Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Posts are in reverse chronological order.

Secular Non-Evangelical Conservatives

I appear to have struck a nerve, at least in the microclimate of the evangelical blogosphere, with my Abraham Lincoln post. I'll address two responses, first from Kevin Holtsberry. Kevin wrote:

I think claiming that God is using events like 9/11 to judge nations is presumptuous and unhelpful. First of all, it raises a host of issues that are not easily resolvable.

Let me remake the point, almost superfluous now, that neither my recent post nor its ideological parent post argued forcefully that we were punished-- although I allowed that I thought we were. The gist of those posts was a complaint against a certain type of political correctness displayed even by our allies-- identified specifically with what Buckley wrote, shortly post 9/11: "we dismiss as preposterous the notion that, on September 11, God was the hijackers' co-pilot". Buckley's view was echoed by other NRO contributors.

Kevin goes on, nicely restating the arguments heard in the aftermath of the Falwell/Robertson debacle:

Do we really believe that God at some point decided that America was too sinful and that it was time for some innocent people to die a horrible death so that those left behind might repent? This is a rather harsh "Old Testament" type view of God's actions for today.

Well yes, I believe it is possible and provide as evidence: the entire Old Testament. Time and time again the Jews were punished as a nation, and in those punishments those killed or enslaved were innocent (in the sense that I believe Mr. Holtsberry uses the word). It is indeed an "Old Testament" type of view, which Mr. Holtsberry seems to use pejoratively, but most evangelicals would agree that the God of today is the same as the God of time of the patriarchs. He is immutable.

More from Kevin:

America is not the children of Israel interacting directly with God in its daily decisions. And how does this work exactly, I mean when do we know disasters are God's judgment? Do we just assume if something is bad enough it must be God's judgment? The problem with this view is that at base it is blaming someone else - God and America.

The first sentence is tricky-- it is certainly true (America is not the Children of Israel) but what I inferred was Mr. Holtsberry also saying that God is not involved, day-to-day, with what goes on in America. That I disagree with. As to how do we know if it is God's judgement? We don't-- does that mean we are fools worthy of contempt for suggesting the possibility? And this view never blames God. May it never be! It does suggest that America may be culpable-- while at the same time most evangelicals strongly support the war effort and believe captured terrorists should be given a fair trial followed by a fair hanging. The precedent is again the Old Testament, where those nations used to punish the Jews were themselves judged for their actions. Go figure.

Mr. Holtsberry goes on to criticize Falwell and Robertson. Again, this was Buckley’s device: Attack the credibility of the messenger and, by association, the message. I also criticized the gentlemen for their focusing on certain sins in my original post and in response to a comment to my second post.

Continuing with Kevin's post:

What they [Falwell and Robertson] were saying, in their mock seriousness and their false humility, was that non-Christians were going to hell and God decided to call in the chips early. With this arrogant assumption of God's knowledge they switch responsibility from themselves to others and ultimately to God. Man has enough trouble worrying about his own sins letting alone taking over God's job of judging nations in their entirety and deciding which tragedies are God's punishment for man's sins.

I am not sure if Kevin is criticizing their belief that non-Christians are going to hell or if that is only in conjunction with God "cashing in the chips". Let's be clear on the former: non-Christians are going to hell. As for the rest of the paragraph it is, essentially, the "judge not lest ye be judged" argument so often misused against conservative (evangelical and Catholic) orthodoxy.

Kevin (and later Mark Byron) rally to Mr. Buckley’s defense:

William F. Buckley is a man of faith - not an evangelical for sure - and to cast him aside as a "secular conservative" is a bit strong.

I accept this criticism. From now on I will use non-evangelical conservative if the need arises. I apologize to anyone who took offense with the term secular conservative.

Kevin's political advice was:

Evangelicals need to begin to construct a political strategy that goes beyond "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me." I am not one to see Abe Lincoln as the beginning of a totalitarian USA, but simply quoting the prayers of Lincoln and comparing it to today do not prove America is going to hell with the help of secular conservatives.

Sorry Kevin, but I think "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me" is a perfectly adequate strategy. I don't really know how to respond to the Abe Lincoln/totalitarian sentence. I was merely making two points, viz., Lincoln's proclamation was remarkable by today's standards and anyone applying it to 9/11 would likely be ridiculed across the board, including by many non-evangelical conservatives.

Now on to my good friend Mark Byron, who gave Kevin's post a hearty endorsement and then elaborated. I have already done a mea culpa about the secular conservative term, so I'll skip over that.

Dr. Byron writes:

If Dr. Heddle can point out a few other positions where Buckley disagrees with a standard conservative evangelical political platform, he'd have a better case.

I cannot (off the top of my head) but that was sort of my point, apparently made badly, that we agree with people like Buckley most of the time-- but if our evangelical side intrudes: watch out. Buckley did not couch his view as a respectful difference of opinion with his evangelical friends, he dismissed us derisively.

Another piece of circumstantial evidence is the treatment of Ann Coulter (she was fired from NRO) for her comment, again just post 9/11-- (I am working from memory here) something along the lines of "we should invade their countries [those Islamic nations that support terrorism-- almost redundant if not for Turkey -- my comment not AC's] and convert them to Christianity."

Dr. Byron does not like my use of "useful idiots"

I'm not the least bit comfortable with Dr. Heddle's use of "useful idiots." That was most famously used by Lenin to describe the clueless leftists in the West who supported him, not understanding what he was up to. The analogy of the National Review crew being some sort of Papist Bolsheviks doesn't quite add up, unless he's trying to equate the evangelical community supporting the non-evangelical conservatives as analogous to the Chompskite left cluelessly covering for socialism. That would also assume that our Papist Bolsheviks had an anti-evangelical platform that we are not seeing.

(Coincidentally, NRO's Corner has an unrelated post today that uses the 'Useful Idiot' phrase.)

It is Mr. Buckley’s wont, in his wonderful wordsmithing columns, to note that usage is king. I plead the same here-- the term "useful idiots" is often used to refer to a group whose support you accept (and indeed depend upon) but whose positions, especially when they differ from yours, are of no consequence. You want their vote but you do not want to see them at the inaugural ball. And yes, I do suspect that is what many non-evangelical conservatives think of us.

And, forgive me if I am wrong (I am more comfortable with numbers than words) but Mark seems to be commenting as if I said "we are like useful idiots" -- what I said was "they look at evangelicals as 'useful idiots’.”

Mark goes on to make the point that we need to make a political alliance with a variety of conservative-leaning groups in order to stop the liberals at the gates. I agree, up to a point. But the Republican Party, especially as it reaches out to moderates of a pro-choice bent, is stretching me to my elastic limit.

Culture Wars

Jeffery Collins of Joyful Christian Fame comments on this in as much as it applies to the culture wars. He is saying, if I read him correctly, that forming alliances to win the culture wars is perhaps not the most effective use of our evangelical energies. I agree.

I will also point out a more basic point of contention: that forming alliances to fight the culture wars is not manifestly right. How many evangelicals would be comfortable forming an alliance with Muslims to fight pornography? I don't mean merely working in parallel, but together, with a joint mission statement (most likely to include a prohibition against offensive proselytizing) and board of directors? I would not-- but I don't have a clue as to whether that is a majority or lunatic fringe position.

I know that this was a hot topic in the mid 90's when the Evangelicals and Catholics Together joint proclamation to fight the culture wars was signed by many big shot evangelists. However, in case you think that was universally lauded by (all big shot) Evangelicals, look here.

Whew! I sat at my computer to write a short post on whether Christians have different rewards in heaven – a post that will have to wait until tomorrow – and an hour later I have this monstrosity!

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