"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
So yesterday I ran across a rumor that Pope Benedict was resigning because he was about to be busted over child sex stuff. In one sense that is not the least bit surprising, virtually everything conceivable qualifies as an internet rumor these days, and about 10% of the population believes that Elvis is alive. (That’s an old stat I am quoting that many no longer hold true, he’d be such an old man now that I would hope some of the hold outs would be giving up.) When I first encountered the rumor I intended to write about the lack of respect for religious institutions reflected in such false accusation.
But then yesterday Obama’s posturing on the sequester became the big news of the day. It is an old and tired routine at this point – “Congress need to fix the problem and they are not.” Yet another false accusation – that this is Congress’s sole responsibility. Sadly; however, this is more than blame shifting, this is political technique.
It is a technique I have seen many a protestant pastor use to deflect leaders in their church that have a pet peeve that is really not important enough to demand the attention and resources of the church proper. They tell the leader to “go for it” knowing that they hold enough power to keep the leader from getting very far. In the meantime, the pastor concentrates on what they perceive to be the most important agenda items. In this case, Obama does not want to be burdened by things like a budget, nor is he concerned about the military. Nope he has to be concerned about overturning the will of the people, expressed overtly in a vote, on gay marriage in California.
If what Obama is doing can be called leadership, it is subversive at best, Think about it. It is a means to passing an unstated agenda that is at least controversial, if not unpopular, while at the same time accumulating power and weakening the other power centers in the government. After all, at its heart this technique seeks to avoid the nuisance of having to work with Congress. Or when you do it has them backed so far in the corner that they concede on the Obama agenda in the hopes of getting something, anything, on the stuff that matters.
This technique has it’s limits however. It only works when the chief executive is popular and more or less untouchable. Unfortunately in this situation, I do not know how to bring those limitations into play. That I hesitate to say why is testament to how difficult the situation is. Obama is untouchable due to his race. Any action we take to undermine his perceived popularity will simply be reflected onto us as racism. I have no doubt that there is a significant number of people that will accuse me of racism simply on the basis of having written this entirely analytical paragraph.
There are only two ways out of this conundrum that I can see. One would be a to find and tilt up a figure with higher levels of popularity than Obama. (I think this is the game that Marco Rubio is currently trying to play. Much as I respect Rubio, if I am right his actions trouble me deeply. This would be a huge mistake. It one, feeds the errant value structure that got us into this mess and two, the such would serve to further unbalance the constitution.
The other alternative to hang on. Such subversive power accumulation is always a house of cards. Due to its reliance on lies, deception and subversion it always eventually falls apart. I think most of us are morose because we thought the 2012 election would be its undoing. We worry because unlike the last time this sort of thing happened (FDR’s re-election in middle of a depression that he only worsened) we fear the cards may not fall in a way that will allow us to readily rebuild.
Frankly, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I do know two things.
We cannot allow the false accusations to destroy our confidence. In other words we must cling to the truth about our ideas and ourselves. The second thing I know flows directly from this.
We cannot allow our personal values to shift. When it falls, and it will fall, if we have not preserved our values, rebuilding will be impossible. Germany is now essentially a secular state because the church largely went along for the ride with the Nazis. When that catastrophe ended, there was nothing to rebuild. Am I promoting a form of political martyrdom? That could happen, but I don’t think it will.
You see, I think that if we just stand tall and true and committed, the fact that what we have is better will be come apparent. Ronald Reagan borrowed from religion and called us a city on a hill. That’s not a weapon – it’s just a light. If shine brightly, people will flock to us.
Those of us that find the results of last November’s election disappointing have found it more disappointing than the “average” political loss. We worry, rightfully so, that the election signals more than political winds, that is portends something base and fundamental shifting in the nation. We have discussed here that attitudes about religion are a part of that shift. But what specifically is it about religion that is the issue?
This nation has never been unified religiously, so it cannot be so simple as adherence to a single religion or denomination of a religion. There is clearly some “core” shared by most religions where things are shifting and that lies at the root of the concern that so many of us feel. I think the picture is emerging of what that core is.
Last Wednesday, Jay Nordlinger wrote an extensive defense of Mitt Romney as our candidate. It is worthy of a long and careful read. But within this very worthy piece was one little bit that I found stunning:
So, what did Romney offer the “middle class”? I’ll tell you what: He offered to avert financial collapse. To do something about the debt and the deficit. To reform entitlements. To reform the tax code. To foster the conditions in which economic growth occurs. To help put people back to work. To save the frickin’ country.
That’s not program enough for the “middle class”? What does he have to do, enter each of their homes and bake them muffins? Swab their floors? (Actually, knowing him and his neighborliness, he would do that.)
That is stunning one, because Nordlinger is right about Romney’s character and the whole willingness to bake muffins thing. But secondly, I read that right after I read another piece that made the expectation on the part of the voters for the muffins seem not quite as far-fetched as it does at first glance. “The College Fix” pointed me to a BBC article. The College Fix post, essentially an extended pullquote from the Beeb article was headlined
Confident Idiots: American Students Growing More Confident, Less Capable
That’s an attention grabber to be sure. The portion of the Beeb piece that CF emphasized was:
It asks students to rate how they measure up to their peers in a number of basic skills areas – and over the past four decades, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of students who describe themselves as being “above average” for academic ability, drive to achieve, mathematical ability and self-confidence.
Self-appraisals of traits that are less individualistic – such as co-operativeness, understanding others and spirituality – saw little change, or a decrease, over the same period.
Twenge adds that while the Freshman Survey shows that students are increasingly likely to label themselves as gifted in writing ability, objective test scores indicate that actual writing ability has gone down since the 1960s.
And while in the late 1980s, almost half of students said they studied for six or more hours a week, the figure was little over a third by 2009 – a fact that sits rather oddly, given there has been a rise in students’ self-proclaimed drive to succeed during the same period.
Certainly that goes a long way towards putting some meat on the “low information voter” thing that has come to be discussed so ubiquitously. But from the perspective of this blog, the real heart of the Beeb’s bleatings was this:
“Our culture used to encourage modesty and humility and not bragging about yourself,” says Twenge. “It was considered a bad thing to be seen as conceited or full of yourself.”
“What’s really become prevalent over the last two decades is the idea that being highly self-confident – loving yourself, believing in yourself – is the key to success.
“Now the interesting thing about that belief is it’s widely held, it’s very deeply held, and it’s also untrue.”
Yet there is very little evidence that raising self-esteem leads to tangible, positive outcomes.
“If there is any effect at all, it is quite small,” says Roy Baumeister of Florida State University. He was the lead author of a 2003 paper that scrutinised dozens of self-esteem studies.
He found that although high self-esteem frequently had a positive correlation with success, the direction of causation was often unclear. For example, are high marks awarded to people with high self-esteem or does getting high marks engender high self-esteem?
And a third variable can influence both self-esteem and the positive outcome.
“Coming from a good family might lead to both high self-esteem and personal success,” says Baumeister.
We talked a lot about humility on this blog during the election cycle, particularly about how very unhumble Obama was/is. If this braggadocio is indeed now a cultural value then that could explain a great deal of the affection much of the electorate grants to Obama – he is the epitome of such.
Moreover, while the studies cited here involve university students, such training in “confidence” begins long before the university level and could go a long way towards explaining why the so called “low information voter,” a group that previously generally stayed away from the polls because of their lack of information, would vote in such numbers. And such people would naturally have the expectation that the candidates would come over and bake them muffins. While Obama did not literally do so, his campaign was designed to create the impression that he was in fact doing so on some grand sort of scale.
Now, in the short term I think there is little conservatives can do but go with this flow. This sort of thing cannot change in four or probably even eight years. I will leave it up to the candidates and consultants to figure out how to make conservatism appealing in such a voting environment. But all of us have to realize that such is a holding action at best. At very fundamental levels this self-involvement is antithetical to traditional conservatism. Such self-absorbed people cannot be relied upon to do charitably that which conservatism holds should be done charitably. Conservatism at its very heart requires a larger perspective than the merely personal. If the voting environment does not change, we will eventually lose it all.
Of course events can, and probably will, intercede that change everything. However, in this media saturated culture, events are less impactful than they used to be. Pearl Harbor changed the nation for at least a couple of generations. 9-11 changed the nation for less than a decade. We cannot rely on the natural consequences of change based on events to result in a rebound that is lasting and meaningful. We have to do more.
I think the search for a more lasting and meaningful fix should start with Evangelicals. The church in all its expressions is, as we have discussed here endlessly, the institution best suited and situated for affecting culture generally. A large portion of the nation still self-identifies as “evangelical,” and therefore that seems like the right place to start. Unfortunately, the Evangelicalism of today is something quite different than the Evangelicalism of C.S. Lewis and Billy Graham and others that I grew up with. Modern expressions of Evangelicalism, as seen most prominently in the mega-church movement, rely on the self-esteem movement for their energy. Gone is talk of sin and the need for confession, to be replaced by the gospel of “Jesus will make you feel good about your life.” In other words, on this level, the “brand” of Christianity most people claim they hold exacerbates the problem, it does not fix it.
What I will not do here is descend into the deep theological debates that surround this change in church practice, I will simply note it as reality. And further, I will emphasize that such change is fundamentally at odds with the values that the church attempts to uphold in its followers and its political actions. If Evangelicals hope to prevail on things like abortion and marriage and most importantly religious freedom they have to return to the traditional understandings of sin, confession and humility. Most people hold their values deeper than their theology. I think the fear, prevalent amongst many Evangelical leaders, that a return to such teaching will only result in shrinkage in the church is ill-founded.
Properly taught, by people whose lives exemplify both the values and the teaching, the teaching will take hold. Slowly at first, and with much resistance to be sure, but as the truth becomes apparent it will be irresistible. We have little choice.
Most voters said that Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith didn’t matter to them. But did it prevent him from really connecting with voters?
CBN News spoke with Author Stephen Mansfield, who’s latest book is called The Mormonizing of America. He explains how Romney’s theology may have impacted his ability to appeal to voters.
“Mormonism stresses almost hyper-performance; almost being an over-achiever; almost being perfect,” Mansfield said. “Look at Mitt Romney. He’s straight from central casting. As far as we know, he’s never had a bad hair day. He’s got the perfect family. He’s got the degrees from the top schools.”
“He is a man almost without flaw. He is a man who what flaws he does have are an extension of his striving for perfection and striving for excellence,” he continued. “Americans like the story of redemption. They like the guy who’s flawed; who’s had the failures and has ascended again.”
WOW! There is a point there, but the problem is not Mormonism, it’s Evangelicalism. I got in a serious theological discussion with a friend a few weeks ago in which he contended that it was not the fact that God gave us a choice in the Garden of Eden that made us human (as opposed to the animals in the rest of creation who were without the capacity for such choice), but the fact that we made the wrong choice. In other words God did not create us perfect, He created us to fail and be redeemed. That notion pretty well turns the entire history of Christian thought on its head, for virtually all understandings of Christian theology are built on a base of our fall from our perfect created nature. And that’s enough theology for this blog.
Note how this view defines down what it means to be a Christian – either the theological one or the stance of the guy discussing Romney. Now the sincerity, depth, and in some sense “reality” of our faith is not defined by our good achievements, but by the depth of the depravity to which we sank to at some point. In other words, the drunken fornicator that manages to sober up and keep his zipper closed but is otherwise undistinguished is somehow a more “genuine” Christian individual than a person of achievement without so many obvious flaws. That’s not Christianity in any form, that’s just class warfare with a religious tint.
If this is the case, we should let abortion stay legal and hope those that have them see the errors of their ways. If this is the case, bring on the same sex marriages, then we can preach to the couples in hope of their redemption.
There was a failure of Romney to connect – to young, non-whites – that’s what the exit polls tell us. If that is because of his apparent “perfection,” then it is because those young non-whites hold the very cock-eyed view of “genuineness” that I just described. Which means that we have failed to form and teach them. Maybe it means we hold that cock-eyed view ourselves? If there are any recriminatory fingers to be pointed, I suggest we start by pointing at ourselves.
Well, the postmortem analysis has begun in earnest. A lot of it focuses on demographics. We can study the Evangelical vote by state. We can break down the exit polls. We can talk to the insiders. Some are choosing to beat up n the Religious Right. Some say religion did not matter. Some are just blaming. Some say it was the Mormon Issue, though not the way we think. And some think the election was an overall positive for Mormons.
I think analysis this early in an election this dramatic is barely worth the electrons used to distribute it. Too much data, way too many emotions running rampant, and amazing shifts in voter behavior require thought and deep reflection, which take time. But like everyone else, I have some initial thoughts and they centered on an amazing thing – Same-sex marriage prevailed as a ballot measure in four states, all the places it was being considered. That is an incredibly dramatic shift in public opinion on something very deeply fundamental in a very short time. It was just 4-6 years ago that it had NEVER prevailed when put to the electorate. So, what are we make of that?
One – sociologists, political scientists and others need to get busy studying this one.
Two – clearly this is not considered “deep” by most people – it is just another issue. That represents something very scary. It would seem to indicate that everything is a matter of taste and fashion. A frightening and probably premature conclusion, but it is evidence.
Three – it’s generational. Tuesday night both I in my post, and Gov. Romney in his concession speech touched on the need f or teachers and parents and others that form young people to inculcate those young people with our values. It seems clear that most young people have been inculcated with very different values. As they then come of age to vote, we see those different values spring from their generation. We have GOT to get busy.
Which brings me to the Mormon issue and the presidential election. Clearly for the electorate to change this dramatically, this rapidly, on an issue like same sex marriage, there is enormous energy behind it – ENORMOUS. We spent a lot of time during the campaign looking at how 1) The same sex marriage movement reviles Mormons because of Prop 8 and 2) that the Mormon issue was alive and well and discussed ad infinitum in the hard left places like Kos and Democratic Underground. We assumed these were isolated corners of the far left universe and therefore not very significant. However, given that to almost everyone’s amazement the high D turnout models proved to be correct, one must wonder if the energy radiated out from these far left corners more than we thought. While Mormonism was not a campaign issue, was it an energizer for the left/Democrat constituency?
Of course it was for some, and the radiative effects of that some are almost impossible to measure, but it seems reasonable to conclude that the Mormon issue played in this game though not as we might have expected.
Frankly, this scares me more than simple anti-Mormon bigotry would have. It means that religion, with the Mormons currently on point, has moved in the minds of the left from being a sort of quaint notion held by social neanderthals to being the evil enemy. We know that was true of the LGBT crowd, but if the radiative effects we propose here are in play then that view will also radiate. The so-called “War on Religion” threatens to expand beyond the border skirmishes we have seen to date. In this light the HHS mandate moves from another skirmish to a reconnaissance in force.
The closeness of the election and the divided Congress would mitigate against such things, at least on an legislative level. But this president has a penchant for regulatory overstep and the potential judicial appointments are terrifying to contemplate.
I think we still need a few days the nurse the wound, but we cannot take too long. There is a lot at stake.
Mitt Romney’s concession speech was just too good last night. It was so good it hurt, because it is proof that he would have been an excellent president and he is an excellent man. It holds high the values that matter at a time when they are deeply in question. Here is the text:
I have just called President Obama to congratulate him on his victory. His supporters and his campaign also deserve congratulations. I wish all of them well, but particularly the president, the first lady and their daughters.
This is a time of great challenges for America, and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation.
I want to thank Paul Ryan for all that he has done for our campaign and for our country. Besides my wife, Ann, Paul is the best choice I’ve ever made. And I trust that his intellect and his hard work and his commitment to principle will continue to contribute to the good of our nation.
I also want to thank Ann, the love of my life. She would have been a wonderful first lady. She’s — she has been that and more to me and to our family and to the many people that she has touched with her compassion and her care.
I thank my sons for their tireless work on behalf of the campaign, and thank their wives and children for taking up the slack as their husbands and dads have spent so many weeks away from home.
I want to thank Matt Rhoades and the dedicated campaign team he led. They have made an extraordinary effort not just for me, but also for the country that we love.
And to you here tonight, and to the team across the country — the volunteers, the fundraisers, the donors, the surrogates — I don’t believe that there’s ever been an effort in our party that can compare with what you have done over these past years. Thank you so very much.
Thanks for all the hours of work, for the calls, for the speeches and appearances, for the resources and for the prayers. You gave deeply from yourselves and performed magnificently. And you inspired us and you humbled us. You’ve been the very best we could have imagined.
The nation, as you know, is at a critical point. At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work. And we citizens also have to rise to the occasion.
We look to our teachers and professors, we count on you not just to teach, but to inspire our children with a passion for learning and discovery. We look to our pastors and priests and rabbis and counselors of all kinds to testify of the enduring principles upon which our society is built: honesty, charity, integrity and family. We look to our parents, for in the final analysis everything depends on the success of our homes. We look to job creators of all kinds. We’re counting on you to invest, to hire, to step forward. And we look to Democrats and Republicans in government at all levels to put the people before the politics.
I believe in America. I believe in the people of America. And I ran for office because I’m concerned about America. This election is over, but our principles endure. I believe that the principles upon which this nation was founded are the only sure guide to a resurgent economy and to renewed greatness.
Like so many of you, Paul and I have left everything on the field. We have given our all to this campaign.
I so wish — I so wish that I had been able to fulfill your hopes to lead the country in a different direction, but the nation chose another leader. And so Ann and I join with you to earnestly pray for him and for this great nation.
Thank you, and God bless America. You guys are the best. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thanks, guys.
Thank you Gov. Romney. Thank you Ann Romney and many thanks to the boys and their families.