At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Readers of this column know that during the GOP primaries, I threw my support behind Ron Paul.  Paul was a flawed candidate in several respects, but he not as flawed as his competitors.  Besides, most of Paul’s disadvantages were primarily stylistic.  Those of his rivals were mostly substantive.

Now, though, the primaries are over and Mitt Romney has safely secured his party’s presidential nomination. 

During the primary contest, many Paul supporters swore that they would vote for no one but Paul.  This, of course, remains their prerogative, and given the unjust treatment to which their candidate, as well as they, had been subjected by Republicans, it is understandable if they insist on exercising it.

Still, I hope that they will consider changing their minds.

My reason for this is simple: for all of Romney’s handicaps—and they are ample—he would make a significantly better president than Barack Obama. 

Paul supporters have an objection to this thesis ready at hand, one with which we are all familiar: between the Republican and Democratic establishment candidates, there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference. 

This line invites two replies.

First, while it is hard for the remotely astute observer—the person with the ability and the will to resist confusing rhetoric with policy—not to sympathize with the thrust of the Paul supporter’s objection, it is equally hard to buy into it lock, stock, and barrel. 

And this in turn is because it is not altogether true.

There are indeed some important issues—like Obamacare, say—on which Romney and Obama disagree.  Even when their disagreements are in degree (not in kind), if and when they are fleshed out, they promise to have keenly felt consequences for the rest of us.

Let me reiterate: Romney is neither a conservative nor a libertarian. At best he is a neoconservative (which isn’t saying much); at worst, a left of center moderate.

However, he is not as bad for the country as is Obama.

This brings me to my second response.

When we think about the well being of our country, we can’t just think in terms of legislation, for our country is much more than this.  The habits, the mores, of a people are more important than their laws, for if the cultural prerequisites of sound law and law-abidingness are absent, the law can no more guide conduct than the proverbial paper tiger can bite. 

A liberty-loving people is a people with a deeply engrained, indeed, an intractable, inclination to be suspicious of all concentrations of power.  To minimize the odds that this power will be corrupted and their liberties curtailed, liberty lovers will resolve to avail themselves of every lawful measure with which to counter this power.

Now, the President of the United Statespossesses enormous power (far more than the Founders ever dreamt of allocating to this office).  The President’s is the face of the country.  Because of this, it is not just a good thing that the President be bombarded with criticism; it is necessary.  However baseless, scathing, or hurtful, there is no criticism to which the President of a free country should be immune.

This is how it should be.  Since our current President is (half) black, though, what should be the case is not the case.

True, Obama is criticized, but his critics invariably pull their punches.  They insist upon focusing on his policies alone, and they insist on doing so without paying attention to the character, convictions, and history of the flesh-and-blood person whose policies they are. It is as if Obama was not a person, but an inanimate tool, a policy-producing machine devoid of beliefs and values.

Satirists and comedians, along with journalists and pundits, aren’t nearly as relentless in their attacks against Obama as they have been and continue to be when attacking other politicians (and former politicians, like Sarah Palin).  In fact, they aren’t relentless toward Obama at all.

It isn’t just Obama’s blackness that accounts for the timidity of those who are expected to be otherwise. More importantly, it is his eagerness to exploit this widespread fear of “the R word” that explains this phenomenon.

Obama not only milks whites’ fear of being branded “racists” for all that its worth.  As we have seen in the cases of Professor Henry Louis Gates and the Cambridge police, voter intimidation courtesy of the New Black Panther Party in Philadelphia,Pennsylvania, and, more recently, Trayvon Martin, Obama does his best to exacerbate this fear.

In short, far from the post-racial President that he promised to be, he has manipulated race relations for the worst in order to suppress criticism. 

This can only be deleterious to liberty.

This November, Obama has got to go.




The world’s largest religious tradition has had more than its share of critics over the centuries.  A not inconsiderable number of these have been men and women (but mostly men) of genius.  And the brightest and most constructive of critics have tended to be Christ’s own disciples.

That popular funny man and political leftist Bill Maher, along with his millions of fans, think that this low brow comedian deserves to be included among the ranks of Christianity’s ablest objectors is a tragic commentary on the condition of our culture’s collective intellect.

The saddest thing about all of this—and I see it regularly among my college students—is that most people who either explicitly reject Christianity or refuse to treat it with the utmost seriousness that it warrants do not have a clue as to what it is.

Christianity looks ridiculous only after it has been made to look ridiculous.  In other words, High priests of the popular culture, pseudo-intellectuals like Maher, cheat: they attack, not Christianity itself, but a one-dimensional, cartoonish caricature of it.  Socrates would have likened Maher and his ilk to shadow boxers who prefer to swing at the air rather than contend with a real opponent.

Considering that at no time or place has there ever existed an intellectual tradition as rich and complex as that of Christianity, we should expect nothing less—and nothing more—from lightweights like Maher.  If they didn’t have straw men they would have nothing.

But it isn’t just theological and philosophical illiterates like Maher who style themselves worthy adversaries of the Christian faith.  Such public intellectuals as the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins have also jockeyed for this distinction—but to no avail.

Despite the popular acclaim with which the intelligentsia greeted them, the critiques of Harris and Dawkins are indebted to a worldview that is as antiquated as Christianity appears to be to them.  Though both men are scientists, the problem lies not in their science, but in their scientism.  The latter is the doctrine that all claims to knowledge can and should be brought before the tribunal of “the scientific method.”  Those claims and only those claims that satisfy this absolute criterion constitute genuine knowledge. 

Scientism collapses the variety of human voices into one voice, the voice of science or pseudo-science. 

But scientism, in turn, is a species of Rationalism, an intellectual orientation that reached its zenith during the Enlightenment. 

In other words, the ideas of Harris and Dawkins, far from reflecting some ideal of objective (and timeless) truth, are in reality a function of the prejudices—indeed, the myths—of an age.

Hitchens is no better. 

Though neither a scientist nor a proponent of scientism, this arrogant Englishman was as ignorant as Harris and Dawkins of the fact that the assumptions on which his atheistic critique of Christianity rests bear the unmistakable impress of his generation.  Moreover, the content of his critique consists of the recycling of arguments that had been thrown up against Christianity for centuries—but by men whose minds were far more discriminate than that of his own.

There exist intelligent objections against Christianity.  But they come largely (if not exclusively) from its adherents.  This is a paradox but it is true.  As Saint Augustine famously said: “Believe in order to understand.”  Only those who are thoroughly immersed in a practice or tradition know all of its nuances.  It is only they who know it inside and out. 

Hence, it is only Christians, when they are intellectually curious and honest, who can at once identify the challenges that their religion faces and meet those challenges.

The “new” atheists mentioned here are as competent to adequately critique, much less undermine, Christianity—or any religion, for that matter—as is a person who has never been married eligible to do the same with respect to marriage.     






Mitt Romney is now the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee.  Mitt is also a Mormon.  There has already been much talk over whether this last fact should be of any relevance to his bid for the presidency.  A shocking number of people—it seems like most—think that Romney’s religious commitments should be off limits for discussion.

It shocks that so many Americans think this; it does not surprise. 

In fact, we should expect that the children of the Age of “Judeo-Christian values,” “American Exceptionalism,” and the like should speak as though all faiths were at once interchangeable as well as immaterial to politics.

The concept of “Judeo-Christian values” is a useful fiction that, in conflating Judaism with Christianity, essentially denies both.  “American Exceptionalism” is no less a fiction, but a particularly invidious one, for on its behalf, countless numbers of human beings around the world have lost their lives in America’s quest to promote Democracy and Human Rights.

Religion, if it is real, should make every difference vis-à-vis every aspect of a person’s life. 

This, of course, doesn’t mean that any given politician’s religious commitments will necessarily conflict with his commitment to the Constitution.  His faith may even require that, either as an American citizen or an office holder, he uphold it.

Or it may be silent on the question of politics.

In any case, a genuinely religious person can’t but be offended at the suggestion that his religiosity (or anyone’s, for that matter) can or should be bracketed off to one side when he enters the political (or any) arena. 

This brings us back to Mitt Romney.

If Romney takes his Mormon faith seriously, then it is only upon pain of lying that he could deny his faith a central role in making him the person—and the candidate—who he is. 

Yet consistency calls on Romney’s critics to acknowledge that if Romney’s faith is fair game, then so is that of Barack Obama. 

The linchpin to discovering what makes Obama tick is Jeremiah Wright, his pastor and “spiritual adviser” and “mentor” of over twenty years. 

Obama had donated thousands and thousands of dollars to Wright’s church.  He arranged for Wright to officiate at his wedding service and to baptize his children. Such was Wright’s influence over Obama’s thought that our President entitled his second memoir after one of Wright’s sermons, a sermon within which the pixilated parson waxed indignant over his belief that “white folks’ greed runs a world in need.” 

There are only two kinds of people who think that Obama’s worldview is not essentially that of Wrights: those who won’t think or those who can’t think. 

To elaborate, either those who know nothing of either religion or politics or those who know nothing of religion could sincerely believe that twenty-plus years under Wright’s tutelage didn’t exert a tremendous influence over Obama. 

So, yes, the faiths of Romney and Obama should be placed under a microscope this election season. 

If Americans can transcend their racial fears and irrationalities, they will discover in no time that for all of its problems, it isn’t Romney’s Mormonism that threatens our secular government, but the Black Liberation Theology (BLT) that Obama imbibed from Wright.  Recall, according to BLT, “the greed” of “white folks” rules over “a world in need.” The God of BLT is a deity who allies itself with blacks—or Blacks—over whites.

This is the theology on which America’s 44th president was reared. 

Let’s look at Romney’s Mormonism.  But let us also inspect, for the first time, really, Obama’s Black Liberation Theology. 

Rest assured, while neither presidential candidate will much look forward to having his religious history examined, the President will be far more averse to such an inquiry than will be his rival. 



This weekend is Memorial Day weekend.

This morning, on Bill Bennett’s nationally syndicated radio program, his substitute host exchanged reflections upon the significance of patriotism with a fellow from the Claremont Review of Books.  I didn’t catch the latter’s name. In any event, though, it’s not relevant, for his view, as well as that of the host’s, is the prevailing view of patriotism.

We are all familiar with it: the American patriot loves his country because of the principles, the ideals, on which it was founded and for which it stands.  The American soldier—the most heroic and admirable figure, from this perspective—fights first and foremost to protect and preserve the liberty of people everywhere. 

To put it simply, American patriotism is primarily about defending, not the rights of Americans, but human rights. The American patriot, you see, is “a citizen of the world.” And the American soldier, as Ron Paul once said, is “the Universal Soldier.”

This account, however fashionable, faces insurmountable problems.  It produces particularly acute problems for the self-avowed conservative.

First, since the American patriot’s is a devotion to principle, he may find himself obligated to side with other countries against his own!  This will most certainly be the case if, at any given time, there are non-Americans throughout the world whose commitment to his ideals waxes as that of Americans appears to wane.

It is the universal principle that matters morally.  That any country—including America—happens to affirm these principles is incidental. 

Second, the popular view of patriotism is of a piece with a view of morality generally that, however common, fails spectacularly to resonate with us on a personal level. 

If patriotism requires commitment to universal principles, this is because morality demands commitment to universal principles.  Make no mistakes about it: this is exactly the understanding of morality underwriting the dominant position on patriotism.  But if morality consists in the observance of universal principles like “human rights,” then one of two things follow.

Either the partiality that we have toward our spouses, our friends, and our families is beyond the moral realm altogether, or it is actually immoral.  There is no way to avoid this conclusion.  Any morality affirming universal principles requires impartiality.  In glaring contrast, the intimate relationships from which we derive our identities—“the little platoons,” as Burke described them—require partiality.   

Thus, either patriotism is a moral fiction or our “little platoons” are. 

Finally, the most outspoken and impassioned defenders of the current view of patriotism are self-declared “conservatives.”  As such, they talk tirelessly about “limited government,” “constitutionalism,” and liberty.  But their understanding of American patriotism undercuts this talk.

The United States military is an organ of the federal government.  Soldiers, then, are as much agents of the government as are tax collectors and politicians.  However, as radio talk show host Dennis Prager—an unabashed proponent of the view of patriotism under discussion—has said often, “the larger the government, the smaller the citizen.” 

A government—and military—that is expected to oversee the interests of 300-plus million American citizens must already be larger than any that the Founders could have envisioned.  A government with a military that is expected to defend “the rights” of the globe’s six billion or so inhabitants is a monstrosity from which they would have recoiled in horror.

This Memorial Day weekend, let us rethink the prevailing orthodoxy regarding patriotism.