At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Why Romney, II: Response to Critics

posted by Jack Kerwick

Mitt Romney is no conservative.

There isn’t a question in my mind that under a President Romney, America will continue down the same road that our elected (and unelected) government office holders have been dragging her from at least the time of the last half of the nineteenth century. Yet the rate of decline under Romney promises to be slower than it will be under Obama. 

And if we thought Obama was a “transformative” president in his first term, just wait until his second. 

I argued recently that for this reason, the lover of liberty must see to it that Obama is defeated.

Though far from ideal, the only remotely viable option available to liberty lovers this Election Day is Mitt Romney.

To this proposition, many of my fellow Ron Paul supporters and facebook friends took unequivocal exception.  Our current dilemma is a result of just that “choose the lesser of two evils” approach that I appear to be recommending, several people insisted.  One person went so far as to charge me with being a “hypocrite” and a “traitor.”  Another suggested that everything that I have written up to this juncture is now suspect in her eyes.  

Let me reiterate: neither my last article nor this one should be confused with an apology for Mitt Romney.  The former Massachusetts governor, politically speaking, is a modern “liberal” or, maybe, a neoconservative (for all practical purposes, a distinction without a difference).  I would have chosen—and, in fact, did choose—Ron Paul hands down over Romney and any other Republican—a fact born out by the countless hours I invested in arguing inexhaustibly on the Texas Congressman’s behalf.

My position is not pro-Romney.  It is resolutely anti-Obama.  And it is anti-Obama for the same reason that it was—and remains—pro-Paul: the love of liberty demands it.

Ron Paul is not going to be the GOP nominee.  No apostle of liberty will achieve that distinction. And with the possible exception of Paul, who already made it clear that he will retire from politics by season’s end, no so-called Third Party candidate will hold so much as the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell of altering the outcome of this election.

That leaves Romney.

But, my fellow Paul supporters protest, a vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil.  This makes a great bumper sticker slogan, but once we engage in just a modicum of thought, its surface plausibility dissolves before our minds.

The Republican Party is a party of evil.  Those of Paul’s supporters who now berate me for advocating evil by throwing in behind Romney (but, more importantly, against Obama), must believe this.  Many have explicitly said as much.  However, what this entails is that if I am a moral fraud and traitor for abetting evil by voting for Romney, then Ron Paul is at least as guilty of the same.  After all, for decades he has hitched his political career to this party of evil. 

No, no, no, I will be told, Paul is trying to change the GOP from within.  This and only this is the reason for his decision to run for Congress and the Presidency, not as an Independent, but a Republican. 

This will not wash.

First, if by voting for Romney I become complicit in the evil of his policies, then by becoming a Republican Ron Paul makes himself an accomplice to the evil of his party’s policies.

Second, I too am trying to change the GOP.  I am also trying to change my country.  In the short term, I aim to accomplish this by retarding, however slightly, the decline that Obama has facilitated.   

I mention Ron Paul and his decision to identify as a Republican, but perhaps his son Rand is a more illustrative example of the sorts of points that I seek to make. 

Rand, too, has collaborated with evil by becoming a Republican, no?  Worst—horror of horrors!—Rand has said that in the event that his father doesn’t secure his party’s nomination, he would indeed endorse the GOP candidate. 

Is Rand Paul a hypocrite and a traitor?  Should everything that he has said and done on behalf of liberty now be dismissed because of this? 

In the real world, as opposed to the utopian imaginings of my critics, advancing one’s interests, whether in the political or non-political realms, always involves compromises and concessions of various sorts.  Is Thomas Jefferson—a man who figures to no slight extent for Paul supporters—a fraud, a hypocrite, and a traitor to the cause of liberty because he owned slaves?  It is true that Jefferson and other Founders argued relentlessly against the institution of human bondage, but they also made concessions to its defenders that insured the maintenance of slavery for nearly another 80 years. 

It may be an exaggeration to say that every choice is a choice between two evils, but, if so, it is not that much of an exaggeration.   Every choice definitely consists of the loss of something of value.

Paul supporters should remember this—especially given that they have been supporting a candidate who has been a member of an evil political party for decades.

 

Why Romney?

posted by Jack Kerwick

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.

 

 

 

Christianity and its “New” Critics

posted by Jack Kerwick

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.     

 

 

 

 

 

Religion and Politics

posted by Jack Kerwick

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. 

 

 

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