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At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

On January 16, the Republican presidential candidates met for but another debate inSouth Carolina.  As usual, Texas Congressman Ron Paul was the proverbial ant at the picnic.

Twitter feedback showed that more people found favor with Paul’s performance than they found with that of any other candidate.  Even Fox News had to acknowledge this.  His responses to questions concerning foreign policy, however, elicited their shares of boos. 

This in and of itself is to be expected; the Republican Party is the party, not of conservatism, but of neoconservatism—regardless of what its spokespersons in Washington and the so-called “alternative” media would have us believe.  And neoconservatism is known for nothing if not its promotion of “American Exceptionalism”—i.e. the doctrine under the cover of which neoconservatives are forever in search of new dragons forAmerica to slay, new opportunities forAmerica to project upon the world its military power.

What was unexpected, though, and more than a bit disconcerting, was the reaction of the mostly Christian audience to Paul’s call for adherence to the Golden Rule in foreign affairs.  There was no time during the entire evening that the audience booed as loudly as it did when Paul, echoing Jesus, implored his country to do unto others as she would be done by.

As of this writing, I have already heard plenty of pundits note (with delight) that Paul was booed.  Yet I haven’t heard one of these same pundits—most, mind you, who claim to be Christian—note the irony in a Christian audience jeering a Christian candidate for invoking the cardinal teaching of Christ.  This omission on the part of the media is as thought provoking as the detail that they omitted.

Granted, the old saying, “Do as Jesus would do,” is much easier said than done.  For one, the teachings of Christ come to us by way of the written word—texts that lend themselves to more than one interpretation.  Secondly, even when we are convinced that we have discovered the most reasonable interpretation, Christ’s teachings, like all teachings, are general: they do not specify the actions that you or I should take in this or that situation.

Still, the Golden Rule is a principle of justice.  Indeed, it is ultimately the principle of justice, for the Golden Rule is nothing less than the principle of reciprocity.  However, while it is nothing less than the demand that each person reciprocates the treatment that he receives from others, it is something more than this.  The Golden Rule, as Jesus articulated it, is the demand to love others as we love ourselves. 

The Golden Rule, in other words, is the thread that unites Jesus’ teachings into a single unitary vision. 

Apparently, the crowd in South Carolina booed Ron Paul because, somehow, they interpreted his invocation of the Golden Rule as something on the order of a call for national weakness or, perhaps, even pacifism.  While there have indeed been Christians who have read Jesus’ teachings as an invitation to pacifism, they have never constituted more than a small minority.  On the contrary, it is the Golden Rule in foreign policy that informed the development of traditional Christian “just war” theory—a theory, by the way, that not one candidate either on stage in South Carolina or in the White House, for that matter, ever so much as acknowledges.  Evidently, the self-declared disciples of Christ who cheered on Newt Gingrich’s insistence that we follow Andrew Jackson by “killing” our enemies while booing Ron Paul’s call to follow Christ also hold this “just war” tradition in low regard—if, that is, they can be said to regard it at all. 

It is true that a person may very well be a good Christian, a thoughtful Christian, and take exception to his religion’s teaching on war or any other issue.  In fact, inasmuch as a Christian’s criticism of any aspect of his faith tradition is motivated by genuine thoughtfulness, it is in keeping with the spirit of Christianity, for the latter posits the knowledge and love of God as our supreme end.  In engaging his fellow Christians, including the great lights of past centuries, the Christian grows in his faith while growing his faith.

In other words, there is no vice, and much virtue, in a Christian’s endeavoring to secure a rational ground for his faith.   This is because in order to critique any dimension of his tradition he must first come to terms with it. 

But this is exactly what the good Christians of South Carolina who booed Ron Paul failed to do.  And those self-styled Christians in the “conservative” media who refuse to call them out on this are equally guilty on this score.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

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