Commentary on culture and politics from a radically new Christian perspective

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Published by David French -- Harvard Law grad, former lecturer at Cornell Law School, author of books no one reads, master of the three point shot, constant critic of Duke Basketball, Playstation2 addict, owner of a cool new Sony DCRTRV25 MiniDV Digital Handycam, father of two and husband of one extremely hot wife


The Culture Curve
Wednesday, January 07, 2004  
THE TRUTH GULF. To his credit, The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof is one of the few prominent columnists who consistently addresses the political implications of the widening spiritual gap between increasingly religious Republicans and increasingly secular Democrats. Unfortunately, while accurately diagnosing the political reality, Kristof often makes comments that betray his poor understanding not simply of history but also of present reality and of basic theology.

Spend much time with mainstream secular thinkers, and you almost always encounter the following stereotypical critiques of religion in general and conservative Christianity specifically: First, religion is the cause of most wars and human suffering. Second, most professing Christians are hypocrites. Third, the only truly admirable religious acts are those which favor the poor at the expense of the rich. Christians should contest these stereotypes whenever they are encountered

In his most recent column, The God Gulf, Kristof hits the trifecta. His column, which laments the coming war between overly-religious Republicans and phonily-religious Democrats, begins with the obligatory first critique: "Religion may preach peace and tolerance, yet it's hard to think of anything that -- because of human malpractice -- has been more linked to violence and malice around the world."

While it is undoubtedly correct that religious wars have plagued humanity for thousands of years, is it actually true that Mr. Kristof finds it difficult to think of "anything that . . . has been more linked to violence and malice around the world?" In Mr. Kristof's own lifetime, the world has witnessed Hitler's genocide, Stalin's purges, Mao's forced famines, Pol Pot's killing fields and Saddam's gas attacks. Each of these acts of genocide has been perpetrated by self-consciously secular (and sometimes explicitly atheistic) leaders. Further, these men are responsible for more death and destruction than the sum total of all wars prior to 1939. While Mr. Kristof's comment is politically correct, it is sloppy and inaccurate.

Next, after acknowledging the apparent sincerity of the President's Christian beliefs, Mr. Kristof cannot resist charging Bush with hypocrisy: "To me, nonetheless, it seems hypocritical of Mr. Bush to claim (in the last campaign) that Jesus is his favorite philosopher and then to finance tax breaks for the rich by cutting services for the poor."

The charge of financing tax breaks for the rich on the backs of the poor is a common refrain in Democratic circles. Kristof's twist is to use it to not only charge Bush with insensitivity but also with hypocrisy. This charge, however, suffers from a fatal flaw -- it is simply not true. The fact of the matter is that Bush has given tax breaks to all Americans (rich and poor alike) while simultaneously expanding government services -- especially for the poor. How quickly Mr. Kristof forgets the recent passage of the Medicare prescription drug benefit, a program that not only represents the largest entitlement program in a generation but helps poor seniors more than anyone else.

Finally, through his hypocrisy charge, Kristof also indulges in the third stereotypical critique: expressing a clear preference for religious actions that favor the poor at the expense of the rich. One gets the clear sense that Kristof would find Bush's religiosity much more palatable if he repealed his tax cuts and tripled spending on Head Start.

While it is abundantly clear that Christ did not favor the strong over the weak or the rich over the poor, we cannot accept the liberal mantra that the public policy interests of one are always set against the other. If a tax cut spurs increased economic activity that results in an increased standard of living for hundreds of thousands of lower-income families, is that a morally inferior outcome than keeping taxes high and pouring money into the bottomless pit of a federal poverty bureaucracy that mires families in a cycle of dependency and neglect? It is simply not true that it is always wrong to "cut services for the poor." Cutting a service is not always the same thing as inflicting harm.

Christians are often shamed into supporting failed social policies by liberals who twist Christ's concern for the poor into a divine endorsement of the modern welfare state. Yet, Christianity is not a faith of good intentions but instead a faith that should be characterized by effective service. We do the poorest among us no favors when we accept a failed status quo rather than run the risk of be labeled "cruel" by a liberal elite.

Nicholas Kristof should keep writing about faith and politics, but he should do so without resort to flimsy stereotypes and fuzzy logic.

8:43 PM

Tuesday, January 06, 2004  
THE BLOG IS BACK. After one war, two elections and almost fifteen months, I've decided to resume blogging -- to resurrect the Curve (now that all the readers are gone . . . very smart).

Why? The reason dates back to a December lunch conversation with my colleagues at my law firm. The location was Wendy's near Rupp Arena (also known as Basketball Jerusalem) in Lexington, Kentucky. The topic was the War on Terror. One of my partners remarked that it was amazing how often his friends and neighbors shifted their opinion on the war. When the news was good, they proclaimed their support for the President and for the Iraq occupation. When the news was bad, or when there was extended period of no news (other than the continual trickle of American casualties) they grumbled about the lack of WMDs or about "no plan for peace" or "unilateral war."

After asking my friend if he ever tried to counter their negativity, to inform them of facts they might not know or to remind them that the war and occupation -- by historical standards -- were remarkably successful.

"No," he replied. "It's not worth the argument."

At that moment, I was struck by a reality that I know many others understood long before me.

"Not worth the argument? Don't you realize that we're not going to lose this war on the battlefield? If we lose, we'll lose it at the kitchen table. Everyone knows that Al Qaida is hoping to kill just enough of to make us give up and bring our boys home. How do you think a nation cracks? It's not as if an announcement is made on CNN, or the President goes on national TV and says, 'that's it, I'm tired of it all.' It happens much more slowly. Family by family, friend by friend, we convince ourselves that we can't win, that they don't want us there country, that the peace activists are correct, that violence never solves anything. In giving in to this despair we abandon facts, we abandon principle and, most importantly, we abandon people -- the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East."

It's at that moment that I realized I would restart my blog. Not because it will win the war, but because it is my small contribution to the effort. While I can write, I can remind those who do choose to read that we are on the right side of history, that the invasion of Iraq was one of the best and most courageous things that our country has done in more than 200 years of history, and I can point out how often the mainstream media is simply wrong or so biased that it cannot or will not report the entire story.

But this blog is not simply (or even primarily) Iraq. It is about our culture and about an American Christian community that is sorely in need of new leadership and new ideas. My very first post dealt with the need for Christians to find a new public face. Little did I realize that, in 2003, Christian America's new public face would be the (former) Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore.

The Culture War will also be won or lost at the kitchen table, first in our own Christian homes and then in the homes of those who do not share our beliefs. If we continue to follow demagogues, to support oathbreakers, to plead for special privilege rather than equal rights, we will find ourselves firmly (and rightly) exiled to the fringe of American society.

The Culture Curve is simply one person's effort to bring his kitchen table thoughts to those who care. While the internet is crammed with competing voices, many of whom have opinions remarkably similar to mine, the call for Christian character and national resolve simply cannot be made too often or by too many people. I can't serve on the front lines (too old), and I could never win public office (too poor and too ugly), but I can write.

I was wrong to stop.

7:21 PM

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