Follow-Up Notes: Digging Deeper
Back on October 16 in these pages - in Who Believes, and Why? - there was this on the Harriet Miers nomination -
These very angry people feel they have God in their pocket and know "the truth" and all the rest.
Then I came across this from Samuel T. Lloyd III, the Dean of Washington National Cathedral:
Now this suggests a deeper divide than the one currently tearing apart the conservative movement, the split between, on one side, the elitist, intellectual, well-read thinkers opposed to the Miers nomination, and, on the other side, the populists who find matters of the heart and trust and blind faith (is there any other kind?) are far more important than books and thinking and all that fancy stuff.
The split here is between the theology of doubt and humility - God is not knowable and his ways are beyond man's limited mind - and the theology of proud certainty - "God spoke to me and told me what to tell you what must do."
Those who would evangelize - that is, bring "the word" to everyone, everywhere, and save them by forcing them to convert to what God specifically told them all folks should be thinking, doing and believing - are of the second group. The first group just worships, and wonders about things, and understands there are things they just don't know. The second group knows. They see know problem. God's a good guy who told them what's what, even on the minor details of constitutional law.
What if these two opposing views square off now? You can see the animosity growing. Traditional Christians want their religion back. Traditional Republicans want their party back.
Big questions - "Is God knowable?" - "Is doubt a good thing, or at least inevitable?" - are the province of theology. These are deep thoughts for sunny, dusty seminar rooms late in the afternoon, or for lonely writing after midnight.
Perhaps now they are political questions. And is such, how key people answer these questions concerns us all. The president's moral certainty and his born-again conviction that what he does is right, because he found Jesus when he was forty, comes to mind. (So did Harriet Miers, by the way. She was forty when she abandoned her Roman Catholicism, found Jesus and walked away from "The Cult of Mary," had a real, full-immersion baptism and all the rest.)
Augustine said, "If you think you understand, it isn't God." Dobson, Falwell, Robertson, Ralph Reed, and all the rest, disagree. For them, certitude is not a spiritual danger, it's a career necessity, and profitable (subtle pun).
And why pay attention to a saint, even Augustine, when you get the word on the day's issues directly from the top?
This is all quite curious. One can sense a real pissing contest coming - a theological and philosophic pissing contest, of all things.
Too bad it matters so much.
RELIGION AND WAR
In these pages on October 23 - in Doing Good, Doing it Right - there was a bit of discussion of this incident:
There was lots more detail, and this just makes matters worse in the Middle East, of course. For reason mentioned, this burning the bodies and taunting the civilians is a major insult to Islam, not to mention just a really boneheaded tactic. "Our Man in Baghdad" says he may have something to say on this matter, but, as you must understand, he's pretty busy. He may not have time.
But someone on the ground at the time thought this was just the thing to do - use their religion to get them to do something stupid, or at least to let them know who's top dog and shouldn't be messed with. Let them see how foolish and powerless they are, so they'll be more compliant. (Yes, the logic of expecting compliance after such is questionable.)
Andrew Sullivan has a comment here:
Of course, this is not who we are, except for our current leaders - who we elected this last time without any ambiguity. Okay, maybe it is how fifty-one percent of us are - quite willing to use people's religious conscience against them. But that's not what we say.
Perhaps it's time to explain to the fifty-one percent that even if this sort of thing really feels good, and makes you feel all righteous and superior, it DOESN'T WORK!
Yeah, it's un-American. But they don't want to be told that.
How about this - it just makes people very, very mad, for a very, very long time. Think about that when Cleveland becomes a radioactive crater and there's no more Rock 'n' Roll Museum.
FATHER AND SON AND A HOLY GHOST
In these pages on October 23 - in The Autumn of Reaching the Limit of What You Can Put Up With - there was a note that the New Yorker is running an article by Jeffrey Goldberg in which Colin Powell's longtime mentor, Brent Scowcroft, "levels a 'powerful new attack' on the Bush administration." Yes, Scowcroft worked for Bush's father, but publicly opposed the war, then gave in and said something like "whatever." The idea is the guy expected the younger Bush's administration to "revitalize the Middle East peace process and start engaging seriously with Iran, two things that pretty clearly haven't happened." The thought is he's had enough now. And it seems this that Goldberg article will contain some "incredibly juicy commentary from President George H.W. Bush on the performance of his son's national security team."
The article is "Breaking Ranks: What Turned Brent Scowcroft Against the Bush Administration?" - Jeffrey Goldberg, The New Yorker, 31 October 2005
The article is not available on the web - you have to buy copy of the actual magazine to read it - but there are some long excerpts here, and one can stretch the Fair Use Doctrine and make some comments.
Brent Scowcroft is one of those reality-based folks, it seems -
"You invade, you threaten and pressure, you evangelize." That about sums it up. Why did these guys think THAT would work? Revolutionary utopianism just sounds like a bad idea. Utopianism?
But better days ahead?
The smart money bets the days of "armed idealism" are far from over. Regime change is far easier than diplomacy, or at least it polls better.
Brent Scowcroft was a key player in the administration of Bush 41 - a West Point man who became National Security Advisor - so what does he think of Bush 43?
That's cold, but were only doing a tad better in Europe, Brent. Doing well will have to come later.
As for Condoleezza Rice, the former National Security Advisor who is now our Secretary of State -
This Sate department doesn't do "peace," it seems. They're utopians.
Scowcroft on Paul Wolfowitz, the thinker in the administration (and Scooter Libby's Political Science teacher at Yale) who said we'd be greeted with flowers, there was no history of sectarian strife over there to worry about, we'd be out in six months, and the thing would pay for itself with the flood of oil review to the new Chalabi government - and on Wolfowitz' sidekick Kagan -
Well, he's eighty years old. He's earned the right to that view.
As said here last week and before that, the chances of Iraq turning out to be a Jeffersonian democracy and all three sides living in harmony in a prosperous, secular, unregulated free-market, flat-tax capitalist Starbucks and Wal-Mart paradise, that transforms the whole Middle East, seems more and more remote every day. It may have never been possible. But if there's a chance, even a slim chance, why not try for that? Hell, one could spend a dollar and actually win the lottery. It's quite possible, though not probable.
The problem is the cost. It's a cost-benefit thing. Is three hundred billion dollars, and two thousand dead soldiers, and ten thousand maimed for life, just a lottery dollar to these guys? It's not their money, nor their kids' lives. And this could work out fine? The odd are against us.
And the discussion is pointless. Our leaders decided it was possible. They don't deal with things like whether it was remotely "probable" at all. They're an idealistic, hopeful lot. And their kids aren't dying. The chances were always more that wildly remote - they were infinitesimal - but why not go for it? Well, their kids aren't dying for the longest of long shots.
Oh well, note Matthew Yglesias here -
The man has a point. But we could have a revolution and throw the bums out. Jefferson himself suggested having those now and then might be necessary, and a good thing - "Every generation needs a new revolution."
Maybe it's time.