The Left Rides to Romney’s Aid . . .
In a Sunday op-ed in the Washington Post, noted evangelical leftie Jim Walls had this to say:
While Beck initially claimed that “social justice is a perversion of the Gospel,” he now suggests his concern was really the association of the phrase with “Big Government.” He even adds that when “social justice” refers simply to individual charity, it is permissible to him. But for millions of people, this is not a joking matter. Christians across the theological and political spectrum believe that social justice is central to the teachings of Jesus and at the heart of biblical faith. Because Christians couldn’t “turn in” their pastors to “church authorities” as Beck suggested (the pope would turn himself into . . . himself), many have started turning themselves in to Beck as “social justice Christians” — 50,000 at last count.
Journalists, cable and radio talk shows, and even Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have reported on or spoofed Beck’s attempt to discredit this concept. What might be lost in all this are the facts that a commitment to social justice unites Christian churches of different doctrinal and political beliefs. Even leaders in Beck’s own church and scholars of Mormonism have made it clear that they believe social justice is integral to their faith and that they want it known he doesn’t speak for the church.
There are two very salient points to be made here. Firstly, when Beck has picked a fight on such a footing that someone like Wallis is saying things that will very much help a candidate like Mitt Romney. (“What might be lost in all this are the facts that a commitment to social justice unites Christian churches of different doctrinal and political beliefs.”) Well, he has made a serious misstep. Believe me, there is little that Wallis stands for that I agree with, but in this case he is absolutely right – we unite to fix real problems.
But the more important point is this: When some on the right start drawing sectarian lines amongst themselves and questioning the veracity of those on the other side of one of those lines, they feed the perception of us that Wallis is playing against here — and in so doing give people like Wallis the opportunity to paint all of us, not just the aberrant yahoos like Beck, with the same ugly brush.
Something is very wrong when a conservative co-religionist of Romney’s like Beck is doing him damage, while a knee-jerk leftie Evangelical like Wallis is making statements that should benefit Romney. At least no one I know of has yet used Mormonism to draw a line between Beck and Romney, but you have to think its coming. Lowell and I met Beck at the “Faith in America” speech last time. I find myself hoping I do not run into him at any events this time should Romney elect to run.
Is Romney’s Faith Issue a Given or a Done Deal?
Lots of political news last week, and Mitt Romney managed to have his name figure prominently in some of it. That’s good for a man that might run for POTUS. I remain astonished at how much is written about Romney right now and how infrequently the word “Mormon” appears in that writing. That word was inescapable at this point last cycle. The conventional wisdom among the political pros is that Romney was deeply wounded by it last time and that it remains a problem for him this time. So why are we not reading about it?
Well, for one thing, there is nothing new to write. So much was written last time that people are a bit bored with it. For another, the issue, while it remains potent, was delegitimized to an extent last time. The one time it stuck its head above water – Huckabee’s “innocent” question to the NYTimes reporter in December 2007 – the Huckster was so roundly hammered by just about everybody that the discussion of it pretty well disappeared from the last cycle afterward. Expect it, of course, in the ugly underbelly of political discussion, like the comments at Huckabee’s campaign web site. It’s out there, but it is reduced to whispers and insinuations.
I think, should Romney elect to get in the 2012 race, the issue will play like I thought it would in 2008, until Huckabee got ugly. That is the role of undercurrent and suspicion reinforcement. We have talked extensively here about the “Mormons lie” meme – we dealt with it just last week, and if you follow links and search this blog we’ve talked it to death. That meme lent credence, at least with many orthodox Christians, to the flip-flop or “inauthentic” thing that in the end really killed Romney’s chances last time. But the line from “Mormons lie” to “inauthentic” was straight enough that we could argue against it.
But if the opposition just talks “inauthentic” and not Mormon, then it becomes much harder to argue – but because it was so prominent last time, the religious-based suspicion should remain and give the “inauthentic” accusation more credence that it deserves.
I am convinced that the phenomenon is at play in all the efforts to make the Massachusetts health system look like Obamacare. (Example here – its existence is also a tip of the hat to the fact that the the Dems view Romney as their likely 2012 opponent.) In the first place what happened in Massachusetts is not “Romneycare” – it is some sort of warped, malformed image of what Romney put forth. Secondly, as the various lawsuits that came out almost minutes after Congress voted on Obamacare attest, there is a huge difference between a state doing something and the federal government doing it. But those are very wonkish arguments which are difficult for people to get their head around to begin with, made all the tougher when somewhere in the back of their mind is an itching that says, at a minimum, “Mormons are strange.”
What saddens me is that as a non-Mormon, there is little I can do to fight this. Without the overt accusations I cannot bring forth argument. All I can do is continue to befriend and make political common cause with Mormons. This one is really up to Mormons. They need to be out there, befriending, not trying to convert, but just befriending, non-Mormons. The more people know Mormons, the less they will think they are different and therefore untrustworthy.
With that, the political news:
- SRLC Missing Romney, Pawlenty When you are the front runner, or in Pawlenty’s case have failed to solidfy your current base, the risk/reward calculation is very different.
- Romney says he should have stuck to economy in ’08 Some might say this is a mistake, but I think for Romney to be candid about his strategy humanizes him, and demonstrates conviction to get better at both campaigning and governing.
- Romney is looking good in Republican and opposition polling.
- ‘People who know Paul Ryan say he will be president one day’ He’s impressive, but not just yet . . .
Religion and Politics Background . . .
So much for religion in politics, eh? Well, not quite. These are tragedies, not occasions for the tongue-clucking and schadenfreude that some of us secular liberals are quietly indulging. Here’s why it’s too easy to survey the would-be theocrats in Rome, Jerusalem, Gaza, Tehran, and Kabul and say, “So much for religion.”
We’d also have to survey how the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., a seminary student named John Lewis, and poor, black churchgoers managed to walk, trembling, into Southern squares, dressed in their threadbare Sunday best, to face fire hoses, dogs, prison, and, for all they knew, death.
We’d have to ask how hundreds of fire fighters and cops on 9/11 — many of them brought up in Catholic Youth Organization sports teams, with an old parish sense of right and wrong – could rush toward death, not to take lives but to save them, at the risk and cost of their own. I suspect that some of these people’s hearts are breaking over the church scandals and that they’re feeling demoralized and outraged.
We’d have to ask about the courage and impressive dignity in the multitudes who took to the streets of Tehran last June to strip bare the pretensions of theocrats. They were able to do it because, like our civil rights marchers and Gandhi’s followers, they meant to redeem their faith from ecclesiastical overlords who have broken their hearts, too, as well as their bones.
There is a lot about what this guy has to say that I disagree with, but at least he understands that religion, like most things can be used well, or not so well, and that it should not be written off. That’s what the American experiment in religion and politics is all about – trying to capture the good religion produces in society without breaking down into the sectarian garbage that he discusses and that ravaged Europe a few times.
That means, as Rod Dreher points out, that we have to take religion seriously. He is also right that the media is probably the first place that needs to learn to do that.
On A Personal Note…
This weekend saw the basketball team from my alma mater make it into the Final Four of the national championship tournament. That’s a big deal – really big. When I was a student there we had about 2500 students dodging the dinosaurs that wandered about campus. Now the number seems to be somewhere around 4000. This is a small private school and they are just not supposed to have the resources to compete on this level – but here they are. How did they do it?
They play a very different kind of basketball, team and defense oriented, they use strategy and execution to overcome time and time again the adversity presented to them by almost universally far more athletic opponents. Only one player on the Butler team is likely to see the NBA, and that’s not a sure thing. (Butler also has the highest graduation rates in Division 1 basketball.) In other words their priorities are in the right place and they exist to serve the greater good, not just take a step towards the pros and their own personal achievement.
As I celebrated their victory Saturday with a tear on my cheek (my father, God rest his soul, was a bigger fan than I) I could not help but reflect on the fact that what makes Butler so attractive as a basketball team is what makes Mitt Romney so attractive as a presidential possible. Like Butler, his priorities are right both personally and policy-wise. But most importantly, like Butler, he is not in this for his own achievement, he is in this for the greater good. You’ll find none of the rhetorical chest bumping and the actual high-fiving and curse laden celebratory utterances that seem to have become commonplace with the current administration in a Romney administration – it’s not about what Mitt Romney accomplishes – it’s about what the nation needs.
That’s probably campaign rhetoric which is not what we do around here, but I hope you’ll forgive a guy the occasional observation of this type when he finds himself in this good a mood. No matter what happens next weekend, this is an enormous accomplishment for the Bulldogs. I am awfully, awfully proud.
Lowell adds . . .
First of all, go bulldogs! I am hoping for a Duke-Butler final, with the Indiana squad winning it all. When a team like Butler makes it to the Final Four a my faith in college basketball is restored just a little.
Now on to less important things. I am no Glenn Beck fan, but what he is trying to challenge (and, as usual, his methods obscure much of any good sense in what he has to say) is the notion that social justice is the primary purpose of religion, or if religion should mostly be concerned with saving souls. In other words, how much does religion get involved in “Caesar’s” business? The debate has gone on for a long time now, some holding that religion must remain focused on spiritual salvation, which includes meeting the temporal needs of mankind through voluntary charity; and others arguing that temporal salvation should be religion’s focus – and that the Gospel supports government involvement in meeting such temporal needs, even if that involvement is coercive.
Much better thinkers than Beck have addressed this issue. For example, in a piece entitled “Defining Social Justice,” Michael Novak examined Friedrich Hayek’s views on social justice, and advances a definition from Hayek himself:
Social justice rightly understood is a specific habit of justice that is “social” in two senses. First, the skills it requires are those of inspiring, working with, and organizing others to accomplish together a work of justice. These are the elementary skills of civil society, through which free citizens exercise self–government by doing for themselves (that is, without turning to government) what needs to be done. Citizens who take part commonly explain their efforts as attempts to “give back” for all that they have received from the free society, or to meet the obligations of free citizens to think and act for themselves. The fact that this activity is carried out with others is one reason for designating it as a specific type of justice; it requires a broader range of social skills than do acts of individual justice.
The second characteristic of “social justice rightly understood” is that it aims at the good of the city, not at the good of one agent only. Citizens may band together, as in pioneer days, to put up a school or build a bridge. They may get together in the modern city to hold a bake sale for some charitable cause, to repair a playground, to clean up the environment, or for a million other purposes that their social imaginations might lead them to. Hence the second sense in which this habit of justice is “social”: its object, as well as its form, primarily involves the good of others.
There are at least two approaches to the goal of social justice: the non-coercive one Hayek described and the one the Left considers a necessary and coercive marriage between government and religion to accomplish leftist ends. The difference is whether to emphasize the role of the individual (Hayek’s approach) or the role of the state (the leftist approach). In Hayek’s words:
It is one of the greatest weaknesses of our time that we lack the patience and faith to build up voluntary organizations for purposes which we value highly, and immediately ask the government to bring about by coercion (or with means raised by coercion) anything that appears as desirable to large numbers. Yet nothing can have a more deadening effect on real participation by the citizens than if government, instead of merely providing the essential framework of spontaneous growth, becomes monolithic and takes charge of the provision for all needs, which can be provided for only by the common effort of many.
The debate is not over whether social justice is important; it is over how such justice should be dispensed, and by whom. I favor the non-coercive approach, as far as religion’s involvement is concerned. This is a debate worth having, and it needs to be directed by someone other than, or in addition to, Glenn Beck.