never occurs to him to ask what this explanation for his deliverance says about the cancer victim in the hospital bed next to his, who, despite the fervent prayers of her family, died anyway.

As I was pondering whether any of these practices could be reconciled with rationality, the religious gloating of the conservative intelligentsia only grew louder. The onset of the Iraq war expanded the domain of religious triumphalism to transatlantic relations: what makes America superior to Europe, we were told by conservative opinionizers, is its religious faith and its willingness to invade Iraq. George Bush made the connection between religious beliefs and the Iraq war explicit, with his childlike claim that freedom was God’s gift to humanity and that he was delivering that gift himself by invading Iraq.

I need not rehearse here how Bush’s invocation of the divine gift of freedom overlooks the Bible, the persistence throughout history of hierarchical societies that have little use for personal autonomy, and the unique, centuries-long struggle in the West to create the institutions of limited government that underwrite our Western idea of freedom. Suffice it to say, the predictable outcome of the Iraq invasion did not convince me that religious belief was a particularly trustworthy ground for political action. ~Heather Mac Donald

The remarks about prayer and claims of divine healing or grace are stunning to me.  These are the kinds of objections college freshmen come up with in their religion classes in the first few weeks before they learn that they don’t know anything.  If man is free, prayer must exist.  God is always seeking to draw us to Himself, but He does not, would not compel us to draw nigh.  Likewise, He is willing to provide for us in many specific instances, but will not do so unless we ask it of Him.  There are occasions where God, in His infinite wisdom, will refuse our petition because what we ask for is not what we actually require for our edification and sanctification. There are other occasions when God may approach us unbidden, but it is only through the practice of prayer and the habits of mind and spirit that this practice establishes in us that we are prepared to receive Him. 

Imagine, if you will, a man on an island in the middle of a wide and deep river.  On the far shore there is a fisherman casting his nets.  The fisherman has a boat and has a large catch of fish, and could bring the man food or even take him over to the shore if the man were to ask it of him.  The man has no nets and nothing else on the island with which to fish, and he has no other means of sustenance.  In the course of time, the man will gradually starve if he does not humble himself and ask for help from the fisherman.  If Ms. Mac Donald were there to advise him, she would tell him that he should not say anything to the fisherman.  He should not have to ask the fisherman, because he should already know that the man is in need and should provide for him without any word from the man.  Perhaps Ms. Mac Donald would be more satisfied if everyone spiritually starved in their own autonomy rather than engage in something so irrational as prayer. 

Indeed, it would be even more absurd, according to Ms. Mac Donald, for other people on the shore with the fisherman to ask the fisherman to intercede on behalf of the man.  Ms. Mac Donald would interrupt: “What possible difference could that make?”  (Of course, the number isn’t really what matters, but the spirit in which the prayer is offered and the purity of the petitioner’s intention.)  All that it might take for the fisherman to answer could be one petitioner, but supposing that there were more than just one the fisherman would see the love that these petitions represent and would probably hasten to fulfill the good desire of so many people.  Beseeching the fisherman on behalf of the man is part of the fulfillment of the Christian obligation to love one another, and it is at least partly to instill in men love for one another that we are called to offer up prayers for others.  On this point, I would borrow an idea from Lewis’ apologetics and frame the question this way: “How much worse might a person’s suffering be without others praying on his behalf?  How much better might his condition be because others have prayed for him? ”  If the atheists’ grandmother is truly beloved, does Ms. Mac Donald think that this love is in vain?  Presumably not, or she would not have brought it up.  If it is not in vain, but is indeed truly love, how is it that God will ignore this beloved person, since all love comes from Him and participates in Him?  Will Ms. Mac Donald be grateful for this response?  I am somehow doubtful.

A cancer survivor would credit his survival to God out of humility and gratitude for having been spared a painful death and shortened life.  I literally cannot imagine anyone who gives thanks to God in such a case offering up this praise with the sense that he was saved because he was worthy.  In Christianity, at least, the presumption of wretchedness and unworthiness of all of God’s gifts is strong (this is one of those parts of the Faith that really grates on people, especially those who are pretty pleased with themselves and think that they would be worthy of God’s special attention) because of the recognition of two things: man is fallen and sinful and God is nonetheless merciful and does not treat us according to what we deserve.  If Thou shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, O Lord, who shall stand? (Ps. 130:3)  As Fr. Rutler once put it simply (I am paraphrasing a little), “The question is not why bad things happen to good people, for the Lord said, There is none good save My Father in heaven.  The question, then, is: why do good things happen to bad people?”  Secularists and atheists, and probably a few Christians, groan when they hear statements like this, not so much because they find the argument lacking but because they don’t like the implications.  The first implication is that we may not ever understand the reasons for why two people suffering from the same disease  have entirely different fates.  These people don’t like this because it means there are things they will never know, which reminds them of their finitude and limits.  The second is that God wills, or in this case permits, different things for different people according to their needs.  If one cancer patient lives and another dies, God has provided for both what is most fitting.  Does that make such a loss any easier to bear?  Often, no, it doesn’t, but it is nonetheless true.         

Was religious belief really the ground for Mr. Bush’s War?  It certainly suits some people to think so.  Nothing would satisfy secular conservatives, who made up the overwhelming majority of the policymakers and pundits who vociferously backed the war, more than to be able to pretend that this war was not the outcome of incompetent policy wonks pushing a senseless conflict based on poor assumptions about human nature, culture, history and politics that have more to do with Ms. Mac Donald’s beloved Enlightenment than with anything found in the Gospel.  Secular conservatives would love to be able to pin the war on religious conservatives, many of whom foolishly trusted the President and lent him their support out of a (misguided) sense of patriotism but almost all of whom had no role in the pushing, planning or execution of the war.  

This line of criticism is to treat Mr. Bush’s references to God giving the world freedom as the source and foundation of the drive to invade Iraq, when I propose that it was at best some platitudinous religious window dressing for what was an avowedly secular, revolutionary campaign that Mr. Bush justified precisely in terms of bringing the fruits of liberal modernity to the Near East.  That his policy instead produced mass theocracy and sectarianism is par for the course, but let us not confuse the undesired results for the goals of the administration.  Let us also not confuse the icing of saccharine religiosity for the cake of democratic revolutionarism and projecting U.S. power for what was supposed to be our hegemonic control of the region (that it turned out to advance Iran’s hegemonic control of the region is again par for the course). 

Ms. Mac Donald also said:

I need not rehearse here how Bush’s invocation of the divine gift of freedom overlooks the Bible, the persistence throughout history of hierarchical societies that have little use for personal autonomy, and the unique, centuries-long struggle in the West to create the institutions of limited government that underwrite our Western idea of freedom.

No, she need not, because I, benighted Christian that I am, had already said very much the same thing in protest against the foolish, unorthodox and dangerous idea that God bestows political freedom on humanity.

Thus does the left casually open the door to the baldest sort of bigotry, a first cousin of the anti-Catholicism thought buried in 1960, or the anti-Semitism that continues to plague Europe and of course the Middle East. The not-so-deft substitution of “religious heritage” for “religion” is supposed, I guess, to protect Jews willing to abandon the outward display of their faith, but for anyone believing in the miraculous of any sort, well, those days of the great tolerance in American politics are over. ~Hugh Hewitt

Yes, Hewitt, if someone thinks that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism is a reason not to support his candidacy, he is practically just one step removed from joining the Klan (that would be the anti-Catholicism) or perhaps Hamas (that would be the anti-Semitism).  That’s not an absurd thing to say at all!

There is no doubt that Weisberg doesn’t like anyone who actually believes what his religion teaches and takes it seriously.  He doesn’t trust people like that.  That’s just about what you would expect from someone like him.  But do the 53% of evangelicals who say they will never consider voting for a Mormon for President listen to Jacob Weisberg?  Are their reasons the same as his?  Well, yes and no.  All of them are opposed to a Mormon presidential candidate because they believe he believes things that are plainly false.  They are judging by different standards, and where Weisberg’s test would exclude anyone who believes in claims of revealed religion as actually true theirs would effectively reject anyone who does not believe as they do in Jesus Christ.  

Incidentally, it was precisely this bias in favour of a fellow evangelical that rallied evangelicals behind Mr. Bush.  Identity politics of this sort is not exactly an attractive feature of mass democracy, but it is a central and abiding feature.  Those who actually believe that democracy is the best form of government (I certainly don’t) have absolutely no business complaining when their beloved democratic process is simply working as it always has.  After cheering on the bestowal of the great gift of “democracy” on Iraq, now it turns out that Hewitt doesn’t like this particular expression of the popular will.  Rather than face up to the potential evils of democracy that make it possible for identity politics to dominate all other considerations and shut out ostensibly qualified candidates, Hewitt cries about bigotry, yet the very nature of all democratic identitarianism involves the mobilisation and politicisation of prejudice.  All candidates in democratic elections try to show that they are ”like you” and that they represent you, and they want you to identify with them and to see them as a symbol of your hopes and aspirations.  Romney is trying to play this game in a lame, late-in-the-day attempt to prove that he is really “one of us” as far as social conservatism goes, but what his supporters don’t seem to appreciate is that a whole lot of Christian conservatives don’t think of him as ”one of us” because they cannot even accept that he is really a Christian.  If a Muslim, Jew, Sikh or Hindu, or any other non-Christian, ran for the Republican nomination, he would assuredly meet with the same icy reception.  For Hewitt to be loudly complaining about anti-Mormon prejudice, he has to pretend that most evangelicals, whose interests and “values” he often purports to defend, do not fundamentally agree with Weisberg’s rejection of the “founding whoppers” of Mormonism.  That Weisberg’s critique involves far more than that and is a general assault on the role of serious religious believers in public life is for the moment beside the point.  The point is that the problem Hewitt has with Weisberg is one that he would inevitably have to have with a huge percentage of evangelical voters.  Ultimately, Weisberg’s opposition will be neither here nor there.  If he and Damon Linker were the only ones who found Mormonism to be a problem for Romney’s candidacy, it would be irrelevant to Romney’s chances and to the rest of society.  Of course, they are not the only ones.  It is huge numbers of voters, both evangelical and otherwise, who also agree that it is a problem, indeed a dealbreaker, and it is they who will be the ones deciding the issue just as it was decided in 1928.  Unlike 1928, though, Gov. Romney will not even get the nomination.     

What Hewitt laments as bigotry would be what a reasonable observer would call the workings of the much-vaunted freedom and democracy in these here United States.  Ever notice how quickly the greatest enthusiasts for both of these modern god-words abandon their commitment to them when they become inconvenient?  Notice how Republicans are the first to start whining about intolerance when it is their ox that is being gored?  Perhaps it ought to be the case that left-liberals should practice tolerance towards all as they demand that everyone else does, but once you recognise that “tolerance” is a tool and a weapon in the hands of the left to dismantle the traditions and authorities that they despise you begin to understand that it was never a legitimate or desirable principle in the first place.  It was always a deception aimed at the exclusion of left-liberals’ enemies from power and influence in society.  It is suicidal for someone on the right to invoke it in the defense of religious conservatives or to use it as a bludgeon to shame religious conservatives into supporting his preferred candidate (Hewitt might as well have said to his conservative audience, “If you don’t vote for Romney, you are also a bigot.”).

Hewitt calls us all to solidarity with Mormons with rhetoric as treacly as anything on offer from the ADL:

Weisberg’s attack on Romney is exactly the sort of attack on other Christians and believers in the miraculous that the secular left would love to make routine. To mainstream Protestants and Mass-attending Catholics, the virtual mob against Romney because of his LDS faith may seem like someone else’s problem, but it is really another step down the road toward the naked public square. Legitimizing bigotry by refusing to condemn it invites not only its repetition, but its spread to new targets.  

In every pro-Romney article that I have read, everyone reaches for the Kennedy comparison, usually followed by a “I thought we had left all of this behind” and an inevitable, “Never again!”  Now the Niemoelleresque Hewitt warns us, “First they came for the Mormons…”  But no one is coming for them.  No one is doing anything to them.  A very few people are writing (critical) columns about Mormonism, and other people are going to withhold their vote from a Mormon candidate.  Never have “oppression” and “bigotry” been so passive and unremarkable.  But we are supposed to believe that this is the “first step” towards a naked public square.  But the public square was stripped down years ago, and it is only in the last 25-30 years that the attempt to cover it up with any sort of decent clothing has been underway.  Who forms the beating heart of the religious conservatives who most wish to “clothe” the public square in a mantle of righteousness, so to speak?  Obviously, it is the evangelicals.  Who also make up one of the most openly and intensely anti-Mormon groups in the country?  Again, evangelical Protestants.  The Christian people who are against Romney’s Mormonism are precisely the people who want a fully-dressed public square with the clothing options provided by their own tailor.  Like it or not, there are limits to what kind of generic religiosity such people want to promote in public life.  Religions that appear to these Christians to be clearly non-Christian or, at best, wildly heterodox are not going to qualify as part of the clothing of the public square.  You will not be able to scare these people with threats of galloping secularism, because they are already convinced that galloping secularism is here.  They are also probably convincced that the last thing they need to fight secularism is to support a candidate who doesn’t even believe in the same God as they do.  That is what this entire controversy is all about. 

For the actual believers we’re talking about, who are not to be confused with any vague “believers in the miraculous,” but who are people who confess Jesus Christ as Lord, are these people supposed to believe that it will be pleasing to God to elect a non-Christian?  Matched against that far more basic concern, Hewitt’s pleas for tolerance and his long-term fears of providing a precedent for future secularist intolerance (which is a rather silly thing to worry about, since they don’t need precedents, as they make up the rules as they go) appear pretty weak and pathetic.

Andrew Sullivan has another one of his tiresome “Vive La Resistance” posts, this time (indirectly) citing Ms. Mac Donald’s interview with Razib when she is at her most petulant.  For her part, like Sullivan, Ms. Mac Donald sometimes likes to target a faceless “them” who manage to embody every flaw that she perceives in religious conservatives.  First, here’s Mac Donald:

In the American Conservative piece I wanted to offer some resistance to the assumption of conservative religious unanimity. I tried to point out that conservatism has no necessary relation to religious belief, and that rational thought, not revelation, is all that is required to arrive at the fundamental conservative principles of personal responsibility and the rule of law. I find it depressing that every organ of conservative opinion reflexively cheers on creationism and intelligent design, while delivering snide pot shots at the Enlightenment. Which of the astounding fruits of empiricism would these Enlightenment-bashers dispense with: the conquest of cholera and other infectious diseases, emergency room medicine, jet travel, or the internet, to name just a handful of the millions of human triumphs that we take for granted?

But no one assumes “conservative religious unanimity.”  Just as Sullivan fabricates his enemy, the “fundamentalists,” to match his preoccupations, Ms. Mac Donald imagines that there is such a thing as an “assumption of conservative religious unanimity,” which helps her defend the position that she is defending ”reason and realism” against superstitious yobs.  In a spirit similar to that Sullivan’s own incensed attack on “fundamentalism” and his claim that this mythical ”fundamentalism” is taking over and displacing American conservatism (which is far more ludicrous than Ms. Mac Donald’s more modest critiques), Ms. Mac Donald gives the impression that she is doggedly fighting against the overwhelming religiosity of modern conservatism.  As I have argued earlier today, this overwhelming religiosity is not nearly as great as she makes it out to be. 

I should say that if conservatism were governed by the truths of Christianity and leavened by the wisdom of the Fathers, I think it would generally be all to the benefit of conservatism.  The alternatives have always been an acquiescence in false Enlightenment liberal understandings of human nature and society or an acceptance of the Christian understanding that man is fallen (but capable of virtue) and in need of good order and the conservative wisdom that social organisation arises from inherited customs and structures and not from contract or consent.  When conservatives belittle the Enlightenment, it is normally the social and political theories of the more radical French thinkers that they are targeting, but they are in any case objecting for the most part to false understandings of the origin of society, how polities arise and function and what the rightful sources of legitimacy and authority are.  They object to a distorted understanding of the human person and a tendency of many Enlightenment thinkers to be hostile to rooted, traditional society and its numerous institutions and customs.  They do not reject scientific method, nor do they even necessarily hold an empiricist epistemology in low esteem.  The suggestion that they reject “empiricism” entirely, and the implication that most conservatives form a mass of hidebound ignoramuses who would abandon all scientific advances are both false.  

The strangest part of this charge is the connection between the Enlightenment and, for example, “the conquest of cholera,” since the major thinkers of the Enlightenment did not cure cholera and were not even close to understanding vaccination or many of the principles of public sanitation and hygiene that helped contain outbreaks.  There were still cholera epidemics in the 19th century, many of them in the filthy, overcrowded cities of the industrial era brought to us by technological progress.  In any case, what good, one might ask, did Voltaire’s contempt for Christianity do for people dying of cholera?  That is the part of the Enlightenment that we take pots shot at most of the time, so perhaps it is no wonder that Ms. Mac Donald defends it, but what does that have to do the advance of medical and technological sciences?  Is there a new psychosomatic cure for disease achieved not through prayer, but through mocking God?  Ms. Mac Donald refers to “empiricism,” whence come all these astounding fruits.  Now suppose that we find Leibniz’s “innate ideas” more compelling and more consistent with modern neuroscience than Locke’s tabula rasa?  Do we at least get credit for not rejecting Leibniz’s differential calculus?   

Ms. Mac Donald says that she finds it “depressing” that “every organ of conservative opinion reflexively cheers on creationism and intelligent design while delivering snide pot shots at the Enlightenment.”  But this is simply untrue.  No major conservative magazine “cheers on creationism” as such, much less do they do so “reflexively.”  I have yet to encounter a serious conservative writer or scholar who accepts the Young Earth thesis.  These people do not exist.  There are conservative people writing online who believe this, and there are even academics who believe it, but those aren’t the people Ms. Mac Donald was referring to. 

On ID, National Review has no formal position, and they certainly don’t “cheer” on creationism.  With respect to ID, they have entertained arguments from both sides, but that is hardly “cheering” anything on.  At least one of their more prominent contributors in John Derbyshire has made it his business to basically single-handedly crush Intelligent Design’s pretensions to being science.  It was not a difficult task, and he succeeded quite well.  I am as much of a Counter-Enlightenment man today as you are likely to find under the age of 30, and I have ridiculed ID’s claims to being science on several occasions.  That’s because it isn’t science.  Amusingly, two of the main proponents of this intellectual swindle are none other than the grand old man of neoconservatism, Irving Kristol, and the grand dame Gertrude Himmelfarb, as Derbyshire noted last year.  As Derbyshire observed, their boosting of ID as science is entirely cynical and aimed at placating some religious conservatives.  That is hardly evidence of galloping religiosity in “every organ of conservative opinion.”  

I should note that I do not ridicule the possibility of understanding some of the claims of ID as a legitimate philosophical view on the orderliness of the universe and the implications this has for the existence of God, but that is not what ID proponents want when they push for recognition of their “theory.”  ID advocates are people who accept everything about the theory of evolution except the mythology woven around it; in place of that mythology, they would like to posit a different story, equally unproven and unproveable, for perhaps well-intentioned reasons that end up being nonetheless rather silly.  But Ms. Mac Donald might have more in common with ID proponents than she thinks, though, since they, too, enjoy playing the wounded, oppressed victim fighting against a hostile and arrogant establishment. 

As for taking pot shots at the Enlightenment, there isn’t that much of that going around these days.  More’s the pity.  I am fairly sure that I have made myself obnoxious to many movement conservatives because I go out of my way to disparage and ridicule certain assumptions of Locke and some of the more high-flown claims of the Declaration of Independence.  I take snide pot shots at the Enlightenment, but I never cheer on creationism and ID.  I wouldn’t know where to begin.  Do I start by pretending that carbon dating doesn’t exist, or do I start by pretending that saying, “God did it” serves as an acceptable hypothesis?  Neither does my blog constitute much of an “organ of conservative opinion,” though I suppose it is a small one of sorts.  

Anyway, lately it has not been the case that conservatives have been too hard on the Enlightenment–many have rather become its latter-day cheerleaders as a sort of cultural one-upsmanship vis-a-vis Islam.  The Weekly Standard has not, to my knowledge, ever made a snide remark about the Enlightenment.  If they have, it would have to have been rare or fairly mildWhat about American Spectator?  We could inquire, but I am fairly confident that the only place where you might conceivably find respectful consideration of creation science is in a publication like World, and I’m probably not being fair to them when I say that.  Did American Conservative have a big “Yes, The Earth Is Only 4,004 Years Old” editorial and I missed it?  Of course not. 

This is because it is entirely possible to accept that God created everything without having to insist upon the absolute literal interpretation of every number (many of which are clearly symbolic in any case) in the Bible.  It is also possible to accept that God created all living things while also acknowledging that evolution is a plausible explanation for how living beings change over time.  It is possible to despise Voltaire as an impious fool and loathe Locke as a treacherous stockjobbing mountebank and to view their ideas with disdain without insisting that we live in caves and eat raw meat while dying of the plague.

Since no one has yet offered me a large pot full of treasures that would keep me otherwise occupied, I thought I would point readers to an interesting article (via Razib) about the Alevi sect in Turkey.  This is one of the many sects that fill the fissiparous and wildly diverse universe of Shi’ism.  Somewhat like the Druze, they have roots in Shi’ism, but have developed into an entirely different religious group.

Speaking of fairly obscure Near Eastern sects, I was introduced indirectly to the existence of a small religious minority in Armenia through reading the beginning of Namus, one of the works of Armenian author Alexander ShirvanzadeNamus, as I have discovered, is a Mediterranean and Near Eastern code of honour, and would seem to form part of the Pashtuns’ pushtunwali surveyed by The Economist late last year. 

What was the obscure sect I discovered?  The Malakans (as transliterated from Armenian) or Molokans (as transliterated from Russian).  Not to be outdone by anyone else, the Molokans have their own webpage.  From what I have been able to learn about them so far, you could not find people less likely to follow anything remotely resembling pushtunwali than the Malakans, who appear to be the very embodiment of meekness and longsuffering. 

Relating this to some current events here in America, I would note that Molokans apparently also were supposed to have had a tradition of plural marriage at some point and were either pejoratively identified or otherwise associated with Mormons in the 19th century.  According to a 1993 New York Times article, the Molokans “comprise a rather late Russian sect that emerged at the close of the 18th century.”

The article continues:

Like other anti-clerical movements in Russia and in Europe, Molokan preachers focused on immediate personal contacts with God, refuting ritual and reverence for saints and icons as idolatry. They recognize as the sole fountainhead of truth the Holy Scriptures, emphasizing that both Old and New Testaments are to be viewed metaphorically not dogmatically.

Basic is meeting for prayer which reduce to hymn singing and the joint reading and interpretation of Scriptural texts. There is no hierarchy, with the congregations chaired by an Elder, usually one of the older and better educated members of the community. They resemble more the western Quakers and Baptists.

Apparently, along with other dissident sects, the Molokans were resettled in the Caucasus under Nicholas I.  This is presumably how they entered into the history of Armenia.

Update: Somehow I forgot to mention this earlier.  There is also a movie called Namus, which is based on Shirvanzade’s story.  There is now a restored version available.  From what I have heard about the story’s melodrama, it sounds as if it will be Armenia’s answer to a Bollywood plot.  Unfortunately, it is a silent film, so there won’t be any big song-and-dance numbers.

Razib’s Q&A with Heather Mac Donald deserves an extended treatment, so, as promised Saturday, I will try to start to tackle the most interesting and vexing parts of Ms. Mac Donald’s answers.  For those interested, Razib also has a new post on response to the interview.  If time permits, I’ll make a few remarks about that one, too.  I’ll take the interview questions in order, stopping along the way to comment.  Here is the first question and part of the first answer:

1) Okay, I’ll get this out of the way.  What prompted you to “come out” as an atheist in The American Conservative earlier this year?  A friend of mine suggested that you might have become frustrated with the lack of a “reality-based” conservatism during this administration, in particular in its attitude toward immigration.  Is he going down the right track? 

I wrote The American Conservative piece out of frustration with the preening piety of conservative pundits. I attended a New York cocktail party in 2003, for example, where a prominent columnist said to the group standing around him: “We all know that what makes Republicans superior to Democrats is their religious faith.” This sentiment has been repeated in print ad nauseam, along with its twin: “We all know that morality is not possible without religion.” I didn’t then have the courage to point out to the prominent columnist that quite a few conservatives and Republicans of the highest standing had no religious faith, without apparent injury to their principles or their behavior.

I can certainly understand Ms. Mac Donald’s frustration with conservative pundits’ “preening piety,” but I’d like to remind readers of a couple of things about the original article she wrote for TAC.  As I have said before, the article was part of a symposium asking what liberal and conservative and Left and Right meant, so straightaway the article’s focus on the folly of religion and its complaint that skeptical, non-religious conservatives were being somehow marginalised or culturally threatened by all of the God-talk struck this reader as odd and out of place.  However, I’m glad TAC ran the piece and provided a forum for Ms. Mac Donald to air her grievance against religion and religious conservatives, if only as a way of showing that a conservative operation full of religious conservatives was willing to entertain a variety of perspectives and to confirm that skeptical conservatives are really not the put-upon victims among conservatives that Ms. Mac Donald made them out to be.  Back then the impression one got was not that “quite a few conservatives and Republicans of high standing” had no religious faith but were nonetheless principled and decent and able to work side by side with religious conservatives, but that the religiosity overtaking conservatism was putting some sort of stranglehold on these skeptics and non-believers.  Back in August she wrote:

Skeptical conservatives—one of the Right’s less celebrated subcultures—are conservatives because of their skepticism, not in spite of it. They ground their ideas in rational thinking and (nonreligious) moral argument. And the conservative movement is crippling itself by leaning too heavily on religion to the exclusion of these temperamentally compatible allies.   

But there was, is, no exclusion going on.  To see all of the articles and books published in the last few months blaming the woes of the GOP and conservatism on religious conservatives, one might conclude that it was the religious conservatives who ought to be worried about exclusion.  Following the publication of this article, not only did virtually everyone and his brother at NR fall all over themselves to be nice and accommodating to Ms. Mac Donald, whom they showered with so many compliments that it became embarrassing for everyone watching, but we were soon reminded of the rather large number of NROniks who were themselves either confirmed skeptics or very unorthodox sorts of Christians.  The debate was not as much between the zealous believers and the atheist, but between the moderately respectful and the intensely disrespectful. 

The large number of skeptics and unorthodox folk there is not in itself necessarily a problem for conservatives (though I think it probably depends on how unorthodox the unorthodox are willing to be), or at least it isn’t a new problem if it is one (the honour roll in The Conservative Mind is a veritable Who’s Who of skeptics, heretics and eccentrics).  Still, it goes a long way towards showing that the representatives of what it still (sigh) the flagship of “the movement” are not heavily leaning on religion to the exclusion of anybody.  Some of them aren’t doing any leaning at all, while the Catholics there are presumably believers, but they are by and large believers who tend to advance, for example, pro-life arguments in terms that reasonable skeptical conservatives could appreciate.  Indeed, this is not just the case at NR.  The pro-life movement’s own use of the rhetoric of “the right to life” should remind us that, while it is Christianity that motivates so many pro-lifers, they nonetheless retreat back to precisely the rights-centric language of Enlightenment liberalism to make their arguments for the defense of the unborn.  I certainly do not say this as a compliment to the pro-life movement, but this is the way it is.  Because these people do believe in God, they also mention God, but it is the appeal to protecting human rights that is doing all of the work in their arguments.  Perhaps this is a politically clever approach, or perhaps not, but what it isn’t is an example of conservatives “leaning heavily” on religion.  If you can’t even find such a habit among pro-lifers, where will you find it?  

To say that today’s conservative movement leans too heavily on religion, one must have a rather expansive and odd definition of what religion is.  It is possible to find extreme, actually rather isolated incidents of what we might take to be religious enthusiasm sweeping the conservative world and the GOP.  The dreadful Schiavo imbroglio might be considered such a one.  Arguably, though, that affair was the result of an absolute abstract commitment to the Right to Life that was so intense that it actually became impious and contradicted a Christian understanding of the purpose of human life, namely salvation in Christ, making it an episode of impious ideological excess.  It was a classic example of what happens when decent people are given simple ideological maxims: they go too far and commit injustice.  It is possible to see this episode, usually taken as a glaring example of religious conservatism’s supposed power within the GOP, as an episode where a galivanting, do-gooding rights-based liberalism generated hysterical overreaction among activists who pushed for government interference in the private affairs of a family.  But even if we accept that this really was a case of a religious impulse dominating the conservative movement, it is the relative rarity of these sorts of episodes that tells me that religion does not usually have too much hold on the modern conservative movement and that conservatives do not usually “lean” very heavily on the claims of revelation at all.  Rather, if anything, religion has not had enough of a hold.  As a theocrat of sorts (very different from a theocon, mind you!), I might be expected to say this.  As an inveterate critic of Andrew Sullivan and his dreadful book, I might be expected to say this.  But I say it for what I think are a couple good reasons. 

First, religion, more specifically traditional Christianity (which is almost entirely what we’re talking about when we speak of religion and conservatism in America), does not function as a crutch of the modern conservative movement, but all too often the movement uses it (or in some cases the weasel word “values”) as a rallying flag when it has run out of anything else interesting to say.  That is an important distinction.  Appeal to religion is the last resort of “the movement” and not one of its dominant aspects.  Second, for the last 25 years most mainstream conservative argument has fallen into four categories, only one of which can fairly be linked to religion, which are 1) social scientific arguments about the effectiveness/ineffectiveness of government policy and/or about causes behind patterns of social behaviour; 2) arguments written in defense of Western history, culture and “values,” usually “Judeo-Christian values” (under which dubious heading the great religion of our civilisation is filed away); 3) polemics against the stupidity, hypocrisy, elitism or “real” racism of the left, the academy, the government, the media, etc.; 4) arguments about dire foreign threats that “we,” the conservatives, “get” and the daffy liberals and Europeans do not (such as Venezuela!).  You can find arguments that fit more than one of these and some that fit none, but you will be surprised to find just how few conservative essays and articles have much to say about religion, revelation or God except in the most superficial or boilerplate ways. 

Specifically religious journals, such as First Things, will obviously have a very dense concentration of arguments tied very closely to, if not completely enmeshed in, a religious worldview, but in most other journals of conservative opinion and most other conservative columns you won’t find a lot of conservative writers “leaning heavily” on religion for much of anything.  All too often, when they do feel obliged to bring it up, the arguments go something like this: “We have capitalism because of Christianity” (in other words, you should respect Christianity because it helped make us fairly wealthy as a people) or “we have liberal democracy partly because of Christian respect for the person” or “we have the separation of church and state because of Christ’s teaching” (which can be among the worst, since it is usually an argument that calls Christianity as a witness for the defense of the superiority of the secular modern West, whose superiority is affirmed precisely in its capacity for secularism and pushing religion out of public life) and so on. 

These tend to be historical arguments, and they often can have some real merit as historical arguments, but they all fall under the category of “Christianity has done you Westerners a lot of good, so maybe you should give it a break now and then.”  You know the drill, repeated ad nauseam whenever the secularist and atheists come knocking: “Christianity inspired the abolitionists!  Christianity inspired Rev. King.  See–we’re not crazy religious wackos (like the abolitionists were)!”  This is usually a plea from the lukewarm to the indifferent and potentially hostile to acknowledge that Christianity may or may not be true, but that it nonetheless has served and will continue to serve a social function and, in the context of other debates, that its involvement in political life is not necessarily harmful.  This emphasis on the social utility and functionality of religion (both of which the NROniks cited repeatedly contra Mac Donald last fall) to the exclusion and detriment of interest in revealed religion’s substantive truth-claims has become, if anything, more common since the neoconservative ascendancy began and brought with it the habits and methods of the social sciences. 

It is in the context of these arguments about the social function of “religion” that the remarks Ms. Mac Donald recounts in her opening anecdote should be understood.  For the millionth time, yes, it is possible for nonbelievers to live what most people would regard as a “moral” and upstanding life; atheists presumably can have successful marriages and they probably even love their mothers.  When people speak of the necessity of religion for the maintenance of morality, they are almost always speaking of public morality and order, and they see religion as a necessary and well-tested support for these things.  I would go further and say that it is not really possible to live a truly virtuous life without entering into union with the God who was incarnate for our sake, but the people Ms. Mac Donald met at her cocktail party were not saying this, nor would they agree with it if I presented it to them.  “That’s some kind of crazy theological argument, “they would say to me,” and that has nothing to do with conservatism.”  Specifically theological arguments do not interest many conservatives very much, and most avoid referring to them or using them if they can possibly help it.  Even for the theocons, it is natural law teaching within Western Christian theological tradition that gets most of the attention because it is presumed to be “accessible” and intelligible by anyone who can reason.  That in and of itself would be fine, but this move has been seen as absolutely necessary to even begin to draw on our Christian inheritance to make arguments about public policy or social problems to which the wider public and most conservatives would pay much heed. 

This history is not, to my mind, evidence of a heavy reliance on the truth claims of Christian revelation to advance or define conservatism.  What I have repeatedly found, much to my agitation, is a decided indifference to the actual substance of much of our Christian inheritance that goes beyond the mere “patina” of pious nonsensical mumblings about God creating all men equal (today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, so we should pay our respects to the Dream, shouldn’t we?) or Mr. Bush’s idea, which is at once both silly and dangerous, that political freedom is God’s gift to man.  Unless conservatives can find some way to tie Christianity in to the goods that most of “the movement” is today in the business of promoting (i.e., capitalism and democracy), they often will not say much, or at least nothing so terribly religiously inspired that it would make a skeptic bat an eye.  When religion, and here again we almost always mean Christianity, has taken center stage in conservative arguments, it is usually as the violated plaintiff outraged by some PC diktat, revisionist history or public criticism by, well, someone like Ms. Mac Donald.  In these cases, conservatives will once again defend Christianity with old liberal appeals to freedom of religion or will mitigate claims about alleged past Christian fanaticism by saying, “Yes, Christianity used to have a terrible history, but out of its internecine conflicts the Enlightenment was born and helped to reform and fix all of the unfortunate elements.”  In other words, these folks are saying, “Look, we find a lot of Christian history to be nearly as embarrassing as you do, but you should realise that we’ve become so much more respectably milquetoast and inoffensive in the last few centuries, we now embrace classical liberalism with gusto, and we do charity work!”  Most of the ringing defenses of the West setting it over and against the Islamic world possess an undercurrent of skepticism that says, “Unlike the Muslims, we learned to stop talking our religion very seriously a long time ago, and we’re all much better off for it–but, of course, we still have the fight the godless liberals in the War on Christmas.”  When Cal Thomas started singing the praises of secular modernity after 9/11 (as if to show you that he was no religious fanatic like those people), you could take it as a given that religion, and specifically the great significance attached to Christianity even by some old Moral Majority hands like Thomas, was potentially expendable for a lot of conservatives when supposedly more important things (such as the fight against “medievalism” and for “women’s rights” and “tolerance”) were at stake.  In the end, I don’t see that much modern conservative reliance on religion.  The “movement” certainly relies on religious people to keep it running with their support, financial and otherwise, and to that end they have to say nice things about the value of religion now and again (and I assume most honestly believe these things when they say them), but do they “lean heavily” on religion “to the exclusion” of nonbelievers?  Quite simply, no, they don’t.

Heather Mac Donald talks to Razib at GNXP about atheism, conservatism and the reaction to her much-talked-about American Conservative symposium contribution.  My comments on the Mac Donald article, the ensuing online brouhaha and other Mac Donald defenses of ”skeptical” conservatism are here, herehere, herehere and here.  There’s a lot in the interview that deserves some response, but I am pressed for time today and cannot go into the interesting and annoying bits just now.  Read the whole thing, and I’ll be back next week with my take.

Update: Okay, one quick note before I get ready to go to the symphony.  Ms. Mac Donald cites, with understandable frustration, the glib invocation of American religiosity as a reason for our superiority over Europe on the one hand and the daft claim by Mr. Bush that freedom is God’s gift to humanity on the other.  The first is the sort of trite thing that professional pundits write because they know it will play well with the crowd and can be set aside here.  On the second point, she is quite right to find this sort of rhetoric not only worrisome but actually opposed to Biblical truth.  That is an important part of what I was trying to argue in my TAC article on this very topic.  How Mr. Bush’s strange and unorthodox notions of some sort of divinely mandated revolution indict all Christianity or all religion continues to elude me.  In my view, Mr. Bush’s God-talk is the thin gruel offered to religious conservatives by people steeped in a very different, fairly unholy secular ideology.  If we count the invasion of Iraq against traditional Christianity, let’s say, or take it as some proof against the existence of God, we may as well endorse atheism on the grounds that Robespierre, too, believed in a Supreme Being and he also did terrible and despicable things. That strikes me as rather silly. 

There are many good reasons to write off the specific anti-Mormon critiques of Jacob Weisberg and Damon Linker: they both appear motivated by an undue hostility to religion in political life, they seem to view strong religious conviction itself as inherently threatening to liberal democracy, they either ignore or skate over the Mormons’ historical record in their arguments and they frame their arguments in such a way that it is inescapable that anyone who genuinely believes in any kind of revelation or miracle should be viewed with scorn and suspicion, as it is only to the degree that religious people have tempered, watered down or abandoned their older religious commitments that they have become capable of receiving the full respect of these secular liberals in the political arena.  However, not a one of these good reasons appears in the less-judgemental-than-thou article by one Timothy Rutten, who takes offense at the very idea that Weisberg and Linker would put Romney’s religion under scrutiny for any reason.  It is all so very private and personal!  He writes:

Religious belief is a matter of conscience and if there is no privacy of conscience there is no separation of church and state, a principle both Slate and the New Republic claim to defend. Do the editors of those journals really want to take us back to the 1960s, when as many as one American in four said they never would vote for a Catholic or a Jew for president?

Not likely.

What both journals are doing is playing with social fire for the sake of narrow partisan advantage, hoping to knock a potentially attractive conservative candidate out of the running in much the same way that some Republican commentators desperately attempted to prod some Catholic bishop somewhere into denying Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry communion because he’s pro-choice.

That effort didn’t succeed and this one probably won’t either because an instinctively tolerant American people understands the difference between legitimate journalistic inquiry and an inquisition.

As near as I can tell, this means that in Mr. Rutten’s world we cannot refer back to any kind of religion for its tradition of philosophical and ethical reflection, cannot speak about our religion in any public forum and certainly cannot inform our political views with truths our received religious teachings tell us are of ultimate and eternal significance.  To do any of these things is to violate a “separation of church and state” imagined here not simply as a lack of a federal institutional support in favour of or against any particular creed, but as a hermetically sealed bubble affecting our entire public and political life.  If religion does not remain strictly private, the mythical “separation” will have been overthrown.  Rutten’s suggestion would not simply push religion out of the public square entirely, but would insist that it stay indoors and go pray in its closet.  The broad-minded, accommodating rule of an “instinctively tolerant” people can endure nothing more burdensome that each person tending to his own garden of conscience!  For Mr. Rutten, anything more ambitious than that probably must set us on a path to sectarian massacre.

Mr. Rutten asks rather foolishly whether Slate and TNR want to return us to the 1960s when a quarter of the population said they would never vote for a Catholic or Jew for President.  I think it is probably fair to say that they obviously don’t want any such thing, and neither does anyone else.  (Query: Is this prejudice actually a thing of the past?  Has this percentage actually declined in the last forty years, or do we simply think that it has because very few are willing to admit to anti-Catholic or anti-Jewish prejudices today?)  Linker and Weisberg might not point this out, since they both claim is their purpose not to engage in any real religious prejudice, but instead of that one quarter of the American people being against a Mormon candidate for President there is something closer to one-half at 43%.  We don’t need to “go back” to the 1960s to find broad opposition to a candidate because of his religion.  This opposition exists here and now, and it isn’t going anywhere just because the Tim Ruttens of the world don’t want to hear about it.  The 43% of Americans are the people who have already decided, as of late last year, that they would never consider voting for a Mormon presidential candidate.  Perhaps Mr. Rutten would say that it is precisely this kind of attitude that Slate and TNR shouldn’t be encouraging, and that the greater breadth of anti-Mormonism makes talking about it all the more explosive.  Would Mr. Rutten say that we should avoid talking about something because it is potentially controversial and likely to promote social conflict?  Is that really the best liberals (such as I assume Mr. Rutten is) can manage? 

When such a large percentage of the population takes such a strong stand against Mormon presidential candidates as such, it seems to me fairly plain that it is the legitimate business of journalists and pundits to discuss and debate the merits of opposition to Mormon candidates.  The specific arguments Linker and Weisberg advanced were unfortunate and largely misguided in the way they made their criticisms.  No doubt they would find my theological objections to what I consider the falsehoods and absurdities of Mormonism to be equally misguided or beside the point, but that is part of the ongoing debate.  To their credit, Mormon scholars and intellectuals have been only too happy to engage in the debate, and they are doing their religion a world of good by facing up to the challenge rather than running and hiding or crying, “Bigot!” each time someone simply starts asking questions.  It is Mormons’ squeamish would-be defenders on the center-left who cannot stand the sight of an inquiry into anyone’s religion who are hurting Mormons’ chances for being understood more than anyone else. 

Most everyone participating so far assumes that it is legitimate to debate and discuss these things.  Among those who find this discussion distasteful are such luminaries as David Gergen and now Mr. Rutten.  Christian conservatives who believe that Christianity has an important and necessary role to play in the life of the nation have a great stake in ensuring that a combination of liberals and Romney supporters do not succeed in taking Romney’s religion off the table of legitimate discussion.  It cheapens our discourse and weakens our political process to declare such things off limits.  If Americans are, in fact, “instinctively tolerant” (which may be true within reason, but is not absolutely the case), there really is no reason for anyone to run away from this debate in disgust.  

For their part, Mormons have nothing to fear from the arguments of Linker and Weisberg: these are either so far-fetched or militantly hostile to revealed religion in general that they immediately turn off a huge swath of the public.  I am sharply critical of Mormonism’s theological claims and Mormon pretensions to being Christian, but I find their critiques to be poor and unconvincing in the extreme.  Indeed, in terms of content, the reaction to both pieces has been almost uniformly negative.  The only reason anyone has spoken in defense of either of them is when a few, such as Mr. Rutten, insist that even talking about Mormonism in this way is taboo and wrong. 

Similarly, Americans have nothing to fear from Mormons if their concern has been over Linkeresque suspicions of Salt Lake City issuing decrees for the entire country through the White House.  It is precisely this kind of fear and fundamental misunderstanding of the role of religious authority in the modern world that is absurd and laughable.  The things that aren’t absurd are the legitimate questions raised about what a candidate believes.  To my mind, the real argument about Mormonism and Romney’s candidacy is really over whether Christian voters are willing to accept someone whose religion they do not accept and with which they cannot really identify.  This has virtually nothing to do with Gov. Romney’s “fitness” for office, which his much more conventional flaws as an opportunistic politician already throw into doubt, or whether Mormons are “fit” to serve in public office (they are and they do serve all over the country) and almost everything to do with whether the majority of Americans that believes that this is a Christian country (however they mean that) is prepared to elect as President someone whose religion a great many Christians regard as non-Christian. 

Whether we like it or not (I am not a big fan of the idea), the President effectively represents all of the United States and, as the conventional view would have it, personally serves as a symbol of the country and the American people.  Those whom we elect to this office must be someone with whom we can identify to some significant degree.  Viewed this way, a member of an even smaller religious minority in America, such as an Orthodox Christian or an Armenian Christian, might meet with the same opposition and suspicion because of the unfamiliarity or perceived strangeness of the customs and culture of that minority.   This anxiety about someone’s background be less important at the level of statewide office, where what the office represents is possibly less meaningful to many people.  This is why I suspect that rejoinders about the Mormonism of Harry Reid and Orrin Hatch being irrelevant to voters (in states with sizeable Mormon populations) will fall on deaf ears–these are just individual Senators, will be the reply, not the President.  More than anything else, it is the cult of the Presidency that creates such high barriers to entry for members from marginal or minority groups: the nationalist obsession with the executive as the symbol of the nation makes it that much harder to imagine having someone from a perceived strange or unfamiliar group hold this office.  The imperial cult-like mythology woven around the Presidency–which is, in its way, kookier than any religious group’s beliefs–requires that the President to some extent embody the nation.      

There is a deeper problem with Mr. Rutten’s objections to Linker and Weisberg, and it is this: there is a weird, creeping assumption that many Westerners share that strong religious belief, up to and including strong opposition to another person’s creed, precludes the possibility of social peace and a well-ordered polity.  If men believe something strongly, they must ultimately want to oppress or kill someone.  But if a huge number of Americans expresses a strong preference against ever voting for a Mormon presidential candidate, their refusal and their preference do not imply that they lack toleration for Mormons.  What it means is that they cannot, in good conscience, lend their support to people who believe things that are radically different from their own beliefs.  That is not oppression, nor is it even a harmful kind of prejudice.  It is representation, and it is how candidates elected through mass elections are chosen. 

People who believe in the virtues of pluralism and multiculturalism (I am not one of them) should be among the first to jump into the fray about this basic question that their own commitments require them to address.  In an increasingly religiously diverse country, in which several of the minority religions are growing fairly quickly and where there is a larger number of atheists and agnostics, those who think that a candidate’s religion (or lack of it) should never be held against him by voters have to come up with an argument far more powerful than, “It’s a private affair!”  In democratic politics, for good and ill, people vote for the candidates with whom they identify, and religion has been and probably always will be a factor in national politics so long as Americans remain a predominantly religious people.  Whether most of the Christian majority will ever be willing to accept as President someone from a non-Christian religion remains an open question (at present, signs point to no as far as Islam and Mormonism are concerned), but it is one that cannot be wished away or shoved back into the closet.  Mr. Rutten’s horror at the idea of discussing these things shows that he does not really believe that Americans are “instinctively tolerant,” but must be kept from discussing at any length questions about this or that religion so that “social fire” is not unleashed upon the country.  This does a disservice to the very minority religions whose interests (and rights!) liberals claim to want to protect, since it is precisely by shouting down questions and discussion that negative preconceptions about a religion are reinforced.  It will be by hiding behind the (non-existent) wall of separation that Mormons will do more harm to the reputation of their religion than anyone else, because any refusal to defend their religion with public argument–a refusal that Mr. Rutten is trying to encourage with his attempt to shame liberals into being quiet about the entire thing–will confirm the worst impressions of Mormonism as something strange, unfamiliar and cultish. 

Jim Antle writes on the left’s recent anti-Mormon assaults:

The standards being set by the Mormonphobes could have the effect of excluding a lot of other believers from the political process.

Today is the Orthodox celebration of Nativity on the Old Calendar (some Orthodox have already celebrated the Feast on Dec. 25), and today seems a good day to make a few more remarks on the implications of the Linker and Weisberg anti-Mormon articles.  Weisberg is more explicit than Linker and takes a slightly different tack when he indicates his preference for older religions that have had centuries to more effectively dilute the stranger and more troubling (to secularists) aspects of their teachings.  Thus Weisberg:

The world’s greater religions have had time to splinter, moderate, and turn their myths into metaphor. The Church of Latter-day Saints is expanding rapidly and liberalizing in various ways, but it remains fundamentally an orthodox creed with no visible reform wing.  

Where Linker seems to favour the anchors of long-established traditions that keep a religion from becoming unmoored by the latest prophetic wind (regardless of how exaggerated his view of Mormon prophecy may be), Weisberg prefers really old religions on the implausible grounds that great antiquity results in a religion turning its truth-claims into mere metaphor and sentiment.  The venerability of a religion somehow guarantees its moderate, “reformed” state.  It is the lack of such “reformed” moderates (i.e., the lack of people like Bishop Spong to openly deny central tenets of the religion) that makes Mormonism beyond the secularist pale.  At least most of the other religions have some respectably black sheep and dissidents a secularist can admire and root for: “Go Kueng!  Go Armstrong!  Go Hauerwas!”  For a secularist looking for a ray of “enlightened” hope in different religions, Mormonism must present an unusually bleak picture.  For good or ill, these folks all really believe what they are supposed to believe (and they don’t even offer yoga classes!).  

While there are strands of Judaism and Christianity that make a virtue out of their progressiveness and just how “with it” they can be, these are precisely the strands (think Conservative Judaism or the Episcopal Church) that are dwindling in numbers.  The most robust and fast-growing religious groups tend to be those that emphasise the reality of what their revelation claims to be true.  (See The Economist’s survey of Pentecostalism for some interesting reporting on one of these groups.)  After all, what else would really be the point of religious observance if there were ultimately nothing behind it but some nice imagery or if it was nothing more than, as a much less friendly observer put it, “mucking about with half-remembered lines of bad poetry”?  (For the record, if there was any doubt, I don’t agree with that observer.)  

Today, for instance, the Orthodox did not celebrate a nice, imaginary idea of God coming down to earth out of compassion for us, but celebrated an event that happened and had to have happened if our Faith is to mean anything.  Today we marked the day when God was born in the flesh of a Virgin.  Perhaps that true miracle and the stories in the Book of Mormon appear equally plausible to someone like Weisberg, but if he is serious about his argument he can no more honestly accept anyone who believes in the Incarnation (which will always appear as foolishness to the Greeks) than he can a Mormon.  I say this not because I think the beliefs of the Orthodox and Mormons are comparably true on the one hand or equally implausible on the other, but because I think a rampaging secularist does not get to pretend that he tolerates religious non-Mormons as political candidates when he obviously cannot really do so (if he is telling us the truth about why he objects to Mormonism in a candidate) but gets some special exemption to regard Mormons as especially foolish. 

Jim has Weisberg dead to rights:

In other words, religion is fine if you are a Unitarian or can reduce your scriptures to poetry. But if you actually believe that stuff, you might be a fanatic.


The incessant chatter and talk about Mitt Romney’s candidacy, and particularly all of the back-and-forth on the question of his religion, have apparently not been good for his public image.  According to Rasmussen’s latest fav/unfav ratings out this week (sorry, subscription only), Romney’s numbers have changed for the worse over the past two months.  In their November 5 poll, he was at 30% fav/29% unfav and stands, as of January 4, at 29/35%.  His “very favourable” rating has been nearly halved from 11% to 6% and his “very unfavourable” has nearly doubled from 7% to 12%.  He has picked up a little ground in the “somewhat favourable” column, but this simply brings that rating to parity with his “somewhat unfavourable” rating: 23 vs. 23.  The intensity of those who dislike him is currently greater than that of those who like him, and the current trend is not promising for a candidate who only just officially announced his candidacy.  For a “fresh face” on the national stage, his unfav rating is stunningly high.  If this isn’t the result of anti-Mormon bias, I don’t know where it’s coming from.

Two such opinions hardly qualify as the last word, but in this case they’re clearly shared by most evangelical leaders who’ve spoken out to date (the rare exceptions include James Dobson, who’s said Mormonism still is a big deal).

In other words, the answer is no - it is almost certainly not 1960 all over again. Breathless pundits in search of religious intolerance are just going to have to look elsewhere for their quarry. ~Vincent Carroll, Rocky Mountain News

This little piece is so delightfully counterintuitive that one would expect Jonathan Chait to be its author.  No, an intrepid columnist at RMN has determined that a couple of guys with ties to evangelicals in Colorado don’t think Romney’s Mormonism will be a problem, which pretty much clinches it.  What about that Rasmussen poll that said 53% of evangelicals and 43% of all voters would never consider voting for a Mormon?  That’s all a lot of hearsay!  Not like the scientific study of what two guys in Colorado think.

One thing missing from all this discussion of religion and politics has been the increasingly evangelical character of American politics over the past generation. The key president here is not the impeccably secular John Kennedy, but rather Jimmy Carter, who presented his faith as central to his personal identity in a way that few presidents had done before him. In the wake of Carter’s presidency, and the rise of the evangelical Right, religion has come to the center of American politics, and, as such, deserves to be taken seriously, and questioned seriously.  

Richard Lyman Bushman gives a good example of not taking it seriously enough when, in his exchange with Linker, he uses the notion of freedom of conscience as a rhetorical trump card against any questioning of Romney’s Mormonism ( e.g. “Mitt Romney’s insistence that he will follow his own conscience rather than church dictates is not only a personal view; it is church policy.”) ~David Bell

This post from Mr. Bell is a good deal better than the last one, though still not without its own problems.  Fortunately, his colleague Jacob Levy had already discovered Prof. Fox’s response, which should improve the quality of the discussion over there a good deal.

In this post Mr. Bell thinks that Prof. Bushman has not taken religion seriously enough when he invokes the Mormon understanding of conscience, but here I think he has missed Prof. Bushman’s entire point in bringing up conscience.  Prof. Bushman mentions the role of conscience in response to Linker’s fear that the prophetic church authorities, which worry Linker because of their theologically instability, will be able to dictate to Mormon politicians how they should govern.  The point of Bushman’s explanation of how Mormons are supposed to make moral judgements is not to make a Mormon’s religion irrelevant or a way of pulling out a “rhetorical trump card” against any questioning of Romney’s religion.  He is attempting to explain that Mormons are actually obliged to make their own judgements, and that this tends to preclude the aforementioned danger of church authorities dictating policy positions to a Mormon public servant.  Regardless of whether the church authorities would try to do this (and, historically, they have not tried very hard), Mormon politicians would be obliged to judge the matter at hand for themselves.  As Prof. Bushman notes in his latest response:

Consider the Church’s own renunciation of control over the consciences of Mormon politicians [bold mine-DL]–a stand Catholics have not taken. Are you saying this is a false front? Keeping in mind the injunction in Mormon scripture to submit to lawful government, is there any real basis for concern? 

Would the politicians’ judgements be informed by their upbringing and life in their church?  Obviously.  It is so obvious, in fact, that it hardly needs to be mentioned.  What Prof. Bushman’s remark about conscience was meant to accomplish was to counter Linker’s suggestion that Mormon politicians are somehow potentially open to receiving commands from their church elders on matters of public interest and will blindly follow what those authorities tell them to do.  Prof. Bushman says this is flatly wrong and that official church teaching proves this.  Is Prof. Bushman right about this?  If he is, Mr. Bell really has no reason to object to this point.

Damon Linker should have written his book about Mormons and politics.  It might have been equally over-the-top and outlandish in its way, but it would have generated a lot more interest than The Theocons, not least because it ties in directly to presidential politics. 

The cover article got the attention of Chris Matthews, who talks about it with David Gergen:

MATTHEWS:  On another front in the Republican Party, Mitt Romney is about to announce an exploratory committee tomorrow.  And what happens, the “New Republic” runs a front page story on the cover of their magazine about the dangers of a Mormon president.  That is pretty rough stuff.  And I read the long piece.  I don‘t think it does the damage they thought it would, but boy, what a long, exhaustive attack on someone‘s religion.

GERGEN:  Can you imagine if someone who had been—when John Kennedy was running, if the “National Review” opened up the great big package on the cover the dangers of having a Catholic in the White House?  Bill Buckley would never have done that.  Of course, he is Catholic, but nonetheless, that is just so below the belt and so inappropriate. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this the season we‘re entering?

GERGEN:  Well, I hope not because the mormonism issue is there.  It‘s lurking there, but it seems to me it‘s been entirely unfair to have this kind of whisper campaign that says a Mormon can‘t win.  You know, the conservatives believe that Mormons are engaged in witchcraft. 

You know, you hear that buzz out there, and, you know, Mitt Romney may or may not be your choice for candidate.  But he‘s got one heck of a record of accomplishment over a lot of things over time, that deserve to get a lot more attention before we ever turn to the question of whether the Mormonism is right or not.  In a day when we‘re burying Gerry Ford, I mean, I just find this stuff so…

I have had plenty of negative things to say about Linker’s article on Mormonism, but the Matthews/Gergen response is just pitiful, as is the reply from people at TNRHere is David Bell on their Open University page:

Linker’s critics are taking the predictable line that Romney’s religion is a private matter, and that any discussion of it therefore amounts to unacceptable prejudice. Linker is “below the belt,” to quote that concentrated essence of conventional wisdom known as David Gergen.

But most of his critics aren’t saying that, unless by “Linker’s critics” we mean Chris Matthews and David Gergen.  What the critics, including Profs. Fox and Bushman, are saying is that Linker gets extremely carried away with his logical unraveling of what Mormon acceptance of continuing prophecy must mean for their relationship with the government and what their millennarian expectations must mean for their politics.  They are saying that Mormons’ millennial hopes of Christ’s return, regardless of where it takes place, are very much on the back burner of actual Mormons’ concerns.  Prof. Bushman acknowledges how terribly logical Linker is being given the basic premises from which he starts, but finds all of his claims about the potential political dangers of prophecy in Mormonism entirely unfounded in the real world.  The critics insist that Linker needs to pay attention to what real Mormons have done in the public sphere and how LDS leaders have not noticeably interfered in the decisions of their members who serve in public office.  Because he does not do this enough, he gives the impression that there is some chance of political interference from church authorities when there is virtually no chance of it at all.  In this, he is amazingly wrong, and they take him to task for it.  But neither of them at any time says that no one should talk about Romney’s religion or that those who say critical things about it are prejudiced. 

As far as I know, David Gergen, ever the boring voice of the complacent middle that knows no strong conviction (except that all strong convictions are dangerous), is the only person to have suggested that the criticism was inherently inappropriate and unacceptable with the implication that it is an essentially private matter.  It was Chris Matthews, and not anyone who has engaged with the substance of the article, who called it “rough stuff.”  Why rough?  Because it raises questions–questions that thoughtful Mormons do not shy away from, but which seem to unsettle Chris Matthews quite a lot.  This is a silly response.  I think most people, Mormons and non-Mormons alike, agree: if you want to play with the big boys in national politics, you have to be able to hold your own in a fight and not run off in a fit when someone is less than superciliously nice to you, and this includes when they talk about your religion.  This is especially the case when you, the candidate, have decided to make your faith fair game by incorporating it into your campaign. 

Mr. Bell’s focus on Matthews and Gergen allows him to make the debate into one where Linker’s critics are supposedly refusing to engage in the substance of the matter, which results in an automatic pass for Linker’s hyperbolic and unfounded claims.  By holding up Matthews and Gergen as somehow representative of the responses to Linker, which they are not, he makes it seem as if all of Linker’s critics are accusing Linker and TNR of religious bigotry.  “Please make the mean, old David Gergens stop saying bad things about us!” he seems to be crying. 

So far as I can tell, very few critics have made any such accusations, and even fewer have tried to take refuge in the lame argument that “religion is a person’s private business” as Mr. Bell claims.  Perhaps for someone who publicly advocates that religion is purely private and personal, that might be a little more true, but, for any religious conservative or religious liberal who believes that his religion does or should inform public policy in any way, his religion becomes the legitimate subject of scrutiny and inquiry.  Mr. Bell is right when he argues this, but his entire post gives the impression that some band of harsh critics is relentlessly harrassing TNR with charges of prejudice, which is complete nonsense. 

Virtually no one, except maybe David Gergen, is really questioning TNR’s motives in running the piece.  No one questions Linker’s motives.  As he has shown, he is not really prejudiced against any particular religion, but he is against any kind of religion in the political sphere.  I do not assume that the editors there are being any more prejudiced towards Mormons than they would be towards any conservative religious person, for whatever that’s worth.  But Mr. Bell is not being serious when he refers to “Gergen, et al.,” when the only person he is really responding to is Gergen.  He gives the impression of an entire gang of people accusing TNR of religious prejudice, when all he really has to go on is David Gergen being bothered by anything so controversial as a discussion about religion.   

Jim Antle is making sense in his latest at American Spectator:

In this case, Mormons have a long, bipartisan tradition of responsible secular governance: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (whose ascension doesn’t seem to have caused any concern), Democratic Congressmen Mo Udall and Dick Swett, longtime Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, and Romney himself don’t appear to have taken all their cues from Salt Lake City. There is no evidence that any of them “view U.S. politics as a stage on which the ultimate divine drama is likely to play itself out, with a Mormon in the leading role.”

The evidence may not matter to some liberal secularists. They have proven they are not resistant to making faith-based political arguments themselves.

Prof. Bushman takes up the rhetorical cudgel again against Damon Linker:

I am asking you not to focus so narrowly on what you take to be the logical implications of revelation. That is what critics of fanaticism have been doing for centuries. Look at the historical record of the past century as Mormons have entered national politics. Is there evidence of manipulation? Consider the Church’s own renunciation of control over the consciences of Mormon politicians–a stand Catholics have not taken. Are you saying this is a false front? Keeping in mind the injunction in Mormon scripture to submit to lawful government, is there any real basis for concern?

Unfortunately, Prof. Bushman’s appeal may not go anywhere.  The secular critics of suppoedly dangerous religious folk seem to be saying: “We don’t watch what you say or what you do–we watch what we say you must inevitably do.”

Ramesh Ponnuru remarks on what Linker got right:

One thing I think Damon Linker got right is that the potential negative reaction to a candidate’s Mormonism is not limited to evangelical conservatives. Thinking about those voters alone, however, I wonder if Romney would be better off if the Mormon church did not present itself as Christian. The suspicion of heresy seems to be part of what riles people up; it wouldn’t be present if Mormonism were just another religion.

Well, yes and no.  It bothers Christians that Mormons claim to be Christians (with the probable implication that they are more or less just like all other Christians, only better Christians and not apostates) while holding what are clearly stunningly heterodox beliefs, but what bothers some Christians just as much are the beliefs themselves.  For Christian voters, for whom a candidate’s faith is an important element of why they choose to support or oppose him, someone who is an infidel is hardly to be preferred over a heretic, though there will probably be strong opposition to either one.  Were the LDS to say, somewhat improbably, “We’re not at all Christian the way everyone else is Christian and we’re proud of it,” it would not make LDS beliefs any more acceptable to those who already find them troubling.  Earlier today I was commenting on Prof. Nassif’s article that referred to “the Great Tradition.”  By any reasonable definition, that Great Tradition does not even encompass Assyrians and non-Chalcedonians, much less Mormons.  I think you could reasonably expect a number of conservative Christians, and not just evangelicals, to view with skepticism the candidacy of any self-styled Christian who does not belong to “the Great Tradition.”  Someone might object that this approach would also compel many religious conservatives to look askance on the candidacies of other non-Christian candidates, but I assume that is rather the whole point of this controversy.

Damon Linker’s book blog may be defunct, but he can stir up blogging like few others with his articles.  His original TNR article on Neuhaus and the “theocons” generated quite a lot of discussion, his debate with Ross Douthat certainly provoked me to do a fair amount of posting and his latest on Mormonism is getting a good deal of attention.  This is probably a function of the overreaching and occasionally wild-eyed claims that he makes in the course of an argument.

At the Mormon group blog, Times and Seasons, Nate Oman is none too pleased with Linker’s article.  In his post he makes many of the same objections I did, and adds a few more:

Yet in all of this they are, for better or for worse, acting much more like a Protestant denomination than like a religious state in embryo. It takes an enormous amount of historical obtuseness (or religious paranoia) to see the current political activity of the Mormon Church as covert theocracy building.

And yet Damon Linker is sounding the alarm in the pages of the New Republic that “under a President Romney, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would truly be in charge of the country.” To be sure, Damon raises a nice point of Mormon theology: Under what circumstances is a good Latter-day Saint entitled to ignore the words of a living prophet? Over the years, Mormons have given various answers. Joseph Smith insisted that a prophet was only a prophet when speaking as a prophet, although he didn’t provide a clear way of determining precisely when that is. Joseph F. Smith, James E. Talmage, and others who testified before the Smoot Hearings on behalf of the Church insisted that prophetic counsel was only binding when submitted to the Church for a vote. Joseph Fielding Smith taught that the (admittedly always expandable) canon provided guidance to the authority of prophetic statements. J. Reuben Clark insisted that prophetic statements only acquired prophetic authority for a believer when the Spirit bears witness to him or her of their truth. My own view, articulated in detail in some forthcoming articles, is that Mormon doctrine and revelation is always in part an interpretive process where both history and the independent moral judgment of the interpreter play a decisive role. This is an important theological discussion, and to the extent that an accusation in one of America’s respected opinion journals that Mormons are unfit for public office forces us to think about this question, we are indebted to Damon.

That said, however, his political concerns are ultimately ridiculous. Politics is a practical arena in which questions of what might or might not be theoretically possible are subordinated to what is actually likely to happen. Once we move from the world of ideological speculation to the realm of practical politics, history and experience are much more reliable guides than theological logic-chopping. What history teaches us is that Mormon leaders today will not try to dictate to Romney, nor would they use a Mormon in the White House to create an LDS theocracy. To be sure if Romney is elected President and Gordon B. Hinckley calls the White House, Romney will take the call, but it will not contain his political marching orders. As for the Mormon hierarchy’s retained right to speak on “moral” issues, it has almost certainly already had whatever influence on Romney it is going to have. The Mormon prophets are socially conservative. They are hostile to liquor, gambling, most (but not all) kinds of abortion, and gay marriage. Romney, as an active Latter-day Saint, probably shares these basic instincts. His record, however, shows that he is willing to waffle and compromise on all of them. Furthermore, thus far his waffling and compromise haven’t resulted in any formal or informal ecclesiastical sanctions. This comes as no surprise to students of Mormonism. One might not realize it from reading Damon’s piece (or CES curriculum), but there actually is a history of good Mormons ignoring Church counsel on “moral” issues when it turns political. An good example of this is Utah’s vote to overturn prohibition despite the pleadings of then-church president Heber J. Grant.

So Linker’s fears of prophetic political meddling are unfounded and find no precedent in Mormon history.  (In fairness, he does not say at any point that Mormons are “unfit” for public office, but he does seem to give strong reasons why non-Mormons should not want them to hold public office or should at least put them through the third degree before accepting them as candidates.)  Like most of his fears of takeovers by the supposedly theocratically-inclined, who are usually not theocratically-inclined at all, these fears of Salt Lake City calling the shots in the improbable event of a Romney Administration are baseless.  They’re so obviously baseless that Mr. Oman wonders how it has even become an issue:

I suspect, however, that a large part of what we are seeing in Damon’s article is the half-submerged memory of “Popery.” Four hundred years of fear and loathing is not easily forgotten. The image of zealot subversives in our midst acting on orders from shadowy religious hierarchs has much older roots than 9/11. In the nightmares of some Americans, the echoes of almost forgotten political tropes can still be heard. In these dystopian dreams, Mitt Romney is cast as Guy Fawkes, and Gordon B. Hinckley is Pius V. The irony, of course, is that Damon is not an anti-Catholic. Far from it. He is at pains to laud the Catholic natural law tradition, and as far as I know he is an observant member of the Roman Church. Indeed, I suspect that the appeals to Catholic natural law are made precisely because Damon realizes that he is playing off of old fears about “Popery.” Or perhaps not. After all, Damon recently authored a book about a Catholic priest at the center of a vast conspiracy to undermine the foundations of the country. It is a story line that, whatever its substantive merits in the case of Damon’s Theocons, has deep roots in Anglo-American history. It is also, alas, a prefabricated plot line in which Mormonism seems destined to be crammed.

It is true that Mr. Linker is not exactly anti-Catholic.  He is, as near as I can tell, anti-pre-Vatican II Catholic.  No debate in which he participates passes without his mentioning something about the supposedly politically retrograde nature of the old Catholicism before its accommodation with “liberal democracy.”  The political Catholicism of another era and the anti-liberal Catholicism of the 19th century are apparently for him more damnable than Mormonism ever will be, because they represent an invasion of the secular sphere by the claims of Christianity and represent a kind of pollution of political life with the inflexible requirements of revelation to a much greater degree.  Mormonism may have its flaws in Linker’s eyes, but old Catholic anti-liberalism is unforgivable. 

Today, the “theocons” have transgressed against “liberal democracy” with their insertion of Catholic natural law teaching into political discourse, since this is for Linker not much better than an attempt to make Catholicism the basis for public discussions about moral and political questions.  If Linker’s article about Mormonism gives a whiff of the old accusations of popery (and let’s not forget everybody’s favourite, priestcraft), it is because the old arguments about popery are woven into the fabric of Western liberalism since the 19th century: both represent a common liberal fear of religious authority and established religion, as these things represent mortal threats to the kind of society freethinkers (Freisinnigen) want to have.  For these people, authority itself tends to be a bad word or at best something to be questioned rather than acknowledged and followed.  That fears of such things in the Anglo-American experience have typically been the fruits of hysteria and panic does not dissuade liberals from making these same kinds of arguments time and again.  Should there ever be a conservative Orthodox Christian running for national office, we will hear much the same thing and all the old canards about Orthodoxy and Tsarism or Caesaropapism will be rehashed and circulated anew. 

Razib at Gene Expression has an unusual take on Mormonism: it is popular because it is false and obviously falsifiable, which makes it more accessible.  Um, okay.  Somehow I don’t think the Mormons would take this as a compliment.

Nick Gillespie at Reason’s Hit and Run blog offers a Mormon round-up in response to Mitt Romney’s official entrance into the ‘08 fray.

On a lighter note, this blogger thinks Damon Linker writes for The National Review (what else could TNR stand for, right?)--Rich Lowry, call your office!        

Reading my complaint about the unavailability of the article, Prof. Arben Fox was kind enough to send me a copy of Damon Linker’s TNR article on Mitt Romney and Mormonism.  Prof. Fox has written a valuable, extensive response to Mr. Linker at his blog in which he offers a strong critique, and as a Mormon himself he is far better informed and much more capable of answering many of the specific charges that Mr. Linker makes.  Those things that Prof. Fox doesn’t cover are ably addressed by Prof. Bushman’s response to the article.  According to Prof. Fox, Linker’s questions deserve answers, which he tries to provide, in spite of the fact that Linker has framed the argument in such a way as to make it much harder to give answers that will be understood by the skeptical non-Mormon.  Indeed, in today’s salvo Mr. Linker shows that he has not quite understood Prof. Bushman’s answers on behalf of Mormons.  According to Prof. Bushman, the description of Mormons and Mormonism Linker gives would be entirely unrecognisable to actual Mormons.  However, this general statement about the entirety of the piece is not enough–Mr. Linker wants a list of his errors (as if one overarching statement that he got it wrong were not enough).  Prof. Bushman’s first response is not unlike the response Mr. Linker’s attack on “theocons” has elicited from religious conservatives, who do not begin to recognise themselves in what he writes about them.  

As with all polemicists (including myself), Mr. Linker is tremendously logical while having much less interest in what his target has to say for himself (except insofar as that can be used to strengthen the polemic).  As with any heresiologist (and, yes, there can be secular liberal heresiologists of a sort), for Mr. Linker what the target says that he believes is not nearly as important as the logical implications of his assumptions as the heresiologist understands them.  Historians do not approach their subjects this way.  In fact, they approach them in almost the exact opposite way: theirs is the task of describing and understanding, and there is usually a desire to describe, as much as is possible, a group of people in the past in the terms that would have been intelligible to them.  Above all, the historian tries to understand how they understood themselves.  This is why many historians, especially secular historians, boggle at heresiology and doctrinal controversy.  As people trained to seek to understand what people radically different from ourselves believed and why, historians find the habit of mind of, say, a late antique or Byzantine polemicist embarrassingly heavy-handed and tendentious.  Can’t these people see what their opponents are saying?  Why do they insist on imposing an entire architecture of error on their interlocutors with which the latter categorically deny any connection?  Because that is what polemicists do: what you say is important only as a window into what you must really mean when you say it.  Pay no attention to the fact that Mormons have not been taking political marching orders from  the elders in Salt Lake City–they must take those orders and follow through on them, according to the secular polemicist, because that is what any serious religious believer must do, especially in a church that stresses the importance of new prophecy as a source of revealed truth.  The polemicist knows this because it follows logically from how he understands religious authority.  That is, someone under religious authority is obliged to follow the dictates of that authority, and must therefore be the authority’s willing instrument in all things.  To put such a person in power thus threatens us all with being controlled by that person’s religious authority.  This is especially true for the polemicist if the religious believer is an avowed advocate of deriving certain of his political values from his religious tradition, however indirectly or vaguely.  Never mind that all of this is specifically rejected by the person and the religious authority in question.  The perfect logic of the polemic has no need of evidence. 

It would appear that most of the heavy lifting in this debate has already been done.  However, there are still a few things that Linker does say that I would like to discuss a little bit more.  As I read it, Mr. Linker says that pre-Vatican II Catholicism was frightening because it was foreign and too hostile to modernity, democracy, etc., and Mormonism is frightening because it is too American and too closely wedded to our political system.  Here is Linker:

A very different, though arguably more troubling, set of questions and concerns are posed by the prospect of the nation electing a president who is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). In some ways, Catholicism and Mormonism present diametrically opposed political challenges to liberal democracy. With Kennedy’s faith, the concern was over the extent of his deference to a foreign ecclesiastical authority.  The genuine and profound loyalty of Mormons to the United States and its political system is, by contrast, undeniable [bold mine-Larison]. Indeed, LDS patriotism flows directly from Mormon theology. And that is precisely the problem.   

Talk about a tough audience!  Genuine and profound loyalty to the United States and its political system, which Mr. Linker does not even attempt to deny, is rooted in Mormon “theology” and is at the same time the source of Mormonism’s threat to “liberal democracy.”  I can only suppose from this that “liberal democracy” is not what Linker thinks the American political system is (technically, they aren’t the same at all, but in any conventional usage we would all agree that they are one and the same).  Further, it confirms that there is nothing that Mormons can do or say that will satisfy the defender of this “liberal democracy,” because their long-standing acceptance of the American constitutional order is not really in doubt and nonetheless Linker deems them a threat to that order. 

What troubles Mr. Linker, then, is not their threat to “liberal democracy,” which is non-existent, but their conviction that America plays a vital and ongoing role in sacred history to a much greater degree than any evangelical Protestant believes.  The whole “American Zion” idea, the Nephites and, well, the Book of Mormon make him nervous.  This stuff really bothers him.  This is not because it strikes him as one of those far-fetched, rather incredible aspects of Mormonism, or that, a la Weisberg, accepting such claims entails some unique gullibility that automatically disqualifies those who accept them from positions of responsibility in government.  The details of most of what Mormons believe do not trouble Mr. Linker as they trouble many a conservative Christian, myself included.  Instead, it is their belief that America has some providential role that worries him.  Why?  Well, he tells us in part here:

The centrality of the United States to Mormon theology extends beyond the past and present to encompass the end times as well. Like many of the religious groups to emerge from the Second Great Awakening of the early nineteenth century, Mormons are millennialists who believe themselves to be living in the years just prior to the second coming of Christ; hence the words “latter day” in the church’s official title.  Where the LDS differs from other communities gripped by eschatology, however, is in the vital role it envisions the United States playing in the end times. The Mormon “Articles of Faith” teach that, when Christ returns, he will reign “personally upon the earth” for 1,000 years, and LDS interpretations of a passage in Isaiah have led some to conclude that this rule will be directed from two locations— one in Jerusalem and the other in “Zion” (the United States). This belief has caused Mormons to view U.S. politics as a stage on which the ultimate divine drama is likely to play itself out, with a Mormon in the leading role.

Mr. Linker gets fairly sloppy here.  Both Christians and Mormons believe they are living in “the latter days.”  (Unlike the old Seventh-Day Adventists, none of us predicts the date of Christ’s return.)  To say that someone is a “millennialist” does not tell us very much about what he believes about Christ’s reign.  Everyone who believes that Christ will come again and rule is a millennialist of one sort or another.  Everyone who expected Christ’s return since at least St. Paul believed he was living in “the latter days” and there are frequent patristic references to Christ’s Incarnation taking place “in these latter days.”  What Mr. Linker succeeds in showing here is that, as far removed from orthodox Christianity as Mormonism is on many, many things, it is actually more conventional (at least for many Protestants) in its pre-millennialism than it is in many other points of theology.  As near as I can tell, the problem here is that Linker believes Mormons to be political millenarians as well: that is, he seems to be claiming that they believe that they can help usher in the end times through political action.  If that were true, it could be very worrisome.  Politically active chiliasts often unleash terrible evils upon the world.  But why is it that I have the hardest time imagining Mormons, who are personally much more on the milquetoast side than on the side of fanaticism, engaging in a power play to hasten the millennium?  Prof. Fox provides a possible explanation:

Mormon millenarianism is a fascinating topic, but it is also very much a background theme in the contemporary church [bold mine-DL], and while most Americans would probably instinctively think Mormon claims about these matters are nutty, they’d also have to acknowledge that they are mostly without specific political content, unless one chooses to seriously and unfairly strain one’s interpretations.

Very simply, Mormon beliefs about the United States and the end times come down to this: it is popularly (and to a degree doctrinally–more on that difference below) accepted in the Mormon church that the freedoms guaranteed in the United States, particularly through the absence of established churches, made the founding of our church possible, and that consequently we need to both see a divine purpose in the founding of this nation and feel a divine imperative to preserve the freedoms its founding guaranteed. (An imperative that I have felt more than a few Mormon legislators have failed to respect lately.) There is also a popular (though not so much doctrinal) belief within the church that Mormons in the U.S. will play an important role in the eventual fate of this country in the lead-up to the second coming of Christ. But–and this is the important thing for purposes of this argument–there is no clearly defined sense of what that role will be.       

In short, Mormons are moved by their religious commitment to…defend constitutional liberties, including the freedom of religion?  Now, that is scary!

What bothers Mr. Linker still more is the unsettled nature of Mormonism because of the potential role of prophecy in making significant changes to the religion and the authority accorded to prophecy.  As Prof. Bushman hinted and as Mr. Linker himself acknowledged, the few most recent occasions when prophecy was used to introduce new teachings that are formally binding on all Mormons have actually brought Mormonism more in line with contemporary social mores. Prophecy in Mormonism has historically had the very moderating effect on Mormonism that Mr. Linker says Mormonism lacks because of its reliance on prophecy.  (Leave aside for the moment the potentially more disturbing pattern of prophecy coming up with the “right” answer to solve a problem that Mormons were facing at the time–for instance, the official rejection of polygamy coming just in time to facilitate Utah statehood.)  

Were Montanists still kicking around somewhere, Mr. Linker would have the same fears of the claims of the New Prophecy.  Certainly, from an orthodox Christian perspective, Mormonism is as objectionable as Montanism was for the apparently changeable nature of its basic church teachings.  Then again, orthodox Christians would almost have to hope that there was some mechanism by which Mormons could effectively jettison their most absurd and theologically nonsensical beliefs (not that there is much chance of their doing this, mind you).  For some of the most die-hard critics of Mormonism, the possibility that Mormonism is “unstable” in this way and may become something doctrinally other than what it is is hardly something that makes Mormonism appear worse, much less threatening.  Indeed, one word that never comes to mind when I think of Mormonism today is the word threatening.  Except as a heresy (which is admittedly no small thing), it poses no threat whatever.     

It seems to me that it is quite one thing to note that Mormons are not Christians and for Christian voters to take that into account when judging a Mormon candidate.  It is quite another thing to conjure up rather far-reaching, implausible scenarios of Mormon domination when the historical record suggests that nothing could be further from the minds of the Mormons themselves.  But then far-reaching, implausible scenarios of domination by religious enthusiasts are Mr. Linker’s stock in trade these days, aren’t they? 

Liberals must be particularly cautious in speculating about the political intentions of religious groups because of their fascination with fanaticism. Fanaticism is one of the most firmly entrenched stereotypes in the liberal mind. The fanatic is the polar opposite of all that the liberal stands for and thus constitutes a particularly delicious enemy. ~Richard Lyman Bushman

On behalf of the fanatics, I happily agree with that definition.

Query: why does TNR put up an online discussion of an article that can only be read by subscribers?  It isn’t going to make anyone subscribe.  The beauty of these little online debates is that they generate a lot of attention, which they won’t do if the main article is under veritable lock and key.  I would love to comment on what Linker has said about Romney and Mormonism, since I had plenty to say about Linker and Romney last year, but it aint worth the subscription price.

He [Dawkins] counsels readers to imagine a world without religion and conjures his own glimpse: “Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as ‘Christ-killers,’ no Northern Ireland ‘troubles,’ no ‘honor killings,’ no shiny-suited bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money.” ~Nicholas Kristof

Good one, Dawkins!  Without mixing religion into it, Croatian nationalists would never have killed Serbs, nor would Serb nationalists have ever killed Croats!  Because nationalists otherwise love foreigners until you start mixing God into it.  Nazis, whose religion was the nation and the state, would also have left everyone in peace if it hadn’t been for all those religious people spurring them on to acts of violence.  If the kulaks hadn’t been so stubbornly old-fashioned with their belief in God, they probably wouldn’t have starved in the Ukrainian genocide.  No one would ever overthrow or attempt to kill English monarchs but for quarrels over transubstantiation–why would anyone contest power if it were not to force everyone to pray in Latin?  There have also never been con-artists or frauds until the televangelist appeared on the scene (except, possibly, for Richard Dawkins). 

Imagine!  Instead of religious honour killings, you would just have tribal honour killings (because izzat and similar ideas in other cultures are cultural values that transcend religious loyalties), along with turf, money, resource, racial, nationalist and gang killings, which are much more gentle and not nearly so bigoted.  There is no possible reason why the Palestinians might have looked dimly on the establishment of Israel had they not been mystified by the opium of the masses.  They would have sat down with the Zionists and sung Kumbayah, except that they wouldn’t sing anything so deeply fanatical and dangerous as a religious song!  Finally, peace in our time–Dawkins shows us the way. 

Had we been without religion, when the Hutus slaughtered Tutsis at least you wouldn’t have had Hutu Catholics participating–no, sir, the genocide would take place without any involvement of religious people.  What a relief!  There would never be suicide bombers, even though the tactic was innovated by ethnic separatists in a (continuing) war of independence, because oppression, hatred and war would disappear once we stopped arguing over confessions of faith.  Thank goodness Dawkins has come to deliver us from evil–what would we have done without his guidance? 

Not even Sullivan of the low, broad Church of Doubt who sings the praises of the Gnostic “Gospels” can take Mormonism seriously as a kind of Christianity.  Granted, I wouldn’t take the judgements of the theologically illiterate too seriously, but it must mean something that even the wobbliest and least doctrinaire of Christians cannot bring himself to accept the Mormon claims to being Christian. 

He writes this in response to a reader (a self-described “atheist ex-Mormon”), who notes that one reason why Christians deny that Mormons are Christians is that Mormons have a “different view of the Trinity.”  That’s putting it rather mildly.  That’s like saying Areios, Eunomios (no relation to Eunomia!) and Sabellius had “different” views of the Trinity, when by definition their doctrines compelled them to reject anything resembling the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as Nicenes and later Orthodox Christians have understood it.  (This is why I would object to referring to the Arian controversy as a Trinitarian controversy, since one party to the controversy was incapable of acknowledging that the Trinity existed in the first place, to say nothing of how the Persons of the Trinity related to one another.)  So Mormons do not have a “different view” of the Trinity, but do not accept the doctrine of the Trinity itself and so do not confess One God in Trinity as Christians around the world have done for ages.  That is actually not a small thing, or at least it isn’t a small thing to serious Christians.  It would be much better, at least for the clarity of the argument, if Mormons were willing to defend their theology as it is and state clearly why they believe it to be true rather than play this game of “can’t we all just get along?”   

Forty-three percent (43%) of American voters say they would never even consider voting for a Mormon Presidential candidate. Only 38% say they would consider casting such a vote while 19% are not sure (see crosstabs). Half (53%) of all Evangelical Christians say that they would not consider voting for a Mormon candidate.

Overall, 29% of Likely Voters have a favorable opinion of Romney while 30% hold an unfavorable view.  Most of those opinions are less than firmly held. Ten percent (10%) hold a very favorable opinion while 11% have a very unfavorable assessment. Among the 41% with no opinion of Romney, just 27% say they would consider voting for a Mormon.

It is possible, of course, that these perceptions might change as Romney becomes better known and his faith is considered in the context of his campaign. Currently, just 19% of Likely Voters are able to identify Romney as the Mormon candidate from a list of six potential Presidential candidates. ~Rasmussen

Wow.  If this is accurate, 43% of the population would just be lost in any national general election in which Romney would run, and my guess is that they would mostly come from the Republican side of the fence.  The Democrats must be salivating at the unlikely prospect of a Romney nomination (though they would, of course, denounce sectarianism and religious prejudice even as they were reaping the benefits).  You can expect the 527s allied with his opponents in the primaries will be making a lot of noise about “unelectability.”  The candidates themselves will pretend that they are above the prejudice of the mob, but they will probably say coded things to make the same point: “We need a nominee who will unite America, and we need a nominee who can compete across the country.” 

People talk up the comparisons with JFK in 1960, but the right comparison for Romney might be Al Smith in 1928.  Would another generation make a Mormon candidate acceptable?  Possibly, if they become a much larger presence in national life and more people come into contact with them on a regular basis, but I suspect that there will be continuing opposition that is more deeply-seated than the old hostility to Catholic candidates.  It might be worth pointing out that there has still never been a Catholic Republican nominee for President, which might be attributed to the fact that Catholics have only recently been coming over to the GOP in larger numbers, but it might also be a sign that Catholic candidates on GOP tickets think they will be unable to succeed on the national stage.  

Now I’m not a political strategist by trade (but I play one at this blog), but I have seen enough of these polls to know that Romney’s 30% unfav rating before most people even know that he’s a Mormon (and this when a huge percentage of the population would never consider voting for a Mormon) is almost certain political death on the national stage.  Losing half of the evangelicals right off the bat is doom for any GOP candidate for President.  That’s not a guess–this is a reality of the dynamics of Republican primaries across the South, West and Midwest. 

The activists, leaders and NROniks can keep telling themselves that Romney is the social conservatives’ friend and ally and expect that this will make all the difference, but these anti-Mormon attitudes seem pretty powerful.  Romney can save himself some stress and a lot of time and work if he just bails out now.  No one could blame him for not wanting to try to scale an insurmountable obstacle.

An angry Mormon NRO Reader writes to Goldberg: 

As a Mormon, I am offended by the arrogance of Evangelicals like your reader from Kansas City. Why does he refuse to let me self-identify as a Christian, (he says to “compare [Mormonism] with Christianity”. Indeed I am a member of “The Church of Jesus Christ…” Each Sunday I take upon myself the name of Christ through a sacred ordinance we call the sacrament. I pray in the name of Christ. The Book of Mormon is another testament of Christ. Again the list could go on.

Some Gnostic sects of the second century also claimed to be Christian and understood the Logos as one of a myriad Aeons who populated a complex and often baffling mythology of generations of Aeons and the hierarchy into which they were arranged.  Perhaps the Valentinians are in this respect comparable to Mormon “henotheism” with their pantheon of Jehovah, Elohim, etc. (who are, unless I am very much mistaken, considered to be distinct divinities, albeit perhaps “manifestations” of one supreme deity).  Some Vaishnavites (worshipers of Vishnu) believe that Christ was one of the latter-day incarnations of Vishnu, following the more well-known avatars Rama and Krishna, to name only two, but this obviously does not make them Christians. 

Perhaps more relevant is the example of the Arians.  Arians claimed to be Christians, indeed were coming from within the Church, but according to everything that virtually all Christians have believed for 1,600 years they were not really Christians.  That did not stop the Arians from considering themselves to be orthodox Christians, but their saying it did not, as far as anyone else was concerned, make it so.  It was also untrue, which is the rather crucial point here.  This ceases to be a contest over labels at some point and becomes very much one of clashing truth claims.  Put bluntly, many Mormon truth claims are absurd from the perspective of every Christian confession on the planet.  In short, either what they claim is true, and everyone else is a false Christian, or what the major confessions agree on (for example, that God is unoriginate, or that God is One in Trinity) shows their doctrines to be utter nonsense and proves them to be far outside the bounds not only of any one confession’s definition of orthodoxy but far outside the bounds of any recognisable Christianity.   

As Fr. Neuhaus said in his 2000 discussion of Mormonism, the most apt comparison may be with Islam.  That will sound particularly pejorative nowadays, but it is not intended to be.  It is not simply the abstemious Mormon avoidance of alcohol (and nicotine and coffee) that makes the comparison apt.  Their confident claim that the Jews and Christians (or, in their view, pseudo-Christians) distorted the “true” Scriptures is identical to the claim of the Qur’an about the Tanakh and the Gospels.  In the case of the Qur’an, this allows for Muhammad’s garbled, half-remembered stories derived from both sources to be taken as the true accounts against which the “corrupt” versions will be compared and found wanting.  I confess to not having read Joseph Smith’s “revised” Bible, so I cannot say just how much has been changed, but the presumption of changing it at all creates a significant problem for virtually all Christians.  The gentleman writes to encourage all to read the Book of Mormon “along with the Bible.”  But, of course, the question will come up: which Bible?  Theirs or ours?  Isn’t the reality of a significant difference between the two yet another example of the disconnect between their claim to be Christian and the reality that LDS are not?  The list of doctrinal errors could go on.   

No one can stop Mormons from self-identifying any way they please.  No one is trying all that hard to stop them.  But it is a bit tiresome to hear the complaints that Mormons are somehow being oppressed because the rest of us will not indulge what appears to us to be a false claim.  The hard-line Mormon view, as I understand it, is that the rest of us are not Christians, which must make it especially galling to them to have us, the pretenders, tell them that they are not really Christians.  But it shouldn’t be galling; it should be something they expect.  If Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, non-Chalcedonians, etc. and all our predecessors going back to the first century are frauds, as they hold we must be if their church is the “re-established” Church of Jesus Christ, why would it matter what we call them or whether we, the frauds, credit them with the name of Christian?  It is as if they wish to be included at our table as part of a kind of Christian big tent, when in fact they (or at least their church authorities) have no interest in any such thing.  They would like us to acknowledge their claims to being the true church, but if they believe they are right about us they must know that we, frauds that we are, will never acknowledge anything of the sort.  There is a certain integrity to this view that they are the true church, and it is one that I can understand (the Orthodox Church makes the same claim about Herself), but if you want to insist on that claim you should be prepared to find your most outlandish doctrines closely scrutinised and roundly criticised when they deviate from what virtually all Christians have accepted for at least 1,600 years.       

To give a credible account of the sacred stories and truth claims is no easy task. Not to put too fine a point on it, the founding stories and doctrines of Mormonism appear to the outsider as a bizarre phantasmagoria of fevered religious imagination not untouched by perverse genius. Germinated in the “burnt–over district” of upstate New York in the early nineteenth century, where new religions and spiritualities produced a veritable rainforest of novel revelations, the claims of Joseph Smith represent a particularly startling twist of the kaleidoscope of religious possibilities. In 1831, Alexander Campbell, cofounder of the Disciples of Christ, said that Smith pasted together “every error and almost every truth discussed in New York for the last ten years.” Much of the teaching reflects the liberal Protestantism of the time, even the Transcendental and Gnostic fevers that were in the air: e.g., a God in process of becoming, progressive revelation, the denial of original sin, and an unbridled optimism about the perfectibility of man. Mix that in with the discovery of golden tablets written in a mysterious language, the bodily appearance of God the Father and Son, angelic apparitions, and a liberal dose of Masonic ritual and jargon, and the result is, quite simply, fantastic. The question, of course, is whether it is true.


The question as asked by Mormons is turned around: are non–Mormons who claim to be Christians in fact so? The emphatic and repeated answer of the Mormon scriptures and the official teaching of the LDS is that we are not. We are members of “the great and abominable church” that was built by frauds and impostors after the death of the first apostles. The true church and true Christianity simply went out of existence, except for its American Indian interlude, until it was rediscovered and reestablished by Joseph Smith in upstate New York, and its claims will be vindicated when Jesus returns, sooner rather than later, at a prophetically specified intersection in Jackson County, Missouri. ~Fr. Richard John Neuhaus

The other question that is often asked of whether it is Christian seems even easier to answer.  The answer, of course, is no.  Even if you could somehow leave aside the stunningly heterodox theology that makes Areios look moderate and agreeable and the incredible sacred history of the Lamanites that strains the credulity of the most credulous, you would be left with things such as the denial of original sin, something so fundamental to all Christian confessions (though some do not endorse a strict Augustinian view of the matter) and vital to the understanding of the reason for the Incarnation of the Word, that leave a reasonably orthodox Christian of any confession marveling at how such a group could regard itself as being all that terribly similar with Christian churches.   

The question about a Romney candidacy is not entirely whether Christian conservatives will vote for a Mormon as such, but whether they can honestly accept someone as their candidate whom they regard as a non-Christian.  An important part of voting, as I have said numerous times, is the ability to identify with a candidate.  Can Christian conservatives look past the Mormon identity of a candidate and support him because he shares their views on certain social issues?  They might, but that is not what voters typically do.  They don’t overlook their visceral discomfort with a candidate because he happens to take the right positions; they find candidates who make them feel comfortable and then choose among them based on whether they can identify with one and only then, if at all, do they come to policy questions.  If people are predisposed to oppose a Mormon candidate for President because he is not a Christian, it will not matter what he says.  If his non-Christian identity doesn’t disturb them, he might appeal to them on common political ground.  

For those who are reacting in a hostile manner to Romney, it would not matter what religion Romney followed so long as it is not Christianity, because they would probably not support his candidacy regardless of what kind of non-Christian he was.  One thing that sets some Christians on edge about Mormonism is the claim and the presumption of those in the LDS to call themselves Christians and to be offended when others deny them that name; arguably, were it not for the attempt to pretend to be Christian against the considerable evidence to the contrary, Mormons might seem less objectionable to many of their Christian critics.  The attempt to claim a Christian identity where none exists, it seems to me, comes across to some Christians as a kind of political strategy, a way to make their religion more palatable to the majority by telling sugar-coated falsehoods.  On the one hand, this strikes some as dishonest or calculating; on the other, it strikes others as a worrisome sign that many Mormons may not actually know what their own church teaches and are being profoundly misled by their church authorities, which lends credibility to the anxiety about a rapidly growing cult in our midst.  All of this tends to give a very bad impression.  Add to that the strange history of Joseph Smith and the LDS itself, and you have a recipe for deep distrust and suspicion.

I suspect that we will all, myself included, be shocked by the strength of the anti-Mormon sentiment that appears in the GOP primaries when Romney is running.  We will likely see a powerful anti-Romney campaign in South Carolina and other early primaries that will make the attacks on McCain in 2000 look like a picnic.  Worse than turning against Romney in large numbers, Christian conservatives will simply stay away if there are no other credible alternatives.  Given the Terrible Trio, many conservatives will not bother to vote in primaries where they are forced to choose between the Belligerent Old Man, the Drag Queen and the Mormon.  In practical political terms, Romney will also be too well known in New Hampshire and too much of an established figure to win a primary that tends to go to underdogs and, in two years, will possibly go an intensely populist candidate (Duncan Hunter, this may mean you).  The question of whether evangelicals will vote for Romney may be moot when the primaries in which they have a lot of clout come around, as his campaign might well be struggling to stay above water by that point for reasons almost entirely unrelated to his religion. 

 I don’t think religious people murder. I think people are misusing religion to justify their murder. And a lot of Americans understand it that way. Maybe it’s not nuanced enough for some of the thinkers and all that stuff – that’s fine. But that’s exactly what a lot of people like me think. ~George W. Bush

Obviously religious people commit murder.  All kinds of people commit murder.  Some religions have mandated murder, which they have pleasantly called sacrifice or blood-offering, and some have mandated murder for the glory of the deity.  There have been religious people committing what we would call murder since Phineas and before that.  That doesn’t make any of it necessarily right, and certainly most if not all of it is obviously wrong, but to start with the assumption that religious people, generally speaking, don’t murder and murderers cannot be religious is to assume something not in evidence for much of human history.  Religious people who are also virtuous according to our standards of virtue, by definition, do not commit murders, but that is something all together different from what Mr. Bush has said.     

Invoking God in the political realm is a conversation stopper, not an invitation to robust debate. America’s rules of religious etiquette demand that we acquiesce silently in a believer’s claim of revelation. But conservatism doesn’t need such revelation; common sense and an openness to fact will do just fine as support. Conservative principles are available to people of all faiths or no faith at all. ~Heather Mac Donald

Via Joshua Trevino

The great line of demarcation in modern politics, Eric Voegelin used to point out, is not a division between liberals on one side and totalitarians on the other. No, on one side of that line are all those men and women who fancy that the temporal order is the only order, and that material needs are their only needs, and that they may do as they like with the human patrimony. On the other side of that line are all those people who recognize an enduring moral order in the universe, a constant human nature, and high duties toward the order spiritual and the order temporal. [bold mine-DL] ~Russell Kirk

The Kirk quote comes from his discussion of the ten conservative principles–which were not exhaustive, but meant to be the beginnings of an introduction–that can be found in The Conservative Mind.  The dividing line he is talking about today cuts right through the middle of the “conservative movement,” and the statement speaks for itself about the importance of a decent respect and recognition of the spiritual order and the spiritual nature of man–which is surely integral to understanding the constancy of human nature and the truth about human nature.  Conservatives are not, cannot be, monists, so long as we regard people as ends in themselves.  If we took Ms. Mac Donald’s prohibition on the non-empirical seriously, all metaphysics would have to depart from conservatism, and we would be left very simply with some kind of odd materialism that has no guiding vision or sense of what constitutes good order. 

When Ms. Mac Donald says things like, “conservatism doesn’t need revelation,” she generally seems to mean that “I consider myself a perfectly good conservative, and I don’t think we need revelation, therefore conservatism doesn’t need revelation.”  That is about as far as the demonstration goes.  Granted, this is for USA Today, but even so it is not much of an argument. 

This does not take account of whether there is much in the way of a tradition in conservative thought for thinking as she does.  There might be, but these arguments do not provide it.  But by way of rebutting this claim, I would like to recall some recent debates that Ms. Mac Donald provoked with her earlier call to rally round secular conservatism.  In the first chapter of this story, Ms. Mac Donald was writing in a symposium for The American Conservative, though her contribution struck me as being almost unique in its lack of relation to the relevant subject of “What is Left? What is Right?”  In that article, Ms. Mac Donald complained about the terrible pressures and burdens the religious conservatives were putting on their secular counterparts:

So maybe religious conservatives should stop assuming that they alone occupy the field. Maybe they should cut back a bit on their religious triumphalism. Nonbelievers are good conservatives, too. 

Of course, religious conservatives have never assumed that they alone occupied the field.  They were only too aware that they did not alone occupy the field.  So two months ago, it was all suffering and marginalisation for the secular conservatives.  Today, as we are deluged with more warnings about religious conservative madness and theocon perfidy from all sides, Ms. Mac Donald abandons the defensive crouch of the persecuted minority and goes on the offensive with the desire to clear out the opposition.  “Revelation?  We don’t need no stinking revelations!” she cries. 

Turning from the criticism that revelation is not strictly necessary for someone to be a conservative (which can be true to some degree), she has instead advanced the view that revelation is irrelevant to political problems and appropriately so (which is not at all true) and that conservatism doesn’t need revelation, either (also untrue).  Plainly any conservatism worth its salt seeks to protect and preserve the inheritance of Christian civilisation, and a vital part of that civilisation is the Faith itself.  In periods when adherence to Christianity was much more of a given than it is today, this likely needed less emphasis, but today it seems to me imperative.  You might be able to argue that one can be a law-abiding, sane member of society and uphold conservative principles without embracing that Faith or confessing belief in God, but what you have a much harder time arguing from conservative premises is that you can be a conservative and simultaneously deny the relevance and significance for public problems of the treasury of wisdom bequeathed to us over at least 2,000 years of Christian tradition. 

The secular conservative might not recognise the claims of this tradition to be truths handed down by God, but one marvels at the presumption that he is free to ignore the entirety of that tradition except for some mild aesthetic appreciation of nice Gothic cathedrals and the odd Baroque painting (”My, didn’t these religious people make nice paintings!” he will say) and determine that everything derived from what Christians hold to be revelation might as well be chucked overboard or ignored in the public square in exchange for our common sense and “openness to fact.”  A conservative subordinates himself to the traditions of his civilisation insofar as he is able and acknowledges that the traditions possess vastly more wisdom than he, his common sense and “openness to fact” will be able to amass in a single lifetime.  To neglect this and expect to make solid conservative arguments would be like trying to master a subject of inquiry without ever consulting a library.  This tradition, as my colleague Josh Trevino suggests, is largely amenable to reason and possesses reams of rational argument in exposition and defense of the claims of the Faith; should secular conservatives ever be inclined to engage it rather than dismiss it out of hand they would not only reconnect with their own cultural heritage but would discover a rich font of wisdom and truth that they do not have to acknowledge to be divine in order to recognise its importance and timeless relevance.

Nagel is not impressed by Dawkins’ “attempts at philosophy.” One of Dawkins’ pet arguments against God as an explanation of design in the world is that it leads to an infinite regress: “A designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right.” As Nagel points out, this argument would only have force if theists conceived of God as a complicated brain rather than as an incorporeal being. ~Stephen Barr, First Things

The bigger problem with Dawkins’ formulation, in connection with the ignorance it betrays of the entirety of theological and philosophical speculation and reflection on the nature of God, is not that it makes God out to be a big brain but that it makes Him out to be complex at all.  Basic teachings of the unity and oneness of God integral to Christian doctrine, which can be found in Neoplatonism and Greek philosophy as welll, emphasise that simplicity is a natural attribute of God.  Multiplicity and complexity exist here below in a realm subject to change and corruption.  Tracing all movement back to the Unmoved Mover or tracing the origins of creation to the will of a Creator leads you to the conclusion that the origin of all other things from a Being Who could not be composite or complex.  To solve precisely this problem of infinite regress, God must be simple, which is also why He must be One (even, indeed, as God has revealed Himself to be Three Persons in perfect unity). 

What Dawkins might have said was that you cannot take a philosophical or theological account of a designer God and make that claim into an all-purpose explanatory tool for everything in a complex system that we do not yet understand scientifically.  In other words, you should not confuse an understanding that God made and ordered the cosmos with the work of science that tries to understand the workings within that cosmos.  But Dawkins target is not principally ID-as-science, but is the belief in God itself, which he attempts to demonstrate is unreasonable.  As everyone before him has failed in this vain effort, so has he.  Rather like Andrew Sullivan, Dawkins ignores the content of the Faith he derides and ridicules and then thinks he has accomplished something when he has demonstrated the weakness of the non-existent beliefs he has attributed to his opponents.   


Mr. Bush is also quite good at this when he attributes positions to his opponents that none of them has ever espoused.  Having handily “refuted” the opposition by rejecting ideas that no one holds, Mr. Bush can then proceed with the rest of his remarks untroubled by any unfortunate encounters with reality.  Here are some of the sorts of “arguments” Mr. Bush might use:

“There are some good and patriotic people who seem to think that we can surrender our first-born children to the dark god Moloch and he will save us from Bin Laden, but I’m here to tell you that this is a mistake.”

“We cannot win the war on terror by adopting the failed vision of Marxism-Leninism, as some critics have proposed.”

“Those who believe that we will be protected from terrorist attack by Brazilian power crystals are well meaning, but deeply misguided in their beliefs.  I call upon the leadership of the Democratic Party to repudiate these irresponsible and extreme ideas.”

“I know there are some who say that I am actually robot sent here by invading space aliens to prepare the way for their overlordship, but what we need in this country is responsible and constructive disagreement about our Iraq policy.” 

White people are funny like that. There is a reason Morgan Freeman has played God in film. A lot of white people automatically credit articulate black men with special spiritual wisdom. ~Michael Brendan Dougherty

Funny, and I thought it was just because George Burns was no longer with us.

As Mr. Bush might say, never put a comma where George Burns has given humanity the gift of universal freedom.

Perhaps we are entering a new stage in history in which the demographic flaws in liberalism will become more apparent, paving the way for the return of a communitarian social model. This may still leave democracy, liberalism and mixed capitalism intact. But it will challenge modernism, that great secular movement of cultural individualism which swept high art and culture after 1880 and percolated down the social scale to liberalise attitudes in the 1960s. Cultural modernism has accompanied technological modernisation in the west, while the non-western world has usually modernised its technology rather than its values. Daniel Bell prophesied that modernism’s antinomian cultural outlook would prompt a “great instauration” of religion as people sought spiritual solace from the alienation of modern life. Bell has so far been proved wrong, but history may yet vindicate him as we bear witness not to spiritual revival, but to a religious reconquista based, ironically, on the nakedly this-worldly force of demography. ~Eric Kaufmann, The Prospect

Via Ross Douthat

It is often said—and was said by Ratzinger when he was an underling of the last Roman prelate—that Islam is not capable of a Reformation. We would not even have this word in our language if the Roman Catholic Church had been able to have its own way. ~Christopher Hitchens, Slate

I should have remarked on this yesterday, but actually thought it so weak that it was not even worth criticising.  But then it occurred to me that there are people who think “clever” references to the Reformation are the perfect way to undermine a Catholic authority’s arguments, because, you know, the Reformation did so much ”good” for the world and the Catholic Church was against it, which obviously proves that Catholics can never have anything to say about reform in any context ever again.  So there.  This is a tactic perfected by irresponsible teenagers who try to justify their disobedience and stupidity by pointing to their dad’s fondness for strong drink: “Sure I drove the car through the living room, but you…drink…liquor!”

The weakness and irrelevance of Hitchens’ point here are made most clear when you consider the content of the rest of the speech to which Hitchens was trying to respond.  In that speech, Pope Benedict made it very clear that a terrible distortion of the relation between reason and faith, and the first example of the process of “de-Hellenisation” that he was speaking about, was a result of the Reformation:

De-Hellenization first emerges in connection with the fundamental postulates of the Reformation in the 16th century. Looking at the tradition of scholastic theology, the Reformers thought they were confronted with a faith system totally conditioned by philosophy, that is to say an articulation of the faith based on an alien system of thought. As a result, faith no longer appeared as a living historical Word but as one element of an overarching philosophical system.

The principle of “sola scriptura,” on the other hand, sought faith in its pure, primordial form, as originally found in the biblical Word. Metaphysics appeared as a premise derived from another source, from which faith had to be liberated in order to become once more fully itself. When Kant stated that he needed to set thinking aside in order to make room for faith, he carried this program forward with a radicalism that the Reformers could never have foreseen. He thus anchored faith exclusively in practical reason, denying it access to reality as a whole.

So there is a real question whether Pope Benedict could, ecumenical understanding notwithstanding, really approve of the effects of the Protestant Reformation to which Hitchens makes his predictable reference.  But, you might ask, what other reformation was there?  Hitchens also would have to be ignorant of the fact that reformatio was a word that had been used in the context of the monastic and spiritual renewal movements of the twelfth century (and made known to modern audiences in the late Giles Constable’s The Reformation of the Twelfth Century–an excellent book that serves as a fine introduction to the spirituality and social context behind the founding of religious orders such as the Cistercians) and had long had meaning for Latin Christians in the context of spiritual renewal.  It was on this tradition that the Reformers themselves were drawing, though obviously the authorities in Rome did not agree with either the spirit or the content of much of what they proposed for their reforms.  This did not mean that there was no effort at reform on the Catholic side before Luther, but simply that the Reformed churches do not have some kind of monopoly on the use of that language and it is not hypocritical or contradictory, as Hitchens suggests, for Catholics to speak in terms of reformation since the word was, if you like, theirs before it was anyone else’s.  Obviously the Catholic Reformation itself tends to obviate this objection anyway.  

When then-Cardinal Ratzinger or anyone else says that Islam is not capable of a ”Reformation,” they mean something far more serious than what many moderns take this to mean.  This is not a claim that Islam cannot ultimately become a religion that eventually after a century of internecine warfare embraces the principle of freedom of conscience–that much is obvious–but that Islam does not even have the theological-philosophical apparatus for self-criticism because of the very fundamental assumptions of all Muslims about the uncreated and perfect nature of the scripture they use as their authority and the untouchable paragon of virtue into which Islamic tradition has made Muhammad.  This obviously has little to do with things like practical abuses of power and privilege such as simony and questionable theology in the form of the sale of indulgences; this has to do with the very nature of the religion, its proper form, which reform and revival cannot make any better because the foundation is so lacking in the necessary essential qualities.  

What is perhaps more annoying about this remark is that it suggests that Hitchens buys into the old progressive narrative (since he is a progressive, I guess he would!) that the Reformation was some Great Leap Forward for human freedom and individual rights, which must be one of those things that Whig Protestants told themselves at night to make them feel better about the anti-Catholic massacres they committed.  In fact, the Reformation at its best and in the minds of its advocates was a deeply conservative, even reactionary, opposition to what some of the Reformers saw as excessive reliance on philosophy and humanism.  If the Islamic world were to undergo a Reformation (and who says that it hasn’t undergone the closest thing to it with the various Islamic revivalist movements of the last 300 years?) of this sort, it would actually have to become even more rigid, inflexible and doctrinaire in its emphasis on scriptural literalism and moral purity. 

If, as some have suggested, the Reformation was the attempt to apply the rigour of the monastic ethic to the laity, an Islamic Reformation would not make Islam more liberal, more open to “modernity” and all the things that people who talk about Islamic Reformations want to see, but would likely make it more hostile to all of these things.  Protestants did retain some respect for reason and philosophy, because they derived this respect from the common tradition that had incorporated the best elements of Hellenism into Christian thought, whereas Islam on the whole does not benefit from this tradition.  While it has become something of a commonplace in recent days among some defenders of the Pope to say that Pope Benedict was harder on the Protestants (who have, as of yet, failed to bomb or burn down any Catholic churches in response–what can they be waiting for?) than on the Muslims, even in his remarks on the Reformation he could just as well have been saying to the Muslims: “As mistaken as the Reformation was in separating faith and reason as much as it did, the Protestants at least have a fighting chance, because they still partake from the same tradition that we do; Islam doesn’t even have that going for it.  You should look into why that is.” 

But, even if I find detachment impossible, I can still profess ideological disinterest. I am certainly not attracted to the drearily platitudinous liberal secularism that Linker has now apparently adopted as his political “philosophy,” but neither am I an adherent of the “theoconservatism” that Linker attributes—with a variable degree of accuracy—to Neuhaus and his circle (unless mere hostility to the “culture of death” is enough to earn one membership). So I think I am being fairly impartial when I say that The Theocons is a poor book—on any number of counts. It is frequently badly reasoned; it is marked by a surprising degree of historical ignorance; it is polluted by a personal animosity towards Neuhaus that—while denied by Linker—is both obvious and unrelenting; and it is extremely boring. . . . ~David Hart, The New Criterion (via Mirror of Justice)

Hart, an Orthodox theologian whose writings I have commented on here before, confirms what is becoming something of a consensus view of Theocons: it is a poorly-done hatchet job motivated at least in part by personal hostility, even if, as Prof. Fox has noted, it has something important to say that got lost in the polemic.

Mohammedanism was a heresy:  that is the essential point to grasp before going any further.  It began as a hersey, not as a new religion.  It was not a pagan contrast with the Church; it was not an alien enemy.  It was a perversion of Christian doctrine.  Its vitality and endurance soon gave it the appearance of a new religion, but those who were contemprary with its rise saw it for what it was—not a denial, but an adaptation and a misuse, of the Christian thing.  It differed from most (not from all) heresies in this, that it did not arise within the bounds of the Christian Church.  The chief heresiarch, Mohammed himself, was not, like most hersiarchs, a man of Catholic birth and doctrine to begin with.  He sprang from pagans.  But that which he taught was in the main Catholic doctrine, oversimplified.  It was the great Catholic world—on the frontiers of which he lived, whose influence was all around him and whose territories he had known by travel—which inspired his convictions.  He came of, and mixed with, the degraded idolaters of the Arabian wilderness, the conquest of which had never seemed worth the Romans’ while… ~Hilaire Belloc (via John Derbyshire)

It is not only the case that St. John of Damascus listed Islam as the 100th heresy in his De haeresibus.  St. Anastasios of Sinai in some of the first patristic references to Islam described Islam principally in terms of its Christological errors–which he likened to Nestorianism–and blamed the rise of Islam on (who else?) the monophysites, because their extreme heresy had, as Anatasios saw it, forced the Arabs who came into contact with them to adopt the equal and opposite heresy.  This is probably not exactly the case, though I believe it is generally accepted that Muhammad learned what little he knew of Christianity from a Nestorian monk whom he met along the caravan routes north.  In any case, Islamic objections to Christianity are those of any anti-Trinitarian heresy mixed with Arian denial of Christ’s divinity and Nestorian contempt for the Mother of God.  I doubt that Islam derives directly from any of these in any measurable way, but it is not entirely ridiculous to think that the domination of Yemen by the monophysite Ethiopians could have influenced how Arabs in that region perceived Christianity and influenced them in such a way that pushed them towards an intense hostility to the idea that Christ was God.  Naturally, Podhoretz ignores the potential relevance of Belloc’s observation to the discussion of the nature of Islam and satisfies himself with an anecdote reminding us that (surprise!) Belloc didn’t like Jews (gosh, nobody knew that!).  Of course, it is not entirely clear to me why Derbyshire thought to bring this up, but it is an idea that is neither far-fetched nor without basis in the Christian tradition of anti-Islamic polemics.

Finally, I would wager that Belloc, who was prone to lavish pronouncements, knew about as much about the historical influences on Islam as he knew about how to cook Sabbath cholent — and at a time when Pope Benedict is coming under ignorant and unfair attack for his brilliant speech, I thought it seemed unfair for Derb to associate Benedict Belloc’s genuinely insulting and undeniably condescending insult of Islam. ~John Podhoretz

And I’ll wager John Podhoretz knows as much about Islamic theology as he knows about humane conservatism, which would be zip.

Both sides have much to gain by good relations. The Vatican and Muslims have shared stands in opposition of abortion. The Holy See, under Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, vigorously lobbied against the Iraq war, and Benedict made numerous appeals to Israel to use restraint in its recent military campaign against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. ~The Guardian

When I was young and stupid, I was a sort of hard-line syncretist, who thought it would be a great idea to create a kind of pan-religious social conservative alliance against atheists and various moral relativists.  Had Ecumenical Jihad come out back then, I probably would have thought the concept was a great idea.  Which confirms just how young and stupid I was.  It might be that Christians and Muslims will happen to agree on certain questions of policy, especially when these are policies pushed by secularists from the West, but that agreement will take place regardless of the state of relations between Christian churches and the Islamic world.     

Vatican officials had earlier sought to placate spreading Muslim anger by saying Benedict held Islam in high esteem and stressed that the central thrust of his speech was to condemn the use of any religious motivation for violence, whatever the religion. ~The Guardian

Actually, I had thought the central thrust of the speech was that God is rational by nature and nothing irrational pleases Him.  This is why most Christians have entirely put away the bloody and irrational sacrifices of old for the rational sacrifice of the Eucharist.  This is why I never cease to find it difficult to understand why someone who believes this would hold in high esteem a religion that denies the divinity of Christ, Who was Reason Incarnate, when such a denial is not only what the early and medieval Fathers would have regarded as a mark of insanity (the proverbial “madness of Areios”) but is itself a denial of the personal union of humanity in the Person of the Logos Himself.  Denying Christ’s divinity is, from a Christian perspective, denying the substantial joining of humanity to Reason and denying the possibility of the perfection of our own reason.  Presumably Pope Benedict does not hold Arianism in high esteem, so what can it mean to say that he holds Islam in “high esteem”?  Did Elijah hold the prophets of Baal in high esteem?   

These sorts of statements remind me why I am always so skeptical of ecumenism–to carry on a “dialogue,” you are compelled for the sake of dialogue to say things you cannot possibly believe and make statements praising other religions that you cannot really mean, which in turn does violence to the truth and reduces said dialogue to something of a sham.  Such a “dialogue” cannot produce anything except pro forma expressions of goodwill, which are ultimately empty and amount to saying nothing more than, “I am going to show the world what a reasonable, tolerant fellow I am–why, look, I have even said something nice about the Hindus!”  There are two kinds of ecumenists: those who really think that there are many equally valid paths to truth (these people typically are not terribly keen on taking any of the paths very far, since deep down they can sense that there is no point) and those who think that giving the appearance of ecumenical goodwill helps with public relations.  In other words, I don’t think there are really any good reasons to be an ecumenist.  If there are sincere ecumenists who nonetheless believe that their religion alone possesses the fullness of truth, I would very much like to know how they reconcile the two ideas.  It is, of course, possible to have a conversation with people who hold radically different religious beliefs, but it will usually be a short conversation, especially when each time you draw attention to what you consider the flaws in their religion they believe themselves justified in threatening you with death.  Most Christian ecumenist dialogue does not draw attention to the flaws, intellectual and moral, of other religions, presumably because all historical religions have some sort of flaws on account of the flawed people involved, which is why Pope Benedict’s speech seemed promising as a starting point for , among other things, discussing seriously the role of reason in Islam and the place of violent jihad in Islamic theology and history.  His speech did not really make any concessions, or at least it was not obvious to me that it did, but now it would seem that the Vatican has made the biggest concession of them all: Islam is worthy of high esteem.  Manuel II and, for that matter, St. John of Damascus would not have understood why.    

As I see the entire Islamic world going rather mad over Pope Benedict’s largely, but not entirely, inoffensive speech (incidentally, I do not hear the laments of a lot of Lutherans berating him for laying charges of de-Hellenisation at their door), I see a number of other defenses of the speech that claim Pope Benedict did not endorse Manuel II’s view.  So did he endorse Manuel II’s views?  Well, yes and no. 

It seems very clear that he endorsed and took as his basic theme Manuel’s statement:  “Not to act reasonably (with logos) is contrary to the nature of God.”  In other words, he took what was best from the speech and, if one wants to see this as an ecumenical speech, personally left aside the more combative bits about Muhammad introducing nothing but evil and inhuman things.  (I can see how that might be irritating, but then I would ask what exactly Muhammad did bring that was not either of these things.)  He did not state his agreement with the whole of Manuel’s dialogue, but merely called it “interesting.”  He did not explicitly reiterate the charges against Muhammad and Islam, but it seems clear that if he regarded the Persian interlocutor’s view as representative of Islamic theology (and he would have strong reasons to do so from within Islamic history and theology–the outcome of the debate in the 9th century between determinists and ‘libertarians’ already points us towards this conclusion without reference to Ibn Hazn) he clearly recounted the episode as a way of remarking on an important difference between the rival conceptions of God.  The comparison clearly works to the disadvantage of Islam, which is not Pope Benedict’s fault, but the fault of Islam’s own faulty conception of God.  Logos here carries the same multivalent sense that it has always carried for Christian apologists, confessing that wherever there is reason, there is the Word, Who is Christ.  Again, this draws a contrast with Islam, in which the Qur’an is the eternal word of Allah.  Once again, this is not a flattering comparison for Islam. 

By not making a text itself into something eternal, but reserving eternity to God the Word, Christian exegesis was able to make use of words (logoi) and Christian rhetoric was able to make use of speech (logos) in flexible and dynamic ways that permitted the interaction with classical texts and classical rhetoric on the assumption that anything reasonable, true or beautiful in them was a mark of the divinely created order, created through the Word.  Permitting this application of reason to Scripture then permitted a wide range of reasoning about doctrine (within reason, of course) that necessitated and generated an interest in classical philosophy that was at the mainstream of church life, while the same philosophy could only be embraced deeply by Muslim scholars if they were willing to court condemnation.  I have seen it said that classic Islamic scholars made significant use of Greek technical treatises in mathematics, astronomy and other natural sciences, but tended to avoid all those aspects of philosophy that touched on human affairs, assuming that there was nothing needful or edifying in them and assuming that Allah had already delivered the complete answer through revelation.  Where Athens was meaningful and important (because philosophical inquiry was itself seen as a fruit of God the Word), but subordinate to Jerusalem, Athens was merely occasionally useful to Mecca and ultimately of little significance.  Between the spirit of inquiry urged on by the life-creating Word and this frequently technical application of reason there is a wide chasm.  

Fundamentally, a religion that expanded through conquest had less need to reconcile the heritage of Athens with revelation, as there was no need for persuasion and thus no audience deeply committed to the heritage of Athens to be convinced in the first place.  But in the Christian tradition once the link was definitively made between the pursuits of reason and the Word of God, a certain degree of inquiry itself became a religious calling.  Thus what became commonplace and normative in Christianity was an outlier or a flash in the pan in Islam.  Against this Muslims may riot all their like, but it is the legacy of their religion and their history.       

Yet I cringed when reading Benedict’s speech, and not jut because of its laughable recounting of 15th century Christianity’s embrace of reason and tolerance. ~Alkyan Velshi

One thing Ledeen did get right was that Mr. Velshi curiously managed to get the century of Manuel II’s dialogue wrong.  But there is a more basic problem here: the same snide, irritating disdain for the claims of some Christians to a legacy of non-coercion and toleration presumably on account of a remedial acquaintance with the Wars of Religion or some other such events.  It was a long-standing Byzantine tradition to refrain from compulsion and violent coercion in religion, and it is notable in the history of the Byzantine empire–which was officially Christian for nearly 1,100 years–how few heretics were ever killed for their heterodoxy or forcibly converted and how often these measures were opposed in the strongest terms by the Church.  There are exceptional cases: the forcible conversion of Jews and violent repression of monophysites under Heraclius; the persecution of the Montanists under Leo III; executions of a few Paulicians and Athinganoi under Michael I; executions of some Bogomils under Alexios I.  There were inter-confessional persecutions, most of which took the form of sending people into exile or deposing them from their sees.  It might be of interest to note that one of the worst periods of violent persecution in these internal church disputes was under Michael VIII, who sought to enforce church union with Rome.  On the whole, the “laughable recounting” of Byzantine reasonableness and tolerance was by and large accurate.  Of course no self-respecting religion in the 14th century would have pretended that people are entitled to hold any beliefs they pleased without penalty, but there was a remarkable commitment to refrain from compulsion and coercion in Byzantium.  It is one of the things about Byzantium that modern people could view with some appreciation…assuming they knew anything about it, which Mr. Velshi clearly does not. 

The main subject is the Greek roots—as in Socrates, who he quotes—of Catholic thought.  Reason is the basis of human understanding and behavior, it is not just a matter of faith.  The dialogue between the Emperor and the Persian highlights this theme.   God is comprehensible to us, and God rejects violence as a basis for spreading religion.  Benedict quotes the Koran to the effect that compulsion in the service of religion is not legitimate, even as he insists that Mohammed later endorsed the use of jihad. ~Michael Ledeen

Actually, the subject is not really the Greek roots of Catholic or even more broadly Christian thought (though it presupposes such roots) but the rationality of God–and thus the unacceptability of having recourse to bloodshed and force in matters of faith–which Pope Benedict argues is not simply a Greek idea but a true statement about the nature of God which Muslims do not accept.  The speech did not say that “reason is the basis” for human understanding and behaviour, or at least not in such crude terms, but that faith is rational and any kind of violent faith that contradicts God’s basic rationality must also be untrue.  It seems to me that Pope Benedict quoted the Qur’anic citation “there is no compulsion in religion”–from an early phase of Muhammad’s career–as a way of anticipating and cancelling out this most standard of misleading rebuttals.  As he said:

In the seventh conversation (”diálesis” — controversy) edited by professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that sura 2:256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion.” It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under [threat]. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Koran, concerning holy war. 

If my reading is right, Pope Benedict was being very clear that he views the verse “there is no compulsion in religion” as one conditioned by the early stages of Muhammad’s career, when it was advantageous to him and his early followers to preach toleration.  When the shoe was on the other foot, and the whip was in the other hand, attitudes towards violence and coercion shift.  He does not say this explicitly in the speech, but you do get the sense that he wants to show that this earlier verse–cited by every apologist and excuse-maker out there–has limited significance for understanding the Islamic conception of God, which he is using as a foil for fleshing out the Christian understanding of God’s rationality.  In other words, I think Pope Benedict effectively neutralises and dismisses this claim of a lack of compulsion in Islam and juxtaposes it with Islamic warfare and jihad to emphasise the disjunction between the two.  It does not really concede that Islam regards compulsion as illegitimate, as Ledeen claims, but that it was considered illegitimate when it served Muhammad’s turn; later, it could be and was used, as was the sword.  Those who don’t believe it can refer to the story of the martyrs of Gaza.  Obviously, if such compulsion and violence had not ever been used, there would have been little occasion for Manuel II to bring it up in a dialogue.     

Of course, the main point of the example from the dialogue was to emphasise the importance of understanding God as rational–a man who believes God is rational should not deliberately act against reason in the belief that he is thereby serving God; a man who thinks of God as capricious, arbitrary, bound by nothing, in essence merely despotic, is not bound by any such constraint, as there is nothing in God’s own nature that demands the rationality of faith.  There is merely obedience to a divine will, which, as the citations claim, can change if Allah so chooses.  All this had nothing immediately to do with the “comprehensibility” of God, as Ledeen suggests, which is technically a distinct question and one complicated by the matter of God’s infinity and the poverty of language and concepts to describe Him, but with God being rational and indeed being Reason Himself.

The truth is that Father Richard John Neuhaus, the main figure in Linker’s book, is far more dangerous to American liberalism than Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell–precisely because he is much smarter than they are, and it makes sense to me that Catholics such as Wills and Sullivan would worry about this man’s “Syllabus of Errors” approach to modernity. ~Alan Wolfe

The quote above is one of The New Republic’s writers responding to Baumann’s review (which I commented on here) of Linker’s Theocons.  Neuhaus’ Syllabus of Errors approach to modernity?  The comedy never stops!  Of course, most people who make references to the Syllabus of Errors often don’t know all of the things in it, so they assume any sympathy for any part of it would be an admission of the ultimate in blackest reaction, but it is nonetheless the symbol of anti-liberalism par excellence and thus the perfect thing to instill fear in unwitting liberal readers.  The fear of Catholics coming to eliminate the liberal order has a long pedigree, and it used to have some solid basis in reality, since Continental liberalism was born in stark opposition to and hatred of the Catholic Church and serious Catholics returned the feeling with gusto. 

This fear of Catholic reaction was the basis for the Kulturkampf in Germany and also in Austria and the general overt Catholic hostility towards Freisinnigen for the duration of the fin de siecle.  The latter has abated mostly because Catholics have given up fighting the old enemy, at least in many respects, while the fear and hostility to any kind of social or political Catholicism has never really departed from liberals, be they “classical” or modern. 

I cannot think of anything more misleading to say about Neuhaus than that he is some devotee of the anti-modernism of Pope Pius IX.  I find relatively little objectionable about the latter, so it is shocking to see someone so very, well, liberal in many of his political attitudes even mentioned in the same sentence with Pius IX’s Syllabus.  I believe that Catholics of Neuhaus’ stripe find the extremes of Catholic social and political anti-modernism of previous ages fairly embarrassing and something they have been desperately trying to make up for, so to speak, by concocting their rather elaborate model of Christianity-reinforced liberalism, and I think they would undoubtedly wholeheartedly agree with Pope Benedict’s recent refusal to make some sweeping attack on modernity.

That was a lot of quoting, I know, but it is necessary in order to get at Damon’s real, substantive argument: contemporary theoconservatism is different from past efforts to democratically maintain or expand the influence of religious principles and groups because it is sectarian and authoritarian in a way those past mergers of political agendas and spiritual witnesses were not. The theocons, in Damon’s accounting, have crafted a “public language of moral purpose” that is constructed primarily or at least significantly around claims to naturally grounded, religiously orthodox imperatives–imperatives that, because of their organic connection to the American liberal order itself, are held to automatically carry an objective weight that makes all opposition to them not so much disagreements as potential instances of profound civic and moral treason. The practical, if unstated, aim of building one’s theologico-political language in that way is thus not to generate perfect consensus–which is neither expected nor really needed–but rather to lead Christian majorities, even merely small ones, into feeling culturally justified in taking, and religiously required to take, extreme populist action. What Damon observes about some of Neuhaus’s various statements in regards to atheists and Jews (both of whom he says can, of course, be citizens, but perhaps not entirely good ones, especially not if they insist on calling attention to themselves and their rights in such a way as to make themselves appear to be “strangers in their own [increasingly Christian] country”), and how such words contrast with the more ecumenical efforts (such as between Catholics and evangelical Protestants) that he is better known for, is just one example of the evidence he marshals to support his claim.  So Damon’s argument does make a distinction between the public religiosity of a Bryan or King and the religiosity of a Brownback or Dobson; his analysis does point to a difference between the religiously informed campaign against slavery in the 19th century, and the religiously informed campaign against stem-cell research today. Whether that difference amounts to the latter being fairly labeled “theocrats” is a separate issue; this basic distinction is Damon’s real contribution to debates over religion and politics in America today. ~Prof. Arben Fox, In Media Res

I’m very pleased to see Prof. Fox back at his blog after a hiatus of several months.  In addition to always having interesting material on his blog, he happens to be among the earliest supporters of Eunomia.  He has recently produced two extremely high-quality posts that should interest everyone who enjoys delving into the problems of conservatism and how to define social and religious visions of order in the context of conservatism.  His insights on Linker’s critique of theoconservatism are all the more valuable, as he is a friend of Linker and has some greater familiarity with the subtleties of Linker’s argument, which, as he notes in the post, frequently get lost in Linker’s own argumentation.  As I read this post, I realised that my own dismissal of Linker’s objections to Neuhaus and First Things as the product of some personal pique was premature and and incorrect.  Linker is recognising some real distinction between what the “theocons” (I’m still not a fan of this term) and earlier religiously-inspired public figures advocate that gets lost in hyperbolic language about “besieging” secular America and the onset of theocracy. 

As I look more closely, I think I understand why Linker objects to the conflation of all American public religiosity into one common phenomenon, which the “theocons” then set about to define in their image, and it is similar to certain anti-Straussian objections against the habit of certain Straussians (which is also present among the “theocons”) of conflating all theories of natural law and giving them the most positive, “traditional” spin conceivable, so that when Enlightenment thinkers refer to the “law of nature” a theocon or Straussian will automatically say, “There, you see, they are relying on Christian natural law, which means that I can import a Christian natural law understanding into this liberal framework and claim that the liberal framework has always and forever been that of the Christian tradition.”  This is a clever move.  But, without denying some real historical links between medieval and modern conceptions of natural law, I don’t think this is right.  A central problem one might have with this identification of the two is that it is not necessarily true at all and probably is not true, and it is a remarkably weak link on which to base a large part of your project.

But if Prof. Fox finds Linker somewhat persuasive here, he notes that the “theocons” are a varied bunch and there are any number of pieces that would probably qualify and modify the most extreme claims Linker cites.  Also, for all of the complaints about the “unprecedented” nature of what the theocons are trying to do, it appears to Prof. Fox that Linker’s critique often seems to be heavily textual and not very well set in the historical contexts of the texts he is using to support his view (I might add that now it is Linker who seems to resemble the Straussians).  As Prof. Fox says:

So, for example, he takes up Madison’s writings on factions and applies it to religious denominations, concluding that above all the founders wanted to see a liberalized, disestablished, civic religious pluralism in America–thereby ignoring the important legal and historical argument that national disestablishment was meant to guarantee that the federal government would not interfere with the widely accepted and often quite orthodox public religious establishments in the states. He condemns populism at almost every opportunity, reading the populist elements of the theocon argument in light of the irrational “paranoia” that Richard Hofstadter and other midcentury liberals diagnosed as motivating all forms of popular discontent with mainstream secular liberalism–thereby ignoring the important ways in which the progressive roots of midcentury liberalism, in the Populists and the Progressives and even in the New Deal, were themselves often very publicly religious. He quotes (twice) President Kennedy, holding him up as an example of a properly secular liberalism–thereby ignoring the ways in which Kennedy had both the need and the luxury to make himself into a vanguard of secularism in an America (the need because he was a Catholic running in for president in a strongly and contentedly Protestant country; the luxury because, as a strongly and contentedly Protestant country, America at that time felt no more need to see Kennedy position himself in light whatever explicitly religious public concerns might have existed in 1960 than they did for Eisenhower to do the same eight years earlier, or for Truman before that). In short, Damon really does believe that the increasing mix of religion and politics is a bad thing–bad for religion, bad for social and educational and foreign policy, bad for American freedoms themselves–and is happy to say so, complete with occasional allusions to theocracy when it suits his purposes, even if that does what he frequently accuses the theocons of doing: reducing complicated issues to simplistic accusations. (Though again, to be fair, Damon is plainly aware of this; for better or worse, his aim was not to produce a work that didn’t take sides.)

Prof. Fox makes many other excellent points, but the one that makes what I consider to be the most important conclusion is the way in which Prof. Fox identifies theoconservatism as another brand of modern gnosticism (in the Voegelinian sense):

What’s going on here, I think, is that the theocons, as Damon notes several times in his book, want to believe, and sometimes say they believe, that the religious identity of Americans (and, when they get civilizational in their rhetoric, all of the West) is and always will be there, that it is a gift from God, a sign of God’s hand in history….and yet, they don’t actually act in accordance with that belief. Rather, they often essentially appear to be the sort of communitarians who think religious community actually isn’t inevitable, that a secular and individualized world really is a functional possibility, and so religion and civil society must be fought for; they must be redeemed. But of course, as liberals at heart, or at least as conservatives who have reluctantly bought into liberal accounts of how modern society has secularized and moved away from religious community, the only way they can imagine actually fighting for religion is to transform it and its practitioners into authorities who, because they have nature on their side, you must logically consent to. They are, to borrow and turn around an old Vogelinian phrase, “eschatizing the immanent.” [sic] Voegelin argued, anticipating Neuhaus (who for all I know has been greatly influenced by him), that human beings crave immanence; without religious or traditional orthodoxy to satisfy that craving, otherwise secular ideas will take the form of a kind of gnosticism, and the eschaton, the promise of salvation and completion which religion holds out, will be “immanentized.” There’s more to say on that subject; but for now, note simply that theocons commit this error in reverse: they are trying to take the end-times, the battles and judgments and absolutes of the last days, and make them present in presidential elections and foreign wars. They are trying to identify the immanent, the ordinary, the partisan, with the revelatory.

If true, that would heighten and sharpen my reasons for objecting to the theocon/First Things project.  It would also explain the theocons’ general affinity with neoconservatism and their sympathies with the latter’s very clearly immanentist political religion of democratism.  Prof. Fox has done a great service in getting past the conventional responses to Linker of the sort I myself have made and getting at what seems to be the real essence of the matter.

Bruce Reed at Slate noted something that I skimmed right past as I was going over Mr. Bush’s remarks to the select journalists he spoke to in the Oval Office this week: Bush thinks that a “Third Great Awakening” may be underway, which would be great except for the fact that it already happened over a century ago.  The Third Great Awakening is better known through its association with the era of the Social Gospel–the age of the Salvation Army’s foundation and William Jennings Bryan’s religiously-charged populist protests.  GetReligion doesn’t think the numbering is significant (so much for accuracy). 

For my part, it is no more of an astonishing historical lapse than when he says democracies don’t fight one another or when he seems surprised to learn about these “Sunnis” and “Shi’ites” in Iraq (”I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!” he said), so it is really just par for the course.

For a portrait of an influential and provocative public intellectual, The Theocons has some curious omissions. Linker describes Neuhaus as “a handsome and charismatic man who delights in public attention,” eliciting great loyalty and even affection from his followers. Yet the nature of this charisma is never explained. Occasionally we get a glimpse of Neuhaus and his cronies, cigars and brandy snifters in hand, reacting with “blind rage” to this or that liberal deprecation. But the man’s personality remains opaque; he comes across more as an inexhaustible engine of argument than a flesh-and-blood person. Furthermore, if it is true that Neuhaus’s “ultimate goal is nothing less than the end of secular politics in America,” why did Linker go to work for him in the first place? Not knowing what made Linker enlist in what he now regards as a dangerously authoritarian movement raises serious questions about his forthrightness and credibility. Yet The Theocons never offers an explanation of his change of mind and heart. ~Paul Baumann, The Washington Monthly

Via Ross Douthat

When Linker’s book first came out and back around the time the Year of Books Denouncing American Theocracy had begun, I was struck by the bitterness and intensity of Linker’s rage against Neuhaus and First Things in the New Republic article he wrote that summarised the main argument of his book.  The intense bitterness seemed all the more inexplicable given that Linker had been editor of the magazine.  There are people, including those on the right and including myself, who often disagree strongly with Neuhaus who nonetheless cannot summon up quite this much fury against him or the magazine.  It is a pity that Linker did not attempt to explain how some personal dispute had “revealed” to him the nature of Neuhaus’ theocratic master-plan, since that would at least explain where this mania came from.  I think something very personal must have set him off in this direction, as almost nothing else explains the extreme rhetoric of Linker’s attack. 

It would not have been the first time that some personal or professional falling out had precipitated criticism of the old boss.  This is especially true among academics and intellectuals, who feel obliged to dress up their petty personal disagreements (you didn’t give my wife a job, you gave my book a bad review, etc.) in the fancy dress of profound theoretical clashes (you want to destroy the American way of life, you despise truth itself, etc.), and the more “public” an intellectual is the more necessary it is to make the costume in which you dress your personal grievances really elaborate, colourful and Mardi Gras-esque with all of the grotesquerie, zaniness and exaggeration that this implies.  It is not enough that your boss treated you poorly or failed to appreciate your work to your satisfaction–his intellectual project must be dark and dangerous, too!  That makes your petty inconveniences and suffering part of a narrative of resistance to the Dark Side, which is much more appealing for someone who thinks highly of himself and feels aggrieved by workplace setbacks.  It is probably because of this sort of thinking that we wind up with the apparent excessive rhetoric and melodramatic conclusions of Linker’s work.

There is certainly nothing in the record of Neuhaus or First Things that would lead me to believe that they are preparing the doom of secular America.  Indeed, one of my long-standing criticisms of the entire First Things approach to the public square has been that they not only have no intention of eliminating secularism from America (or anything of the kind) but seem all together too interested in justifying participation in the debate just to be part of it and simply having a seat at the table so that they are less willing to take the kinds of strongly conservative positions on the social and moral ills that they really need to take to mobilise Christian opinion in America.  They are at root accommodationists with secularism (and also, at heart, they are really progressives of one sort or another), because I believe their guiding vision has been one that sees a basic harmony between the taproot of modern secularism–Enlightenment liberalism–and Christianity where there is no such real harmony.  As with the heresy of ecumenism (and it assuredly a heresy in its present forms), the revealed truth will have to give way to make this unholy alliance work, and so I think First Things‘ approach contains as much danger to a faithful, socially and politically involved Christianity as it does to secularism.  If Neuhaus and First Things are the center of the future American theocratic movement, they are decidedly odd theocrats; one might even say that they give theocrats a bad name. 

Needless to say, I also don’t think much of their long-standing and ongoing alliance with some of the figures who have crafted neoconservative positions on foreign policy, and if anyone wanted definitive proof that these are not theocrats-in-waiting it would have to be the magazine’s engagement with what the new editor, Mr. Bottum, called the “new fusionism,” which is an alliance dedicated to being basically pro-life at home (against abortion, euthanasia, etc.) and pro-death overseas (in favour of every war you can think of).  Just as the old fusionism between “libertarians,” generic anticommunists and “traditionalists” worked to the distinct disadvantage of the traditionalists in most respects, the secular and foreign policy-oriented side of the “new fusionist” alliance proposes, and the religious side disposes, getting virtually nothing of what it hoped to gain from the bargain.  What is the logic of this alliance in the first place?  It’s all about being dreadfully, seriously moral (or at least talking about morality with a dreadfully serious demeanour)–that’s what makes invading Iraq and protecting the unborn so clearly related.  What worries me more about First Things is not that it is a vessel for the coming theocracy (the idea really is risible), but that it is an all together too willing cheerleader for interventionism and has shown itself willing to anoint the most appalling policies abroad with the chrism of Christian justice (while running interference against the actual authorities of Christian churches who have opposed the very same ventures).  

Which brings me back to Linker.  As Baumann notes:

Again and again Linker lapses into the worst rhetorical excesses of the theocons he is trying to discredit. Baptized into the apocalyptic world of the theocons not long ago, he has returned to warn us that at Neuhaus’s direction the Republican Party is leading the nation into “the arms of absolute ecclesiastical authority.” Apparently, evangelicals provide the foot soldiers and Catholics the intellectual generals in the theocon battle plan. Linker’s worries that the theocons want to put an end to religious pluralism in America sound paranoid. First Things, after all, remains an “ecumenical” journal. Presumably Neuhaus would like his many conservative Protestant and Jewish friends to follow him to Rome, but he would not compel them to do so even if he could. Detecting The Grand Inquisitor behind every Roman collar is an old and ugly canard.

To see any kind of Inquisitor here would be very difficult, and if you did it would sooner be the cynical socialist Grand Inquisitor of Dostoevsky’s imagination rather than any of the actual Inquisitors of history.  In the wake of consistent anti-Vatican criticism from First Things editors and contributors on questions of war in Iraq and Lebanon, which does not even take into consideration any other areas where contributors and editors may have voiced dissent against Vatican or American bishops’ statements, Linker’s claim that Neuhaus and his colleagues desire the establishment of ”absolute ecclesiastical authority”–regardless of whether it would be possible to realise–strikes me as so obviously untrue that it is remarkable that anyone would publish, much less read, his book.

But if Baumann eviscerates the credibility of Linker’s claims, he concludes with a note that seems intended to leave you with a worse impression of Neuhaus than Linker has offered:

If, as Linker suggests, Neuhaus has a prophet’s uncompromising temperament, it is the temperament of a prophet strongly drawn to the stark and simple truth of getting and keeping power. Neuhaus has made a number of surprising but very canny conversions in his lifetime. If I were a betting man, I’d pay careful attention to where he is headed. For better or worse, the nation (or a slim electoral majority, at any rate) is usually not far behind, led by a cohort of voters who also happen to be religious believers. It would be a welcome miracle if liberals could get there first, with a plausible appeal to some of those same voters. 

This ends up leaving you with the impression of Neuhaus not as an impatient prophet preaching for the downfall of the present order so much as a cynical operator who sees which way the wind is blowing and gets to the front of the line for the latest trend.  As much as I disagree with Neuhaus and First Things, I think this is as extreme and untenable a claim as any that Linker makes.

The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur — this is the program with which a theology grounded in biblical faith enters into the debates of our time.

“Not to act reasonably (with logos) is contrary to the nature of God,” said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university. ~Pope Benedict XVI

In this lecture I would like to discuss only one point — itself rather marginal to the dialogue itself — which, in the context of the issue of “faith and reason,” I found interesting and which can serve as the starting point for my reflections on this issue.

In the seventh conversation (”diálesis” — controversy) edited by professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that sura 2:256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion.” It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under [threat]. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Koran, concerning holy war.

Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels,” he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably (”syn logo”) is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats…. To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death….”

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: Not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practice idolatry.

As far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we find ourselves faced with a dilemma which nowadays challenges us directly. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? ~Pope Benedict XVI

This is an excellent address, which manages to briefly involve my favourite subject (Byzantine history) with a very timely and necessary understanding of the different conceptions of the nature of God in Islam and Christianity.  Allah’s complete transcendence and freedom from every definition or category, which would include reason and goodness, is of a different kind from traditional Christian apophatic theology, which accepts God’s absolute transcendence but does not therefore rule out all positive statements about Him.  If Allah is not bound by his word, and can arbitrarily reverse himself, he is himself inconstant and neither always good nor reasonable by nature; in the end he is supremely powerful, but has no need to abide by his own justice.  (As Pope Benedict himself points out later, this dangerous emphasis on God’s freedom does appear in the Christian world with Duns Scotus and, I would hasten to add, Ockham, so bear that in mind when next you consider the relevance of the dangers of Ockhamism.)  

But the difference between the two conceptions of God is not something that would require you to dig up Manuel II’s dialogue or be familiar with the intricacies of Islamic theology.  The crucial difference is that for Christianity, as expressed through the categories of Greek language and Hellenistic philosophy, God is His own Word, which is Reason (Logos), Who is His co-essential Son and eternally One with Him from before the ages, whereas Allah’s word is the eternal Qur’an, which has no obvious or necessary relationship to reason, and which he could nonetheless repudiate at any time if he so chose.  Put more dramatically, Christians believe that God gave His own Reason for our sakes that we might become like Him, while Muslims believe that they ought to obey and submit to the will of Allah even if he were to command them to do the most unreasonable things.  As the suppression of the Muta’zila shows, this obedience even extends to the diminution of man’s own use of reason in understanding God.   

One could imagine a perspective in which nothing in particular was reliable, in this world, but which the world as a whole was comprehensible.  Such a view might mimic many of the effects of pessimism without really embracing it.  Augustine, for example, could be viewed in this way.  Indeed, many Augustinians are today called “Christian pessimists.”  They consider that this world is fundamentally disordered, that it will always contain evil, and cannot be set right, except, perhaps, by God at the Last Judgment.  Nonetheless, this terrible world can be viewed from elsewhere–its existence is part of a larger cosmology that also includes the heavenly city.  Although particular evils cannot be fathomed, the phenomenon of evil as a whole can be understood.  It shall be understood when one leaves the city of man for the city of God, either in this life, or the next.  Thus Augustine mimics (indeed foreshadows) many of the conclusions of pessimism–but always with the escape hatch of another world, where the effects of time are not felt. ~Joshua Foa Dienstag, Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit

It is fair to say that I have been taking a strong interest in Dienstag’s study of pessimism because I hold such Christian pessimist premises.  In the final analysis, as far as these pessimists themselves would be concerned, I am not a thoroughgoing pessimist, because I retain the hope of salvation in Christ.  Obviously there is a certain unbridgeable difference here, but there are also many fascinating points of contact in a shared ascetic detachment and, if not exactly a contemptus mundi (pessimists would not have contempt for the world, but simply take it for what it is), an understanding that nothing lasts in this world. 

But, even if pessimists see Christian pessimists as mimics, both together share much in their recognition of the world as it is.  Even if pessimists see their Christian counterparts as retaining an “escape hatch” in God and the Kingdom not of this world, both share the conviction that man’s predicament is not soluble–at least not by human agency.  For the pessimists, man’s predicament is not to be solved at all, but accepted and borne; for the Christians, the predicament is solved only in Christ, but the structures of life in the world must still be borne all the same.  

A key difference between the pre-modern and modern man, as Chantal Delsol proposed in Icarus Fallen, is that modern man sees problems to be solved, but pre-modern man sees burdens to be borne.  The pessimist, though no less a child of modernity than the optimist, shares far more with this pre-modern mentality (and with a Christian understanding of suffering) than he does with his fellow moderns. 

 In its extreme form, the Christian Zionist program identifies the Gospel with “the ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism” and is “detrimental to a just peace within Palestine and Israel”, say Jerusalem bishops in a hard-hitting statement.

The statement, signed by Catholic Latin Patriarch, Cardinal Michel Sabbah…and leaders of the Syrian Orthodox, Episcopal and the Evangelical Lutheran churches in Jerusalem, directs its attack at a belief among some Christians that the defence of the State of Israel is in accordance with Biblical prophecy.

The “Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism” describes Christian Zionism as “a modern theological and political movement that embraces the most extreme ideological positions of Zionism, thereby becoming detrimental to a just peace within Palestine and Israel.”

“In its extreme form, it laces an emphasis on apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ’s love and justice today,” the Christian leaders said.

“We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation,” the statement continues.

The statement goes on to reject what it describes as “the contemporary alliance of Christian Zionist leaders and organisations with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States that are presently imposing their unilateral preemptive borders and domination over Palestine”.

“This inevitably leads to unending cycles of violence that undermine the security of all peoples of the Middle East and the rest of the world,” said the statement.

Instead of advancing “racial exclusivity and perpetual war”, what is needed is “the gospel of universal love, redemption and reconciliation taught by Jesus Christ,” the bishops say.

The statement calls upon Christians everywhere to pray for the Palestinian and Israeli people, “both of whom are suffering as victims of occupation and militarism.”

“We call upon all Churches that remain silent, to break their silence and speak for reconciliation with justice in the Holy Land,” the Christian leaders added.

“Justice alone guarantees a peace that will lead to reconciliation with a life of security and prosperity for all the peoples of our land. By standing on the side of justice, we open ourselves to the work of peace - and working for peace makes us children of God,” the statement concludes. ~Catholic News

Via The Western Confucian

Oh, my!  This is just about as strong a statement against Christian Zionism as I have ever seen, and certainly one of the strongest I have ever seen coming from those in ecclesiastical authority.  I am sorry to see that His Beatitude Patriarch Irinaios of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem was apparently not a signatory, which is all the more surprising considering how insistent Israel had been in opposing his election.   

But it is right to use the concept—the traditional language is clerical fascism—about movements like the Romanian one. ~Michael Ledeen

This is one of the more remarkable errors that Michael “Scholar of Fascism” Ledeen makes in his efforts to show his alleged superior understanding of fascism in defense of the abhorrent neologism Islamofascism and the phrase ”Islamic fascist.”  As those familiar with the Legion of the Archangel Michael’s history and the career of Codreanu, the founder of this genuinely very odd Romanian political movement, will know, the Legion was in no sense “clerical,” because it was a predominantly and overwhelmingly lay movement that had no official church support nor did it have widespread clerical involvement because of the Church’s hostility to it. 

It did claim to be an Orthodox Christian political movement, made Orthodoxy an important aspect of the Romanian national identity, and modeled its ideals and rhetoric on extreme asceticism and martyrdom, which included a willingness to die–but not therefore necessarily to kill–for Romania.  Its general lack of violence and hooliganism (which is not to say that its members did not sometimes engage in political violence) marks it out as as more of a peculiar Christian nationalist group that was not very fascistic except for the uniforms the salutes.  Stanley Payne has argued convincingly that of movements typically associated with fascism in interwar Europe it has one of the weakest claims to the name.  Payne certainly never used the name clerical fascism for the Legion, and tends to avoid using that name for any of what he more accurately described as conservative authoritarian regimes.  Before it was associated with the Antonescu government, the Legion was known mostly for how many of its members suffered death at the hands of the Romanian government and others, since Codreanu maintained a very bizarre attitude towards violence for someone conventionally associated with fascism: be killed for Romania, but don’t kill.  You may be able to guess why the movement did not catch on everywhere. 

The reasons why Codreanu has been associated with fascism are because the Legion was a mass “shirt” nationalist movement (I believe green was their preferred colour) that had a peculiar obsession with death for the nation, and even went so far as to say, “You must love Romania more than your own soul.”  Even granting some license for exaggeration, this was a bizarre statement for an expressly Christian movement to make. 

It is noteworthy that in all of this the Romanian Orthodox Church had virtually nothing to do with Codreanu and condemned his movement in support of government repression of the movement.  If there were individual priests who had anything to do with the movement, they did not have the official support of the hierarchy and would have suffered penalties for associating with the movement.  Mircea Eliade, the famous Romanian writer, who fled Romania around the time of the rise of the Antonescu government, came here to Chicago and later wrote how strange he found it that the Church had persecuted the only modern political movement even remotely related to Orthodox Christianity.  Under Antonescu, Legionaries did become willing tools of the collaborationist government and took on a very different character with respect to the general use of violence than they had had when Codreanu was still alive.  But even if in this later period they might be aligned with the Nazis in their collaboration and usually anti-Jewish violence, at no point were they “clerical fascist” in any meaningful sense. 

But being a Christian movement is not the same as being clericalist, much less clerical fascist (a bogus category, in my view, primarily invented to conjure up hatred for Catholic accommodations with Mussolini, the Dollfuss-Schuschnigg Catholic corporatist and anti-Nazi regime in Austria from 1934-38 and for Franco’s regime).  The entire category clerical fascist was one invented by the sorts of people who don’t like conservative authoritarianism or Catholicism, and really don’t like them when they are combined (as they were, to some degree, in Austria and Spain)–in harping on it, Ledeen shows not so much his scholarly accomplishments (which his description of the Legion makes ever more suspect) but his own obsessions in militating against conservative authoritarian and religious regimes. 

Indeed, it is only when clerics are prominent in a political movement that it is really correct to call it clericalist, and then the system they usually hope to set up falls under a much more generic category of theocracy.  It is perfectly reasonable to describe Iran as a theocratic republic; it would be reasonable to call it clericalist, if one so desired.  But fascist? In what sense? 

There are, it is true, authoritarian, revolutionary and republican elements in the Iranian regime, but these seem to be markers not of fascism but of what might broadly be called an Islamic version of conservative authoritarianism.  If there are a few people in the entire Near East who are Muslims and also find themselves in sympathy with fascism, that’s all very interesting, but it tells us nothing about the people whom the adminsitration is labeling Islamic fascist–namely, members of Al Qaeda or Hizbullah or the government in Tehran, which are very clearly not claiming any kind of affinities or sympathies with fascism.  There may be Muslims (probably more secular than religious) who are political fascists, but if a Muslim is an Islamist he is almost by definition not a fascist, and that is what we’re arguing about. 

So according to Michael Ledeen, Mohammed Khatami, the former prime minister of Iran, is analogous to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda. Quoth Ledeen, on Khatami’s upcoming visit to the United States: “Would FDR have given Goebbels a visa while the Reich was attacking Czechoslovakia?” If Khatami–you know, the “dialogue of civilizations” guy–is Goebbels, what does that make Ahmadinejad? Hitler? Super Hitler? Super-Duper Hitler? (OK, OK, Khatami and Ahmadinejad are political foes, but we’re playing by Ledeen’s rules here.) A wise man once wrote that Hitler is dead, but he apparently neglected to anticipate the rise of Extra-Strength, Protein-Packed, Gamma-Irradiated Hitler. ~Spencer Ackerman, The Plank

More to the point, if Khatami is today’s Goebbels, what country is playing the role of Czechoslovakia in this fantasy?  Lebanon?  Israel?  Does it really matter when you’re barking mad and see Nazis everywhere?  Also, to play out the analogy fully, that would mean that Mr. Bush is Chamberlain and must have “capitulated” to Iran/Germany at the U.N./Munich.  I guess if you take no account of the radically different contexts and international political scenes, the comparison is flawless.

As it happens, I happen to agree that granting Khatami’s visa to go a-roaming around the country was a mistake, but not because he is the second coming of Goebbels or because this “coddles” Tehran, which is in no danger of being coddled or even negotiated with by this administration.  It is typical that the interventionists, who berate their adversaries for wanting to build “Fortress America” and engage in “isolationism,” are terrified at the prospect of any foreign leader of whom they disapprove even setting foot in this country; I do not recall their lamentations and wailings over Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington being nearly this strained and fanatical. 

Allowing Khatami’s visit is a mistake for the same reason that it was a mistake for the Episcopalians to ask him to National Cathedral (in all seriousness, and without wanting to insult any actually faithful Episcopalians who may be reading the blog, is there anything that these sorts of Episcopalians get right anymore?).  Whatever else you might say about him, he presided over a regime that persecuted every kind of religious minority, so to have him come and speak on matters ecumenical is not simply offensive but is in itself deeply perverse.  As it is not a state function, but an entirely private tour, Khatami will not be here in an official capacity, nor will he be in any position to negotiate on anything, so that his visit does not represent an opportunity for an opening to Iran, which might justify allowing his visit, but manages to achieve nothing concrete while indulging Khatami and his liberal well-wishers in his PR campaign and their delusions of religious dialogue. 

Someone will have to explain to me how liberals in this country, who supposedly find the onset of theocracy in America to be very real and very scary, see Khatami as a sort of friendly, bearded professor of religion who has come to offer his wisdom rather than the theocrat that he is.  I don’t use the term theocrat pejoratively; it is not his theocratic tendencies as such that offend.  In my view, it is much harder to defend the proposition that serious religious believers should not implement their religious vision in the community than that they should and indeed must.  But the theos he worships and the religion he and his impose on Iran coercively do offend.  I would be inclined to let Iranians concern themselves with the problems of Iran, but if we are going to have an Islamic theocrat come to this country I think we can plainly say what we think of the man’s Islamic revolution and his form of Islam itself. 

Of course, this is the last thing that is really on the minds of the interventionist critics of Khatami’s visit; the visit offends them not because it may help to spread a false impression about Islam as the ”religion of peace,” but because it empowers some mythical “Islamofascism” and makes the hegemon look weak.  Power, not truth, is what interests these people (obviously), and you can tell this by the enthusiasm with which they embrace this heinous neologism Islamofascist.  I wonder: given the penchant for the Sovietisation of language that these people have, how long before we go from accusations of appeasement and anti-Semitism to the natural conclusion of all this “fascist” talk?  How long before their opponents are declared to be “objectively Islamofascist”? 

Presumably if a leader with as appalling a “human rights” record as Khatami has came here (like, oh, I don’t know, Hu Jintao!), but was someone who could not readily be aligned with fascists of one sort or another (unless you are of the very real ”ChiComs are fascists now” school of fascist-obsession), you would hear few complaints from the usual suspects.  Very soon the Kazakh autocrat Nursultan Nazarbayev will be received at the White House and hosted by Bush at the family digs in Maine, but, you see, he is a good autocrat, a happy autocrat, and one of ours, so all will be well.  When Secretary Rice hosted the infamously corrupt and despotic President Nguema of Equatorial Guinea (the one Mark Thatcher allegedly tried to have overthrown by a small army of mercenaries two years ago), I’m also quite sure this had nothing to do with the lake of oil beneath his tiny country, but was based in his deep and abiding respect for the norms of democracy. 

In Nazarbayev’s case, he will be received as a guest of the President, and Nguema was hosted by the Secretary of State; Khatami will be the guest of some private liberal talking shops.  But which is the one that is driving the supposed friends of “freedom” absolutely crazy?  Of course, one can justify Nazarbayev’s visit by acknowledging that virtually every Central Asian state is a despotism of one kind or another (Kyrgyzstan is a tribal society with a nice democratic veneer) and that the Kazakh despotism has been on “our” side over the past many years and that this serves some grander scheme that is allegedly all to the good.  Relations with the hideous Nguema might be seen as a necessary evil to diversify our sources for oil.  But it becomes increasingly difficult to moan and lament about the repression of Tehran while hosting the dictator from Astana or cultivating security and economic ties with such humanitarians as Turkmenbashi the Great, known in his mere mortal form as Saparmurat Niyazov (who is a solid 18 on a scale of lunacy from 1 to 10), after our relationship with our last protestor-murdering despot, Islam Karimov, got a bit rocky.  

I am not some fantasist who believes that international relations will involve alliances only with saints and “reformers,” and I fully expect that we have to deal with ugly regimes all the time, which is why the refusal to even talk to Iran strikes me as the height of fantastic idealism.  Moreover, to listen to the interventionists tell it you would think Iran was the only despotism in the area (and, I would hasten to add, the specifically democratic elements of that despotism have tended to reinforce the worst in their system, rather than alleviate it) and that allied states, such as Saudi Arabia, do not engage in precisely the same kind of repression of religious minorities that Iran does.  “Human rights” deeply concern these people, provided they can be used as a pretext for war or interference in the internal affairs of a country whose government they despise for other reasons, but are otherwise neither here nor there.  That is worth bearing in mind when enduring the screeching of pundits about Khatami’s visit.     

But inviting Khatami is precisely the sort of thing I have come to expect from ecumenism and “outreach” efforts from liberal Christians of all confessions, who somehow manage to see only Rumi and Ibn Arabi when they look at Islam and somehow manage to see only oppression and Inquisitors when they look at their traditionally-minded fellow Christians.  The entire enterprise of ecumenism as it is now constituted is one dedicated not to truth or even reconciliation nor even good relations between religions and confessions within Christianity, but simply a pose of tolerance and “making nice” with the Other on the assumption that the gravest religious error that has ever been made was to look askance on those of different religions.  In fact, one of the worst errors is to confuse those who use the whip and the knout with those who preach peace and reconciliation or to indulge a basically unreasonable Muslim cleric to justify your own myths about the reasonableness and peacefulness of Islam-in-the-abstract.

Rather than being inept ideologues who want to somehow Christianize science and academe, I think Dembski and Marsden have made fatal concessions to the deeper institutional and ideological structures they purportedly wish to change. They are figureheads for two strategically similar negotiations between Evangelicals and established elites in the institutions and regimes of expertise, mainly the academic world. ID is a very hard-line, anti-positivist, anti-materialist-reductionist movement with specific agendas, but it actually makes major concessions to positivism and materialist reductionism as the necessary rules of the game to which one must adhere to get any hearing at all. Marsden represents or helped foment a soft and very loosely organized movement with a vague agenda of softening or subverting anti-religious secularism in universities. Unlike ID, no particular scholarly theory or goal is prescribed; this is simply advocacy for (surely not every instance of) “Christian scholarship” that proceeds by appealing (and thus conceding) to the the rules of “tolerance” and “inclusivity”—the “multicultural” model of “pluralism” that prevails in academe and other segments of American society today and which is rightly perceived by many as inherently an assault on Anglo-European and Judaeo-Christian history, culture, and tradition. Though similar as “wedge strategies,” Intelligent Design and “the outrageous idea of Christian scholarship” are not at all comfortably united efforts to purchase status, credibility (if not authority), and influence for certain Christians. (It is odd that Balmer does not seem to see the internal divisions and that Wilson was not moved to point them out.)

These “wedge strategies” have been concocted in order to make superficial gains—to acquire some mainstream intellectual careers for certain Christians of approximately one’s own kind. It has, predictably, become very much a game of “Who benefits?” (Marsden’s Pew-funded purse fed “Evangelical” and then broadly “Christian” scholars, including certain Catholics and others who are not necessarily Evangelicals in the usual sense and who may or may not be differently “evangelical” than Evangelicals.) The great common ground has been simply a desire for “Access” that is at times more and less disguised as a process of “cultural transformation” or “redemption.” This very Evangelical desire to be an “instrument” ends up becoming more than a means to an end but an end in itself as a pillar of identity. There is little discussion and no real answer to the question about ends. Why would it be good to have a Deistic Theism regarded as respectable and relevant in science? Why would it be good to have “Christian perspectives” regarded as respectable and relevant in all fields of research and education? Good, I mean, in results other than greater cultural prestige, access, and authority for certain religionists. ~The Japery

Indeed, fundamentally, the pessimistic account of the origin of unhappiness (even, I would maintain, in Freud) has little to do with psychology itself but with a claim of ontological misalignment between human beings and the world they inhabit. ~Joshua Foa Dienstag, Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit (p.33)

Dienstag is not talking about any of these things in relation to Christian theology.  Though he does mention Dostoevsky among the many pessimists of modernity (and it is perhaps by way of Dostoevsky that I have come to appreciate the insights of pessimism–it is also encouraging to think that Dostoevsky’s view was indeed as philosophical as I have thought it was and not simply a function of stereotypical Russian angst), he does not concern himself with modern Christian thought at all in this book.  But the pessimists’ recognition that man and the world are “ontologically misaligned,” that there is something deeply awry in our condition and that our predicament is one of continual mismatching of desires and achievement stands as a ringing confirmation of the Christian description of the state of man after the Fall. 

It is also true, as more than a few have observed over the years, that there is a strong resemblance between Schopenhauer’s pessimism and the teachings of the Buddha that all life is dukkha, often translated as suffering, because of the impossibility of satisfying craving and desire: either the desire or the achievement of the desideratum will be too great or too little, creating dissatisfaction, which cannot be cured except through the cessation of desire.  Many a deracinated child of nominal Christians has thought that in this teaching lies some hidden wisdom that Christianity has never taught, which would be mistaken–the extinction of desire, detachment, is the same concept and same goal of the ascetic life in Orthodox Christianity, which the early monastic writers termed apatheia (dispassion), borrowing from the lexicon of Plato and the Neoplatonists. 

Where the pessimists will not go, of course, because they do not believe in any ultimate solution of any kind, is to the Christian answer to the human predicament, but in their assessment of the predicament they are that much more realistic than the people who seek to sugar-coat the nature of the world with promises of a better tomorrow and grandiose schemes for reform and progress.  The Christian pessimist, if I can use such a term, acknowledges the finitude and createdness that are integral to our being, but he also places his hope in deliverance that is from beyond the ages and an adoption into the divine life of God.  

The pessimist’s recognition that no advance comes except at a price (and sometimes too high a price) and a related insight that you abolish a structure in human life in the name of emancipation only to find it re-emerging in its “black market” forms elsewhere (as Chantal Delsol has argued in Icarus Fallen) point to a certain structure and logic in reality that I think even the pessimists in their embrace of the absurd tend to miss.  This recognition of the costs of any change, though not framed in specifically conservative language, also can be seen as standing in close relation to conservative critiques of all forms of social engineering and the common sense view that there is no free lunch.

Most issues can either be painted as very glorious or very repulsive, depending on the wielder of the brush. I think the role and place of women is just such an issue. It is too easy to either view women as equal in role to men, thus brushing over the glorious distinctions God has given the two sexes, or conversely to harp on the servitude of women and their need to keep a “proper place” in society. The male writer of the Forbes article did not do either, but there was still no beauty in his painting of a woman’s role, no esteem for her position. She was a statistic who shouldn’t compete with men. Period.

The Bible paints a different picture, though. Women have a different role than men. Woman is created to be his helpmeet, walking beside him hand in hand through life. Marriage is a union, a binding of two lives that the two might work together more effectively than apart. In that beautiful union, woman does take the role that is often deemed “demeaning.” She is a guard of the home, a nurturer of children. She takes the home as her sphere of influence gladly, not because it is statistically better but because she belongs there. She was created for a special purpose. She is not free household staff, but a cherished wife and a mother. And yes, she is an obedient wife. ~Susan Garrison

Such are the sensible words of Ms. Garrison, who blogs here, responding to the deficiencies in Mr. Noer’s original Forbes article and making her very succinct summary stressing the importance of complementarity in Christian marriage and emphasising the honourable and vital role of women as laid down in Scripture.  Readers should look at the entire post to determine whether the young lady is, as Mr. Suderman offensively averred, either “backwards” or a “lunatic.”  I believe that readers will find a moderate, intelligent woman who seeks to live out her obligations before God in a manner well-pleasing to Him.     

The Pew religion poll has many interesting items related to religion, politics and public life, but the item that strikes me as most remarkable (though it is probably not a new phenomenon) is the percentage of Protestants and Catholics that does not believe in the Second Coming: 17% of all Protestants and 30% of all Catholics don’t buy it.  One wonders what they think is going to happen.  One also wonders what it is they think they’re doing as Christians if they have no hope of the general resurrection.  Of course, the Protestant numbers are hugely affected by the mainline churches (only 60% of mainline Protestants believe in the Second Coming), while the white evangelical (95%) and black Protestant (92%) numbers are a lot closer to what I would expect them to be.  Silly me, I would expect the numbers to be somewhere around 99%.  Part of this is undoubtedly related to how the people in question view the authority of Scripture with “literalists” being more likely to believe it than others, but I would guess that another part of it must be the neglect of regularly confessing a creed that contains the promise of Christ’s return or, if such a creed is regularly recited, there is no sense that making that public confession is anything other than a rote or perfunctory obligation that has no meaning.  It would have been interesting if the researchers had asked whether the people being interviewed routinely confessed a creed and what creed it was that they confessed.  There should probably be some significant correlation between knowing and reciting a creed and believing in what the creed says 


Musa was indeed one of the 12 Imams and is revered by Shiite Muslims, but does that make him a saint? In the generic sense, if there is one, I guess he is a revered as a saint, but as explained here, it’s not quite the same in Islam as it is in Christianity.

In the Protestant tradition, anyone who displays the qualities of a good follower of the faith can be considered a saint. While it’s fine to consider one’s grandmother a saint, in that generic sense, one would have difficulty tagging John Calvin or John Knox with the title.

In the same sense it is wrong to tag a Muslim Imam with the term in a journalistic setting because there are more accurate ways to refer to him and it places him in a category that doesn’t even officially exist in Islam. ~Daniel Pulliam, GetReligion

I suppose it is a fair point that it could be misleading for a Western audience when someone refers to one of the Imams as a saint, since this carries certain connotations in a Christian context that could create confusion about the figure being so described. But is it really an inaccurate or inappropriate term to use? Is it wrong to use the term saint when speaking of Islamic holy figures? I don’t think so, not least because the word itself simply means “holy one,” and there are numerous examples in Islam of venerating and praying to their holy figures to honour them and ask for intercession.

In modern literature on Sufism, it is commonplace for scholars to refer to fakirs, wonderworking mendicants, as saints and their graves as shrines. To be called wali Allah (friend of God) is to be acknowledged as just such a saint–this is a well-known popular title of Caliph Ali himself. Certainly the veneration their graves receive bears striking similarities to practises at the shrines of saints. This is an aspect of Islamic popular religion that may not always have express support in Islamic scripture or tradition, but which takes place nonetheless. In the centuries after his death, the mystic and “martyr” al-Hallaj was venerated in such a fashion because he was respected and honoured for his piety in spite of being executed in 922 for the blasphemous utterance, Ana al Haqq (I am the Truth). (It is of passing interest that this statement, so similar to that of the Lord in Jn. 14:6, led some early enthusiastic scholars of medieval Islam to suppose that he was some kind of oddball heretical mystic Christian, but this seems entirely untenable.) Further, the famous mystic of the 13th century, Ibn Arabi, got himself into some trouble by stressing the superiority of sainthood over that of prophethood; in any case, the distinct concept and category of Muslim holy figures comparable to those whom we would normally call saints was a well-established one in medieval Islamic thought. As the Wikipedia article Mr. Pulliam cited itself says of Muslim saints:

Saints are believed to have a power of intercession with God (Allah), and thus the ability to perform miracles and to give power or blessings known as baraka.

If this is true among Sunnis, how much more true is it among the Shia, whom takfir Sunnis routinely castigate for praying to men (i.e., the Imams)? Structurally, Shia Muslims treat the Imams as spiritual intercessors and holy figures in a way similar to, albeit not the same as, Christian venerations of saints. They do this in recognition of what they believe to be the special spiritual status and perfection of the Imams, whom they venerate in anticipation of the coming of the Mahdi. This is particularly true of Iranian Twelver Shi’ism, the branch to which Iraqi Shia belong.

Iraq doesn’t have a government. It has a collection of warlords, demagogues and thieves with official titles. It’s time to put our own politics aside and face reality: If Iraq’s elected leaders won’t stop looting their country long enough to pull together and defeat the foreign terrorists, internal insurgents and militias killing Iraqis, we should not ask our troops to defend them. ~Ralph “I’m Not A Racist!” Peters

Of course Mr. Peters isn’t a racist.  Just as everyone who said before the elections that the whole democratisation plan was a terrible idea wasn’t a racist.  At the time, they were something far worse in the eyes of the administration (and Mr. Peters): realists.

Now, all of a sudden, neocons and their hangers-on have rediscovered the importance of culture.  Here is Peters, sounding more like your average contributor to TAC c. 2002 than the lunatic neo-imperialist (and author of such masterpieces as New Glory: Expanding America’s Global Supremacy) that he really is:

Arab states are another story: Their social, political, economic and cultural structures leave them catastrophically uncompetitive with the developed world. Societies divided down the middle by religion, inhibited by tribal loyalties and conditioned to accept corruption can’t build healthy democracies.

I’m shocked, simply shocked by the defeatism and lack of resolve!  Mr. Peters probably just wants us all to roll over and die, doesn’t he?  Well, no, but to listen to Mr. Peters a year or two years or three years ago, you’d know that that was exactly what he and his allies thought of people with more foresight than they had.

But if we look closer, the same contempt for normal, more traditional societies that seems to motivate everything the neocons do also fills Mr. Peters’ throat with bile when he contemplates the Near East:

Even the seeming bright spots, such as Lebanon, aren’t true democracies. The Lebanese voted for clans, tribes and faiths, not for policies and programs.

In other words, “true democracies” can only have people who are alienated, deracinated, atomised and stripped of real religious loyalties–you know, members of the “ideological nation,” the “proposition nation.”  Of course, even in modern democracies ethnic and religious loyalties have considerable significance in shaping political values and political affiliations; we pretend that we all vote based on “policies and programs” when far more of us vote according to the same natural, human attachments that people everywhere use to define their political interests, together with our irrational enthusiasms for individual candidates.  For Mr. Peters, things should organised according to a certain kind of merit, “rationality” and the idols of this world.  All of what he says might well be true of mass democracy–perhaps loyalty to clan, tribe and religion are real impediments to its success.  This is why it, as a system of organising political life, will probably fail to endure in most parts of the world that still place high value on “clans, tribes and faiths” or, as Charles Krauthammer put, “tribe or religion or whatever.”  It will thrive among those who put no stock in loyalty to kin, place and religion, but why would any people want to become the kind of miserable people for whom these attachments were not powerful and essential?  Why does any people in the world want to remain in such a miserable state?

Larison chides me for allegedly not being willing to recognize her commitment and submission to her faith, trying to make it seem as if my argument was that she made a bad choice by deciding not to go to college. But that wasn’t my point at all: I wasn’t alarmed at Suzy Homemaker’s choice for herself; I was bothered that she seemed to take it as correct Christian doctrine that her decision was the best, most sound decision for the majority of Christian women. She was, to be blunt, making a fairly plain statement that, due to their faith, Christian women should generally avoid going to college. And, at the risk of being harsh, I would continue to characterize that as a backward, fundamentalist, lunatic notion. ~Peter Suderman

Now Mr. Suderman didn’t just object to her broader recommendation that Christian women not go to college, but declared essentially that her view had no validity.  That seems pretty well pointed at declaring the decisions of this “misguided” young woman, Ms. Garrison, to be very bad indeed.  But perhaps I did not state things properly last time.  I tried to acknowledge that her general recommendation to other Christian women is that they ought not go to college because college does nothing for preparing for those duties that they believe they are called to do in the rest of their lives.  She specifically does not argue that they should stop learning or stop studying, but that they avoid institutions of “higher” education.  Her assessment of the value of going to a university (and a secular university at that) was that it was not worthwhile from the perspective of a Christian woman interested in becoming a wife and mother; she believed her time could have been better spent in other ways and recommended that others avoid making what she believed was a mistake.  Throughout all of this she seems to be on fairly sound Biblical ground about the role of women in the family and the church.  But perhaps someone can show me the passage in Ephesians that speaks of women being called to an MBA.  Ms. Garrison extrapolates from these teachings to conclude that spending time on a college education that does not contribute to her fulfillment of these fundamental duties is a waste and a distraction.  In other words, she puts her duties first. 

That many modern Americans are prone to view traditional Christian attitudes towards relations between men and women or the role of women as “backwards” or even “lunatic” is a problem, sure enough–a problem that these modern Americans have.  I called on Mr. Suderman to acknowledge that  her position is a serious one based in Scripture and the traditional arrangements of Christian societies lo these many years.  He opted to demean that position again in the most pejorative terms.

Though the article is several months’ old, and there may not be that much more to say that hasn’t already been said, here is my belated post on “The Return of Patriarchy.” 

As governments going back as far as imperial Rome have discovered, when cultural and economic conditions discourage parenthood, not even a dictator can force people to go forth and multiply.

Throughout the broad sweep of human history, there are many examples of people, or classes of people, who chose to avoid the costs of parenthood.  Indeed, falling fertility is a recurring tendency of human civilization.  Why then did humans not become extinct long ago?  The short answer is patriarchy.

Patriarchy does not simply mean that men rule.  Indeed, it is a particular value system that not only requires men to marry but to marry a woman of proper station.  It competes with many other male visions of the good life, and for that reason alone is prone to come in cycles.  Yet before it degenerates, it is a cultural regime that serves to keep birthrates high among the affluent, while also maximizing parents’ investments in their children.  No advanced civilization has yet learned how to endure without it.

Through a process of cultural evolution, societies have adopted this particular social system–which involves far more than simple male domination–maximized their population and therefore their power, whereas those that didn’t were either overrun or absorbed.  This cycle in human history may be obnoxious to the enlightened, but it is set to make a comeback. ~Philip Longman, Foreign Policy (March/April 2006)

The article came out shortly after the Crunchy Cons blog had started up, and the participants there made a few remarks on it.  Ross Douthat also commented on it at the Scene just before bringing it into the crunchy conversation.  Steve Sailer discussed the article as well.  This theme of more traditionally patriarchal families having more children than their countercultural, liberal or non-traditional rivals (if we think of this in evolutionary terms, the two groups are rivals for resources, territory and status) has cropped up several times this year in other ways, mostly related to the connections between demographics and political preferences in America.  Steve Sailer analysed the “baby gap” and the “marriage gap” between the red-staters and blue-staters and the conservatives and liberals within each state (the last part is an important qualification that Sailer has seen too many others miss).  More recently Arthur Brooks has made an attempt at doing something similar, which Sailer then criticises here.  In his criticism, he mentions the negative effect that a high cost of living has on young people starting families, and refers to his article on “Affordable Family Formation.”  The problem of affordable family formation in turn calls to mind Ross Douthat’s recent criticisms of Jeremy Beer (whose article I approvingly cited here) and the crunchy cons and Rod’s response to them.  Thus we have come full circle.  Isn’t blogging fun?  I have already written a post and managed to say nothing of my own–sort of like compiling a florilegium

Now if Brooks’ claim is true that children tend to overwhelmingly (80% of the time) identify with the party (and presumably many of the political values they think are associated with that party) of their parents, that would suggest that the political values of the people who have more kids are more likely to reproduce themselves, so to speak, and outpace the reproduction of competing values.  It intuitively seems even more likely, on the whole, that the transmission and reproduction of religious and cultural values would be even more successful if part and parcel of these religious and cultural values is a commitment to be fruitful and multiply.  Might it not be the case that the specifically religious origin and nature of the drive to have larger families and the different valuation of children as gifts of God rather than the fruits of lifestyle choices actually serve to further dissuade the secular liberal from having children or at least dissuade them from having more than one or two children?  (Might the new Battlestar Galactica be an elaborate commentary on liberal anxiety about their own birth dearth and their own fears of perceived religious zealots–inhuman zealots at that–outbreeding them?)  In that case, all other things being equal (i.e., no large infusion of immigrants with radically different values), it seems very likely that people with these values will be more successful in passing on their genes and, in turn, their progeny will be more successful than those of their rivals in reproducing their parents’ cultural and religious memes. This would suggest, as many commentators have already averred, that the race of the culture wars goes not to the swift or the politically well-connected, but to the prodigiously fertile.   

St. Gregory Palamas once said, The Logos became flesh, and the flesh became Logos.  Taken out of the context of Orthodox Tradition and the finely balanced doctrine of Christ held by the Orthodox Church, this statement might seem shocking or even heretical, but it is because St. Gregory’s formulation was closely tied to the entirety of Church Tradition that this radical statement of the reality of deification expresses the profound paradox of the truth of the Incarnation.  The statement is strongly Cyrilline in its inspiration, recognising that, as Donald Fairbairn has acknowledged in his important book Grace and Christology in the Early Church, Cyrilline Christology implies that Christ’s own humanity has received the adopted divine sonship that the Son naturally possesses: Christ’s humanity is His deified humanity and, what is more, His deified humanity is made equally the adopted son of God by grace that the Son is by nature. 

It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that in Orthodoxy in particular the significance of John 1:14, And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, stands out as a defining feature of all subsequent Orthodox theology.  This is not to deny the importance of the prologue to the Gospel of St. John to other confessions; it is, of course, fundamental to all Christian confessions in its statement of Christ’s divinity and the cosmic dimension of the Incarnation.  However, it is in the strong embrace of the idea of theosis in the Greek tradition that Orthodoxy finds it particular expression.  It is not an exaggeration to say that essentially every controversy of any significance in the Orthodox world before 1453 was a controversy over the nature or possibility of deification, which is to say the nature or possibility of God’s Redemption of mankind and the reception of His saving grace. 

If God became man that men might become gods, in the famous statement reiterated by St. Athanasios (following a long tradition stemming back to St. Clement of Alexandria), the reality of God’s becoming man and the integrity of His remaining fully God were essential to the entire rationale for the Incarnation itself.  If the paradoxical mystery of the Incarnation was to make any sense, it must retain the possibility of the deification of men for which the Word undertook to take human flesh and a rational soul.  Central to this is the reciprocal relationship of the two transformations: the changeless becoming of God taking the form of a servant, obedient unto death, yea, even death on a cross and the transfiguration of created flesh into illumined and deified flesh raised by grace to the level of divinity according to energy. 

As the Orthodox on the Traditional Church Calendar marked the Feast of the Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord this past weekend, which our New Calendar Orthodox bretren marked two weeks ago, we were reminded of the meaning of the Psalmist’s declaration that You are gods (Ps. 82:6) and shown the way to our fully restored state of purified, illumined and deified human nature shining with the uncreated light of Mt. Tabor.  This is the purpose for which every man has been created; this is the reality of our salvation realised before us in the living witnesses of the saints and martyrs who have received the perfection of harmonious synergeia between their wills and the will of God; this is the transformation of flesh by grace confirmed in the icons of Our Lord, His Mother and the holy saints and prophets; this is the participation in the Life of God made possible through partaking of the Holy Sacraments.  God became man that men might become gods–this is as essential to the truth of the Faith as believing on the reality of the Resurrection, for they are in fact one and the same thing.  Without Resurrection, deification is impossible, and without the possibility of deification the Resurrection of Christ was in vain for the salvation of our race.      

Heather [Mac Donald] writes: “I simply don’t know what to make of…the president claim[ing] that freedom is God’s gift to humanity.” Oh, come on. Bush is offering here a conscious echo of the Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In other words, Bush is harkening back to the foundational document of the United States, the political source of our universalist conviction. That’s what to make of it.  ~John Podhoretz

I suppose people who wrongly think that the Declaration is the “foundational document of the United States” (the ratified Constitution established the Union and to that extent “founded” the United States) will also put incredibly great store by the platitudes in its first two paragraphs.  But I have to say that I am more with Ms. Mac Donald and the skeptics when they express puzzlement at the strange formulations of Mr. Bush.  This is not because I am skeptical about God’s role in history, as they are, but because I am skeptical that God has given ”freedom”–except in the most important ways of the Redemption and Resurrection–to all mankind.  Indeed, moral freedom as it is frequently defined today in terms of self-will and choice is fundamentally the opposite of the free will that God created in man.  According to St. Maximos, our free, natural will freely wills the Good and obeys God; our choosing will (gnomikon thelima) is simply man’s fallen indecision and hesitation about willing the Good.    

It is reasonable to see the blessings of liberty as God’s gift to any particular people who enjoy those blessings, and it makes sense for free people to give thanks to God for those blessings, much as they would give thanks for any of the other myriad blessings that God gives to a peaceful, bountiful nation, but it does not make sense to assume that this liberty is therefore automatically or necessarily given to all men, that specifically political ”freedom is God’s gift to humanity”–when it clearly is not.  This is to make the truly significant and meaningful deliverance that God has given us through His Son only one part of the deliverance.  If we believe Mr. Bush, God also has a sort of program of earthly liberation.  It is an attempt to immanentise the spiritual liberty of Christians as political liberty, while at the same time stripping this liberty of any association with revelation.  It is a modern gnostic error.  Though the statement is brief, it is also strangely reminiscent of liberation theology in which the Gospel serves as a means of legitimising social and political revolution.  As well as being Mr. Bush’s ideology, this phrase is a rhetorical gimmick to baptise revolution with the appearance of holiness and to keep conservative religious Americans from raising objections to the fundamentally revolutionary and liberal nature of Mr. Bush’s entire enterprise.  If we judge by looking at who still supports his foreign policy, the gimmick seems to be working.    

It is also correct to say that because God made man in His image and likeness that man is free in a way relatively like unto God’s freedom, but this means that man is autexousion, and has free natural will, and not that God invests man with any “rights” with respect to political constitutions.  Perhaps Mr. Bush is thinking of the Declaration when he makes his far-fetched, enthusiastic claim, but just as there is no reason to put great store by those “self-evident truths” (which were not at all evident to generation upon generation of Christians) there is no reason to put much store by Mr. Bush’s odd, quasi-heretical view. 

The more basic difficulty that skeptics and believers alike have to have with Mr. Bush’s formulation is a difficulty that crops up again and again as conservatives keep trying to make the dysfunctional marriage of Enlightenment social and political philosophy and Christianity work through increasingly strained and incredible rhetoric.  Mr. Bush’s God of Freedom in the end has little more to do with the living God of Scripture, the One God in Trinity, than does Robespierre’s Supreme Being or the clockwork god of the Deists.  One wonders, of course, whether Mr. Bush really believes that Muslims also worship this same God as he has claimed in the past about the common worship of Muslims and Christians (”different routes to the Almighty,” indeed!). 

The Mac Donald blog fest goes on, prompting this remarkable statement from Wesley Smith at First Things:

Regarding Michael Novak’s post about Heather Mac Donald’s discomfort with talk of God: I too have grappled intellectually with how to analyze crucial concepts of right and wrong, good and evil, in a society that seems so pluralistic morally that it frequently appears not to be a true society at all. Yet, if we look carefully, we can discern a common frame of reference underlying many of these arguments. Indeed, amid the cacophony of competing voices—whether Christian, Jewish, secularist, atheist, or none of the above—I find it encouraging that all sides in most cultural controversies at least give lip service to the belief in universal human equality.

Why is it encouraging that all sides in most controversies pay lip service to something that isn’t true?  Would it be encouraging if all sides in the debate on evolution paid lip service to the fantastical Young Earth theory?  Would it be encouraging if all sides in Egyptology paid lip service to the belief that the pyramids were landing platforms for alien spaceships?  I ask because I regard “universal human equality” to be approximately as accurate an assessment of the human condition as those other claims are accurate assessments of the respective truths in each area of inquiry.  All of them are pleasant or amusing ideas (entire sci-fi universes have been constructed around the latter), and none of them seems to have any empirical basis in reality.  As near as anyone can tell in real life, universal equality doesn’t exist, the earth really is several billion years old, and the pyramids were built by people for the Pharaohs as monumental tombs.  The first and third claims have something else in common: those who believe in each one also believe that sinister, oppressive institutions have at one time or other hidden “the truth” from the people. 

I know, I know, Mr. Smith would not have made the statement if he didn’t believe “universal human equality” actually existed.  Some will say, “Surely you believe in the equality of man!”  Alas, no. 

It is interesting that this comes as part of an ongoing response to Heather Mac Donald’s article in defense of the “skeptical” (read non-religious, non-believing) conservative’s claim to being a real conservative.  Of course, no one had really denied the skeptical conservatives their place, though I did suggest that conservatism and full-on materialist atheism don’t really make a lot of sense together, but the basic argument was that skeptical conservatives come to their conservatism through a solid grounding in experience and empirical evidence and that they can reach basically conservative conclusions on all sorts of things from politics to morality to culture largely by means of their own critical and rational thinking.  Supposing this is true, why would a skeptical conservative be inclined to accept something like “universal human equality” and pay lip service to it?  What reason would a secular or atheistic conservative have to believe this?  Indeed, since it is one of the basic principles in the conservative tradition that such equality is not real, why would any kind of conservative be so inclined? 

To the extent that there is any truth to the idea of the equality of man it would be based in a metaphysical and spiritual claim, because it is plainly false if we are to judge by any other standard.  (It is important to remember that, as Bradford and Tonsor have told us, metaphysical or spiritual equality has no necessary connection to questions of any other kind of equality.)  I have never been entirely clear where the idea of spiritual equality itself came from. 

In all seriousness, it does not, to the best of my knowledge, appear in the early Fathers–or rather it is not even a question that much exercised the Fathers.  The Gospel may invert or subvert conventional worldly hierarchies, but the belief in some sort of hierarchy is always present, particularly from the Apostle onwards. 

In patristic theology, questions of equality arose in relation to the status of the Son in relation to the Father, and later the Holy Spirit in relation to both.  Because of their common essence, they are co-equally God.  The assumption here was that those that share the same nature possess an equality in that nature, which means that all those who share in human nature are all equally human.  It does necessarily follow that all individual human beings are therefore equal, except to say redundantly that they are all human.  Arguably, our two prelapsarian ancestors possessed the fullness of created nature, which was diminished in the Fall, and the Redemption has provided the possibility of recovering the fullness of our true nature, which suggests that the only spiritual and fully natural equality of man that exists is one realised by grace among the deified.  Otherwise, all that can be said with certainty is that all men are under sin and in the need of God’s grace–I submit that it is in this, and in nothing else, that fallen men are equal.        

Someone will object and say, “But the point of this other post was not so much about equality itself, but how people should treat one another, whether or not everyone is entitled to the same protections and dignity.”  That is what the rest of the post was about, and I am getting to it.  Mr. Smith discusses a number of moral questions, most of them related to the protection of life, and frames them in terms of equality.  Now, as a matter of description, I believe he is correct that most people do argue about these controversies in terms of equality and equal rights, but this is not something that I find “encouraging.” 

For example, what can it mean to say that an unborn child is equal to his mother and has equal rights?  Does it mean that she treats her unborn child with respect and dignity only to the degree that he is equal with her?  Clearly, the child loses in any such approach.  That would suggest that we ought to treat those weaker, more defenseless and more dependent with less respect and dignity than we would those who are more our equals.  This is clearly an unjust and cruel way to treat the weakest and most vulnerable people in a society. 

So perhaps someone will invoke a metaphysical right–the child has the same rights as anybody else.  Yet all of this rights talk presupposes the child’s autonomy in a way that seems hard to credit; the child, particularly the unborn child, is not autonomous in any meaningful sense and will not be for many years.  Rather, why do we not recognise the stark inequality in such cases and acknowledge that justice and charity require of us to treat the weakest and most vulnerable with the same respect and dignity that we would if they were our equals?  Indeed, if men treat their equals with equal dignity, that is to be expected, so where is the virtue and merit in this?  Rather, does it not follow from the teachings of the Gospel that we are to treat those who are not our equals with the respect and dignity that we would give our equals?  For if human equality were true, charity would become superfluous. 

The problems of the current Middle East extend beyond those “Islamic fascists” who proselytize a skewed, militant version of Islam. The present conflict includes secular Arab despots who flout the rule of law, violate human rights, and crush political dissent. ~Mohamed Eljahmi, NRO

This sums up the essence of exactly what is wrong with this dishonest label of Islamic fascisct/Islamofascist.  It presupposes jihadism is a “skewed” form of Islam, as if it were unrelated to “real” Islam.  That is a fundamental mistake in definition and will consequently muddle efforts to combat jihadis.  Furthermore, it appears obvious that in Mr. Eljahmi’s case the label serves as a way of pushing together all actors in the region that he or “we” are supposed to dislike, so all of sudden Islamists and Baathists are in it together (remember the last time we heard this absurd claim?) and we have to fight them as part of the same war against “Islamic fascism.”  It starts to become clear how some people understand the term.  It means: anybody and everybody in the Near East who doesn’t work for us.  In fact, that is too generous of a definition.  Under his definition, even Gadhafi qualifies as an Islamic fascist.  At that rate, President Bouteflika of Algeria might as well be included, too, so meaningless and arbitrary is the term’s application.

Surprisingly, Goldberg understands far more about this particular question than I ever thought he would (and this is not only because he happens to agree with my analysis of the flaws in the idea of thinking of jihadis as fascists), even going so far as to say:

It’s easy to argue Communism or Nazism were “alien ideologies,” it’s much more difficult to call “Islamism” an alien ideology to the Islamic world.

But he wouldn’t be Goldberg if he didn’t turn around accept the use of the term anyway, even though he just finished explaining why the term is wrong and misleading.  Oh well.

Andy McCarthy states it well:

Although I have used the term “Islamo-fascism,” I’ve never been comfortable with it. It’s a term used with much thought, but, like other similar terms — “radical Islam,” “militant Islam,” “political Islam,” “Islamism,” etc. — it conveniently allows us to dodge the question that begs answering: Is the terrorism we are dealing with globally a result of unadorned Islam?

Here is the problem: There is an interpretation of Islam that says everyone on earth must become a Muslim or submit to the authority of the Islamic state (meaning, pay the jizya tax and make one’s own freedom to worship subject to the regulatory whims of the Sharia authorities). This is to be brought about by jihad. Now, that is commonly called “Islamo-fascism” or “radical Islam” (among other things). But is it really fascist or radical? I don’t think so.

Bat Ye’or, not surprisingly, states the case as well as any I have seen:

However, unlike Fascism, Islamism is deeply imbedded in a jihadic ideology, with its legal framework of permanent war derived from religious scriptures, consolidated by a history of 13 centuries of warfare, conquests, and subjugation of infidels. Unlike fascism, all its references are religious, and its hatred targets equally Jews and non-Jews. Codified in 8th-century Islamic jurisprudence, Islamist warfare tactics conform exactly to a sharia-jihadic worldview, set in an enduring, theological pattern. Similarities with fascism emerge from a shared totalitarian mechanism, despite divergences in the two movements. Promoters of jihadism define their actions as a jihad, using its terminology and history. But they object to Westerners adopting this view negatively since for Muslims jihad represents the highest sacred duty in the path of Allah, and it is this positive interpretation of jihad that they want to impose on its victims. Being unfamiliar with jihad, Westerners do not understand that the fight against terror is against a 21th-century jihad and they do not realize the breadth of its scope and constituents.

I have made some satisfactory progress in my other writing, and I see that the Morality Clarity Brigades are on their usual tour of Pope-bashing, so I am returning rather soon to write a lengthy post.  What horrible thing did the Pope say this time that would draw down the ire of the wise men of First Things?  First, Pope Benedict said the following:

We do want to appeal to all Christians and to all those who feel touched by the words of the Holy See, to help mobilize all the forces that recognize how war is the worst solution for all sides. It brings no good to anyone, not even to the apparent victors. We understand this very well in Europe, after the two world wars.

Oh, no, he said something against War!  Quick, we have to put a stop to this!  Now, as I read my copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (and, yes, as an informed Orthodox Christian, I do have one) on war, it says:

The fifth commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life.  Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the Church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war.

All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war. (CCC, 2307-2308)

Notice how it doesn’t make nifty provisos that excuse the “good” wars from these ”evils and injustices”?  Notice how it doesn’t engage in all the moral shilly-shallying of war supporters?  Following these sections are those sections that list those circumstances under which war may be legitimately waged as a means of defense.  Now what did the Pope say that contradicts the statements cited above?  What possible objection could anyone have to a bishop counselling peace and condemning war as evil?  Well, of course, you already know what objections the usual suspects will have.  Here, first, is Robert Miller with his anti-pacifist-cum-Holocaust red herring:

I find it difficult to understand how the pope says this. Along with many others, I often invoke the Second World War as the paradigm example of a just war, of a case where morality not only permitted but required the use of armed force in order to combat evil. But here Benedict, expressly mentioning the world wars, says that they brought no good to anyone. No good to Elie Wiesel, and all the other prisoners liberated from Buchenwald? No good to the peoples of France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and others saved from Nazi domination? No good to the Poles and other Slavs, destined to slavery to support the Third Reich? No good to the young Joseph Ratzinger, who, freed from service in the Wehrmacht, was able to enter seminary, study theology, become a priest and a professor, and live to become pope?


As it stands, this statement from Benedict is unsupportable. All serious people know that war is a terrible reality to be avoided whenever possible, and Benedict should certainly say this. But he is also a great theologian, well able to make moral distinctions. He ought not make statements that can so easily be understood as endorsing a dangerously naive pacifism that is incompatible with the Catholic moral tradition.

Of course, conceiving of WWII as a “paradigm” of just war doesn’t really start you out on the right foot, but let us suppose that it is.  I feel compelled to ask why certain Christians constantly feel obliged to find fault with exhortations to peace or why they must see in the clear expression of the fundamental moral truth that “war is the worst solution for all sides” some kind of potential endorsement of “naive pacifism.”  Surely one of the evils of the world is that men are only too happy to resort to the use of arms and only too willing to shed blood and find all sorts of convenient reasons why they have done so–none more so than the old playground excuse of “he started it!” 

The great problem of our time is not Pope Benedict stating the obvious truth–which should be all the more obvious in the wake of the tragedies of Lebanon and Iraq–that war is the last resort because it is “the worst solution” and those who treat it as a last resort acknowledge as much.  The great spiritual problem, the great danger to which people who live in powerful nations are most prone, is the belief that war is good.  Not justified by certain circumstances, not necessary and unavoidable in certain cases, but good and the bringer of good

For someone who wants to take the Pope to task for a failure to make moral distinctions, Mr. Miller’s objection is unfortunate.  Of course the deliverance of innocent victims from brutality and violent death was good.  Of course the restoration of peace was good.  You have to really want to find a flaw in Pope Benedict’s position to assume that he does not know this or meant to ignore these things.  Surely the point of the statement was to emphasise that, on the whole, war truly profits no one because of the evils and injustices inherent in it.  If see WWI and WWII as one gigantic orgy of violence, we see an entire train of events starting in 1914 and leading to incalculable human loss and misery stemming from the belief that war is not the worst solution but, for many of the belligerents, the most expedient and the best.  How many tens of millions had to die for the “good” Mr. Miller describes?  How many hundreds of thousands of innocents were indifferently slaughtered in pursuit of that “good” by the Allies alone?  War may be a means to limit evil, and is therefore justified under strict definitions (which, strictly speaking, WWII did not meet) but it does not accomplish anything good.  Pope Benedict is telling us that we cannot valorise war itself, that war is always “the worst solution,” and we cannot make it into anything better than that. 

Deliverance from the excesses of war and the good things that come after the cessation of war are the products of ceasing hostilities and resuming peaceful, civilised life.  Why is there such a need, at First Things and elsewhere, to pretend that the problem of our age is not a tendency to go to war too quickly and rashly and without just cause and to wage war excessively, but a tendency to refrain from it when we are obliged to fight for our community and our people?  Why is it that some Christians think that the just war tradition is not a high standard of justice to be rigorously applied to the use of force but a loophole that means, “war is OK for Christians”? 

Three years into a war of aggression in Iraq, a week after the devastation of Lebanon, are some people really so inured to war that the simple truth that it is “the worst solution” and brings no good to anyone sounds offensive and contrary to Christianity?  Because it does bring no good to anyone, and we should not pretend otherwise.  By resisting aggression or redressing injustices, it may restore peace and create the circumstances in which men can pursue and cultivate the Good, but it does not do anything good in itself. 

Even the victors suffer spiritual and moral costs, particularly in total war where charity and justice are not to be found, and heretofore decent men are sometimes called to do reprehensible things.  War is evil.  It is something that is a necessary evil in certain cases, but evil nonetheless.  We ignore or minimise this truth at our own peril.  Indeed, some Christians in this country must seriously consider why they have been only too happy to go along blithely with every and any war of the last few years and whether that is really in keeping with their moral tradition.  For starters, they might hold off from belittling a prominent Christian authority when he says something that, by the standards of official Catholic doctrine and more generally by the common witness of Christianity, seems not only undeniable but essential for our present moment.         

Van Dyck’s Portrait of Charles I

If I had to think of one thing that prevented our War of Independence from degenerating into something like the dictatorship of the Commonwealth, I think it would have to be that our ancestors were never in a position to execute their King and were never forced to take that final, dreadful step of the revolutionary that so deeply tainted and marred the English, French and Russian Revolutions.  We could dismiss George III–we did not need to eliminate him.  In simply detaching ourselves from the monarchy, our rebellion remained identified with what our ancestors were fighting to preserve rather than institutions we were seeking to overthrow and destroy–though we were, of course, seeking to throw out the monarchy and its ministers–and so retained a basic sanity, a sense of limits and a respect for law that the Commonwealth, the Assembly and the Bolsheviks either never had or were unable to acquire after the shedding of royal blood.  It is interesting to note that Charles I was canonised by the Church of England after the Restoration for his refusal to reject the episcopacy, and Tsar-Martyr Nikolai is now venerated as a saint along with his family, the Holy Royal Martyrs, for their witness to the Faith at the time of their brutal execution by the Bolsheviks. 

This idea of a martyr-king typically strikes low church folks as obscene and tends to offend the more liberally inclined, even among the Orthodox, but it is something that all hierarchical churches seem to be able to understand and accept (the Catholics have St. Louis and pre-Conquest England had Edward the Confessor) in the conviction that the title Defensor Fidei or its equivalent means just what it says and is not a piece of grandiloquent fluff.  The martyr-king is the highest realisation of the role of Defensor Fidei, which makes his murderers by implication just about the epitome of apostasy and infidelity.  

But there is something that seems missing in the context, and I think this is a reason that some are having a hard time taking what is being said from the Vatican with the seriousness it deserves. For whatever reason, only part of the big picture is being painted - there are reasons  for the violence and terrorism that stand in oppoosition to the Gospel on every level.

So when people struggle with this, I think what they are saying is this: This is not a doctrinal issue, but we know we should still be taking the Pope seriously on this, and we want to. He has a perspective none of us as individuals have, and in his attention to global, rather than nationalistic, priorities, he teaches and challenges us. But in the statements, we don’t hear the foundations of the weight of the present threats and conflicts addressed, some of which concerns fundamental human rights of freedom and justice. So how can we receive this as a prudential judgment we should take seriously if we don’t hear all of the elements of the situation addressed? ~Amy Welborn

Via Rod Dreher

Now I am not a Catholic, so perhaps that disqualifies me from saying something about this, but what I have found striking about Pope Benedict XVI’s response to the war in Lebanon is his sense of equanimity and justice.  Like Benedict XV, I think it is fair to say that the current Pope has worked to “preserve complete impartiality in relation to all the belligerents, as is appropriate to him who is the common father and who loves all his children with equal affection.”  In this approach that eschews taking sides, I think it is also fair to say that the current Pope has worked ”to endeavour constantly to do all the most possible good, without personal exceptions and without national or religious distinctions, a duty which the universal law of charity, as well as the supreme spiritual charge entrusted to Us by Christ, dictates to Us.”  As I read over Benedict XV’s statement, he is certainly making many recommendations for how to resolve particular problems (the authority of the Pope was, at least in some countries, still something fairly potent even during the insanity of the Great War),  but I see none of the deep structural or causal analysis of why the war happened in the first place that Ms. Welborn seems to be looking for.  I suspect that the modern Vatican is reluctant to make specific proposals, because even when it ventures to speak on questions of war and peace in any way its statements are frequently dismissed as ultimately irrelevant (it is up to the “prudential judgement of the magistrate!”).  More than that I suspect it is doubly reluctant to weigh in on theorising about the causes of violence in the way that Ms. Welborn seems to want.  From a Christian perspective, the causes of violence are always in the corruption of human will and intention away from the goods proper to his nature–everything else is ultimately secondary and incidental–and the remedy for this disordered will is the proper mix of charity and justice.  It is the bishop’s task to exhort and teach what the Gospel tells us, particularly with respect to mercy and charity in circumstances such as these, and from what I have seen this is what Pope Benedict has done.  He has held both parties accountable because both are accountable, and he has excused the crimes of neither side.  He has summoned them to make peace, and they have, predictably enough, ignored him.  If we expect Pope Benedict to speak in terms of the narrative that we use to describe events in the Near East, or expect him to categorise the problem in the terms to which we are accustomed, we are likely to be repeatedly disappointed.  At bottom, people dissatisfied with Pope Benedict’s stance on this war seem to want him to take sides in some small way, and I do not believe he believes himself free to do that and I expect that he would believe such an approach would be unwise and possibly detrimental to the establishment of peace.  That is my speculation on why the Vatican has not been more forthcoming in its criticism of the role of Islam in all of this and why the response may seem lacking. 

The article also fails to mention that, while Syria has the appearance of a democracy, the Sunni-dominated country is essentially an authoritarian regime and it would be quite difficult for a Christian, or anyone for that matter, to speak freely on religion without risking the wrath of the majority. This type of conditioning has been going on for hundreds of years. ~Daniel Pulliam, GetReligion

Mr. Pulliam objects to Reuters’ coverage in this story.  First of all, while it is important to keep the context of Baathist Party rule in mind, as an explicitly secular state that has been historically hostile to Islamic fundamentalism it affords the Christians of Syria rather more latitude in their ability to practice their religion and to speak candidly about it.  The Christians in Syria are decidedly not living under Islamic law, do not pay the jiziya or suffer from the sorts of restrictions that they would if, say, they lived in certain parts of “liberated” Iraq. 

Then there is the “context” of Syrian Christians being Arabs, who are reasonably more likely to sympathise with fellow Arabs, especially when there are Christians among them, when these people appear to them to be (and indeed are) under attack.  Since Christians in Lebanon, including no less than Gen. Aoun, are taking an increasingly pro-Hizbullah stance, why is it that incredible to believe that Christians in Syria are taking the same view?  Why the need to attribute it to Islamic intimidation?  There may be such intimidation on a private level, but Mr. Pulliam’s criticism assumes that this, together with anachronistic ideas about Islamic law, must be the main explanation for the sympathy being shown Nasrallah.  Arguably, the article could have provided more context to give a more complete picture of the situation, but there is nothing terribly lacking in the coverage itself, which is obviously a collection of anecdotal accounts.  There is no reason to lend this report undue importance if a reporter has managed to find a handful of Christians in Syria who say extraordinarily complimentary things about Nasrallah, but why should it surprise us that Christians are saying complimentary things about a man whom 80% of Lebanese Christians now support

The theme of the story was how the war on Lebanon was forging solidarity across sectarian and religious lines, citing Christian sympathy for Nasrallah and Hizbullah as an example of this trend.  Furthermore, the historical context of the rise of Arab nationalism, which was an ideology virtually invented by Syrian and Lebanese Christians as a means of transcending sectarianism, might tell us something about why Christians in the Near East feel particularly strong affinities to pan-Arab claims and the causes of other Arabs, even when they are not Christian.  Even though Arab nationalism has failed across the region, there is a tradition among the local Christians to think in these terms. 

Then there is the problem with the phrase “Sunni-dominated country.”  First of all, it does not explain very much if the thing to be explained is Christian sympathy for a Shi’ite militia.  It is a majority Sunni country, but it is precisely not Sunni-dominated, because the entire elite of the country comes from a branch of Shi’ism.  If the country were Sunni dominated, and we assume that this is very relevant to determining how Syrian Christians view the fighting in Lebanon, are they more or less likely to sympathise with Hizbullah?  The relevant point, surely, is that the government is dominated by a branch of Shi’ites, the Alawites, which makes more sense of Damascus’ connections to Hizbullah and Tehran. 

The fact that the government is a sponsor of the group in question would probably have far more influence on what Syrian Christians think than any anachronistic recourse to an explanation according to jiziya and the official second-class status that Christians endure in non-secular Islamic countries.  That being said, we rule out Christian sympathy for Hizbullah and the cause of all Lebanon at peril of making outlandishly incorrect statements like those contained in Mr. Pulliam’s post.  I should think an outfit like GetReligion would take more care to make sure that they themselves “get” what they are talking about before they find fault with other journalists for their errors or otherwise poor coverage of a religion-related topic.   

If Prof. Bernard Lewis were not a dedicated proponent of any and all wars in the Near East, a general alarmist when it comes to modern political questions and, in fairness, a super-partisan of Israel and close associate of Likud, I might take it more seriously when he warns again in alarmist fashion that Ahmadinejad, who as President directly controls literally none of Iran’s actual military assets, has fixated on the date August 22, which happens this year to correspond with the day commemorating Muhammad’s Night Journey.  Are you scared yet?  Let me try that again, Dave Barry-style: this is the Day When They Commemorate Muhammad’s NIGHT JOURNEY!  Now it’s sinking in, right?  The thought is that this date will carry some special significance for Ahmadinejad’s apocalyptic expectations of the Mahdi and Twelfth Imam’s return from occultation (one can only guess how shocked Mr. Bush would be to learn that there are multiple sects of Shi’ism–”I thought they were all Shi’ites!”). 

Since the excerpts from the WSJ op-ed where Prof. Lewis’ warning appeared do not include any explanation of why the date has any necessary connection with the other, I am, to put it mildly, not exactly anxious about what is going to happen on August 22. 

This is not to rule out the significance of sacred dates or anniversaries of important historical events as signs of what a people particularly attentive to such past events might do in the present (it came to my attention recently that the Tanzania and Kenya bombings in 1998 came eight years to the day of the arrival of American forces in Saudi Arabia), but I have to confess that the connection of the Night Journey to the appearance of the Twelfth Imam is a bit obscure.

First, there is the problem of the Mahdi himself.  The Mahdi is supposed to return at the command of Allah, which is something Ahmadinejad presumably does not believe he can control or hasten by doing provocative or violent things.  Now, is Prof. Lewis claiming that Ahmadinejad (whose first name is Mahmoud, which is one of the technical requirements of any claimant to Mahdi status) believes himself to be the Mahdi?  That would be quite a thing to suppose, especially since the Mahdi is supposed to come out of Arabia.  It is also worth considering that if he were claiming such a thing, his life would very likely be forfeit in Iran in no time at all.  Aside from threatening the power of the clerics, the claim itself would be viewed as impious.  All other claimants of being the Mahdi have come to a sticky end, and each time they have been met with the disapprobation of all Muslims who knew anything about Islamic doctrine.  Muhammad Bayram V of Tunisia was just such a one who looked down on the rising of the Mahdi in Sudan and called for Anglo-Egyptian forces to crush his rebellion.  An anti-colonial intellectual, he was no fan of empire, but for various reasons, including religious contempt for the claims of this false Mahdi, he felt obliged to support the British cause.

Now I see the obvious connection between the Night Journey and Jerusalem, where Muslims believe Muhammad went on his winged horse (and whence the special claim on the Dome of the Rock, where Muhammad was supposed to have set foot when he landed, according to this apocryphal tale), and so I suppose in the most conspiratorially-minded view you could imagine someone timing an attack on Israel on the day of the Night Journey, but this seems to have one large, overlooked problem. 

If August 22 of this year is the day when Muslims specifically remember the association of Muhammad and Jerusalem, wouldn’t that almost guarantee that of all the days of the year that Muslims would not launch a major attack on Israel and, with it, Jerusalem?  If the big fear is Iranian nukes, what sort of complete cynic and irreligious fellow would Ahmadinejad have to be to use the particular day when Jerusalem’s importance is in the mind of all Muslims to launch an indiscriminate nuclear attack on Israel–thus devastating Jerusalem and killing numerous Muslims in the process?  We might say that Ahmadinejad is a cynic and an irreligious fellow, but that rather ruins the whole, “he is going to attack on August 22 because he is a religious fanatic obsessed with sacred dates” angle.  I know hysteria and talk of WWIII and Armageddon are all the rage these days, but might be able to manage a little more sensible analysis?  

In the latest TAC, Heather Mac Donald of City Journal fame writes not so much on the issue topic of liberal/conservative and Left/Right terminology, but takes up an intramural fight between “skeptical” and religious conservatives.  The problem is that the religious folks are hurting conservative arguments with an excessive reliance on religious claims:

The presumption of religious belief–not to mention the contradictory thinking that so often accompanies it–does damage to conservatism by resting its claims on revealed truth.  But on such truth there can be no agreement without faith.  And a lot of us do not have such faith–nor do we need it to be conservative.

Of course, it’s true that people of conservative temperament need not have any religion, and it’s also true that conservatism has never strictly been tied to a particular set of religious claims.  As a modern and post-Revolutionary phenomenon, conservatives have often eschewed or transcended confessional labels.  The good, old days of the Holy Alliance were wonderfully ecumenical and not tied to any particular orthodoxy.  Some even say that one of the chief characteristics of conservatism is that it is a kind of social and political thought that need not have much to do with orthodoxy, and a brief glance over The Conservative Mind would seem to confirm that with a parade of a number of theologically latitudinarian and non-religious gentlemen (Paul Elmer More and Santayana being the ones that leap to mind immediately).  Bolingbroke was a forerunner of the skeptical conservative, and Humean skepticism is sometimes considered a source of British conservative thought.  It has been to my own dismay that the general acquaintance of most high conservative thought with the substance of theology has been limited at best, and it is partly for that reason that I proposed reimagining conservatism in terms of the patristic thought of our Christian tradition.   

But the typical conservative assumption that man is fallible and not perfectible by human means is tied inextricably to the Christian understanding of the Fall.  The skeptical man will say that this is not necessarily so, and that any fool can see that man is fallible without recourse to a doctrine of ancestral sin.  But that doctrine is the only thing that makes sense of the predicament of man that preserves the possibility of true meaning.  With the Fall, there is also Redemption.  With mere fallibility, there is no remedy and so, ultimately, no hope in this world or the next.  Further, the detachment of conservative thought from the Christian roots that nourished it in the first place is both a losing proposition and an abandonment of a sizeable part of the patrimony we have received from our fathers.  Put simply, without a theological vision (and our tradition points us towards the theological vision of our civilisation’s Faith) conservatives have no meaningful vision of the good life and can only cavil and harumph at liberal, meliorist plans on the grounds of their impracticability rather than for their fundamental spiritual error and hubris.  Without such a vision of consecrated order, ordained by God, conservatism becomes obsessed entirely with what is immanent and cannot form any coherent statements about who man is or what his purpose is supposed to be.

Now if it seems reasonable that religion and conservatism do naturally go together in certain important respects that are unavoidable (which is not to completely identify the two or assume that they are equally important), what of the claim that religious conservatives are dominating the scene and that the “conservative movement is crippling itself by leaning too heavily on religion to the exclusion of these temperamentally compatible allies”?  Where is it doing this?  I sought in vain for examples elsewhere in the short article, but found only dime-store theodicy. 

The brief ID-as-science fad is fizzling out, as far as I can tell, and not before time, and on matters of policy I am not aware of any place where arguments are being advanced with especially heavy reliance on religious claims.  Not that I would find it at all troubling or worrisome if this were happening, but I don’t see it happening.  There was the unfortunate Schiavo business, which did not see a strict skeptical vs. religious fight so much as it saw fight between enthusiasts and realists of various stripes. 

From the tone of the article, I get the impression that this is not so much a complaint about any particular reliance on religion in argument (which is not markedly greater today among conservatives, and may have actually diminished) as it is a complaint about rhetoric and cultural attitudes within the movement: secular conservatives feel ostracised or left out of the club because they don’t believe.  No one is showing secular conservatives the door, and no one is dismissing their arguments (John Derbyshire typically has better arguments on almost every subject than the entire editorial staff at First Things put together), so I am curious what has elicited this defense of a position that was not, so far as I was aware, under any pressure.   

The Mel Gibson business has been good business for those keen on policing thought.  There is actually something very odd about the modern, post-Christian need to root out things like “prejudice.”  What is it, after all, that they are trying to root out?  The human habit to draw general conclusions from specific experiences, or the equally human habit of bearing grudges?  They may as well lobotomise us all, for that is what it will take to get rid of these habits–provided that we do not seek a greater spiritual sanity in revealed religion. 

It is not in this case a question of changing anyone’s behaviour, because, barring his momentary outburst, Gibson has been a perfectly respectable citizen whose main offense has been to tread on the toes of ridiculous people.  It is not really done to prevent those inclined to act violently from taking out their prejudice on someone else, since these are precisely the sorts of people who are uninterested in avoiding the stigmas of polite society anyway.  Stigmatising the prejudiced seems to be done to maintain a weird kind of non-religious spiritual or ideological purity.  It is, in the woolly language of cultural studies, “boundary maintenance,” defining your identity and setting down what you consider to be legitimate and acceptable: it is something you do to others to make a statement about yourself. Read the rest of this entry »

But I’ll have to disagree with Matt when he praises Gibson’s The Passion. While that movie was undeniably visionary and one of the few films that can truly be called “uncompromising,” I found it problematic, troubling, and outright off-putting on any number of levels, not the least of which was its anti-Semitism. But none of this has much to do with Gibson or his personal views. The movie didn’t work because the movie didn’t work, and Gibson’s propensity for loathsome remarks doesn’t change the work one way or another. ~Peter Suderman

It seems to me that there are two solid grounds for objecting to The Passion of the Christ: the first is that it is poorly executed as a piece of film-making, which I find very difficult to credit; the second, and more important, is one often voiced by my friends at church that its entire understanding of salvation and the Augustinian-cum-Anselmian view of our predicament and the Atonement is badly skewed and awry (a secondary Orthodox objection is to the carnal portrayal of the God-man and the movie’s ability to imprint the memory of an actor’s face as the image of Christ).  The first honestly baffles me.  The picture is moving without being saccharine (no mean feat, that), and it is compelling without leaving you with the sense that you have been cheated or manipulated.  If it is “problematic, troubling, and outright off-putting on any number of levels,” as Mr. Suderman says, I would be interested to know where the flaws are.  Perhaps I am not a good judge of quality films, but to date no film or cultural critic has made a compelling argument that did not end up coming back to queasiness about the “fascistic” violence or discomfort at the portrayal of the Jewish authorities.  Some have made reasonable arguments in the name of realism that the sheer amount of violence inflicted was over the top, but I regard this as the main flaw that strains credulity.  But, however much I had to suspend disbelief at some points, the film was never “off-putting.”  The interweaving of the Last Supper and the Sacrifice on the Cross, with its obvious liturgical and Eucharistic significance, was done as artfully as anything I have seen.     

Objecting to its non-existent anti-Semitism is annoying to me for reasons I have stated on a couple of occasions, but which I will sum up again with a few different points: by the standard that judges Gibson’s film to be anti-Semitic, the Passion Gospel readings in particular and most patristic commentary on those readings for the first eighteen or nineteen centuries of Christian history would have to be deemed (anachronistically and hyperbolically) anti-Semitic.  Indeed, The Passion would have to be judged less anti-Semitic than the Gospels, because of certain concessions Gibson made to the hysterical critics during the editing process (famously, he cut out the line from Matthew, His blood be on us and on our children, because of fears that it would stir up violent feelings).  Not only would I not grant this, but I don’t believe 90% of Passion critics are willing to make that leap, either.  Many would like to have it both ways: the Gospels are lovely and timeless, provided that we don’t pay too much attention to detail, which might cause a certain discomfort, so it is much easier to transfer all of their discomfort with what the Gospels say to Gibson’s film.  It has now become an even more ripe for this sort of transferrence because of Gibson’s, er, faux pas

Early Christianity was born in the midst of a Jewish world and became what it was in no small part by defining itself in opposition to the Jewish authorities around them and the Law they upheld.  Christians were increasingly met with scorn, derision and persecution, and the Johannine tradition with its strong roots in and around Jerusalem particularly reflects the hostility between the two increasingly estranged communities.  From that day on it became a common way of understanding the “royal road” of Christianity as rejecting the errors of Judaism and Hellenism alike; from the time of the Pharisee convert Paul, Jew and Greek became standard representatives of the errors into which Christians could fall if they were careless.  To tell the story of Christ without this antagonism with none other than the Jewish authorities would be to tell the story with half the narrative cut out.   

The Passion tells the story that the Gospels tell, adding scarcely any details not found there (except, admittedly, for a lengthy elaboration of the scourging and the Via Dolorosa and the inclusion of the story of St. Veronica), which is not to the sanitised eyes of modern men an all together pretty story.  It is the story of lawless men inciting mobs to near-riot to bring about the death of an innocent Man who, as the story goes, understood their religion better than they did because He was, and is, its Author.  It is the story of men who, when offered their Saviour or a murderer, cried in ignorance, Give us Barrabas!  It is the story of every man’s proclivity to follow the father of lies rather than to embrace the Truth, acted out in all its brutality and physicality, which in turn also underscores the reality of the truth that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us

It is a story of petty human jealousy and pride grasping at what belongs to God and resenting God’s salvation when it comes, to which all flesh is heir, and the failure of the custodians of the patrimony to step aside when the Heir arrived.  It is the story of men, who should have been faithful stewards, acting as hirelings.  It is the universal story of man’s betrayal of God, told in the most striking way: the turning away of most of the leaders of God’s own Chosen People from His Son.  It is the story of men’s ignorance of their own degraded state and their lashing out at the very Saviour Who has come to heal them: Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.  

If these are some of the central, important truths about the degraded, postlapsarian state of man according to Christian teaching, the film showed us these truths in a powerful way.  If the film convincingly showed Christ’s Suffering, Death and Resurrection as the means to redeeming fallen man, it succeeded in dramatically telling its story.  I do not believe anyone can say that it failed in these respects.  The theological objections to the manner in which Christ redeemed us, or the rationale why God became man, over which some Orthodox exercise themselves with respect to this picture, are valid objections, but I simply find the carping about the film’s artistic quality or its supposed prejudice entirely unconvincing. 

Today, even more than when the film came out amid general furore and uproar, I find the attribution of anti-Semitism to The Passion more insulting than I did then, because it is all together so much easier today to assume that Gibson has left little dabs of anti-Semitism in the film because he has supposedly been “outed” (like Dostoevsky, for what it’s worth, Gibson still maintains that he is not an anti-Semite).  It was a little bit risky for secular conservatives, neoconservatives and liberals to jump on that Christ-hating bandwagon (which is, I’m sorry, largely what it was) two years ago.  Today, there will hardly be room for all the people who want to climb onto the anti-Passion fad.  All the more reason to insist on just how wrong this accusation of anti-Semitism in The Passion really is.             

It will not surprise CC readers that I side with Robert [Miller] in this matter, and note that it would have been unthinkable for the pontiff to have called on both sides to stand down when the Turks stood on the outskirts of Vienna, ready to take the Christian city for Islam. ~Rod Dreher

Rod refers here to a disagreement between Robert Miller and Frederica Matthewes-Green at First Things over Pope Benedict’s call for an immediate cease-fire.  I appreciated Matushka Frederica’s appropriate recognition of the inversion of worldly values that we, as Christians, are called to embrace and live.  It was a timely reminder, and stated something that everyone involved in the debate about this campaign sometimes loses sight of: that the Way of the Cross is not one of glory, honour or power, but of humiliation, suffering and kenotic love.  The Cross militates against any zeal for Macht. 

I was less impressed by the predictable anti-Vatican refrain of yet another First Things contributor on a question of war and peace made in the name of prudential judgement.  Invariably, whenever the Vatican pronounces on a question of war, someone at First Things will start shouting, “Prudential judgement of the magistrate!”  Which has tended to become, unfortunately, little more than a loophole to get out of having to provide serious moral justification for the use of force, whether in Iraq or elsewhere.  The bottom line is always this: bishops can’t really say much about these things, because they don’t know enough and aren’t in the position to make the decision, so they really ought to just keep their mouths shut, unless it is to offer benedictions for the invasion. 

Strictly speaking, it is not the concern of Pope Benedict or indeed of any other hierarch whether a cease-fire seems to benefit one belligerent more than another: their concern is to preach the Gospel and teach in Christ’s name, and this will extend to calling for an end to hostilities, particularly for the sake of sparing noncombatants the horrors of war.  This is a question of Christian charity towards our fellow men, which is the preeminent virtue and the second greatest commandment.  If Rome had had some means to convince Suleyman to stop attacking Vienna simply by calling for peace, I believe the Pope would have done so, since the Christians were the ones who were hard-pressed in that siege and in need of relief.  But, then, Vienna was a Christian city under attack and in danger of falling, which might have made it seem more important to Rome, not a non-Christian state bombarding and displacing Christian and Muslim populations alike.  Moreover, if the Vatican views the current attack on Lebanon as unjustified, why would Pope Benedict time his call for a cease-fire in such a way as to benefit a campaign that he does not believe is justified?  I believe Pope Benedict is on very solid moral ground in refusing to endorse either side and calling for an end to hostilities.  If that position seems wrong to some of us, the problem probably does not rest with Pope Benedict.

Last week brought an amazing discovery in an Irish bog: an ancient Book of Psalms that had been lost about a millennium ago. The psalter was opened to Psalm 83, which – and this is startling – is a prayer asking God to deliver Israel from the Arab peoples of the north who, according to the Psalmist, “say, ‘Come, let us wipe out their nation; let Israel’s name be mentioned no more!’ ” ~Rod Dreher, Dallas Morning News

Via Rod Dreher 

Suffice it to say that Rod and I have a difference of opinion about the current campaign in Lebanon, as my posts and his posts over the last three weeks will have made clear to everyone.  I appreciate why so many conservatives, including Rod, support the current Israeli campaign, and I am not going rehash now all the reasons why I believe it has been a colossal mistake that has not only resulted in senseless and avoidable civilian deaths but has also not really enhanced the long-term security of Israel.  What I do want to question is the easy identification of the Ishmaelites and Hagarenes, among many others, of Psalm 83 (LXX 82) as “Arab peoples.” 

This identification rhetorically accomplishes three things, none of them good, in order to set up the rest of the article.  First, it telescopes ancient conflicts of Biblical Israel into the current Israeli-Lebanese war (which is what it has unfortunately become) in a way that is convenient but not really exegetically accurate: it implies divine sanction for the State of Israel against her enemies, who have already been aligned with the ancient tribes pressing down upon the Chosen People of the Old Testament just as the State of Israel has been identified with Biblical Israel.  A basic problem: the State of Israel is not the Davidic monarchy.  In Christian theology, it is doubly hazardous to elide the two, since it is the Church that is the New Israel, and not any temporal kingdom (the moral hazards of the modern identification of various nation-states as the New Israel are plain enough).  This also savours of the rhetorical error of oraculum that M.E. Bradford warns against.  Second, it sets up the current war as part of some eternal tribal war between Jews and “Arab peoples,” when according to the Israeli government and its defenders the target and enemy is supposed to be an Islamic guerrilla terrorist group and not all the Arabs of Lebanon.  Third, it makes an historical claim that is not really correct: it takes the traditional origin stories that identify Arabs as descendants of Hagar and Ishmael, and then reads back an Arab identity that was virtually unknown before the ancient Nabataean kingdom onto myriad tribes, only some of which even fit the Ishmaelite designation, which in turn suggests an essentialist view of the Arabs as perpetually anti-Jewish.  It says to the reader: “the Arabs” have always wanted to destroy the Jews, so if there is to be any peace for Israel “the Arabs” must be destroyed instead. 

This is a densely packed use of Scripture that seeks to make the reader believe that this war is the same kind of conflict to which the Psalmist refers, in which the “Arab peoples” are seeking to annihilate the Jews.  It urges the audience to desire the destruction of this Israel’s enemies who have been described as “Arab peoples”–we are therefore urged to desire the destruction of modern Arabs in general, when the broad majority of the Arabs in Lebanon did not have any say in entering this conflict and when two-fifths of the people in Lebanon are Arab, Greek, Armenian or other Christians, who despise Hizbullah but nonetheless have suffered greatly from the current campaign.  If Rod is right in the rest of his article, this is a war with Hizbullah and Islamic terrorists, not a tribal or ethnic war with ”Arab peoples.”  Indeed, if this is a tribal or ethnic war, it is a fight in which the United States has no particular stake–it is only in the strategic context of combating rising Islamist powers that America would have much reason to closely align itself with Israel’s current campaign.  If the fight is against Hizbullah alone, why invoke scriptural authority calling for the destruction of Israel’s enemies and then identify Israel’s enemies as “Arab peoples”?  Is it to call for the destruction of Arabs?  I do not believe that Rod wants anything of the sort, so why use Scripture in such a way as to give precisely that impression?   

Update: The National Museum of Ireland has issued a clarification that rather negates the impressive synchronicity of the discovery of the manuscript:

In the press release issued by the National Museum of Ireland on 26th July the following reference was made to Psalm 83:

“While part of Psalm 83 is legible, the extent to which other Psalms or additional texts are preserved will only be determined by painstaking work by a team of invited experts probably operating over a long time in the Museum laboratory”

The above mention of Psalm 83 has led to misconceptions about the revealed wording and may be a source of concern for people who believe Psalm 83 deals with “the wiping out of Israel”.

The Director of the National Museum of Ireland, Dr. Patrick F. Wallace, would like to highlight that the text visible on the manuscript does NOT refer to wiping out Israel but to the ‘vale of tears’.

This is part of verse 7 of Psalm 83 in the old latin translation of the Bible (the Vulgate) which, in turn, was translated from an original Greek text would have been the version used in the medieval period. In the much later King James version the number of the Psalms is different, based on the Hebrew text and the ‘vale of tears’ occurs in Psalm 84. The text about wiping out Israel occurs in the Vulgate as Psalm 82 = Psalm 83 (King James version).

This blindness on the part of “conservative” American Catholics is partly ignorance; even many of those who have heard the words Melkite and Maronite have no particular interest in trying to learn anything about either rite, must less trying to grapple with the history of these Christian populations or even being bothered to find out who lives where or how they worship.

More importantly, though, it reflects a growing political reality. Since at least the Six-Day War, the presence of Christians in the Middle East has been a sign of contradiction that has stood in the way of American and Israeli attempts to reduce the broad conflict in the Middle East to the dualism of Judaism/Israel versus Islam/Arabs. The inconvenient reality of Middle Eastern Christianity has been a stumbling block to remaking the Middle East in a particular ideological image.

I started to write the “irreducible” (instead of “inconvenient”) “reality of Middle Eastern Christianity,” but, unfortunately, it is not so. By acting as if they were dealing only with Muslims, both the United States and Israel have changed the demographic reality in the Middle East. Palestinian Christians have left in droves. Much of the Maronite population is now in the United States. The Chaldean and Assyrian Christians in Iraq have, as Wayne Allensworth predicted before the war, largely fled the country. ~Scott Richert

I appreciate Scott’s comments, and I share his frustration with most Americans’ general ignorance of or indifference to Near Eastern Christian brethren of all confessions (for what it’s worth, there are also some Protestants in Lebanon, the fruit of the largely forgotten humanitarian and evangelical work of American missionaries in the Near East across the old domains of the Ottoman Empire).  I would also like to join him in pointing out the blog of Andrea Kirk Assaf, Russell Kirk’s daughter and a Catholic currently living in Italy, who is married to a man from Lebanon.  She has been blogging extensively on the situation in Lebanon, the Vatican response to the crisis and ongoing Vatican efforts to mediate the conflict.  Today she reports on the Israeli bombing of a Catholic radio station, and has a long post on the bombing at Qana.  Thank goodness that Israel is not targeting civilian sites, is not attacking all of Lebanon and is only going after Hizbullah. 

There has long been scant attention paid to the extremely delicate and dangerous  situation Arab and other Near Eastern Christians face, even in the officially secular states where they live and where they are supposed to be (and often, though not always, are) protected by law.  What is striking about the Western interventions of the last 16 years is how disastrous they have been for the region’s Christians.  It might be worth considering that the two major interventions in the Near East in my lifetime have been under GOP Presidents, and it has typically been their constituents who have, more than anyone else, endorsed these reckless and wrongheaded policies; many of these constituents are the same people who believe that we either live in or should live in a Christian nation.  But these folks should consider that if they want to have a Christian nation, or at least help create a nation that takes its Christian Faith seriously, they cannot really continue to endorse a party that embraces a foreign policy that has such serious anti-Christian effects (to say nothing for the moment of goals).  For that matter, any party that has people who are effectively apologists for Chechen terrorism among its prominent members is a party with which no self-respecting Christian should associate if he can possibly help it.   

Not only are these Christians, as Scott has said, the ”forgotten victims” of these conflicts, but the indifference with which Western governments greet the destruction or radical diminution of their communities is equalled only by the cynical, “humanitarian” crocodile tears that the same governments and their apologists shed for the ethnic and sectarian victims of governments they have chosen to eliminate.  If the Assyrians, Chaldeans and Armenians are driven from Iraq en masse to scratch out a living in another country, that’s a tough break (stuff happens, after all), but for 15 years there has never been a cessation of lamenting the longsuffering Kurds, with whom we in the West have nothing in common except a similar linguistic structure.  There has been an ongoing disproportionate response of a different kind to the suffering of Near Eastern Christians: the rule seems to be that the more they are like us Americans (in their Christianity), the less interested “we” are in their fate, while you can’t turn around in this country but find a Christian who cares deeply for the fate of Israel or, even more incredibly, Darfur.  Roger Scruton recently coined the term oikophobia to express the idea of fearing and loathing that which is your own (as opposed to xenophobia), so we are either seeing an outpouring of oikophobia with respect to our Christian brethren, a startling demonstration of American ignorance, or a widespread admission that “we” are not really like the Christians of the Near East but apparently have more in common with their persecutors with whom we unwittingly or knowingly align ourselves.   

I do not dare assume that Mr. Bush has a significant working knowledge of the region he has proposed to transform into a beacon of human progress (this is the man who reportedly needed to have the whole Kurd-Sunni-Shi’a business in Iraq explained to him as late as the winter of ‘02-’03 and who was surprised to find black folks in Brazil), so I do not assume that he knows about the Christians of the Near East in any detail and has simply decided they are unimportant or expendable.  What some of his advisers know and think about Christians in the Near East may be a very different story (I do not think any secular neocons care a whit for what has happened to these people).  Still, it is ironic in the extreme that this administration has been conventionally (albeit mostly wrongly, in my view) associated with a strong emphasis on Christianity and the interests of evangelical Christians and yet has presided over the displacement of so many Christians and the cleansing of Muslim countries of sizeable sections of their Christian populations and has undertaken policies that have hastened this cleansing.  There was a time when a President of the United States would take particular interest in the suffering of Bulgarians and Armenians being massacred in the Ottoman Empire and would make it an issue of international concern; there was a time when Western peoples viewed with horror Kurdish atrocities against the Assyrians of Iraq, who suffered grievously during the last round of liberating Iraq.  Now, if there is an awareness of these suffering people, there is an unprecedented indifference to their fate and their fears of Islamic oppression combined with a weird activist concern for other victims of Islamic frenzy.  Everyone and his brother on the blogging right seems to belong to the Save Darfur Coalition, but when did you ever even hear of a Save Middle East Christians Coalition? 

Why this ignorance of or contempt for people who are more “our own” than the myriad nations our government is supposedly intent upon freeing and democratising?  Is this a function of secularism having taken such root in the culture that Christians are afraid or embarrassed to speak out for co-religionists on explicit grounds of Christian solidarity?  Is this some strange leftover animus among the Protestant majority towards other confessions, an expression of an old prejudice that these people aren’t really Christians at all?  I know there are some American Christians who take an active interest in the suffering and persecution of Christians around the world, including in the Near East, but why are they such a distinct and small minority?        

In time of war, people tend to lose all sense of proportion.  This is true when it comes to the kinds of domestic government measures they are willing to endorse during the “emergency,” which always overreach and violate fundamental legal protections to the general indifference of the masses, or when it comes to the latitude they are willing to grant their armed forces in attacking the hostile state (and nation), resulting in excesses and crimes to which the general public typically reacts with relatively little concern.  Thus violations of principles of discrimination (distinguishing between combatants and noncombatants) and proportionality are frequently shrugged off or the assumptions behind these principles are questioned or denied.  Even when it is an ally that is at war, there is the tendency to lose a sense of what the proper limits to waging war ought to be, because anything less than solidarity and arguments in defense of the ally’s war effort will appear to be hostility to the ally and an expression of a desire to see the ally defeated. 

Because of a desire to show steadfast support for an ally, in this case Israel, there have been a number of expressions of outright hostility to the very idea of proportionality as a legitimate principle governing justice in war.  Quickly vanishing is the trope of Israel’s tremendous restraint.  The new idea is the virtue of her disproportionate violence. 

This does no credit to Israel and rather reinforces the notion that a perpetual state of “existential threat” from her enemies somehow justifies behaviour that would, were it committed by any other government, be a cause of condemnation and sanctions, which muddies Israel’s image and makes it appear as if Israel is exempt from the standards that her benefactor, the United States, applies only too rigorously to other states.  How any of this serves the long-term interests of Israel genuinely does escape me.  At the same time, it hardly serves American interests, which are my primary concern in matters of foreign policy, to have an ally committing excesses that our government tacitly or openly endorses.  

Some have recourse to the experience of total war in WWII, as Mr. Chait does.  Of course, between the notion of a moral total war and the just war tradition, of which the principle of proportionality is a part, is a vast and unbridgeable chasm.  If you believe that total war is just, you will never see any virtue in proportionality, just as you will scarcely see any virtue in discrimination.  Indiscriminate killing is the essence of total war, so why would any supporter of total war be interested in a principle that automatically makes total war unjust?  Proportionality exists, in part, to limit the destructiveness and cruelty of war, rooted in the virtue of charity.  Total war, on the other hand, does not even admit the humanity of the enemy, so why should it wish to show him charity?   

Others, such as Mr. Cohen, take refuge behind an argument from pragmatism: responding in limited fashion to small-scale attacks does not establish deterrence.  This is a more serious argument, divorced as it is from Chait and Podhoretz’s nostalgia for the good old days when bombers turned tens of thousands of people to ash.  This is harder to argue against, because the priority of deterrence is security for your side and the priorities of proportionality are justice towards both sides and a desire to act virtuously.  Particularly when you are of the opinion that the other “side” does not deserve to be treated justly, proportionality simply seems incredible. 

But let me take a stab at showing why this deterrence argument is nonetheless mistaken.  Deterrence relies to a certain degree on predictability.  Both sides refrain from large-scale provocations or attacks on the assumption that they will call forth absolutely overwhelming retaliatory force from the other side.  If every incident, no matter how small, results in a large-scale response, there is nothing–short of their physical annihilation (which may or may not be achievable)–to keep those whom you are trying to deter from making ever larger and more destructive attacks.  They will attempt to do the maximum of damage before the inevitable large-scale response comes.  The more disproportionate the response now, the less restrained an enemy will be by deterrence in the future.  If a string of border incidents over several years, capped off by the kidnapping of two soldiers, leads to waves of air strikes and a ground invasion, it is not hard to see that Hizbullah or its successors will initiate hostilities next time on a much more destructive scale.  The disproportionality of response seems effective in pummeling your adversary this time, but it is only truly effective as a deterrent to others if the adversary is wiped out or permanently disarmed (an objective that would currently require an even more disproportionate response than Israel has so far employed).  Of course, the entire notion of proportionality rests on such quaint notions as having a causus belli and obtainable objectives that, once met, bring an end to the need for war.  It assumes that the waging of war is done to achieve redress of specific wrongs.  It has no meaning for partisans of theories of “total victory,” because there is no justice in “total victory,” which presupposes the degradation and complete surrender of all protections of the defeated party to the mercy of the victors.  Vae victis is not a motto that we should want to take to its logical conclusions.  Proportionality is an essential feature of governing Macht by means of Recht.  We would be extremely unwise to throw out this principle, if for no other reason than that we should want to hold to something that justifies our claims to civilisation and which keeps the line distinguishing us from the likes of Hizbullah bright and clear.       

The nadir may have come in February 2003, during the agitation before the invasion of Iraq, when Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein’s deputy prime minister, was brought to Italy to be feted at St. Francis’s church in Assisi and treated to an audience with John Paul II in Rome. But you can see the same impulse in the Vatican’s current secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who announced on Vatican Radio last week: “As it has done in the past, the Holy See condemns the terrorist attacks of one side as well as the military reprisals of the other. In fact, the right to defense of a state is not exempt from respect for the norms of international law, especially as regards the safeguarding of civilian populations. In particular, the Holy See now deplores the attack on Lebanon, a free and sovereign nation.”

The moral equivalence between terrorism and the response to terrorism was troubling–and, indeed, Sodano was indulging in more than moral equivalence, for he singled out the Israelis for blame “in particular.” The problem Israel faces is precisely that Lebanon is not “a free and sovereign nation,” but a weak and captive nation, unable to assert its sovereignty over areas dominated by a terrorist organization. ~Joseph Bottum, The Weekly Standard

Via Rod Dreher

I do enjoy how flexible international law can be for some people.  Apparently, “free and sovereign nation” is not a legal definition that invokes protections of the U.N. Charter, making aggressive war against it illegal, but a matter of perspective.  Apparently obligations under international law to safeguard civilian populations are all relative.  Isn’t it also convenient that the terrorist guerrilla movement of Hizbullah, now being held up as the reason to circumvent the protections Lebanon is owed under international law, is a direct product of the original, illegal invasion of Lebanon 24 years ago?  To strip a neighbour of his rights, the trick is to invade his territory once, stir up a violent resistance movement and then use that movement’s continued existence as a pretext to invade the territory again.  

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Whenever politicians invoke religion, Kevin Phillips suggests in a characteristic passage, the people perish: “The newly Christian fourth-century Rome of the Emperor Constantine and his successors held up the cross as Rome faced military defeat and crumbling frontiers from Hadrian’s Wall to Assyria. So did seventeenth-century Spain, the proud but ill-omened command post of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Vestments of crusaderdom also cloaked imperial Britain’s overreach in World War I and its aftermath.” ~Ross Douthat

Actually, some might suppose that Rome was some sort of command post for the Catholic Counter-Reformation, or, barring that, Vienna, whence most of the most dramatic and harsh Counter-Reformation policies came.  But no matter.  Spain is supposed to have gone into decline because it became too religious (even though it was the same kind of religious, crusading fervour that helped create the united kingdom of Spain), and not because it was engaged in long-running wars in the Netherlands and with France to secure dynastic interests and the strategic “Milan road.”  I love people who know just a smattering of their own civilisaton’s religious history and think they have discovered some all-embracing pattern of the relationship between religion and politics that the scholars of the periods in question have yet to divine.  There is every reason to suppose that the growing embrace of Christianity by the Roman world lent it a confidence and coherence that it desperately needed and which, in the East, may have aided in shoring up the empire.  In any event, the crisis of the curial class was a function of the rise of excessive centralisation, bureaucratisation and increased pressures from the center to extract revenue from the cities, and these were in turn responses to the crisis years of the third century when the extensive frontier of the empire broke down amid internal political chaos and the pressure of invasions.  The growth of the clergy in the fourth and fifth centuries as a group freed from curial obligations did not help the cities, but they were hardly the reason for the general breakdown of the curiales.  Because the state required too many resources, the earlier, more flexible and decentralised system of Roman government gradually disappeared–that is a principal cause of later Roman failures (though it is far from the only one), to which the rise of Christianity does not seem to have contributed very much.  That Britain’s empire was broken by the folly of WWI, and not by its lip service to Christian mission, should be obvious even to schoolchildren.  Mr. Phillips not only does not understand American Christianity–he does not seem to be familiar with much of the history of Christianity as a whole.

“What would America look like if the Religious Right had its way?” Balmer wonders. “The best answer” is that Christian conservatism “hankers for the kind of homogeneous theocracy that the Puritans tried to establish in seventeenth-century Massachusetts.” A few attempts to insert Intelligent Design into public school curricula constitute an “insidious” plot to overturn the Enlightenment, while the campaign to allow voluntary prayer in public schools is an attempt “to dismantle the First Amendment.” In the debate over vouchers and homeschooling, Balmer (who opposes both) assures his readers that “the future of American democracy hangs in the balance.” ~Ross Douthat, First Things

Via Michael Brendan Dougherty

Mr. Douthat does a fine job dismantling the loonier accusations of the professional anti-theocrats (who have a surprisingly booming business in a country as un-Byzantine as can be), including these claims of neo-Puritan revival.  While part of my family stems from those very Puritans, one thing that I hope everyone can agree on is that virtually no serious Christian conservative in this country today thinks of Yankee Calvinism as the right way to do things.  He might want a new Byzantium or new Christendom, but a new Geneva is rarely on his mind.  Considering the gradual collapse of Congregationalism into ever more unfortunate kinds of religious error, surely some other precedent for religious establishment could be found that would be much more welcome to any real theocrats who are out there.  In creating the caricature of American theocracy, the anti-theocrats do not even think through the bogeys they choose to use to scare the public. 

My recounting of the sessions of the summer school will be done along certain common themes that seem to me to link different sessions, as I think this will provide a more coherent and complete picture of the entire experience than if I listed the points of each session one by one in chronological order, so I will be starting mainly with the Chesterton talks to set the tone and then move into the other lectures in the coming days and weeks. 

One of the important themes of The Rockford Institute’s summer school on “The American Agrarian Tradition” that kept recurring, particularly in Fr. Boyd’s talks on Chesterton, was the supreme importance of the Incarnation for the Christian vision and, by extension, agrarian and Distributist visions of life and society.  The quote that stayed with me most strongly was, I believe, from Chesterton: “The central idea of our civilisation is the doctrine of the Incarnation.”  It is a doctrine that forces us to reassess the meaning and order of all things, as the Incarnation is “the radical reversal of human values.”  I would add that it is also the supreme act of God entering into history, becoming embodied and dwelling amongst us in everyday life.  And it is the stuff of everyday life–”daybreak, daily bread and daily labour”–that must be made “interesting in themselves” if our civilisation is to endure.  Related to this, as Fr. Boyd noted in his first talk, for any social reform to be successful there must be a sense of wonder about the created order, possessing Chesterton’s sensibility as a “sacramental Christian” that, as Chesterton wrote in his riposte to Yeats, ”where there is anything, there is God.” 

The title of this post is taken from St. John of Damascus, who defended the veneration of holy icons on the grounds that God had become matter for our sake and worked out salvation through matter, which is to say flesh, redeeming and remaking matter so that it was possible to venerate material images of heavenly realities.  But in conjunction with the lectures on Chesterton and his application of Incarnation theology to social and economic questions, following those in the Anglo-Catholic circles in which he moved, the revaluation of the material world inherent in the reality of the Word having become flesh takes on new significance for the revaluation of the daily life and daily work of ordinary men.  In the Chestertonian vision, according to Fr. Boyd, the Incarnation tells us that ordinary men are sacred.  Chesterton’s conviction derived from this was that the institutions of family, property and community are essential to sustain and support them. 

Of these three, all of which are steadily and constantly undermined and sapped by mobility, deracination and the concentration of power and wealth, the most undervalued and least protected today is property, as Dr. Fleming explained in the first session.  Yet fundamental to any agrarian vision is the secure and widely diffused possession of real property that cannot be infringed upon.  Distributism itself is, as the name implies, a commitment to the wide diffusion of land ownership as a means to sustain the dignity and freedom of ordinary men, because, as Fr. Boyd put it, “property is the sacramental solidification of liberty.”  Fr. Boyd emphasised that Chesterton was not engaging in a “romanticisation” of the common man, but sought, if I recall correctly, to accord ordinary men the dignity and stature that God had already bestowed upon them in Christ and find the economic and social means to make these things secure.  Chesterton’s Distributism was not systematized and abstract, and so was not really an -ism at all, but was a description about humane everyday life.  Fundamentally, Distributism was (and is) concerned with the very grounded realities of earthly life, starting with the owning and cultivating of land, without which ordinary men will be (and have been) pressed together into servile masses subordinate to centralised elites of state and corporation. 


Among several books I intend someday to write, one stands out: The Great Indoors: Why Going Outside Is Vastly Overrrated. Now is probably the time to pitch it—contrarian cant at its finest—given all the hugga-mugga over Crunchy Cons and the various websites supported by sundry disciples of Wendell Berry, who believe consumerism, free markets, and technological obsolescence are destroying our souls, families, and communities.

This concern is an old one. And the solution—high-tail it for the Ozarks—is also old. I believe Aristophanes was the first to give it dramatic form (while side-swiping poor old Socrates at the same time): Abandon the cities, abandon false patriotism, abandon the quack sciences and gimcrack philosophies that threaten old religion; abandon the battlefields, politics, and sausage salesmen. ~Anthony Sacramone, First Things

Surely if there was a place for cant, it would be First Things under Mr. Bottum’s esteemed guidance, and Mr. Sacramone shows himself to be right at home at the intellectual Bottum.  One definition of cant, after all, is:

The use of religious phraseology without understanding or sincerity; empty, solemn speech, implying what is not felt; hypocrisy. 

Check Mr. Sacramone’s sad invocation of the New Jerusalem as a justification for rancid urbanism and consumerist degradation to see whether he meets this definition.  Perhaps Jeremy Lott will write a sequel to his current book that would be entitled In Defense of Cant, and Mr. Sacramone can be his chief defendant.  I missed this latest wave of cant at First Things while high-tailing it to northern Illinois (the Ozarks were too far away), where, as it happens, I had some sausages for dinner at the Saturday dinner for the summer school on America’s agrarian tradition (whether they came from a salesman of sausages, or were instead homemade, was not made known to the assembled guests).  Fortunately, Michael Brendan Dougherty took up my usual role of angry reactionary blogger and gave him and those like him a good hiding.  

Now, as Mr. Sacramone may or may not be aware, the only problems that matter are old ones (who are we? why are we here? what is our purpose?), and the only solutions worth their salt tend to also be old and venerable ones.  He may have heard something about the accumulated wisdom of generations providing us with time-tested truths that tell us about human nature, the good life, and so on.  Supposedly First Things, given the name, might be expected to take these things seriously, since they pertain to the permanent things, the serious things, things of the first order of importance in human existence.  It might be worth noting that the prophetic and eschatological witnesses to the Kingdom being not of this world, monastics and ascetics, typically have fled the wretchedness of the cities.  But what did those monks and saints know?  Besides, they’re all so very old.  Nobody fashionable goes into the desert, into the country, to follow Christ anymore–you might be accosted by all manner of rustics with guns! 

But who are we kidding?  There is apparently nothing so serious that the semi-learned gentlemen at First Things cannot trivialise and mock it.  I have rarely seen such a self-indulgent, cynical display of intellectual hooliganism–and nihilism–as Mr. Sacramone has given us.  Glad to know that this is what First Things stands for–it confirms what I have assumed about that journal for many years.   

Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, the head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, told the Vatican publication Famiglia Christiana that researchers who destroy human embryos, and politicians who approve laws allowing such destruction, will be excommunicated. Cardinal Lopez Trujillo also criticized countries that had passed such laws, saying they had “thrown out fundamental laws of nature.”

With respect to excommunication, the Cardinal appears to be referring to the excommunication latae sententiae already prescribed in Canon Law for those who procure or assist in procuring an abortion. But it will be interesting to see what Benedict XVI says on July 8-9 when he visits the World Meeting with Familes in Spain, a country that under its current Socialist leadership has already thrown several “fundamental laws of nature” and appears eager to throw out some more. ~Tom Piatak

The newest American Conservative (July 17 issue) is full of excellent articles (sorry, no links as of yet).  To name just a couple, W. James Antle III writes an interesting report on the electoral struggle of Rep. John Hostettler (R-IN), one of six Republicans to vote against the Iraq war; Chilton Williamson levels a devastating and powerful critique of the aimless life of acquisition and consumption Americans embrace.  Crunchy cons, Pantagruelists and traditionalists, take note.  These two alone are worth getting a copy of this issue, and there is more to be had besides these. 

I wanted to start out with this preface highlighting all the good articles in the 7/17 issue, because I also feel compelled to comment on a number of rather egregious errors in Marcia Christoff Kurapovna’s “Reconciling Christendom.”  In what seems to have been intended as a crash-course in church history and ecumenical relations between Catholics and Orthodox, Ms. Kurapovna made several mistakes and omissions, some theological and others historical, that are irritating to me for their inaccuracy but still worse they are misleading for those readers who are less familiar with the particulars of the divide between Catholics and Orthodox.  These errors and omissions do not facilitate the cause of rapprochement between the two churches in the Truth, which is a goal that all faithful Christians of both confessions ultimately hope for, but rather confirms in the minds of skeptics and anti-ecumenists that those interested in ecumenism are strong on a spirit of reconciliation and weak on matters of substance.  For those unfamiliar with teachings of the Faith, these errors can confuse, mislead or even scandalise those through misrepresentations of Christianity.  For those unfamiliar with Orthodoxy, which includes a great many Christians, these errors and omissions can also present a less than clear and accurate portrait of the Orthodox Church, and this also requires some correction.

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When Barack Obama speaks, do people listen?  I don’t know, but Post columnists do start writing about how wonderful he is.  In addition to Hoagland’s nod to the Obama “Call to Renewal” keynote address, E.J. Dionne fell all over himself praising “Obama’s Eloquent Faith.”  So what did the man of eloquent faith have to say?  Here is an excerpt that reveals a lot about Mr. Obama’s assumptions about religion:

Each day, it seems, thousands of Americans are going about their daily rounds - dropping off the kids at school, driving to the office, flying to a business meeting, shopping at the mall, trying to stay on their diets - and they’re coming to the realization that something is missing. They are deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough.

They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives. They’re looking to relieve a chronic loneliness, a feeling supported by a recent study that shows Americans have fewer close friends and confidants than ever before. And so they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them - that they are not just destined to travel down that long highway towards nothingness.

While Daniel Pulliam at GetReligion was not impressed by the speech (his post is a great resource for links to the various responses to the speech), this sort of Hallmark sentiment-meets-Anthropology 101 simply blows the average liberal columnist away.  And no wonder, as this is just about as profound and serious as liberals ever allow themselves to get about religious yearning and the inborn desire for truth and meaning!  However, so long as liberals choose to think of religious conviction in terms of self-fulfillment and relief from loneliness they will not penetrate any deeper, and they will certainly not convince a lot of Christians they either understand or care about the latter’s faith.

Intolerance — whether exercised by “Islamic” fundamentalists blowing up the mosques of other sects or by “Christian” activists blowing up abortion clinics — is rapidly becoming a decisive force in domestic politics and foreign policy in nation after nation. ~Jim Hoagland, The Washington Post

Yes, that rash of abortion clinic bombings has been troubling everyone lately, I’m sure.  Never mind that there is one such clinic bombing every fourth leap year, and any number of attacks on mosques and churches alike (though obviously attacks on churches tend to be the more common) every year by Muslims in countries as various as Egypt, Iraq and Pakistan.  Here the relatively exceptional Eric Rudolph will stand in for all of Christianity, while the depressingly commonplace violence of Islamic militants against all and sundry is safely filed under the generic intolerance of everyone who takes religion seriously.  The content and merits of any one religion do not count in this assessment, but all religions will be smeared equally with the crimes of the worst creeds and most unbalanced fanatics.  Notice how this weak parallelism allows Mr. Hoagland to identify Intolerance decisively with generic Religion, of which there are various manifestations (all of them troubling), which he then uses to set up the rest of the unfortunate column (the fight against the “crisis of intolerance”!).

One of these troubling manifestations Mr. Hoagland describes as follows:

The spiraling growth of evangelical Christianity in the United States — as well as in Latin America, China and Africa — reflects the central reality that also helps drive the radicalization of Islam across the Middle East, Central Asia and the northern Caucasus. When people feel threatened by rapid and mystifying change, they turn to the most literal forms of religion for explanations and justifications.

The evangelicals are coming!  Run for your lives!  Now, I am hardly what you would call evangelical-friendly on matters theological and ecclesiological, but I recognise a ridiculous insult against evangelicals when I see it.  Evangelical Christianity presumably does serve social and cultural functions that make it very popular in both late modern and modernising societies (e.g., perhaps its capacity for greater individualistic expressions and practices of faith, perhaps a seemingly more intense emotional religiosity, etc.), but depicting it as refuge for the shell-shocked victims of rapid change hardly does it credit and certainly does not make any attempt at understanding the phenomenon.   

The claim that people turn to religion, much less the “most literal forms” of religion, to cope with rapid change is, at the very best, simplistic.  The social and cultural functions of religious belief will be as varied and complex as the societies that embrace a given belief.  Gone are the days, I hope, of the myth that people embraced mystery religions, and Christianity most of all, in the later empire in large part because their world was crumbling around them.  I suspect this religion-as-flight-response is the sort of thing some sociologists wish were the case (more than a few sociologists not being all together big fans of religious people themselves), as it would provide a fairly easy psychological explanation of why people turn to religion that will fail to account for religious attitudes in periods of rapid change as often as it succeeds. 

Mr. Hoagland has arrived late on the scene if he thinks the debunking of the modernisation-leads-to-secularisation model is news.  For the last 15 years we have seen many kinds of religious fundamentalism (which is, as many have noted, itself a product of modernity) moving arm-in-arm with technical and political modernisation–the fundamentalists are often the modernisers of the moment.  See India and the rise of the BJP as a prime example, or consider Erdogan’s Islamists in the AK Party in Turkey.  The rise of Christian democracy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which is hardly an unknown phenomenon, would similarly baffle those wedded to such a self-serving progressive theory.  Perhaps before we get carried away with interfaith conferences our own secularists should acquaint themselves with even the most basic outlines of the religious mind in their own civilisation.  They might also take some time to study the rise of religious movements as something other than a sign of rising “intolerance,” which to the ears of religious people is pejorative and tendentious rhetoric.  Perhaps then they might find that their religious neighbours are at least barely tolerable.

Why do editors and columnists prepare articles on religion like this one to publish on Sunday morning?  Is it just to irritate the odd reader about to leave for church who finds random Washington Post columns thrust into his local paper’s op-ed section?  Perhaps I should have ignored the paper this morning, but the pull quote from Hoagland’s piece today (which is actually a quote from the South Side’s own Sen. Obama) caught my attention.  It sums up everything that is wrong with the article and the broader argument it is making about the place of religion in democratic politics:

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. 

My immediate reaction to this was something along the lines of, “If that is what democracy demands, we won’t be having much need for it.”  But give Sen. Obama credit for unpacking modern democrats and universalists’ assumptions about what “democracy” allows and “demands”: it does not allow religious expression in terms of “religion-specific values,” which is to say religious values as such are irrelevant to public debate and public policy, and it demands that adherents of religions (and, to cut through it, we all understand that we’re talking essentially about Christians and about  no one else) accept one of the alternative secular schemes that are deemed suitable for “democratic” politics and consign their religious convictions to the corner where they can safely gather dust. 

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Some of the latest talk out there in the last few days has been about this Religion News Service article in The Washington Post, this GetReligion post, the topic of the “feminization of Christianity” and the consequent decline in the numbers of men attending church services. The post includes a quote from David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church, which has been making the rounds. Joanna of Fey Accompli affirms her agreement with what Mr. Murrow says here:

“Every Muslim man knows that he is locked in a great battle between good and evil, and although that was a prevalent teaching in Christianity until about 100 years ago, today it’s primarily about having a relationship with a man who loves you unconditionally,” Murrow said. “And if that’s the punch line of the Gospel, then you’re going to have a lot more women than men taking you up on your offer because women are interested in a personal relationship with a man who loves you unconditionally. Men, generally, are not.”

Where shall I begin? Let’s start with the easy stuff. Islam is not principally concerned with a great battle between good and evil, but with the complete submission to the will of Allah. Part of that submission then entails a way of life and dedication to the cause of Islam, part of which involves struggling against what Allah has deemed evil, be it in the forms of the nafs within or the kafir outside.

Christianity, even in its more obnoxiously silly forms, does not preach a personal relationship with a man who loves you unconditionally, but Christ crucified and risen from the dead and all that this entails. Some are not very strong on the “all that this entails” bit, but most (Bishop Spong et al. excepted) do manage to understand this important point. Christianity preaches that Christ is God, and that we should love Him with all our heart, soul and mind because He is the Lord God. If it were not so, Areios would have been right and there would today be a lot fewer Christians of either sex, since there is no salvation or hope in such a man and little good reason to adhere to such a religion.

There is an all together too common misperception, which allows the charlatans of the Da Vinci Code sort to peddle their nonsense so successfully among the semi-educated, that because Christ was and is individually a man that we should speak of Him in terms of maleness, mistaking this for masculinity. Christ possessed the whole human nature, both male and female, and if He had not our common nature would not have been healed–just as He “created them male and female,” so in Himself He recreated and redeemed us male and female. There is no idea more misogynistic and twisted than conceiving of Christ simply as a male to whom women will relate better (since thinking of Christ only in terms of maleness would cut women out of the economy of salvation), so naturally it would probably be the sort of idea feminists might adopt in their attacks on Christianity. But as C.S. Lewis observed some time ago (and still it has not sunk in, even among some Christians), in relation to God all people are essentially feminine. In this sense, to say that Christianity is being “feminised” is to give the phenomenon in question the wrong name–in relation to God, Christians should be the most “feminine” of all (though this would be to use very old-fashioned, nay, reactionary ideas of what feminine virtues are, which would make the so-called “feminised” Christians very unhappy). So to speak of the changes in modern Christianity as “feminisation” is to mistake making churches womanish, if you will, with making them truly feminine.

What is happening is that the Faith in these sorts of churches is being sentimentalised, trivialised and reduced to the level of feeling, which is to take the Pearl of great price and drop it in the muck of the passions while pretending that this leads to closer communion with God. In our common revulsion at this sort of Christianity, Joanna and I are surprisingly and very unusually in strong agreement.
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For too many American Orthodox Christians, the mixed-marriage conventional wisdom follows this line of reasoning. In our pluralistic society, we cannot avoid the fact that most of our youth will choose spouses who have had a different religious upbringing. With these unions comes an inevitable dilution and disintegration of the practices of the Orthodox Faith. The Greek Orthodox version of the typical harangue sounds something like this: “My boy Costa married a xeni (stranger, outsider, foreigner) and now he doesn’t come to Church!”

I don’t buy it.

My mother became Orthodox because of marriage. So did my father-in-law. So did my mother-in-law’s mother-the first or one of the first converts in Jacksonville, Florida. Yia-Yia (Greek for “grandmother”) could not have been more white-bread. She grew up a Methodist in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Her grandfather was a sergeant in the Confederate Army who fought under General Lee at Appomattox. All three embraced Orthodoxy at a time when the Liturgy was perfomed completely in the Greek langauge and there was no strategy for Church growth like small groups or Wednesday evening Bible studies.

My family’s witness confirms what I have seen in parish ministry. Whenever the Orthodox partner in a marriage is strong in his or her beliefs, the non-Orthodox spouse develops almost immediate admiration for the Orthodox Church. Very often this esteem leads to conversion and when it doesn’t there is usually at least a sense of respect for the Orthodox way.

Mixed-marriages in America expose a problem, and it’s not that Vassiliki is engaged to a blonde named Bubba. Protestant and Roman Catholic fiancés are not leading our young away from the Church. We are the source of the problem. We raise young people who are lukewarm in their faith. ~Fr. Aris Metrakos, Orthodoxy Today

This is a thorny problem, especially for Orthodox in the West, where we are a very small religious minority. With respect, while Fr. Aris is surely right to insist that all Orthodox could stand to be more dedicated and faithful, it is undoubtedly a mistake to think that marriage between confessions does not lead to a certain slackening in keeping Orthodox traditions and observances. This would be more of a problem, I suppose, in jurisdictions where fasts are kept more strictly as a general practice–but then it is also in those jurisdictions where conversion of the non-Orthodox intended will more often precede the wedding.

But the loss of some observances has to be expected in such cases, which is why they cause such consternation. For every anecdote Fr. Aris could produce from his own family history, I suspect many more could be produced to affirm the opposite. Of course, it would be ideal for every Orthodox person to be strong and dedicated to the Faith, causing his spouse eventually to respect and love the Orthodox Church, but this certainly imposes something of an unusual burden on the Orthodox spouse, perhaps more than is always wise or sound from a pastoral perspective.
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It seems that I was not alone in raising a few pointed objections to the Greek/Western-Semitic dichotomy that Micah Hayes set up in his article, The Early Syriac Poets and Cognitive Science. Mr. D. Ian Dalrymple correctly notes in his letter to The New Pantagruel:

But the language of paradox in worship and doctrine is far from absent among the Orthodox. Mr Hayes attempts to anticipate the criticism by suggesting:

Some may think that this statement overlooks the similarity of the Greek apophatic tradition, in which God can only be defined negatively ( e.g. uncreated, invisible, etc.), and to speak positively of God (e.g. as being wise, or existing) ultimately leads to idolatry. A negative definition, however, is still a definition and is different from the metaphoric, Semitic tradition.

But even if one accepts this (rash, in my opinion) brushing aside of apophaticism, one need only walk into an Orthodox celebration of Divine Liturgy to feast oneself on a liturgy and hymnography replete with the theological language of metaphor and paradox. Definition of God, properly speaking, is simply not on the menu.

Certainly, there are other elements (some native Greek, and others through western influence) within the Orthodox tradition. But the Semitic inheritance is far from absent and was never forgotten in the Orthodox Church. After all, St. Ephrem (along with St. Isaac the Syrian and others) is one of our most honored holy fathers and we still sing his hymns to this day.

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Let no one think that I mean by “the choicest gifts” the things that to most people’s liking–the things greedy minds always long for, which do not last, nor are capable of making their possessor a better person. Such are the pleasant things of the present life, which cannot attain to lasting power, but “collapse around themselves” and immediately perish, even if people possess them in superfluity. No indeed, it is not for us to admire such things, nor is this portion of those who fear the Lord! Rather, we admire the gifts that are really attractive and lovely to those whose thoughts are true, goods that remain forever: things that please God and that produce ripe fruit in those who have acquired them. I mean the virtues, which give their fruit in due season–give the fruit, that is, of eternal life in the coming age for those have labored worthily and have invested the results of their exertions there, as far as possible. Labour, after all, comes before the virtues, and eternal blessedness follows them! ~St. John of Damascus, On the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God, Homily I (from On the Dormition of Mary, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998)

I have seen a number of responses to Pope Benedict’s speech at Auschwitz, but none of them compares with this one in the author’s ability to miss entirely what the Pope was trying to say. Many things about the speech irk Prof. Muller, but none so much as Pope Benedict’s claim linking the Holocaust to an attack on the Christian Faith as well:

“Deep down, those vicious criminals, by wiping out this people, wanted to kill the God who called Abraham, who spoke on Sinai and laid down principles to serve as a guide for mankind, principles that are eternally valid. If this people, by its very existence, was a witness to the God who spoke to humanity and took us to himself, then that God finally had to die and power had to belong to man alone — to those men, who thought that by force they had made themselves masters of the world. By destroying Israel, they ultimately wanted to tear up the taproot of the Christian faith and to replace it with a faith of their own invention: faith in the rule of man, the rule of the powerful.”

It is important to see that Ratzinger is here offering a couple of precise claims about the historical intent of those who planned and executed the Final Solution. And the claims are that their intent was essentially theological, and that it was “ultimately” directed at Christianity.

Via Cliopatria

With some people, you can’t win for losing. Here Pope Benedict very plainly intends to exhort Christians to understand that the Holocaust, which has its significance for Pope Benedict as an attempt to obliterate the Jewish people and overturn God’s promise, was an attack also on the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Who is the God of the Christians, and thus was an attack on all of Christianity as well. It was an expression of profound solidarity and an expression of a view very similar to the reflections of Karl Barth in the bombed-out ruins of Nuremberg University that the Germans went against Israel, the Chosen People, and inevitably lost because they had also gone against God. In saying this, Barth was stating the significance an attack on the Jewish people was supposed to have for Christians. There is no reasonable way that the Pope could give an address and not speak as a Christian, or that he could speak without deriving his judgements from the teachings of the Catholic Faith. For attempting to understand the significance of the Holocaust in Christian terms, Pope Benedict is supposed to have desecrated the memory of the murdered Jewish people when he is in fact making his best effort to honour them with a speech delivered in the only idiom a Christian bishop could use, the idiom of Christianity. Whether or not this accords with more traditional understandings that the Church is the New Israel is not the question here, and it is not one that was raised by Pope Benedict.

It is unfortunate that this most irenic message expressing theological solidarity (which must be the greatest kind that a Christian pontiff can offer) has been taken as an insult and an attempt to exploit the Holocaust as a chance to score rhetorical points for Christian martyrs. There is nothing more powerful in the traditional Christian mind than to witness to a common experience of martyrdom. Surely if Pope Benedict held up Catholic martyrs to Nazism as examples, it was because he was exhorting his flock to embody the virtues that these people possessed and to identify a common enemy. It is a pity that this message was lost on so many.
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Thou hast ascended in glory O Christ our God, granting joy to Thy disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit. Through the blessing they were assured that Thou art the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world!

When Thou didst fulfill the dispensation for our sake, and didst unite earth to heaven, Thou didst ascend in glory, 0 Christ our God, not being parted from those who love Thee, but remaining with them and crying: I am with you and no one will be against you!

It is not possible to correct yourself rightly if you do not recognize the evil hidden in your heart and the calamities that proceed from it. An unrecognized disease remains untreated. The beginning of health is to know your disease, and the beginning of blessedness is to know your misfortune and wretchedness. For who having recognized his illness does not seek healing, and who knowing his misfortune does not seek deliverance from it? ~St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

Via Orthodox Christian





Let God arise, and his enemies be scattered: and let those that hate him flee before his face.

A sacred Pascha has been revealed to us today, a new and holy Pascha, a mystic Pascha, an all-venerable Pascha, a Pascha that is Christ the Redeemer, an unblemished Pascha, a great Pascha, a Pascha of the faithful, a Pascha that has opened for us the gates of Paradise, a Pascha that makes all the faithful holy.

As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish, as wax melts at the presence of fire.

Come from that sight, you women, bearers of good tidings, and say to Zion, ‘Receive from us the good tidings of joy, of Christ’s Resurrection. Exult, dance and be glad, Jerusalem, for you have seen Christ the King like a bridegroom coming from the grave.

So shall the wicked perish at the presence of God; and let the just be glad.

The myrrh-bearing women at deep dawn came to the grave of the giver of life. They found an Angel sitting on the stone, and he addressed them and said, ‘Why do you seek the living with the dead? Why do you mourn the incorruptible as though he were in corruption? Go, proclaim it to his Disciples.

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

A Pascha of delight, Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha, an all-venerable Pascha has dawned for us, Pascha. Let us embrace one another with joy. O Pascha, ransom from sorrow! Today Christ shone forth from a tomb as from a bridal chamber, and filled the women with joy, saying, ‘Proclaim it to the Apostles’.


When Thou didst descend to death 0 Life Immortal, Thou didst slay hell with the splendor of Thy Godhead! And when from the depths Thou didst raise the dead, all the powers of heaven cried out: O Giver of Life! Christ our God! Glory to Thee!

The angel standing by the grave cried out to the women: Myrrh is proper for the dead, but Christ has shown himself a stranger to corruption.



Come, O faithful! Let us enjoy the Master’s hospitality: the Banquet of Immortality! In the upper chamber with uplifted minds, let us receive the exalted words of the Word, Whom we magnify!


When the glorious disciples were enlightened at the washing of their feet before the supper, the impious Judas was darkened by the disease of avarice, and to the lawless judges he betrayed You, the Righteous Judge. Behold, this man because of avarice hanged himself. Flee from the insatiable desire which dared such things against the Master! O Lord Who deals righteously with all, glory to You!

I have transgressed more than the harlot, O loving Lord, yet never have I offered You my flowing tears. But in silence I fall down before You and with love I kiss Your most pure feet, beseeching You as Master to grant me remission of sins; and I cry to You, O Savior: Deliver me from the filth of my works.

While the sinful woman brought oil of myrrh, the disciple came to an agreement with the transgressors. She rejoiced to pour out what was very precious, he made haste to sell the One who is above all price. She acknowledged Christ as Lord, he severed himself from the Master. She was set free, but Judas became the slave of the enemy. Grievous was his lack of love. Great was her repentance. Grant such repentance also unto me, O Savior who has suffered for our sake, and save us. ~Hymns of Orthros of Holy Wednesday

I’m glad Larry Kudlow came into the Church, and Robert Novak, and many others. But they are not exactly like the converts of an earlier era. ~Joseph Bottum


Behold, the Bridegroom is coming at midnight. * Blessed is the servant He shall find awake. * But the one He shall find neglectful will not be worthy of Him. * Beware, therefore, O my soul! Do not fall into a deep slumber,* lest you be delivered to death and the door of the Kingdom be closed to you. * Watch instead, and cry out: * Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God. * Through the intercession of the Theotokos, have mercy on us!


Like the Apostles long ago,
O Holy Father Innocent,
you accepted the Lord’s command
to baptize all peoples in His name;
you left your homeland to proclaim the truth
to an island people sitting in darkness.
With them lead us down the path to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Like the betrothed of the Theotokos,
you worked in humility with your hands;
and through you, like Constantine, churches blossomed throughout the land,
built for the feeding of the flock
you gathered and led into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Like the Holy Brothers from Thessalonica,
who brought illumination to your forefathers,
you labored to bring this same inheritance
to untaught peoples placed in your care,
that worshipping the One True God in words of many tongues,
they might, by the Word, be led into the Kingdom of Heaven.

~ from the Great Vespers of the Feast of St. Innocent


In thee, O Mother, was exactly preserved what was according to the divine image. for thou didst take the cross and follow Christ, and by thy life, didst teach us to ignore the flesh, since it is transitory, but to care for the soul as an immortal thing. Therefore, thy spirit, St. Mary, rejoices with the Angels.

Caleb Stegall, editor of The New Pantagruel, will be on the Open Source radio program tonight from 7-8 Eastern together with Prof. Harvey Cox of Harvard Divinity School and Garry Wills, whose recent NYT editorial I take on here.


You offered us your teachings as fruits of everlasting freshness,
To sweeten the hearts of those who receive them with attention.
O blessed and wise John, they are the rungs of a ladder,
Leading the souls of those who honor you
from earth to Eternal glory in Heaven!

Thank goodness we have Garry Wills to tell us What Jesus Meant, to use the title of his latest short book, because clearly no one else has had many compelling ideas on the subject. In a New York Times editorial, Mr. Wills tells us all about it:

There is no such thing as a “Christian politics.” If it is a politics, it cannot be Christian.

All those Byzantines who kept referring to the empire as the “Christ-loving politeia” must be kicking themselves now that Garry Wills has explained things to all of us. If only St. Photios had known what Garry Wills now knows! Here’s a question: Garry Wills is Catholic (so I have read), so what does he make of a figure like St. Louis or the proposal to beatify the Austrian emperor Karl? How in the world does he reconcile his apolitical Christianity with a tradition that, on first, second and third glance, seems to make the claim that men in politics can become saints and that part of the way they do this is by carrying out their political duties in a particular way.

So what does Wills mean here? Taken in its basic sense, ta politika, those things that have to do with the life of the polis, cannot entirely exclude Christianity so long as there are Christians in the polis. On that point alone, this statement is untrue. Wills does point to the verse in the Gospel according to St. John, My Kingdom is not of this world (and I insist on using the King James translation, rather than whatever it was that Wills was using), which is equivalent to saying that the Church, where we have a foretaste of the Kingdom, is not of this world. Yes, thanks for that clarification. We had already picked up on the idea that the Mystical Body of Christ is of an entirely different order from the Post Office.

To say that Christians have nothing to do with politics in the broadest sense, and that there is not in some sense a kind of politics that is more consonant with and guided by the Gospel than others, is to become the worst kind of quietist. That there is not a vision of Christ that will neatly fit someone’s political program is obvious to serious Christians who are confronted with the programs of modern secular parties. But to say that there is no possibility of any kind of Christian politics is akin to saying there is no possibility of Chistian life and transformation.

Wills makes a classic error when he says, “We cannot do what Jesus would do because we are not divine.” That would be right, except for all the passages in Scripture that call us, on the one hand, to be perfect (now that’s a scary idea!) and on the other promise our regeneration and, as the Fathers understood, our deification, our becoming like God by grace, our adoption as sons by grace. What else does the Psalmist mean when he says, Ye shall be as gods?

That is really taking us away from the question of politics itself, but it cannot be entirely unconnected, as Wills’ denial of our ability to follow Christ because of our human frailty is a basic denial of God’s continuing work in the world as well as a denial of the efficacy of the ministrations of his own hierarchy. Indeed, the efficacy of the Church’s ministry would have to be very much in doubt if we listened to Mr. Wills. And that, one suspects, is part of his project. It isn’t simply to keep out an “institutional Jesus” from the political world, but to reject all those “institutional” forms of Christianity (including any episcopal hierarchy you’d care to name) that supposedly commit the same errors in attempting to “tame” Christ by continuing to do His work.

It is very fashionable in theological circles to say dismissive things about “institutions,” and it is true that the Church is not a mere “institution” or “religious organisation,” but that She has always had a certain kind of orderly structure with lines of authority and discipline to preserve the community of the faithful should not be in doubt, nor should it be viewed as a departure from the Lord’s teachings.
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By your ascetic labors, God-bearing Benedict,
you were proven to be true to your name.
For you were the son of benediction,
and became a rule and model for all who emulate your life and cry:
“Glory to Him who gave you strength!
Glory to Him who granted you a crown!
Glory to Him who through you grants healing to all!”

AND this plainly teaches us that the beginning of our good will is given to us by the inspiration of the Lord, when He draws us towards the way of salvation either by His own act, or by the exhortations of some man, or by compulsion; and that the consummation of our good deeds is granted by Him in the same way: but that it is in our own power to follow up the encouragement and assistance of God with more or less zeal, and that accordingly we are rightly visited either with reward or with punishment, because we have been either careless or careful to correspond to His design and providential arrangement made for us with such kindly regard. And this is clearly and plainly described in Deuteronomy. “When,” says he, “the Lord thy God shall have brought thee into the land which thou art going to possess, and shall have destroyed many nations before thee, the Hittite, and the Gergeshite, and the Amorite, the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite, seven nations much more numerous than thou art and stronger than thou, and the Lord thy God shall have delivered them to thee, thou shalt utterly destroy them. Thou shalt make no league with them. Neither shalt thou make marriage with them.” So then Scripture declares that it is the free gift of God that they are brought into the land of promise, that many nations are destroyed before them, that nations more numerous and mightier than the people of Israel are given up into their hands. But whether Israel utterly destroys them, or whether it preserves them alive and spares them, and whether or no it makes a league with them, and makes marriages with them or not, it declares lies in their own power. And by this testimony we can clearly see what we ought to ascribe to free will, and what to the design and daily assistance of the Lord, and that it belongs to divine grace to give us opportunities of salvation and prosperous undertakings and victory: but that it is ours to follow up the blessings which God gives us with earnestness or indifference. And this same fact we see is plainly taught in the healing of the blind men. For the fact that Jesus passed by them, was a free gift of Divine providence and condescension. But the fact that they cried out and said “Have mercy on us, Lord, thou son of David,” was an act of their own faith and belief. That they received the sight of their eyes was a gift of Divine pity. But that after the reception of any blessing, the grace of God, and the use of free will both remain, the case of the ten lepers, who were all healed alike, shows us. For when one of them through goodness of will returned thanks, the Lord looking for the nine, and praising the one, showed that He was ever anxious to help even those who were unmindful of His kindness. For even this is a gift of His visitation; viz., that he receives and commends the grateful one, and looks for and censures those who are thankless. ~St. John Cassian, Third Conference, chapter 19

WHEREFORE in this passage we ought to take “flesh” as meaning not man, i.e., his material substance, but the carnal will and evil desires, just as “spirit” does not mean anything material, but the good and spiritual desires of the soul: a meaning which the blessed Apostle has clearly given just before, where he begins: “But I say, walk in the spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the desires of the flesh; for the flesh lusteth against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh: but these are contrary the one to the other, that ye may not do what ye would.” And since these two; viz., the desires of the flesh and of the spirit co-exist in one and the same man, there arises an internal warfare daily carried on within us, while the lust of the flesh which rushes blindly towards sin, revels in those delights which are connected with present ease. And on the other hand the desire of the spirit is opposed to these, and wishes to be entirely absorbed in spiritual efforts, so that it actually wants to be rid of even the necessary uses of the flesh, longing to be so constantly taken up with these things as to desire to have no share of anxiety about the weakness of the flesh. The flesh delights in wantonness and lust: the spirit does not even tolerate natural desires. The one wants to have plenty of sleep, and to be satiated with food: the other is nourished with vigils and fasting, so as to be unwilling even to admit of sleep and food for the needful purposes of life. The one longs to be enriched with plenty of everything, the other is satisfied even without the possession of a daily supply of scanty food. The one seeks to look sleek by means of baths, and to be surrounded every day by crowds of flatterers, the other delights in dirt and filth, and the solitude of the inaccessible desert, and dreads the approach of all mortal men. The one lives on the esteem and applause of men, the other glories in injuries offered to it, and in persecutions. ~St. John Cassian, Fourth Conference, chapter 11

Note: St. John’s feast day is officially February 29, but is marked today (which is February 28 on the Julian Church Calendar) in non-leap years.

For whom would he not dare to try, who did not keep from his treacherous attempts even on our Lord Jesus Christ? For, as the story of the Gospel has disclosed, when our Saviour, Who was true God, that He might show Himself true Man also, and banish all wicked and erroneous opinions, after the fast of 40 days and nights, had experienced the hunger of human weakness, the devil, rejoicing at having found in Him a sign of possible and mortal nature, in order to test the power which he feared, said, “If Thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” Doubtless the Almighty could do this, and it was easy that at the Creator’s command a creature of any kind should change into the form that it was commanded: just as whenHe willed it, in the marriage feast, Hechanged the water into wine: but here it better agreed with His purposes of salvation that His haughty foe’s cunning should be vanquished by the Lord, not in the power of His Godhead, but by the mystery of His humiliation. At length, when the devil had been put to flight and the tempter baffled in all his arts, angels came to the Lord and ministered to Him, that He being true Man and true God, His Manhood might be unsullied by those crafty questions, and His Godhead displayed by those holy ministrations. And so let the sons and disciples of the devil be confounded, who, being filled with the poison of vipers, deceive the simple, denying in Christ the presence of both true natures, whilst they rob either His Godhead of Manhood, or His Manhood of Godhead, although both falsehoods are destroyed by a twofold and simultaneous proof: for by His bodily hunger His perfect Manhood was shown, and by the attendant angels His perfect Godhead.

Therefore, dearly-beloved, seeing that, as we are taught by our Redeemer’s precept, “man lives not in bread alone, but in every word of God,” and it is right that Christian people, whatever the amount of their abstinence, should rather desire to satisfy themselves with the “Word of God” than with bodily food, let us with ready devotion and eager faith enter upon the celebration of the solemn fast, not with barren abstinence flora food, which is often imposed on us by weakliness of body, or the disease of avarice, but in bountiful benevolence: that in truth we may be of those of whom the very Truth speaks, “blessed are they which hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled .” Let works of piety, therefore, be our delight, and let us be filled with those kinds of food which feed us for eternity. Let us rejoice in the replenishment of the poor, whom our bounty has satisfied. Let us delight in the clothing of those whose nakedness we have covered with needful raiment. Let our humaneness be felt by the sick in their illnesses, by the weakly in their infirmities, by the exiles in their hardships, by the orphans in their destitution, and by solitary widows in their sadness: in the helping of whom there is no one that cannot carry out some amount of benevolence. For no one’s income is small, whose heart is big: and the measure of one’s mercy and goodness does not depend on the size of one’s means. Wealth of goodwill is never rightly lacking, even in a slender purse. Doubtless the expenditure of the rich isgreater, and that of the poor smaller, but there is no difference in the fruit of their works, where the purpose of the workers is the same. ~St. Leo the Great, Sermon 40

The Great Canon for Clean Thursday is in .pdf form here.

The mass media reported that in the new edition of the “Annuario Pontificio” for 2006 the pope’s title “Patriarch of the West” has been dropped. Now the official list of titles includes: “Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God”.

Some analysts saw in this omission the desire to improve the relations with the Orthodox Church. The former prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Cardinal Achille Silvestrini is reported to have said that the deletion was a “sign of ecumenical sensitivity” on the part of Pope Benedict. The cardinal said that in the past some people used the title to provoke negative comparisons between the claims of universal jurisdiction by the worldwide “Patriarchate of the West” and the more restricted size and jurisdiction of the traditional Orthodox patriarchates. According to the cardinal, the pope’s gesture “is meant to stimulate the ecumenical journey.”

However, it is not at all clear how the removal of the title could possibly ameliorate Catholic-Orthodox relations. It seems that the omission of the title “Patriarch of the West” is meant to confirm the claim to universal church jurisdiction that is reflected in the pope’s other titles, and if the Orthodox reaction to the gesture will not be positive, it should not be a surprise. ~Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev

Via Orthodoxy Today. A belated hat tip to Michael Brendan Dougherty.

Read the original article in French at Orthodox Europe.

Update: This Catholic priest views the matter as being unrelated to ecumenical considerations of any kind.

The Great Canon is available in .pdf form here.


The Great Canon is available in .pdf format here.


The Great Canon is available in .pdf format here.

Frederica Mathewes-Green discusses the Great Canon during an interview over at NRO about her new book, First Fruits of Prayer: a Forty-Day Journey through the Canon of St. Andrew.

Via Orthodixie.

Wash yourselves, and ye shall be clean; put away the wicked ways from your souls before mine eyes; cease to do evil; 17. learn to do well; diligently seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, consider the fatherless, and plead for the widow. 18. Come then, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: and though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow; and though they red like crimson, I will make them white as wool. 19. If then ye be willing, and obedient unto Me, ye shall eat the good of the land; 20. but if ye desire not, nor will obey me, the sword shall devour you, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it. ~Isaiah 1:16-20

For a larger image, go here.

We believe man in falling by the [original] transgression to have become comparable and like unto the beasts, that is, to have been utterly undone, and to have fallen from his perfection and impassibility, yet not to have lost the nature and power which he had received from the supremely good God. For otherwise he would not be rational, and consequently not man; but to have the same nature, in which he was created, and the same power of his nature, that is free-will, living and operating. So as to be by nature able to choose and do what is good, and to avoid and hate what is evil. For it is absurd to say that the nature which was created good by Him who is supremely good lacketh the power of doing good. For this would be to make that nature evil - than which what could be more impious? For the power of working dependeth upon nature, and nature upon its author, although in a different manner. And that a man is able by nature to do what is good, even our Lord Himself intimateth, saying, even the Gentiles love those that love them. {Matthew 5:46; Luke 6:32} But this is taught most plainly by Paul also, in Romans chap. i. [ver.] 19, {Rather chap. ii., ver. 14.} and elsewhere expressly, saying in so many words, “The Gentiles which have no law do by nature the things of the law.” From which it is also manifest that the good which a man may do cannot forsooth be sin. For it is impossible that what is good can be evil. Albeit, being done by nature only, and tending to form the natural character of the doer, but not the spiritual, it contributeth not unto salvation thus alone without faith, nor yet indeed unto condemnation, for it is not possible that good, as such, can be the cause of evil. But in the regenerated, what is wrought by grace, and with grace, maketh the doer perfect, and rendereth him worthy of salvation.

A man, therefore, before he is regenerated, is able by nature to incline to what is good, and to choose and work moral good. But for the regenerated to do spiritual good - for the works of the believer being contributory to salvation and wrought by supernatural grace are properly called spiritual - it is necessary that he be guided and prevented by grace, as hath been said in treating of predestination; so that he is not able of himself to do any work worthy of a Christian life, although he hath it in his own power to will, or not to will, to co-operate with grace. ~Decree XIV of the Synod of Jerusalem (1672)

There is a glaring fallacy in the contemporary presumption that idolatry is found only in polytheism. I admit, of course, that all polytheism is necessarily idolatrous, but it seems not to have occurred to most folks that the confession of one false god is just as idolatrous as the confession of several. Monotheism is no defense against idolatry.

This modern misunderstanding about idolatry, moreover, is the twin and steady companion of another, the strange fancy that all monotheists necessarily confess the same divinity.

Arguably the clearest spokesman for the latter fallacy may be that C. S. Lewis character who forthrightly declared, “Tash is another name for Aslan. All that old idea of us being right and the Calormenes wrong is silly. We know better now. The Calormenes use different words but we all mean the same thing. Tash and Aslan are only two different names for you know Who. That’s why there can never be any quarrel between them. Get that into your heads, you stupid brutes. Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash.”

The telltale line in that discourse, I submit, is “We know better now.” On matters respecting God, I can’t think of anything we know better now. ~Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

Via Orthodoxy Today.

Relying, therefore, dearly beloved, on these arms, let us enter actively and fearlessly on the contest set before us: so that in this fasting struggle we may not rest satisfied with only this end, that we should think abstinence from good alone desirable. For it is not enough that the substance of our flesh should be reduced, if the strength of the soul be not also developed. When the outer man is somewhat subdued, let the inner man be somewhat refreshed; and when bodily excess is denied to our flesh, let our mind be invigorated by spiritual delights. Let every Christian scrutinise himself, and search severely into his inmost heart: let him see that no discord cling there, no wrong desire be harboured. Let chasteness drive incontinence far away; let the light of truth dispel the shades of deception; let the sweelings of pride subside; let wrath yield to reason; let the darts of ill-treatment be shattered, and the chidings of the tongue be bridled; let the thoughts of revenge fall through, and injuries be given over to oblivion. In fine, let “every plant which the heavenly Father not planted be removed by the roots.” For them only are the seeds of virtue well nourished in us, when every foreign germ is uprooted from the field of wheat. If any one, therefore, has been fired by the desire for vengeance against another, so that he has given him up to prison or bound him with chains, let him make haste to forgive not only the innocent, but also who seems worthy of punishment, that he may with confidence make use of the clause in the Lord’s prayer and say, “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.” Which petition the Lord marks with peculiar emphasis, as if the efficacy of the whole rested on this condition, by saying, “For if ye forgive men their sins, your Father which is in heaven also will forgive you: but if ye forgive not men, neither will your Father forgive you your sins.”

Accordingly, dearly beloved, being mindful of our weakness, because we easily fall into all kinds of faults, let us by no means neglect this special remedy and most effectual healing of our wounds. Let us remit, that we may have remission: let us grant the pardon which we crave: let us not be eager to be revenged when we pray to be forgiven. Let us not pass over the groans of the poor with deaf ear, but with prompt kindness bestow our mercy on the needy, that we may deserve to find mercy in the judgment. And he that, aided by God’s grace, shall strain every nerve after this perfection, will keep this holy fast faithfully; free from the leaven of the old wickedness, in the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, he will reach the blessed Passover, and by newness of life will worthily rejoice in the mystery of man’s reformation through Christ our Lord, Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen. ~St. Leo the Great, Sermon 39 (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, vol. 12)

From the throne of thy priesthood, O glorious one,/ thou didst stop the mouths of the spiritual lions;/ thou didst illumine thy flock with the light of the knowledge of God/ and with the inspired doctrines of the Holy Trinity./ Thou art glorified as a divine initiate of the grace of God.

The natural needs of the individual beng, such as nourishment, self-perpetuation and self-preservation, become an end in themselves: they dominate man, and end up as “passions,” causes of anguish and the utmost pain, and ultimately the cause of death…As St. Maximus puts it: it means an existence which does not come to fruition, which shuts itself off from the “end” for which it was made–life as love and communion…

The fall arises out of man’s free decision to reject personal communion with God and restrict himself to the autonomy and self-sufficiency of his own nature…’In the day you eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall be as gods’ (Gen. 3:5). This provocation places before man the existential possibility for nature on its own to determine and exhaust the fact of existence. This kind of “deification” of human nature goes against its very truth: it is an “existential life,” a fictitious possibility of life. Man’s nature is created and mortal. It partakes in being, in true life, only to the extent that it transcends itself, as an existential fact of personal distinctiveness. ~Christos Yannaras, The Freedom of Morality

The value of fasting consists not in abstinence only from good, but in a relinquishment of sinful practices, since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence of meat is he who especially disparages it. Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him! If you a friend enjoying honor, do not envy him. For let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and the ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast by being pure from avarice. Let the feet fast by ceasing from running to forbidden spectacles. Let the eyes fast by being taught never to fix themselves rudely upon handsome countenances. For looking is the food of the eyes, but if it be unlawful or forbidden it mars the fast and overturns the safety of the soul; but if it be lawful and safe, it adorns fasting. For it would be an instance of the highest absurdity to abstain from meats and from unlawful food because of the fast, but with the eyes to feed on what is forbidden. Do you not eat flesh? Do you not feed on licentiousness by means of the eyes. Let the ear fast also. The fasting of the ear is not to receive evil speaking and calumnies. ‘You shall not receive an idle report,’ it says. Let also the mouth fast from foul words. For what does it profit if we abstain from birds and fish, and yet bite and devour our brethren? ~St. John Chrysostom, Lenten Homily (taken from The Bible and the Holy Fathers for Orthodox, Friday of Cheesefare Week)

With this in mind, Eunomia will be slowing down quite a lot over the next several weeks. If there is something edifying or worthwhile to post, such as a quote like the one from St. John given above, I will put it up, but to try to take Lent seriously and not serve as a stumbling-block to others the blog, which is of dubious spiritual value at any time, will not be hosting the usual mix of politics, policy and polemics.

Thou didst shine upon the world as a bright sunbeam, shining with the rays of Paul, the sun of most resplendent light, who hath enlightened the world entire. Thus, we all honour thee, blessed Onesimus.

Thou didst brilliantly enlighten the world by thy firm and God-inspired teaching/ and didst cross the universe like lightning, blessed Father Cyril./ Thou didst sow the shining Word of God in the west and north and south,/ and didst enlighten the world by thy miracles.

Quick style note: It really bothers and confuses me how so many reporters use Catholic when they mean Roman Catholic. Catholic means universal and Roman Catholic refers to that church based out of, well, Rome. There is a difference. Many people who are not Roman Catholic consider themselves catholic — and even Catholic sometimes. ~Mollie, GetReligion

The journalists who label Roman Catholics simply as Catholics are not making a decision based on style (and are certainly not making one based on ecclesiology)–they are trying to convey the information with as few words as possible. And it isn’t a question of style–insisting on calling a Catholic a Roman Catholic is a bit pejorative, as it is designed to qualify Catholicism in terms of its relation to Rome, which is ultimately incidental to its own conception of the Catholic Church’s catholicity. To be fair, no one else readily self-identifies using the label Catholic except for “Roman Catholics,” so how bothersome and confusing could it really be? Old Catholics might have a more meaningful complaint against this sort of thing, and perhaps followers of Lefebvre also, but most other Christians would be hard pressed to be either bothered or confused by this usage.
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O holy plant, God-bearing Blaise:
Unfading blossom and fertile vine in Christ’s vineyard.
Fill with joy the hearts of those who fervently celebrate your memory,
Never ceasing to intercede for us all.

We sing thy praises as the gem and fairness of the Church, and as a diadem and pattern of all Christian queens, O all-lauded and divinely-crowned Theodora; for in bringing back the icons to their rightful place, thou didst cast usurping heresy out of the Church. Hence, we cry to thee: Rejoice, O Sovereign most venerable.

Bound fast with chains of love, thou didst mightily sunder the wickedness of hatred with manifest courage, and hence, O Nicephorus, when the sword had cut off thy head, thou wast shown to be a godly Martyr of Jesus, our Incarnate Saviour; pray Him for us who honor thy glorious memory.

As a brightly-shining lamp that was illumined with the Spirit’s fiery beams, O Zachariah most renowned, thou didst prefigure with clarity the Savior’s great and untold condescension toward us.

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion: for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the LORD.

And many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto thee.

And the LORD shall inherit Judah his portion in the holy land, and shall choose Jerusalem again.

Be silent, O all flesh, before the LORD: for he is raised up out of his holy habitation. ~Zachariah 2:10-13

Shine, shine, O New Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee! Dance now and be glad, O Zion, and you too rejoice, pure Mother of God, at the arising of him to whom you gave birth. ~Ninth Ode of the Paschal Canon

O trophy-bearer Theodore, by thy strategy thou wast a general of the heavenly King; armed with the weapons of faith thou didst annihilate hordes of demons and win the Athletes’ contest. With faith we call thee blessed.

Holy Father Parthenius, Pray to God for Us!

O God of our fathers,
Do not take Your mercy away from us
But ever act toward us according to Your kindness
And by the prayers of Your saints,
Guide our lives in peace! ~Troparion

Seek us out, who are perishing. O Most-holy Virgin, thou dost not punish us according to our sins, but hast mercy on us according to thy love for mankind: do thou deliver us from hell, sickness and need, and save us. ~Troparion

Augustine: Heretics, be gone!

As I was going over St. Cyprian’s On the Unity of the Church for the homeschool church history class I teach to some Orthodox youths, St. Cyprian’s use of the passage about Christ’s seamless garment, for which the soldiers cast lots at the Crucifixion, struck me in a surprising way.

St. Cyprian: Do not rend the garment of Christ

Here, I thought, is a reference to the “seamless garment” in its proper theological and specifically ecclesiological context, as St. Cyprian compares schismatics to those who would not only cast lots for His garment, but actually rend the garment they have received:

This sacrament of unity, this bond of a concord inseparably cohering, is set forth where in the Gospel the coat of the Lord Jesus Christ is not at all divided nor cut, but is received as an entire garment, and is possessed as an uninjured and undivided robe by those who cast lots concerning Christ’s garment, who should rather put on Christ. Holy Scripture speaks, saying, “But of the coat, because it was not sewed, but woven from the top throughout, they said one to another, Let us not rend it, but cast lots whose it shall be.” That coat bore with it an unity that came down from the top, that is, that came from heaven and the Father, which was not to be at all rent by the receiver and the possessor, but without separation we obtain a whole and substantial entireness. He cannot possess the garment of Christ who parts and divides the Church of Christ. On the other hand, again, when at Solomon’s death his kingdom and people were divided, Abijah the prophet, meeting Jeroboam the king in the field, divided his garment into twelve sections, saying, “Take thee ten pieces; for thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and I will give ten sceptres unto thee; and two sceptres shall be unto him for my servant David’s sake, and for Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen to place my name there.” As the twelve tribes of Israel were divided, the prophet Abijah rent his garment. But because Christ’s people cannot be rent, His robe, woven and united throughout, is not divided by those who possess it; undivided, united, connected, it shows the coherent concord of our people who put on Christ. By the sacrament and sign of His garment, He has declared the unity of the Church.

It then occurred to me that the conventional, almost entirely political usage of this phrase nowadays was shockingly inappropriate, not to mention the product of rather confused exegesis. Though this sort of usage began among the religious supporters of the political left as a way for them to claim to be comprehensively pro-life (and thus to make supporting abortion rights more palatable for religious Democrats) because their policies allegedly defended the sanctity of life more thoroughly and more often, the “seamless garment” rhetoric on matters of human life has overtaken people across the spectrum, some of whom embrace the logic of the argument and some of whom reject it, to the point where I sometimes wonder whether the people using the phrase can entirely recall where it comes from. On the other side, supporters of the death penalty might make and have made clever arguments about “rending the seamless garment” in a way that makes the rending desirable.

But it seems clear to me now that using the language in this way is confusing at best and probably alien to the mind of the Church. Rending that garment is never desirable, because that garment is a symbol of the Church. Thinking of the garment as a metaphor for an abstract principle of life is hardly any better, when the significance of its seamlessness is not the arrangement of policies or the consistent maintenance of a “principle,” but a representation of unity in Christ.

Here is a brief summary of the life of St. George.

Today on the Orthodox Old Calendar, February 3/16, the day when we commemorate St. Symeon and St. Anna the Prophetess, also happens to be the day when the Orthodox Church commemorates the Enlightener of Denmark and Sweden, St. Ansgar. May his memory be eternal!

Ever moved by love for God and man, O Ansgar, like the apostles thou didst journey afar to bring salvation to the benighted, offering up thine afflictions upon the altar of thy heart, in thy toils and distress bearing witness unto thy Saviour like a martyr, enduring perils on land and at sea for His sake, undaunted by temptations and tribulations. Wherefore, pray with boldness, that our souls be saved. ~Troparion to St. Ansgar

St. Symeon beholds his Lord and God, Jesus Christ

And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; (As it is written in the law of the LORD, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spoke of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. ~Luke 2: 22-38

Rejoice, thou who art full of grace, O Virgin Theotokos, for from thee hath risen the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, enlightening those in darkness. Rejoice, thou also, O righteous Elder, as thou receivest in thine arms the Redeemer of our souls, Who also granteth unto us the Resurrection. ~Festal Troparion

Tomorrow, February 2/15, is the feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple. During the reading of the Hours we often hear this phrase that St. Symeon speaks: “A light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.” There are few single sentences in Scripture that embody Christ’s salvific mission as well as this one.

Slava Tebye, Gospodi, slava Tebye! Charite, kecharitomene, O Panagia Theotokos!
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Tradition must become inheritable, or always-already inherited, to be wholly itself. It must become a gift of givenness, given to the point of being so formative it is ineradicable even from minds that turn against it. It must be so given that it is liable to be taken for granted, in need of rethinking and renewal–but without schism and interminable question-filled ‘conversations.’ ~Fr. Jape, The Japery

Mark Noll, in an interview for regarding his book Is the Reformation Over? noted that he and his co-author did not realize that different teachings (or the lack thereof) regarding the nature of the church define the really critical difference between Evangelicals and Catholics (and the Orthodox and most confessional Protestantism) until they’d been working on their book for a year and a half–and after thirty years of teaching a lot of Catholic history. This is worth further attention later, but in the mean-time, see what ex-evangelical Orthodox blogger Daniel Larison has suggested as an explanation of this evangelical blind-spot. ~Fr. Jape, The Japery

I recommend Fr. Jape’s post to anyone interested in ecclesiology and evangelicalism, but I would like to make a correction about this identification of me as an “ex-evangelical.” That simply isn’t the case, and actually gives me too much credit as an authority on evangelicalism, but I suppose I can see why it might have seemed to be true (I did say relatively positive things about Wheaton College, after all, concerning their firing of Prof. Hochschild).

It is probably not always easy to determine just what my religious background was before I became Orthodox from what I write here on Eunomia, so I should clarify things. Both sides of my family are almost entirely Protestant, mostly in what are now considered the “mainline” denominations of Methodist and Presbyterian, and both of my parents were Protestants, but came from different denominations and could not determine how I should be raised, which meant by default that I was raised with virtually no understanding of Christianity whatever.
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Amy Welborn writes on the latest Wheaton College news:

Evangelical Protestantism, especially in the US, was/is really only able to thrive in an a-historical environment, in sort of the mystical, Wesleyan, pentecostal model. When you just have Scripture and Holy Spirit, you can be very independent and thumb your nose at the Catholic Church. Learning Church History changes that.

Via The Japery.

Ms. Welborn’s impression is an interesting one. However, my admittedly anecdotal experience suggests otherwise, at least when it comes to Protestantism and Orthodoxy. It is difficult to impress on a fellow Orthodox Christian, including the converts from Protestant churches (and there are more than a few such converts at my own parish), just how unconcerned many evangelicals are with church history as a source of authoritative or normative truth about Christianity. Anything in the post-Apostolic period is simply irrelevant. Protestants raised to rely solely on Scripture do not begin doubting this principle when they are confronted with the certain truth that all Christian exegetes since before Origen have relied on an authoritative Church Tradition–they are simply convinced, in my experience, that this proves that all of those exegetes are unreliable and are capable of distorting the meaning of Scripture. The best that can be said of the Tradition is that it does not contradict Scripture, and the worst that it is all just made up nonsense, another form of paganism or idolatry or simply extra-Biblical invention.

The writings of the Fathers, the lives of the Saints and the elaboration of Christian doctrine might be interesting to them in a sort of antiquarian way, the way that many Americans gape at European cathedrals without any interest in the sort of religion that created them. But these are not texts that provide authoritative teachings, or even represent an authoritative Tradition. They may produce some very adept students of patristics and church history, but there is simply no question that Protestants are necessarily more inclined to the great hierarchical churches once they start learning their own history. If anything learning that history only confirms for them the absurdity of ecclesiastical boundaries and hierarchy. Instead of marveling at the continuity and integrity of doctrine, on which they themselves now rely, there is indifference mixed with contempt at the political wrangling inevitably associated with something as important as an ecumenical council.

What we saw this past week in the Islamic demonstrations over the Danish cartoons of Muhammad was another vivid depiction of the difference between Muhammad and Christ, and what it means to follow each. Not all Muslims approve the violence. But a deep lesson remains: The work of Muhammad is based on being honored and the work of Christ is based on being insulted. This produces two very different reactions to mockery. ~John Piper

Via Russell Moore at Touchstone’s Mere Comments.

I’ll take an underlying god any day over such a jealous, petulant god. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away from everyone who puts everything in his hands.

I prefer his silence. It gives us a chance to recognize we have depths to plumb, depths unknown and wasted when we’re distracted by reaching for something in the sky. His silence elevates us from sheep to shaman - we can learn to fill in the space with dancing and singing, with poetry and prose, prayers meant for our ears alone. we can breathe life into the invisible with our imaginations and our laughter. our gods are otherwise so loud and so demanding. ~fey, Fey Accompli

This came in response to an excerpt from For the Time Being by one Annie Dillard, in this case speaking on Meister Eckhart’s attitude towards loss. (By the by, Eckhart is not usually noted for envisioning a God of petulance or jealousy.) Of course, it is through the same faith in the jealous God, the Lord of Sabaoth, that we also understand that man is a microcosm as deep and profound as all of creation and that the Kingdom of Heaven is within you. Who is distracted by things in the sky?

If anyone has been distracted by things up in the sky, it is the sort of loopy, oceanic pseudo-mystics from Tolstoy to Dillard who attach divine meaning to the world even as they take it away from God. A substrate God with Whom we do not relate, Who does not speak, nor demand nor love–this is the God that the sky-gazing, immanentist intellectual wants.

At the risk of being petulant myself, I do sometimes wonder why people read (or write) pseudo-theology of the sort Ms. Dillard seems to be offering. Of the episodes recounted in her book, Publisher’s Weekly says: “each impels us to transform, build, complete and grant divinity to the world.” I guess you could call it neo-paganism, if you wanted to insult real neo-pagans by attributing something this drippy and chthonic to them.

On the Orthodox Old Calendar, this is a very impressive week for commemorating great ascetics, apologists and confessors of Orthodoxy. Today we commemorate St. Antony the Great, the great Father who blazed the trail of all later monasticism, and remember the most pious emperor Theodosios I. Tomorrow we commemorate Sts. Athanasios and Cyril, the two preeminent Patriarchs of Alexandria who combated the Arian and Nestorian heresies respectively. On Wednesday we commemorate the great ascetic St. Makarios the Great and St. Mark Evgenikos, one of the “Pillars of Orthodoxy” (along with St. Photios and St. Gregory Palamas) and the only Byzantine bishop who refused to sign the union agreement at Florence in 1439. St. Euthymios the Great, one of the major Fathers of Orthodox monasticism and a prodigious founder of monasteries in fifth century Palestine, is commemorated on Thursday. St. Maximos the Confessor, one of the foremost Greek theologians of all time (and my personal favourite) and the scourge of the heresy of monotheletism, is commemorated on Friday. On Saturday we commemorate the Apostle Timothy, and then venerate the memory of the Sixth Ecumenical Council of 680-81, which condemned monoenergism and monotheletism, on Sunday. Vechnaya pomyat!

I can hardly speak on behalf of the Eastern Orthodox churches about the exercise of the Roman papacy in our time. But I am encouraged to offer my opinions on the subject on the basis of the traditional Orthodox teaching testified to in the letter of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs in 1848 in response to Pope Pius IX’s epistle “to the Easterners.” This is the principle that for Orthodoxy “the protector of religion is the very body of the Church, even the people themselves” who desire to preserve the Church’s faith and life free from unacceptable changes and novelties. I am also encouraged by Pope John Paul’s request for forthright dialogue about the papacy in our time, and his admonition to all Christians not to be afraid. I will therefore proceed to list what I believe must happen if the Orthodox churches would consider recognizing the bishop of Rome as their world leader who exercises presidency among all the churches of Christ. ~Fr. Thomas Hapko, Orthodoxy Today

Fr. Thomas’ recommendations are all quite sound, though they will probably annoy our Catholic friends, but I would encourage everyone to read through the entire article before dismissing it. However, I think the real sticking point on a theological level will be this one:

The pope would also insist that human beings can have real communion with God through God’s uncreated divine energies and actions toward creatures, from the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.

Without trying to be polemical, I can say with some certainty that Catholic doctrines on grace and God’s Being are significantly different from this doctrine. In spite of some admirably ambitious (albeit, I think, inaccurate) irenic work in this area, this is a substantial disagreement that would need to be resolved.

O guide of Orthodoxy and blessed teacher of virtues,* purifier and enlightener of thy homeland,* beauty of monastics,* most wise Father, Holy Sava,* by thy teaching thou didst enlighten thy people,* O flute of the Spirit, pray to Christ God for our souls. ~Troparion to St. Sava

Thou hast shown forth thy watchfulness,/ and wast a fervent Preacher of godliness:/ by the wisdom of the teachings thou dost gladden the Church’s faithful,/ Righteous Father Gregory,/ entreat Christ our God to grant us his great mercy. ~Troparion to St. Gregory of Nyssa

Unity is from God; division is from the devil. The tactic of the one who hates mankind is ancient: to rule, divide and conquer. And the root of all divisions lies in our passions: pride, self-love, envy, lack of faith—with these the devil stirs up misunderstanding and enmity among men. The Lord calls upon us to uproot within ourselves the passions which separate us and to go unto Him by preserving our conscience and peace of soul.

At this time, we are confronted by a fateful event: in May, the All-Diaspora Council will convene, at which the process of the reconciliation of the Church of Russia will be deliberated upon in council in the person of our chosen representatives.

During the days leading up to this Council we must preserve with great care our peace of soul, lest passionate emotions, enmity and disputations extinguish it. For this we should apply ourselves all the more diligently to prayer, attending church more frequently, resorting to the Holy Mysteries more often.

Only in the Church can we find peace of soul, in the grace of God imparted to us abundantly in His Mysteries. Addressing himself to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul said: “I beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, Who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph. 4: 1-6).

And so, following the advice of the Apostle, we must also maintain the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” and seek that which is of God, and not of mankind. And if we will act in accordance with the will of God, His peace will not abandon us.

In our limited perception of the judgments of God there is little room for the sober view: we see only a small part of the general picture, and that through the distorted lens of our own passions. But the omniscient God knows what is more salvific for the children of His Church: His Holy Body. Therefore, let us purify our minds and heart from passionate and vain philosophizing, and with peace in our souls let us ask the Lord to grant us understanding.

May the King of peace grant peace to our souls! ~Nativity Epistle of His Eminence, the Most Blessed Metropolitan Laurus, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia

This comes to be replaced by the word ahabà, which the Greek version of the Old Testament translates with the similar-sounding agape, which, as we have seen, becomes the typical expression for the biblical notion of love. By contrast with an indeterminate, “searching” love, this word expresses the experience of a love which involves a real discovery of the other, moving beyond the selfish character that prevailed earlier. Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice. ~Deus Caritas Est

No greater love hath a man than to lay down his life for his friends. The love of which Pope Benedict speaks in his first encyclical is what we Orthodox (and not only the Orthodox) refer to as kenotic love, a love in which the lover empties himself out and succumbs to every humiliation for the sake of the beloved. This is the love that the Lord had for all men, such that He emptied Himself and took the form of a slave, and it is because the Master has become a slave for our sakes that we may dwell with the Master in His court. Such love as this is found in the abandonment of our own will, the learning of humility and obedience and patience, and the doing of His will that we might fulfill the greatest commandments of love. Perfect love is realised in true unity of will, as we put aside self-will and embrace the transformed will of our restored nature, and it is realised in the synergeia of God and man and men with one another and the communion of all in Christ by the blessings of the Holy Spirit. But such love is also the font of these virtues, and without it there is no real living virtue in us.

Via Charles Featherstone, Blog.

Within a Rogue River farm shed, the beauty of the temporary chapel of St. Innocent’s Russian Orthodox Church has brought some of those who enter to tears. ~The Mail-Tribune

This is a good article on a beautiful Russian Orthodox church in Oregon and some insights into both the “earthiness” and “otherworldliness” of Orthodoxy that are so compelling and moving.

Thou didst prove to be a citizen of the desert, an angel in the flesh, and a wonderworker, O George, our God-bearing Father. By fasting, vigil, and prayer thou didst obtain heavenly gifts, and thou healest the sick and the souls of them that have recourse to thee with faith. Glory to Him that hath given thee strength. Glory to him that hath crowned thee. Glory to Him that worketh healings for all through thee. ~Troparion for St. George

When Thou wast baptized in the Jordan, O Lord, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest! For the voice of the Father bare witness to Thee, calling Thee his Beloved Son. And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the truthfulness of his Word. O Christ our God, who hast revealed Thyself and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee! ~Troparion of the Feast of the Theophany of Christ

Today Thou hast appeared to the universe, end Thy Light, O Lord, has shone on us, who with understanding praise Thee: Thou hast come and revealed Thyself, O Light Unapproachable! ~Kontakion of the Feast

Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of Him. But John forbad Him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered him. And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. ~The Gospel according to St. Matthew 3:13-17

Via Orthodox Christian.

Second, I must register my respectful disagreement. The Koran indeed can be interpreted. Indeed, Muslims interpret the Koran no less than Jews and Christians interpret the Bible, and those interpretations have changed no less over time. The Koran, like the Bible, has a history. ~Daniel Pipes,

Who would have guessed that Pope Benedict XVI would understand Islamic teaching about the Qur’an better than Daniel Pipes? I would have. As I have mentioned before, Pipes is this weird combination of neocon Islamophile apologist for a completely fictional Islam with the usual intense contempt for actual Islam (which is not because it is a false religion, but because it is “pre-modern” and so gosh-darned religious). To say that a Muslim can interpret the Qur’an the same as a Jew or Christian interprets their Scriptures is to say something completely false. It is not only that the Qur’an is considered by Muslims as the unalterable, eternal, unchanging Word of God, which is one issue related to interpretation, but there is also a long-standing tradition that interpretation is no longer permissible even if it once was.

Muslims are not free to interpret their scripture allegorically, typologically or symbolically–it was quite a while before the use of analogy was considered acceptable by some of the more liberal jurists. Unless Pipes is prepared to argue that the general consensus of scholarship on Islamic intellectual history is flat-out wrong, he must know that for the majority Sunni tradition the door of ijtihad have been closed for a very, very long time and I imagine no one short of the Mujaddid or Mahdi could conceivably re-open it (of course, for most followers of putative Mujaddids or Mahdis, reinterpreting Islam in a happy, liberalising, modernist direction is not a top priority). Besides which, even if some interpretation is possible (though it is obviously still far less than anything Jews or Christians are allowed), this does not mean that all interpretations are permissible. Since Pipes claims to be a scholar and a specialist on Islam, he must either be very bad at his job (always a possibility) or he is trying to deceive his audience into accepting the false hope that Islam can be “reformed.” He cites one 20th century Islamic religious scholar (who, as Lawrence Auster helpfully points out, was executed as an apostate by the Islamic government of Khartoum) as evidence against the overwhelming bulk of the Islamic tradition that contradicts him.

Pure is the present night, in which the Pure One appeared, Who came to purify us! Let our hearing be pure, and the sight of our eyes chaste, and the feeling of the heart holy, and the speech of the mouth sincere.

The present night is the night of reconciliation; therefore, let no one be wroth against his brother and offend him.

This night gave peace to the whole world; and so, let no one threaten. This is the night of the Most Meek One; let no one be cruel.

This is the night of the Humble One; let no one be proud.

Now is the day of joy; let us not take revenge for offenses. Now is the day of good will; let us not be harsh. On this day of tranquility, let us not become agitated by anger.

Today God came unto sinners; let not the righteous exalt himself over sinners.

Today the Most Rich One became poor of our sake; let the rich man invite the poor to his table.

Today we received a gift which we did not ask for; let us bestow alms to those who cry out to us and beg.

The present day has opened the door of heaven to our prayers; let us also open our door to those who ask of us forgiveness.

Today the Godhead placed upon Himself the seal of humanity, and humanity has been adorned with the seal of the Godhead. ~St. Ephrem the Syrian

Christ is born, glorify him! Christ is from heaven, go to meet Him! Christ is on earth, be ye lifted up! Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing out with gladness, all ye people. For He is glorified. ~First Ode of the Christmas Canon

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, hath shined upon the world the light of knowledge; for thereby, they that worshipped the stars were taught by a star to worship Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Dayspring from on high. O Lord, glory be to Thee. ~Festal Troparion

The Virgin today gives birth to the Transcendent One, and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One. Angels and shepherds glorify Him, and wise men journey with a star. For a young Child is born for us, Who is the eternal God. ~Nativity Kontakion

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
Christos razhdaetsya! Slavite!
Christos gennatai! Doxasate!

My apologies for posting this a bit after the fact (the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord according to the flesh was, of course, on Saturday), but this weekend was unusually busy with Christmas celebrations. S prazdnikom!

In his opinion, Judge Jones the Third declared:

“The overwhelming evidence is that (intelligent design) is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism and not a scientific theory. . . . It is an extension of the fundamentalists’ view that one must either accept the literal interpretation of Genesis or else believe in the godless system of evolution.”

But if intelligent design is creationism or fundamentalism in drag, how does Judge Jones explain how that greatest of ancient thinkers, Aristotle, who died 300 years before Christ, concluded that the physical universe points directly to an unmoved First Mover? ~Patrick Buchanan

The “debate” over Intelligent Design (ID) is one of those things I heartily wish would crawl away somewhere and die. ID theorists and their opposite number, the philosophical materialists who champion evolutionism as the explanation for the origin of life and man, are both frustratingly unscientific and impervious to criticism. Tell an ID theorist that he is not doing science, which is basically a statement of fact, and he will yell that the Darwinists are out to suppress free debate and enshrine Darwin as a prophet, and tell the dogmatic materialist that science has no answers for any metaphysical and cosmological questions of significance, which is simply a matter of logic, and he will scream that you are a madcap theocrat trying to burn him at the stake.

This “debate” is marked, for the most part, by the two camps firing almost irrelevant broadsides at each other. Aside from the fact that judges should have nothing to do with the setting of curricula anywhere, Judge Jones also muddles the issue. Whatever else ID is, it is not creationism or creation science redux. Whatever the philosophical merits of the argument from design or the almost ineluctable logic that there must have been, according to Aristotle, a First Cause, these things do not make ID into science. The Unmoved Mover is Aristotle’s answer to a problem of causality, mainly in order to avoid regression ad infinitum. ID not only takes for granted that there was a First Cause (which is not really what is at stake in the “debate”) but assumes that the mechanisms of mere cause and effect in the physical world cannot explain the rise of complex structures in nature. According to ID, the Unmoved Mover must keep moving, if you will, and directing development throughout natural history and, what is more, the structure and organisation of organisms reflect the intelligence of the Mover and insists that random selection through empirically observable material processes cannot possibly account for this structure and organisation.

Scientists do not, as far as I know, deny or affirm the idea of a First Cause as something that they can actually prove, but they may grant that it is a logical claim. In a related way, almost all scientists do not accept that the working of a Designer can be demonstrated or that theorising that the Designer has directed things to evolve as they have done will add an iota of understanding about the biological processes under investigation.

Mr. Buchanan is right to throw light on the dubious and unproven claims of evolutionists about the origins of life and the transformation of one species into another. Those claims are theoretical in the sense that they are truly speculative. However, the failures and excesses of one dogmatism do not make ID one bit more scientific. If we were to take it for granted that one species does not derive from another, however, we would find ourselves pitted against ID theorists as well–they do not object to the claim that man evolved from a common ancestor that we and apes share (Dr. Behe accepts the idea of a common ancestor), but they do object to the claim that random selection was responsible for the change. ID is not anti-evolution or even really anti-Darwin as such–it is simply opposed to a certain understanding of random evolution.

If ID were proposed as a possible philosophical answer to what the theory of evolution means for understanding the role of a Deity or Author in the universe, it would have some real merit. Because it proposes to augment the theory of evolution as science, it will never be taken seriously by most scientists and will remain an embarrassment to its defenders.

In fact, she explains, she liked the way “Islam demands a closeness to God. Islam is simpler, more rigorous, and it’s easier because it is explicit. I was looking for a framework; man needs rules and behavior to follow. Christianity did not give me the same reference points.”

Those reasons reflect many female converts’ thinking, say experts who have studied the phenomenon. “A lot of women are reacting to the moral uncertainties of Western society,” says Dr. Jawa