Jim, I feel some frustration too because what you’ve done so far is speak mostly in generalities. The real pattern in Biblical politics only becomes clear when you look at an extended series of concrete practical issues from a Biblical perspective – say, the death penalty, immigration, Islamic terror, gun control, censorship, drug legalization, and so on. That’s what I do in my new book.
In your generalities, you are not considering the Bible as a whole, but only certain threads that interest you.
I’m glad we agree, however, that, in getting a perspective on God’s real politics, the prophets are the place to start. I agree with Norman Podhoretz who, in his fine book The Prophets, identifies the single issue that above all others preoccupied the Hebrew prophets. That issue is idolatry.
It is a word you’ve used loosely in your writing – for example, accusing George W. Bush of “a serious theological error that some might say borders on idolatry or blasphemy.” (But not idolatry and blasphemy?) The President’s sin, in your telling, may be detected in a rhetorical gaffe. After 9/11, he spoke too sweepingly of an American mission of “ridding the world of evil.” Your contention is that he thereby “confuse[d] the role of God with that of the American nation.”
It seems to me that using the term idolatry to condemn a poor choice of words on Bush’s part is an abuse of a terribly important idea that the prophets took with deadly seriousness. What is idolatry, really? Manifesting itself in every age, and very much so in ours, its essence lies in setting up moral authorities in competition with, or to the negation, of God. Today, aggressive secularism, whose political home is the Democratic Party, possesses all the classic pagan hallmarks: relativism, nature worship, sexual corruption, and a willingness to sacrifice children for the cause. Jeremiah (9:11-14) is clear that idolatry was the great stumbling block of his time, that it directly lead to God’s abandoning the Jews to their Babylonian enemies.
Let’s look for common ground, shall we? Would you agree with me, following the model of the prophets, that we are compelled to say the chief crisis that any would-be political leader today needs to address is idolatry of this kind?
Jim, would you join me in condemning the California Supreme Court for overturning the will of the people and creating a governmental seal of approval for homosexual relationships? I can’t think of a clearer example of our leaders rejecting the American tradition of looking to God for the ultimate source of moral authority. That is indeed idolatry.
Ditto the regime of nearly unlimited access to abortion that was imposed on our nation with Roe v. Wade. Both these examples of judicial usurpation were gestures of contempt not only for democracy but for God. If I’ve misunderstood your view on abortion, then I assume you’ll agree with me that the main reason that any conscientious Jew or Christian should vote for John McCain is because he’s likelier than Obama to appoint one or more Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe. I would be delighted to learn that I indeed misread you. Please clarify, Jim, in concrete terms please.
Now to your point about personal versus social responsibility. Again, let’s look for common ground. We can agree that there needs to be some kind of balance between letting the needs of the economically disadvantaged be addressed at the individual or communal level and directing that those needs be addressed by the government. You’ll agree too that there is a tension between personal and social responsibility. When too much responsibility is assumed by the government, that undercuts the personal responsibility of citizens to reach out and assist the needy. This is why Europeans, with their extensive government-funded social programs, give much less to charity than Americans do. That can’t be the future you want, Jim.
The question, to which we look to the Bible for guidance, is where the balance between social and person responsibility should be set. It’s a question of emphasis. You point out that the prophets address themselves to the powerful and the wealthy. Insofar as the prestige class in any society exercises disproportionate influence on the culture, that’s what you’d have to expect. But your observation doesn’t tell us what the prophets would have the powerful actually do.
Personally assist the powerless and needy? Absolutely.
Or use the power of government to compel the rest of us to hand over our money to the state, which then distributes it for us? I’m sorry, that doesn’t sound like anything I’ve come across in the Bible.
Speaking of money and its use or abuse by the government, you’re right that I owe you an answer about Iraq. You ask if I think that money has been well spent. My provisional answer is, certainly. War is a normal tool of statecraft in the Biblical worldview. That doesn’t mean, obviously, that every war that even a Biblically guided nation undertakes is a wise war. But it doesn’t seem very wise either to grouse about the cost of a conflict whose ultimate fruits we haven’t yet seen.
Someone could as well have complained, in 1943, about the lives and dollars America had expended on fighting Nazi Germany when, look, Hitler was still in power!
Now, Jim, please answer my own question that you’ve ignored. If you speak for the “moral center,” since we have no center party to speak of, I’d expect that means that over the past 35 years you’ve voted for about half Republicans and half Democrats. Or would I be wrong about that? Again, please tell me the last major Republican candidates you supported?