March 31, 2015
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The lesson I take from Indiana’s inaptly-named new RFRA is a further demonstration of just how much American Christians seem to take the wrong lesson entirely from the New Testament. An important part of the plot (for lack of a better word) of the Gospels is the conflict between Jesus, who claims to be the Messiah, and the traditional Jewish religious authorities. The Pharisees and scribes, Jesus said, were self-righteous hypocrites who had failed to understand the Law, because of their own selfishness. They obsessed over tithing and purity, but “neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”
What is so striking is how precisely contemporary Christianity prefers just such an approach. It’s tough to see denial of service as a loving decision, as springing from loving one’s neighbor as oneself. Jesus comes and says, You’re too focused on the Law, not love. Don’t criticize these people, help them. “I have not come to condemn the world, but to save it.” And Christians say, Right, the law! Sticking to the rules, that’s what’s important.
Again, this isn’t a recent thing. It takes in, well, the whole history of Christianity. In particular, American Christianity has picked wrong so many times, and not learned its lesson – slavery, civil rights, and more. The ethics of love are hard – it’s much easier to use religion as a weapon against those you disapprove of.
March 23, 2015
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People are talking about this like it’s a real thing, but Ted Cruz has about as much chance of being elected president as I do, and I’m an obscure undistinguished academic at a community college with radical fringe politics. Even if you ignore that he has no clear path to the Republican nomination, much less the White House, or his ridiculous decision to announce his candidacy at Liberty freakin’ University, Cruz won’t be elected because he is goofy looking. America has never elected a president as goofy-looking as Cruz, and we haven’t even come close since the modern media era.Let’s think about this historically. George W. Bush had that smirk, and Gerald Ford sometimes looked like a TV dad, but none of the post-war presidents were particularly goofy looking. Richard Nixon and LBJ are probably the closest that we got, but they both looked too serious to be really “goofy.” LBJ was not a handsome man, but he definitely looked like a guy who was about to either win a county court case against you or would hit you with a tire iron. Before them? The closest you’ll get in the twentieth century is probably William Howard Taft, but he had that mustache and the Churchillian magnificence of a fat man comfortable in himself. Even in the nineteenth century, most presidents were chubby and undistinguished-looking (your Gilded Age presidents like Benjamin Harrison or Grover Cleveland) or ugly but reflecting inner wisdom and intensity (your Abraham Lincoln, your John Quincy Adams) or both (your John Adams). Since television has become a dominant part of American political life, let’s say since 1950, every single presidential election has gone to the candidate who seems like the better person to have as your neighbor. Even the apparent exceptions adhere to this rule – Nixon doesn’t look like the kind of guy you’d be best friends with, but at least he’d tell those kids to turn their radios down and stop knocking over the trash cans at night. Impossibly, the Democrats found a way to turn plutocrat George W. Bush into the everyman by finding somebody much too uptight in 2000 and then somebody even richer than the Bushes to run against him in 2004. This isn’t fair, and it isn’t the way things should be, but so far that’s how things have been, and it’s become a stronger tendency just about every election. Sorry, Lindsey Graham.