Thursday, December 2, 2004

Three Cheers for the <i>New York Times</i>

Last Sunday's Meet the Press featured a panel of prominent Christian spokesmen discussing religion in America. It was a bit surprising that the panel included Al Sharpton, and it was a bit disappointing that Jerry Falwell was more overbearing and combative than he needed to be. The others on Tim Russert's panel, Jim Wallis of Sojourners and Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, comported themselves well, but Falwell and Sharpton were, each in his own way, less than what one would have hoped. I wondered why, given all of the outstanding evangelical thinkers out there, the networks always seem to draw on the same cast of characters when they want someone to speak on behalf of Christianity.

Apparently, David Brooks of the New York Times thought the same thing. He has a remarkable piece on the evangelical he would most like to see on television instead of the usual lineup of Falwellians and Robertsonians, and various clergy who are in one way or another controversial or disaffected. You'll probably think his column (free subscription required) is the more remarkable because Brooks himself is Jewish.

Since our readers may not have the time to fill out the subscription form we offer the Brooks column to you here:

Tim Russert is a great journalist, but he made a mistake last weekend. He included Jerry Falwell and Al Sharpton in a discussion on religion and public life.

Inviting these two bozos onto "Meet the Press" to discuss that issue is like inviting Britney Spears and Larry Flynt to discuss D. H. Lawrence. Naturally, they got into a demeaning food fight that would have lowered the intellectual discourse of your average nursery school.

This is why so many people are so misinformed about evangelical Christians. There is a world of difference between real-life people of faith and the made-for-TV, Elmer Gantry-style blowhards who are selected to represent them. Falwell and Pat Robertson are held up as spokesmen for evangelicals, which is ridiculous. Meanwhile people like John Stott, who are actually important, get ignored.

It could be that you have never heard of John Stott. I don't blame you. As far as I can tell, Stott has never appeared on an important American news program. A computer search suggests that Stott's name hasn't appeared in this newspaper since April 10, 1956, and it's never appeared in many other important publications.

Yet, as Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center notes, if evangelicals could elect a pope, Stott is the person they would likely choose. He was the framer of the Lausanne Covenant, a crucial organizing document for modern evangelicalism. He is the author of more than 40 books, which have been translated into over 72 languages and have sold in the millions. Now rector emeritus at All Souls, Langham Place, in London, he has traveled the world preaching and teaching.

When you read Stott, you encounter first a tone of voice. Tom Wolfe once noticed that at a certain moment all airline pilots came to speak like Chuck Yeager. The parallel is inexact, but over the years I've heard hundreds of evangelicals who sound like Stott.

It is a voice that is friendly, courteous and natural. It is humble and self-critical, but also confident, joyful and optimistic. Stott's mission is to pierce through all the encrustations and share direct contact with Jesus. Stott says that the central message of the gospel is not the teachings of Jesus, but Jesus himself, the human/divine figure. He is always bringing people back to the concrete reality of Jesus' life and sacrifice.

There's been a lot of twaddle written recently about the supposed opposition between faith and reason. To read Stott is to see someone practicing "thoughtful allegiance" to scripture. For him, Christianity means probing the mysteries of Christ. He is always exploring paradoxes. Jesus teaches humility, so why does he talk about himself so much? What does it mean to gain power through weakness, or freedom through obedience? In many cases the truth is not found in the middle of apparent opposites, but on both extremes simultaneously.

Stott is so embracing it's always a bit of a shock - especially if you're a Jew like me - when you come across something on which he will not compromise. It's like being in "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," except he has a backbone of steel. He does not accept homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle, and of course he believes in evangelizing among nonbelievers. He is pro-life and pro-death penalty, even though he is not a political conservative on most issues.

Most important, he does not believe truth is plural. He does not believe in relativizing good and evil or that all faiths are independently valid, or that truth is something humans are working toward. Instead, Truth has been revealed. As he writes:

"It is not because we are ultra-conservative, or obscurantist, or reactionary or the other horrid things which we are sometimes said to be. It is rather because we love Jesus Christ, and because we are determined, God helping us, to bear witness to his unique glory and absolute sufficiency. In Christ and in the biblical witness to Christ God's revelation is complete; to add any words of our own to his finished work is derogatory to Christ."

Politicians, especially Democrats, are now trying harder to appeal to people of faith. But people of faith are not just another interest group, like gun owners. You have to begin by understanding the faith. And you can't understand this rising global movement if you don't meet its authentic representatives.

Not Falwell, but Stott.

It may be years before we again get to see such a positive piece about an evangelical Christian theologian in the pages of the New York Times. Indeed, we wonder how many Times readers will be canceling their subscriptions because such an overtly sympathetic essay about such a manifestly fine Christian was allowed to grace its op/ed page.

The Ohio Vote

Interested in the status of the Ohio vote count? Rich Lowery has a good article at National Review Online. Here's part of it:

The conspiracy theorists focus on Franklin County, home of the heavily Democratic city of Columbus. They allege, among other things, that long lines there on Election Day were a cagey tactic to keep blacks from voting. It just happens that Anthony is chairman of the Franklin County Board of Elections and also chairman of the Franklin County Democratic party. "I am a black man," he told the Columbus Dispatch. "Why would I sit there and disenfranchise voters in my own community?" Good question.

[Jesse] Jackson and others complain that not enough of the roughly 155,000 provisional ballots - ballots cast by voters who might or might not be legitimate registered voters - are being counted. So far, an ample 76 percent of the provisional ballots have been ruled valid, roughly the same rate as in 2000. A provisional ballot isn't counted when the person casting it wasn't really registered to vote, voted in the wrong precinct or - more rarely - voted twice. Ohio's standards for counting provisional ballots are entirely reasonable. Indeed, they are the same as in such liberal strongholds as New York, Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts.

The die-hards also focus on punch-card ballots, which featured prominently in the Florida 2000 controversy and aren't counted if there's an over-vote (i.e., both Bush and Kerry are punched) or an under-vote (i.e., neither is clearly punched). In any election, there is a small percentage of both. Here, Ohio's performance has improved over 2000. Four years ago, out of 4.9 million votes cast, 98,000 were invalid because of over-votes or under-votes. This year, there were more total votes, 5.5 million, but only 93,000 over-votes or under-votes.

It's still possible, believe it or not, that John Kerry could win the election. We'll know by next week. I can't imagine anything, short of another 9/11, that would rock this country more than Ohio finding that John Kerry actually garnered more votes than George Bush. For one thing, all those Hollywood types who moved abroad in the wake of November 2nd would all be coming back again. That prospect alone should be enough to stop the count.

Philosophical Confusion

The normally lucid philosopher John Searle gets himself turned all cattywumpus when it comes to God:

"For us", he writes in Mind, Language and Society, "if it should turn out that God exists, that would have to be a fact of nature like any other. To the four basic forces in the universe--gravity, electromagnetism, weak and strong nuclear forces--we would add a fifth, the divine force. Or more likely, we would see the other forces as forms of the divine force. But it would still be all physics, albeit divine physics. If the supernatural existed, it too would have to be natural."

Among the attributes which comprise our concept of God is transcendence. God is the creator of physics, not a part of it. Searle is saying, in effect, that if a transcendent being exists then that being is not transcendent. This is what both philosophers and laymen call nonsense.

Searle is in a tough spot. He cannot bring himself to admit the possibility that the universe is the created product of an intelligent being which exists apart from that which He created, but neither can he deny the possibility that God exists. So he's reduced to announcing that should God exist, He wouldn't really be God. This is the sort of claim that gives philosophy a bad reputation.

Thanks to The Philosophers' Magazine Online's Daily Philosophical Quotation for the tip.

The Triangle of Death

There's a good overview of the ongoing battle in the "Triangle of Death" by W. Thomas Smith, Jr. at National Review Online. Smith updates us on what's happening in this region south of Baghdad and how this assault differs from the battle for Fallujah.

Rebuilding Fallujah

Here's anInteresting article on who, exactly, is getting the contracts for rebuilding Fallujah and the rest of Iraq. Two clues. The answer will disappoint the left, and it's not Halliburton:

Iraqi reconstruction is hitting a decisive phase as the Baghdad-based Project and Contracting Office drives for 1,000 project starts by year's end. The PCO wants to establish a tone of success before elections Jan. 31 by giving local Iraqi contractors fast-start projects, especially in hot spots like Fallujah.

The surge in starts-873 as of Nov. 1 and up 24% from Oct. 7-is being achieved in part because months of preparations are hitting the construction phase. But it also is happening because the PCO has rejiggered the schedule to push small, fast projects up the calendar and award local firms the work.

"It's mostly Iraqis," said Charles Hess, director of the PCO, in a telephone interview Nov. 18 from Baghdad. "We had to do that in response to the security situation to avoid having a large expatriate presence on the ground. We use U.S. design-build contractors to shape the more complicated issues we brought them here to help us with....They don't need to be worrying about a $50,000 school when they should be working on a $500-million gas combustion generator in an undeveloped oilfield."

The strategy has been evolving since last summer when negotiations ended major fighting in Najaf, Samarra and Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood. Fastpaced reconstruction drives there have become the model for the effort going forward.

In Najaf, 25 projects were completed in two months, including rehabilitation of the main market, sewer and waterline repair, health clinic upgrades, as well as local clean-ups and road repairs.

Similar efforts, the article goes on to say, are beginning now in Fallujah. Iraq is being rebuilt largely by Iraqis who are getting the jobs and receiving the paychecks.

Our question, however, is how did the evil Dick Cheney allow these contracts to slip from the grasping fingers of his cronies at Halliburton? Maybe this story is just another Karl Rove-inspired sham to cover-up the real plot to enrich friends of the administration at the expense of the American taxpayers and the poor Iraqis. We hear will be on the case as soon as they're finished exposing how Bush stole the election in Ohio.

Implacable Hatred

Andrew Sullivan mentions, in somewhat disapproving tones, articles by Chuck Colson and Pat Buchanan who address two different aspects of the war Islam is waging upon the West. Colson believes that our decadent culture with its obsessions with sex, both hetero and homo, does nothing so much as inspire the Islamists to redouble their efforts to slaughter us and to convince them that they are pleasing Allah by doing so. Colson states that:

We must be careful not to blame innocent Americans for murderous attacks against them. At the same time, let's acknowledge that America's increasing decadence is giving aid and comfort to the enemy. When we tolerate trash on television, permit pornography to invade our homes via the internet, and allow babies to be killed at the point of birth, we are inflaming radical Islam.

Radical Islamists were surely watching in July when the Senate voted on procedural grounds to do away with the Federal Marriage Amendment. This is like handing moral weapons of mass destruction to those who use America's decadence to recruit more snipers and hijackers and suicide bombers.

One vital goal of the war in Iraq, and the war against terrorism, is to bring democracy to the heart of the Islamic world. Our hope is to make freedom so attractive that other Muslim countries will follow suit. But when radical Islamists see American women abusing Muslim men, as they did in the Abu Ghraib prison, and when they see news coverage of same-sex couples being "married" in U.S. towns, we make our kind of freedom abhorrent-the kind they see as a blot on Allah's creation.

Like Colson's, the column by Pat Buchanan should be read in its entirety. It includes some interesting information about Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh and his murder and concludes with this:

Undeniably, Islam is rising. And, like all rising faiths, it is intolerant. Disbelieving that all religions are equal - "There is one God, Allah, and Mohammed is his Prophet" - Islam does not believe all faiths should be treated equally. Why should they be? If one has God's revealed truth, why should one tolerate lies that lead to the damnation of the faithful?

In its new constitution, the European Union has declared Christianity a dead relic. What Islam is saying - with its militancy, its soaring birth rate, it steady replacement of dying Europeans with young Muslim immigrants - is: "Christianity may be your past, but we are your future." My money's on the true believers.

There's one crucial thing Americans and Europeans must understand about the Islamists but evidently not all of us do. They are not going to be mollified by tossing a little foreign aid their way or even by a revival of traditional sexual morality. There is a deep, chronic hatred for the West ingrained in the Muslim psyche and in Arab culture. The hatred grows firstly out of their conviction that God Himself despises us for our cultural depravity and that He is eager for us to be expunged from the face of the earth. They detest us secondly because of our support for the Israeli people whom they hate with more ferocity than they can summon even for us. Thirdly, they loathe us because of their jealousy. When they reflect that they, a once great and proud people who adhere fervently to the one true religion, are living in abject misery and impotence while the wicked infidels skip happily from one success to the next, disdaining God and his prophet, it drives them to acts of horrific violence and madness.

Their spokesmen have been boldly declaring for decades that they will never stop hating or killing us until they have succeeded in destroying both Israel and Western culture and have subjected all non-Muslims either to the sword or to dhimmitude (second class subservience to Islamic law).

We have three alternatives which might mitigate this intolerable state of affairs. We can commit national suicide by every one of us taking a draught of cyanide-laced kool-aid. Or we can commit genocide by bombing the Muslim world forward into the stone age. Or we can do what President Bush is attempting to do and drag the Muslim world kicking and screaming into the modern era. The first option is rather unattractive, the second is morally repugnant, and the third is not guaranteed success. Indeed, the left in this country is working hard to insure that it doesn't succeed. Yet, it is our only viable hope for avoiding endless war and endless terror.