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Relevant and Challenging?

Over at the New York Times today, Ross Douthat describes the pope’s new encyclical as “relevant and challenging.” Well, those are adjectives that can mean anything, but so far as the politics (I have no comment on the theology) of what the pope had to say are concerned, there was very little really that was new, let alone (as Ross suggests elsewhere in the same piece) “radical”.  If I may quote something I wrote (I know, I know) on NRO’s  Corner the other day:

So far as I can discern, Benedict is basically doing little more than reiterate the “social market” view of political economy that has long been at the core of continental european Christian Democracy or, to put it another way, the “Rhineland-model” capitalism under which he spent most of his adult life. This is not a view I, or many, supporters of the “Anglo-Saxon” (to use the adjective often used to describe it) approach to the market economy, would share, but it’s hardly new. As to the pope’s (dreadful) idea that there should be some sort of “world political authority” to, in some respects, “manage” the global economy, that again should be no surprise. Of all the forms of Christianity, Roman Catholicism is traditionally probably the most “universalist” (in the sense of the lack of attention it pays to the nation-state) and the Vatican is, of course, no stranger to notions of either top-down government or, dare I say, it, the authoritarian. Under the circumstances the pope’s support for this world authority may be thoroughly misguided, but it’s hardly a shock.

As it happens, I have thought for quite a while that the GOP may be evolving in the direction of european Christian Democratic parties such as Germany’s CDU (albeit with some distinctly American characteristics). If the pope’s encyclical is interesting in any political sense, it is interesting primarily as a reminder of where the priorities of such parties lie.


Newt Gingrich, in Virginia Beach, certainly seems to have learned to talk the talk.

More: Allahpundit. And Ken Silber has a few “pagan” quotes to recommend to Gingrich, including this from Cicero: “Orators are most vehement when their cause is weak.”



Obama as God

Conservatives, particularly religious conservatives, undoubtedly guffawed at this New York Times headline: “Poll Finds Faith in Obama, Mixed With Patience.” Faith belongs to God, they probably said, not to Man, and certainly not to a man as untested, lightweight, and liberal as Obama. 

Scorn for the media’s Obama worship is understandable; the press has abandoned any pretense of neutral reporting in favor of all-out wallow.  But I doubt whether conservatives would object to similar treatment, however unthinkable, of a Republican nominee; they themselves have turned Reagan into a patron saint, to be invoked for protection and guidance at every setback. 

Whether or not Obama deserves the people’s faith—I myself am moderately heartened by his bipartisan overtures– I don’t see why it is more appropriate to put one’s faith in the unseen and unknown rather than in human capacities. (more…)

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The Elizabeth Dole “atheism” ad

Before the 2008 election cycle entirely passes into history, let’s take note of the TV ad that, according to some, helped seal Elizabeth Dole’s loss in her effort to hold on to her North Carolina Senate seat for the GOP:

If this sort of thing goes over badly with voters in North Carolina, a state with strong evangelical church attendance and long the base of Sen. Jesse Helms, it’s hard to see it as a viable strategy nationwide. (And don’t write it off as an isolated lapse of some Dole staffers, either: as YouTube confirms, the official National Republican Senatorial Committee was hip-deep in the strategy.) At the moment there’s intense interest in the race for chairman of the Republican National Committee, in which organized religious conservatives seem to have placed their chips on former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (who’s also drawn support from some more secular figures on the right). Other figures in the RNC race include former Maryland Lt. Gov. Mike Steele and Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis.



“Churchgoing” candidates who aren’t

Isaac Chotiner in the New Republic “Plank”, on revelations that Barack Obama isn’t actually a regular churchgoer despite carefully managed efforts to give the impression that he was: “If politicians want their religious lives to remain private, then they can do the rest of us the favor of not talking so much about them.” (via Althouse).




Behind the Sharon Statement

If you’ve been around organized conservatism for long, you’ve almost certainly heard of the 1960 Sharon Statement, long cited as a declaration of principles around which the then-burgeoning conservative movement could rally, much as the Port Huron Statement later served such a function for the New Left. At his blog QuickSilber, after discussing the somewhat varied religious viewpoints held by early National Review editors, Ken Silber writes:

But a better indicator, it seems to me, is the Sharon Statement, drafted by [M. Stanton] Evans and adopted by young conservatives in 1960 at William F. Buckley’s Connecticut estate. It was only by a close vote (44-40) that these conservatives decided to put the word “God” in the statement, and when they did it was to say: “That foremost among the transcendent values is the individual’s use of his God-given free will, whence derives his right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force.” The manifesto was, as Glenn Reynolds might put it, religious but not too much.

And then in comments he adds:

Whether the slim majority in the Sharon group was correct or not, I think the closeness of the vote, and the paucity in their manifesto of what are now known as “social issues,” suggests that religion was present in conservatism in 1960 but less than dominant.

In retrospect, the statement’s choice of language can also be seen as a deft stroke of compromise: the religious conservatives got one definite tip of the hat toward their views, if only of a Sunday-politeness sort, while the large secular contingent (who then, as now, would have tended to skew toward individual-liberty-based versions of conservatism) were in effect assured that to the extent the movement drew on religious sentiment, it would be for the purpose of asserting the individual’s “right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force”. That foreshadowed what Grover Norquist was later to call the “leave us alone” coalition that was to hold together for a good long time as a political matter, even if battered almost beyond recognition now.




Presidential Metaphysics

Does Barack Obama believe in God? Does he, in fact, have a single religious bone in his body?  Steve Sailer, in his terrific new book about the President-elect, is dubious:

Obama believes, more or less, in nothing. He is, asserts [British essayist Jonathan] Raban, a “scrupulous agnostic.” Myself, I have no idea what Obama truly believes about the faith he publicly professes, but certainly there is little in Dreams to suggest that Raban is wrong. Indeed, while Obama’s supposed conversion at Trinity, which the book suggests took place in February 1988, is dramatically described on pp. 291-295 of Dreams, I can’t find any Christian references coming up again in the last 147 pages of his autobiography … Overall, the only reference in Dreams I could find to Obama sincerely engaging in anything like prayer is his fondling his memories of old PBS Black History Month documentaries about the Civil Rights era:  “Such images became a form of prayer for me, bolstering my spirits, channeling my emotions in a way words never could.”

Steve, who has read everything Obama ever wrote or said, thinks that:  “Obama’s celebrated acceptance of Christianity turns out to have been an affirmation of African-American psychic separatism.”

Personally I’m fine with the “ceremonial deism” that is expected of our presidents; and that aside, would be happier with an irreligious president than a religious one, other things being equal (which, to be sure, they rarely are). I don’t actually think presidential metaphysics matters much. Still I can’t help but wonder about this guy’s character. All those years attending church?

I recall an interview with George H.W. Bush prior to the 1988 election, where the interviewer asked him if he considered himself born again.  Certainly, said Poppy. But Poppy, bless him, was a terrible liar. You could practically see the thought scrolling across his forehead:  Holy cow, the things I have to say to get elected!    Be interesting to see Obama respond to some similar question.




Back to the future for Newt?

Here’s a quick piece in TNR which reports that Newt Gingrich is going into culture-war mode. Michelle Goldberg obviously has a perspective which is at odds with Newt’s rhetoric, but didn’t he make a name for himself in the 1990s for his techno-libertarian optimism?  Additionally, I recall that Gingrich called for toleration of gays (PDF) in the Republican party in 1994.  If he’s laying the groundwork for a 2012 run perhaps he’s calculating how he needs to position himself for the primaries.



The Right Nation

Walter:  I reviewed Mickelthwait and Wooldridge’s book for the late lamented New York Sun here.  The Sun’s literary editor at the time, Robert Messenger, called up to congratulate me on having used the word “armigerous.” 

I hope the paper did a better job than I did of consistently spelling the authors’ names right.  Reviewers should get time-and-a-half pay for things like that.


The Economist’s blog Democracy in America notices us, and one of its commenters says:

To quote the distillation of Burke’s principles found in Mr [John] Micklethwait and Mr [Adrian] Wooldridge’s book on the subject [The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, 2004], conservatism consists of “a deep suspicion of the power of the state; a preference for liberty over equality; patriotism; a belief in established institutions and hierarchies; skepticism about the idea of progress; and elitism” – with American conservatism emphasizing the first three.

There appears to be room for secularists in this definition.

That description is a bit misleading, because in M&W’s view modern American conservatism not merely de-emphasizes but reverses the last three items on the list. The wider point, however, can still stand.

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