January 01, 2004

Flailing at Dean

Ever since September 11 Iíve found myself in the awkward position of defending George W. Bush, a man I didnít vote for and even hated, from scurillous attacks.

I wonít vote for Howard Dean either. But I can tell already that if he does win the presidency Iíll spend a great deal of time defending him, too. Iíll even get pulled into his camp (happily, I might add) if he does a good job.

Dean opens himself up to a great deal of criticism with his crazy pop-off remarks. His opponents donít do themselves any favors, though, if they canít figure out what his actual problems are.

Here is Cal Thomas, Fox News regular, in the Washington Times.

Mr. Dean is from a Congregationalist background, a liberal denomination that does not believe in ministerial authority or church hierarchy. Each Congregationalist believes he is in direct contact with God and is entitled to sort out truth for himself.
Perhaps I misunderstand Mr. Thomas, but it seems to me that heís sneering. Itís the use of that word ďentitled,Ē and that he says itís someone else (of the dreaded l-word persuasion) who thinks this way.

Maybe he doesnít believe heís entitled to sort out the truth for himself, that both he and Howard Dean (as well as the rest of us) are supposed to take dogma from feeding spoons. But thatís not the way most Americans think, and no one who canít think for himself is qualified to be president.

Mr. Deanīs wife is Jewish and his two children are being raised Jewish, which is strange at best, considering the two faiths take a distinctly different view of Jesus.
Whatís strange at best is that Cal Thomas even mentions this in the first place.

Iíd like to know what wouldnít be ďstrange,Ē considering the makeup of Howard Deanís family. Are Christians automatically entitled to come out ahead of Jews in religious disputes? Are part-Jewish children supposed to ignore half their heritage? Iíll be charitable and assume thatís what heís getting at, although that in itself means he has some explaining to do. Christian supremacy isnít the endearing quality that it used to be. The only other explanation is that Mr. Thomas thinks Howard Dean shouldnít have married a Jew in the first place.

What exactly does Mr. Dean believe about Jesus, and how is it relevant to his presidential candidacy? "Christ was someone who sought out people who were disenfranchised," he told the Globe, "people who were left behind." Mr. Dean makes it sound as if He might have been a Democrat.
Jesus walked the earth 2,000 years ago. In the Middle East. He was not a Republican, and neither is God.

Iíd like to pause a moment and quote from a letter to the Weekly Standard back in January 2003.

The "culture war" isn't driven by unbelievers, who are wrongly given first and second billing in the "secularist" credits. It's a religious clash, and the big player in the game is Christianity--America's majority religion. The Democratic party is not the "Party of Unbelievers." It's the Other Party of Christianity.

Speaking as a Republican agnostic, I object to being drawn into this dispute, much less having the entire dispute blamed on our miniscule percentage of the population. Non-believers have to deal with a 54 percent unfavorable rating and the fact that George W. Bush will never appoint us to the federal bench. Isn't that enough? We'll continue fighting the occasional Supreme Court case and sulk, marginalized, on the sidelines. Let us know what happens when y'all are done arguing about which party God belongs to.

And thatís enough about that.

(Back to Cal Thomas.)

"He [Jesus] fought against self-righteousness of people who had everything," the candidate continued. "He was a person who set an extraordinary example that has lasted 2,000 years, which is pretty inspiring when you think about it."

Not really.

Not really? Jesus didnít fight self-righteousness? He didnít say it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God? (Matthew 19:24) He didnít set an inspiring example that lasted 2,000 years? What, exactly, did Jesus ďnot reallyĒ do?
If that is all Jesus was (or is), then he is just another entry in Bartlettīs "Familiar Quotations," to be read or not, according to oneīs inspirational need.
When did Dean say that is ďallĒ Jesus was? He didnít. I know ďstrawmanĒ is an overused buzzword, but itís completely appropriate here. Cal Thomas is attacking a strawman. It might be fun, but it doesnít fly.
C.S. Lewis brilliantly dealt with this watered-down view of Jesus and what He did in the book "Mere Christianity." Said Lewis, who thought about such things at a far deeper level than Howard Dean, "Iīm trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'Iīm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I canīt accept His claim to be God.ī That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God or else a madman or something worse."
I see the logic here, but there is a problem.

I used to be a Christian. I left the religion more than a decade ago. For a couple of years I hated Christianity and looked at Christians with contempt. I forced myself to get over it. Bigotry doesnít suit me. Besides, most Americans are Christians, and Iím not about to go through life despising almost everyone in my country.

But Cal Thomas and C.S. Lewis would make my position impossible. I left the faith. So according to these characters I must condemn Jesus as a madman or demon. Iím not allowed to admire the man or even say anything nice about him. In order to be logically consistent (or whatever) Iím supposed to be an offensive religious bigot. Thanks, guys!

One hopes that the next journalist who gets a chance to ask Mr. Dean about this will inquire as to which Jesus he is talking about, if for no other reason than to gauge whether Mr. Dean is being sincere or a political opportunist who seeks to bamboozle Southern religious Democrats.
Maybe Dean is trying to bamboozle Southern religious Democrats. Heís a politician, after all. But something tells me Mr. Thomas doesnít care a whit about the sensibilities of Democrats unless they defect and vote Republican. If Dean wins the nomination I might do just that. It certainly wonít be to join Mr. Thomas. Heíll be no comrade of mine.
That reporter might also survey Christians in New England (there are more than Mr. Dean thinks) as to whether they are as offended by his reference to their region as Southerners were to his characterization of their symbols and driving choices.
So Mr. Thomas doesnít care for regional bigotry. Fine, neither do I, but he destroys his own point with his conclusion.
I canīt wait to see how Mr. Dean panders to Californians. Fruits and nuts, anyone?
Way to go, Cal. The biggest state in the union is full of a bunch of fruits and nuts. I guess thatís why they elected Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarznegger as governors.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at January 1, 2004 12:23 PM
Comments

i think thomas is simply trying, in a very roundabout way, to say that dean is a frivilous buffoon who is content to be lazy and inconsistent when it comes to his faith. as someone who likes to term himself a jewish existentialist with a more than passing interest in laurianic kabballah, but is, as yet, unsure if God exists or not, i'm not necessarily unsympathetic with a little inconsistency, but it does appear to me that dean's attitude towards religion in general is, at best, what the ny times used to call "unserious", i.e. he doesn't really care all that much in the first place.

by the way, i have read thomas for awhile and he is absolutely not an anti-semite. if anything he is the opposite. i think your attempt to paint him as one is unfair and disengenuous, a nasty cheap shot if i ever saw one.

Posted by: benjamin at January 1, 2004 12:34 PM

a nasty cheap shot if i ever saw one.

I didn't say he was anti-Semitic, but what he wrote is obnoxious and I stand by my characterization of it.

Why is it "strange at best" that half-Jewish children are raised Jewish?

If a Jew wrote that is is "strange at best" that half-Christian children are raised Christian I would have the exact same reaction.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 1, 2004 01:07 PM

"Mr. Dean is from a Congregationalist background, a liberal denomination that does not believe in ministerial authority or church hierarchy. Each Congregationalist believes he is in direct contact with God and is entitled to sort out truth for himself."

You mean, gasp, he's a Protestant?

(BTW, there are some better anti-self-righteousness verses: "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?")

Posted by: scott h. at January 1, 2004 01:30 PM

Jesus walked the earth 2,000 years ago. In the Middle East. He was not a Republican, and neither is God.

Mike,

I love, love, love this paragraph. I want to pin it to my wall.

Posted by: karrie at January 1, 2004 01:36 PM

It is important to remember at all times that Cal Thomas is basically the Annie Coulter of the old Moral Majority crowd. You don't hear about most of his zany antics simply because he and the M.M. crowd in general are about 20 years past their peak (in fairness, he isn't as publicity crazed as Coulter, either). Do what the vast majority of Republicans do when Cal opens his mouth...ignore him (ignore her while you're at it).

Posted by: DennisThePeasant at January 1, 2004 02:29 PM

Cal Thomas is philosemitic. That being said, Michael is correct calling his reference to Dean's children being Jewish as obnoxious. I would call it a cheap shot. According to Jewish law, one is considered Jewish if their mother is Jewish. I'm sure Thomas knows that. Cheap shot.

Posted by: Reid at January 1, 2004 05:19 PM

Since Dean's wife is Jewish the children would be raised to be Jewish. That is part of their law. Cal Thomas should know better, or he may become like Roert Novak who I think needs to retire.

I don't know what to make of Dean, yet. I've heard him touted as a fiscal cosnervative, and I want to see that, though I doubt he'd want that shown unti after he is nominated.

And Allah Pundit is much funnier with his Dean cracks :)

Posted by: Green Baron at January 1, 2004 06:32 PM

I think this religious stuff is another example of Dean pandering. I don't think he's religious at all... and that's fine... but he seems to have awakened one morning and decided he needed to be to get votes. The reason Green Baron hasn't been able to figure out who Dean is yet is simple--he isn't anybody. There's no there there.

Posted by: Roger L. Simon at January 1, 2004 07:12 PM

As an agnostic, I have very little investment in religious issues. But your outrage at Cal Thomas is a little curious.

First of all, Cal Thomas is a Christian, political commentator. He has always anchored his political views in his christian beliefs. If you read him, you should know what you are getting. I do. The people that listen to Cal Thomas are people that are invested in that perspective.

I don't argue religion. It is all based on faith, not logic. I learned that a long time ago. Why would you?

Finally, as an ex-christian, I think I understand why Thomas would question Deans choice to raise his children in the Jewish faith. Christians believe that you have to accept christ as your saviour to enter heaven when you die. If somebody believes that, it would be odd that they would not want to be sure that their children are christian. Same as it would be odd if a muslim didn't want thier child raised muslim.

Glad you got over your hatred of christians. That was wasted energy wasn't it?

Posted by: bbridges at January 1, 2004 07:21 PM

I am no fan of Cal Thomas. I reject his brand of chritian political conservatism. But let me defend him here. I think what he finds strange is the idea that Dean is a believing Christian whose children are being raised Jewish. (For the record I am Jewish myself and know what I am talking about here.) From a theological standpoint, Christianity and Judaism are incompatible. Yes, many Christians have learned to tolerate the existence of Judaism and even justify it theologically but the idea that one could genuinelly follow the Gospells and have one's children raised in a faith that utterly rejects that is indeed strange. The actual point Thomas is making, of course, is that Dean is an absurdly transparent hypocrite who no more regards Jesus as a deity, messiah, son of God or anything else than I do. I doubt he thinks of Jesus ever. Many non-religious people from a Christian background (like you Michael, I guess) are perfectly capable of marrying Jews and having their children raised as Jews. Religious Jews (Reform excepted) discourage this. I myself belong to the Conservative movement. The real point is that, like Michael Dukakis, Dean is a distinctly non-religious man who probably observes "cultural" Christianity (Christmas Tree Easter eggs etc.) like millions of Americans. I would suspect his wife is what we would call a "secular" Jew whose children may be going to some sort of religious school and they may light a menorah and even go to the Jewish grandparents for a Passover seder. This is what I would call "cultural Judaism" This is all fine of course and I'm sure Cal would never have written about it except that Dean is now claiming to be some sort of born again Christian when he is clearly not. I would imagine this would be particularly offensive to a believer like Thomas. That said, I am not a fan of Thomas' politics at all.

Posted by: Doug at January 1, 2004 08:23 PM

And I wonder what sort of conflicts of interest/morality Cal has in writing for the "Moonie"-affiliated Washington Times? Don't answer that, it was rhetorical.

I agree with Mike that Thomas' comments were a "nasty cheap shot". Basically, he is calling into question Dean's personal decisions in his PRIVATE life to score political points against the man. Since when is it an issue who a presidential candidate is married to? And what faith his children are raised in?

My personal theory is that this is a "story" that was printed to make it clear to the Republican base (conservative Christians) that Dean is no moral pillar and that any attempts by him to try to encroach on that turf will be shot down in the ugliest of ways... personal attacks.

In the end it doesn't really matter. Conservative christians aren't going to vote for Dean, no matter what. Or any democrat for that matter. That isn't where the battle will be fought.

I wonder what Thomas might say about Clark's religious path. Born Southern Baptist and converted to Roman Catholicism and then let's throw in a Jewish lineage on top of that? I am sure Thomas would have a field day. I personally admire someone who was able to decide for himself which religion works best.

My advice to Dean would be to not touch this issue, and just call it a personal decision that has no bearing on the election. Maybe naive, maybe why I am not a politician.

Any my fave comment here is "I don't argue religion. It is all based on faith, not logic." So obvious. So True. Yet so overlooked.

Posted by: Graham at January 1, 2004 09:42 PM

"Since Dean's wife is Jewish the children would be raised to be Jewish. That is part of their law."

No. Traditionally what would happen since she married out would be that her parents would mourn for her as if she was dead, and then she would be shunned for the rest of her life, which of course would make any prospect of helping the kids to be good Jews moot. There are plenty of people still alive who experienced in their own families what a lousy solution that was to inconvenient love.

What's happened isn't legal but practical. People faced reality. There are lots of intermarriages. So: what's best for the kids?

If you try to raise them half Christian and half Jewish, you can get really confused kids. If you make a call, either way, it can work better. And in any case, it's better if parents, rabbi and so on put their heads together to make a good choice.

In my opinion, if you have kids that actually are Jewish (a Jewish mother, the best thing you can do is give them the culture and education when they're young. That way, it's their choice: they can go with it, reject it, or later return to it. If you never give it to them in the first place, you're making it much harder for them live out the potential of their birthright.

So full marks to Howard Dean in this department, in my view.

Posted by: David Blue at January 1, 2004 10:22 PM

Doug,

An excellent comment. The entire point of the Thomas piece was to clarify that there are a great many Christians who will see Dean's comments as (at best) weak sophistry and at worst sheer heresy. The theological divide between Judaism and Christianity is a bit too wide to be straddled and a statement that "He was a person who set an extraordinary example that has lasted 2,000 years, which is pretty inspiring when you think about it." identifies him as someone holding beliefs that would prevent him from honestly sharing in communion in the vast majority of Christian denominations. Jesus Christ is either his personal Lord and Saviour (and therefore Divine) or he is not.

He may, of course, describe himself and his beliefs in any manner of his choosing. Thomas is simply pointing out that a "No Sale" sign is popping up on most Christians registers when they see the type of language Dean used and when they understand that his children are being raised as non-Christians.

What is truly risible is that he has "found Jesus" as he reflects upon the Southern primaries coming up. Most Christians are quite adept in recognizing hypocrisy (we have great opportunities to practice within the church), Dean's will shine like Times Square at midnight last night. He truly needs a minder.

Posted by: Rick Ballard at January 1, 2004 10:47 PM

Well, I am not now and have never been a Christian, but I understand what ol' Cal is getting at.

From his various remarks, it's pretty clear that Dean isn't a faithful Christian, he's a social gospel Christian (one can be both). And that's OK, but hardly a strategy for the South. And then he says he "consider[s] [him]self a Christian in the best sense of the word".
http://www.politicalaims.com/archive/2003_09_21_archive.html#106420379862510344

Like, those other guys aren't, in 'the best sense of the word'. But we'll tolerate the lesser Christians, because we're better--uh, best.

Says a lot to me about Howard "enlightened" Dean.

Posted by: Alene Berk at January 2, 2004 12:03 AM

"Why is it "strange at best" that half-Jewish children are raised Jewish?"

I have news for Cal: If their mother is Jewish, according to Jewish Law they are all Jewish. Not that he would know.

I have been reading Cal Thomas occasionally for years because he was a regular in newspapers I was taking at the time. He has always been a pompous asshole. There is no point in wasting pixels on fisking him. But it sounds like you had fun.

Posted by: Yehudit at January 2, 2004 12:06 AM

"Mr. Dean is from a Congregationalist background, a liberal denomination that does not believe in ministerial authority or church hierarchy."

Well, it certainly is nice to see that hair-splitting intolerance still has the bad taste to let itself be known. Describing Congregationalism as anything other than a tolerant form of Prodestantism is a strong indicator of religious intolerance. I am Congregationalist, my father was a minister in that faith, and my wedding was performed by a Congregationalist minister (who was trained by my father's best friend). I suppose that because this sect has embraced diversity and civil disagreement within its ranks since its inception, it needs to be branded as anethema.

What I suspect that Cal Thomas was trying to say is that every time he gets in an intellectual discussion with Congregationalists, they beat him up and take his lunch money. I do not like Dean and I am not defending him here, but attacking him because he is a Congregationalist is irrelevant on so many levels it transcends belief. If Dean was part of a religious cult that has shown itself repeatedly to destroy its member's integrity, that would be one thing. Attacking a liberal politician for following a tolerant faith sort of gives him points, you know?

I think this is one of those times where what an evangelical christian needed was more editing and less bible study.

Posted by: Patrick Lasswell at January 2, 2004 01:20 AM

Attacking a liberal politician for following a tolerant faith sort of gives him points, you know?

My point in a nutshell.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 2, 2004 08:50 AM

Keep it up, Michael. ALWAYS be true to what you see, remain free of belief systems of left or right or anything else. You are a real liberal when you can do that.

Posted by: miriam reinhart at January 2, 2004 09:10 AM

As an areligious who has never had a religion (although I am in awe of those who do and having it makes them better people or have a better life), I usually think hauling out one's of one's foe's religion and using it as a club is less than enlightening. Since I can't see what's in their heart, I guess I'll have to go with what I can see -- behavior. If Cal Thomas (who can be a pompous windbag) is discussing Dean's behavior, he should stick to that. Arguing religious principles just doesn't work.

Posted by: JorgXMcKie at January 2, 2004 04:38 PM

I'm a Methodist minister and I am wholly unconcerned about the particulars of Dean's religious confession, and posted why on my own blog. I see no evidence in American history that any particular governing skill or wisdom comes from one religious confession over another. Examples:

Washington - deeply religious, great president.

Lincoln - used religious language, clearly influenced by aq theology of divine Providence, but didn't profess any particular creed or faith. Great president.

Clinton - professed mainline Christian faith. Monica. 'Nuff said. And he governed lousy to boot.

John Adams - Unitarian, fer crying out loud. Yet a towering figure in America's birth.

Thomas Jefferson - Had "Heinz" religious beliefs; you know, 57 varieties. Thought most of the Bible was bunk. Does his political record need stating?

Ronald Reagan - a man of no apparent religious beliefs, yet even Jimmy Carter's chief speechwriter, James Fallows, said Reagan was a very effective president. Well, he brought down the USSR, so that ought to count for something.

Speaking of Jimmy Carter, he was the first openly evangelical Christian president, but was simply pathetic in office. Again, even James Fallows wrote Carter was very poor on the job.

Posted by: Rev. Donald Sensing at January 2, 2004 07:51 PM

Rev Sensing> But Harding and Truman were both Baptist, though I don't think either one discussed it much.

Posted by: Green Baron at January 2, 2004 08:41 PM

"[Mr. Thomas will] be no comrade of mine."

If you say it enough times, it still won't be true.

Unlike the ANSWER slobs, Fox News and the Washington Times have clout. When you vote for Bush, those are not your fellow travelers - they are the ones you vote for.

Posted by: Hipocrite at January 2, 2004 11:12 PM

You're all overlooking a key point here.

Cal Thomas is criticising what he perceives as Deans religious beliefs because, by HIS religious standards, they are wrong, wrong, WRONG.

He has just as much right to express his religious opinions as Dean does (and as you do), and not a one of you is capable of PROVING him wrong. (Nor am I, but I don't care.)

You may not think much of his religious beliefs, or his religious opinions, but that doesn't make him wrong.

Meanwhile, God may not be a Republican, but he is certainly not a Democrat either.

Posted by: Gary Utter at January 2, 2004 11:15 PM

Hipocrite: When you vote for Bush, those are not your fellow travelers - they are the ones you vote for.

First of all, I may not vote for Bush. Second, I certainly will vote for a Democratic Congress.

So, by your logic, my comrades will include everyone from NPR to Fox News. There is some truth to that in a trivial sense, since I might vote for both parties at the same time and I do have things in common with each. But what I meant, as I'm sure you well know, is that I do not share Cal Thomas's view of the world, and any support I throw to Bush is despite, not because of, the likes of Cal Thomas.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 2, 2004 11:42 PM

We may not be able to prove his religious opinions wrong, but we can most certainly point out when they're logically fallacious, specious in their assumptions, and phrased in bad taste.

To wit: my fiancee is Jewish, and we've got a half-Jewish kid. You're not the only one who did a double-take at Cal's line about Dean's wife and kids.

Posted by: Catsy at January 2, 2004 11:52 PM

Micheal,

I'm a huge fan of your blog and in my final year of seminary. I'll be a Presbyterian minister in May.

I used to react to evangelicals in general in a similar manner to which you seem to have reacted to Cal. Then I worked for five years for Habitat for Humanity Int'l and saw them in their element. Sure, some still can get under my skin, but on the whole they tend to put their money where their hearts are, at least nowadays. They're a different breed from Swaggart, Falwell, et. al.

One interesting thing, check the http://www.lyinginponds.com/ partisanship index:

(lower right of page)

Thomas is the second most positive columnist on the list. Yes, most of his positive comments tilt right, but at least he has some. Twice as many as the leading left-leaner (E.J. Dionne). Not where I'd expect to find a hater.

That said, I'll concede that his tone here is at times unproductively hostile. The comment on Dean's wife should have included some explanation or not been included at all.

That said, the rest of your critique is not on terrifically solid ground.

His main point on Dean is that his description of Christ lines up with those who deny the reality of salvation. The "moral influence" school.

Thomas believes this is wrong (more specifically, not right enough), but more to the point, that this won't fly in the South. Nor among many Christians in New England. He's more likely right on the former than the latter.

Regarding the Lewis argument, a better take can be found in the book "Beyond Heaven and Hell, A Dialogue Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis, and Aldous Huxley" by Peter Kreeft:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0877843899/ref=sib_dp_pt/102-5065830-2819336#reader-link

All three died on the same day, oddly enough. As Kreeft is a Catholic, there are some parts to the argument that are as troubling to me as a Protestant as they would be to a non-believer. Good luck finding the holes, though!

The main beef I have with your critique is the part about Jesus not being a Republican. Of course he's not. Or rather he's more than a Republican, and more than a Democrat. Dean seems to describe Jesus only in a way that fits his ideology. This is a no-no for folks of any political stripe who actually, you know, go to church and stuff.

;-)

Nothing against those who don't, as long as you don't claim to be Christian. But its a little like claiming to be a Democrat and not believing in equality. You can do it, but you won't win much support.

I've seen many on the "right" repent of fitting Jesus too much into their ideology and become more open to the other parts of the tradition. "Tolerant", if you will. I'm doing my best to do likewise with them.

Posted by: Ged of Eartthsea at January 3, 2004 12:42 AM

Yikes!

Sorry, MichAEl! Mispelled your name...

"I could never divide myself from any man upon the difference of an opinion, or be angry with his judgment for not agreeing with me in that, from which perhaps in a few days I should dissent myself."

- Sir Thomas Browne

Posted by: Ged of Earthsea at January 3, 2004 12:47 AM

So, by your logic, my comrades will include everyone from NPR to Fox News.

No, see, NPR doesn't shape policy, it reports on it. That's just a bit different than Fox News and the Washington Times, and you know it.

But what I meant, as I'm sure you well know, is that I do not share Cal Thomas's view of the world

That certainly assumes facts not in evidence. What do you support that the religious right doesn't, exactly?

and any support I throw to Bush is despite, not because of, the likes of Cal Thomas.

And what you said is that "He’ll be no comrade of mine." That, of couse, is wrong, because Cal Thomas does a reasonably good job of reflecting the thought process in the Bush White House. He'll not only be your comrade - you'll be voting for him.

Posted by: Hipocrite at January 3, 2004 10:23 AM

Maichael:

You've mentioned several times that both you and your bride are atheist. Have you ever posted on the reasons you not only turned away from Christianity but actually came to hate Christians?

If not do you have plans to post your rationale?

Posted by: Jim Long at January 3, 2004 11:01 AM

Oops: I mean, of course," Michael".

Posted by: Jim Long at January 3, 2004 12:18 PM

Hipocrite: That certainly assumes facts not in evidence. What do you support that the religious right doesn't, exactly?

I have nothing in common with the religious right. I'm a socially liberal secular humanist, and an atheist/agnostic.

I want "God" taken out the Pledge of Allegiance. (This puts me to the left of 98 percent of Americans, at least on this question.) I support the rights of gays to be married, the separation of church and state, the right of a woman to have an abortion, and the ban on prayer in schools. I'm sure Bush means well with his faith-based initiatives, but I think it's a mistake all the same. I'm glad the Ten Commandments were taken out of the courthouse in Alabama.

So, again, I am no comrade of Cal Thomas and the rest of that crowd.

What I'd like to know is why you think I'm a religious rightist because I'm hawkish against religious fanatics and because I support regime-change and democratization in Iraq. What on earth does one thing have to do with the other?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 3, 2004 03:09 PM

His statement is not that you think that such things are good ideas. His statement is simply that if you vote for Bush, you vote for a man who seeks to implement (and has had some success already in implementing) these ideas. In other words, your support for regime change in Iraq is obviously much more important than everything else combined.

Posted by: Kimmitt at January 3, 2004 05:23 PM

Kimmitt,

The whole point of my deciding to vote for a Democratic Congress is to put a check on Bush's domestic policies that I do not agree with. So, I'll be voting both for and against the Republicans at best (from their perspective.)

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 3, 2004 05:58 PM

Of course, we're almost certainly not going to have a Democratic Congress in 04 no matter what happens, whereas the presidential election is considerably more up for grabs.

Also, most of the domestic policy items that you dislike so much have come out of the White House rather than the Republican leadership in Congress. By voting for Bush, you vote for those too.

Posted by: Mark at January 3, 2004 06:38 PM

I understand what you're saying, Mark, and I agree with you that we need a Congress capable of acting as a check and balance to the Executive branch, rather than as a rubber stamp.

I think what the others are pointing out, and correct me if I'm wrong, is that when it comes to the presidency, you're positioning yourself as a one-issue (or at least narrow-band) voter. IOW, because you support regime change in Iraq, Dean's position vis a vis Iraq is sufficient to swing you towards Bush, despite the fact that every /other/ policy goal of Bush is in diametric opposition to you.

I support your right to make your voting choices based on whatever criteria you deem worthy, but I do think you need to examine your priorities. Is Iraq policy so crucial to you that it's enough to cause you to vote for a man who stands in opposition to all your other domestic and social policy goals? If not, is there something else about Bush which gives him this kind of weight in your eyes, or something which Dean (or other Democrats) have or lack which would give Bush that weight by contrast?

Or, to look at it another way: do you really feel there is any chance of effecting enough change in Congress over the next few years to mount any kind of effective opposition to Bush's policies? If Bush is re-elected, he will no longer feel constrained by concern for re-election. I guarantee you that many of the social issues important to you and I will be under even more aggressive attack in the next four years.

Some food for thought.

Posted by: Catsy at January 3, 2004 06:53 PM

Catsy--
I track almost all of Michael's positions (I support civil unions but not "marriage", which may be a function of my advanced age), and like him, I will vote for Democrats for congress, and for Bush or noone for president.

Yes, for me, the wrong (as I see it) foreign policy outweighs everything else. First, I don't see the domestic threat to civil liberies under a Bush administration as being, realistically, as great as some of my friends do. Second, I believe that any such changes as might be enacted will be reversible. The consequences of foreign policy moving in the wrong (as I see it) direction are irretrievable.

Posted by: Alene Berk at January 3, 2004 07:44 PM

So, I'll be voting both for and against the Republicans at best (from their perspective.)

Well, no. You'll be voting for the Republicans in a competitive election and against them in an election the outcome of which is likely decided (even if your Rep or Senator wins, the Republicans will still control both Houses of Congress and the judiciary).

Ms. Berk is more honest -- she sees the Administration's willingness to invade Iraq as part of a larger foreign policy set of differences (including the Administration's commitment to neglect of Afghanistan, support for Putin's slow degredation of Russia into a one-Party state, et cetera) which are far more important than the threats to air we breathe, our civil liberties, or the exploding budget deficit.

You keep trying to thread these needles -- you aren't pro-invading-Sudan, but you wouldn't attempt to act against such an invasion; you'll vote for the President but also for a Congress which would theoretically keep him in check. But at the end of the day, you're backing the theocratic fascist and taking only the most ineffectual of actions to restrain him in order to assuage your conscience.

Posted by: Kimmitt at January 3, 2004 08:04 PM

In retrospect, my post should've been addressed to Michael, not Mark. I glanced at the last poster and did a transposition. My bad. :>

Posted by: Catsy at January 3, 2004 08:22 PM

I'm not sure you understand Lewis's position. He is saying that you should take Jesus on his own terms. He claimed to be the Son of God. That has ramifications which make accepting his teaching difficult if you don't believe his claims. You don't accept his teachings, so there isn't much reason to be concerned.

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw at January 3, 2004 08:51 PM

Kimmitt, thank you for the compliment. Despite the thread drift, I will take issue with what you infer about about my view of the the policies I endorse, and the nature of what I am prepared to accept over my objections.

Again, this is may be a function of age. I attended segregated schools when abortions were illegal and bible reading and the Lord's Prayer began the school day (and the pledge didn't contain the phrase 'under God'). I have fought these battles, and I don't believe we could go back. To the extent we backslide, we can fight the battles again.

I don't think the air we breathe is under threat. I even entertain the possibility that relaxing restrictions on old plants might prove beneficial, as we'd get more power at no increase in pollutants, without litigation delays. Similarly, I think finding a balance on civil liberties and safety is a tough call, but tne Patriot Act and Ashcroft's DoJ are closely watched, and I can't see any actual threat, though I hear 'slippery slope' arguments. I agree the deficit is a problem; I'm not a supply-sider. I just don't think either party has an answer, and I think the problem goes far beyond the tax cuts.

It is not we who are "neglecting" Afghanistan. Our troops are doing the heavy lifting, and dying, still; our allies are downright--curmudgeonly? Cowardly? Merely reluctant?

Russia, with Putin, will become what it will; do you really believe that if Bush announced American disapproval that would help matters? Or do you prefer Zhirinovsky? You recommend--what? With what likely result? No good options is the case more often than not (like Taiwan, where dissing China would feel sooo good, but gain nothing of substance).

We set the goals, and make a lot of necessary adjustments depending on the terrain. We're not ignoring Georgia, nor even (in a quiet way) Uzbekistan. If nothing less than perfection is acceptable, be a monk, not a policy maker.

Posted by: Alene Berk at January 4, 2004 12:10 AM

But at the end of the day, you're backing the theocratic fascist and taking only the most ineffectual of actions to restrain him in order to assuage your conscience.

Come on, Kimmitt. Bush is no theocratic fascist. He's not an Iranian mullah or a Taliban jihadi.

What I like about him is that he is aggressive against real theocratic fascists. Congress impeached Clinton for a bagatelle. The American political system would break a theocratic fascist in half.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 4, 2004 12:56 AM

Kimmitt states that Bush is a theocratic fascist. Kimmitt's belief is widespread among the left even though it is obviously false. Is it any wonder that the left is out of power and marching headlong into the political wilderness. The "Bush is a theocratic fascist" attitude doesn't hold water with the swing voters who decide who rules. Keep it up Kimmitt. You are playing into Bush and Rove's hand as much as a Green voting for Nader.

Posted by: Reid at January 4, 2004 06:38 AM

A further comment on leftists whose hyperbole and actions help Republicans.

The Republican convention will be held in New York in July. It promises to be a windfall for Republicans. There is no doubt that it will attract very large protests that will turn violent. Also, a large contingent of what swing voters would describe as freaks will be a large part of that violence. The Republicans couldn't buy media time at any price that will push swing voters into their camp like those images on the news. The images of a large freak contingent battling police while calling Bush a "theocratic fascist" is pure electoral gold for the Republicans. The bloodier the better for the Republicans.

The left doesn't get it. After a few years in the political wilderness maybe they will start dealing with the real world again.

Posted by: Reid at January 4, 2004 07:01 AM

"The reason Green Baron hasn't been able to figure out who Dean is yet is simple--he isn't anybody. There's no there there." -- Roger L. Simon

This is the key to understanding Dean, as it was with Clinton, and will be in understanding Hillary. Each of these thinks the key to life is self-aggrandizedment through the magic of holding power, regardless of its use. Such a view is not uncommon among the populace, that is, as to what the key to life is.

But no one says a President has to have any other views on life, since it is sufficient for him/her to be buyable, thus a total tool for other interests which may actually believe something or other about what should occur in life. Unfortuneately, the latter situation does not occur too much in political machinating, as the players usually seem content to wield power in service of half-baked "core beliefs", that is, ones they have simply adopted without much thought but wish to institute to prove their power, thus to falsely verify the validity of those core beliefs, a convenient marriage of power with dogma designed to prove one's own ultimate meaning -- which fails.

But democracy must work this way, and it is good as a political process and in fact the best one.

On the other hand, it is nice when someone actually has beliefs which are more important than their simple use in a power game. Bush has such beliefs. Not so Dean or the Clintons, to say nothing of Gore, who must now content himself with lock-boxing Dean, whose stuffed head I imagine will sometime appear on Gore's den wall, complete with horns, as Gore's only trophy.

I do not agree with all of Bush's beliefs, but am hard pressed to think he wishes to convert me to Christianity or take away my freedom or rule the World, as though these kind of things would ultimately matter to his conception of the meaning of life. They don't matter, and I think Bush knows this, and at this level I don't think Bush really cares much about even winning per se as being relevant to who he is. This is the key to understanding Bush. He actually has substance. It is there.

Posted by: Joe Peden at January 4, 2004 08:04 AM

I read the Cal Thomas piece and my gut reaction was shock, and outrage. I'm a Jew, and a democrat, and I'm even happy to vote for Dean but that wasn't why I was outraged. I've got nothing against Christians of any stripe telling other Christians who they have to vote for, and I've got nothing against any Christians who believe that the entire rest of the world except their particular sect is going to hell. But please, lets not confuse that with the political stance appropriate to a citizen of this great country. I am not a "non-person" because I'm a Jew--an Dean isn't a non-person, or even a non-religious person--because he married a Jew, because he participated in raising Jewish children, or because he joined the Congregationalists.

The fact of the matter is: Bush and the republicans are not the only political actors in this country, and they aren't the only people who can run this country, and they aren't the only people who are entitled to run this country. And that is true for Christians, too. A Democracy means every person is presumptively entitled to play a political role, to seek office, to fight for what they believe politially. Thomas' piece is right in the new republican tradition of denying any validity, any honor, any dignity to people who call themselves democrats. He uses christianity or, more properly, belief in his muscular jesus as the club but it could just as easily be any other irrelevant quality so long as it is not a substantive political issue. Al gore frequently misstated the bible? come on, he went to seminary for a while! Jesus "sounds like a democrat?" is it any wonder that a believer sees his god in his own terms? Tell me that bush's jesus doesn't sound like a conservative oil man who would sign death warrants when politically expiedient?

Sorry for the intemperate length of this comment. As a Jew, as a democrat, I found this column hateful, painful, dizzyingly immoral. And its not at all rare: do a little google search, get yourself on a serious right wing mailing list, go to an evangelical conservative church or watch their TV shows and you will see a deep and abiding hate for non-christians, not-the-right-kind of christians, and for democrats. When I remember, as I do, that 500,000 more people voted for Gore than for Bush I have to ask myself: don't we still count as Americans? Don't we still have the right to express ourselves, to marry (yes, even outside the faith?), to raise our children, to inquire into religion, politics, science? Or is everything in the category the Nazi's assigned to their enemies for a while "the not yet forbidden political parties?"

Kate Gilbert

Posted by: Kate Gilbert at January 4, 2004 09:13 AM

Oh, and reid, the idea that "The swing voters" don't believe something doesn't exactly mean that its not true. It only means that swing voters--who are by definition people who are not paying attention to politics most of the time--are the most easily fooled of all votes.

Posted by: Kate Gilbert at January 4, 2004 09:16 AM

Bush is no theocratic fascist. He's not an Iranian mullah or a Taliban jihadi.

Bush is the same type of man in a different environment. We consistently see the signs -- he subjects scientific reports to religious review; he and the rest of his Party leadership restricts access to governmental services to members of his Party only (witness Rep. Hall's recent defection); his Administration continues to hold at least two American citizens indefinitely without charges or access to counsel (and argues that it has absolutely unlimited powers to do so in court); it has recently come to light that at least some of the prisoners in Guantanamo were known to be innocent of all charges, but were kept there because of indifference to that fact; the Administration and its allies in Congress oppose legislation which would require paper trails from voting machines . . . the list goes on and on.

That's one of the problems with this Adminstration -- it is so far out there that just stating the facts of what they do makes one look like a conspiracy theorist. I'll grant that Tom DeLay is significantly worse, but since the two of them work hand-in-hand, that fact is less relevant than one might desire.

Bush may stand up to theocracy and thuggishness, but he doesn't do it out of a love for secularism and the rule of law; it is clear that he has disdain for both concepts based on his actions as President of the United States of America.

Posted by: Kimmitt at January 4, 2004 10:50 AM

Cal Thomas's thesis is basically that Dean's christian faith is phony and shallow. That's all. If he made that point in a way that "offended" some jews, I'm sure that wasn't his intent.

If Dean is going to make his "religion" public, then Cal Thomas, and anybody else has a right to fisk it. After all, isn't Bush's faith under the microscope? Where's the outrage Michael? Or are conservative christians fair game, but not fake liberal christians?

I'm willing to bet that folks on this thread expressing "outrage" that Dean's politically pandering christian faith is being fisked have shown no such outrage at the grilling Bush takes for HIS real faith.

Posted by: David at January 4, 2004 11:41 AM

Kate Gilbert,

I don't care if you're jewish, muslim or zoroastrian. I find your comments about evangelical christians to be hate filled, and untrue; nobody has better friends in the world than the jews and Israel have in the evangelical community. And your comments made under the guise of tolerance and open-mindedness makes them twice as despicable.

Posted by: David at January 4, 2004 11:47 AM

David,

I disagree completely: and not just because as a Jew I was deeply, deeply offended. There are several active christian sects in this country (Christian Identity and others) that actively preach the creation of a government by and for Christians and the removal of the right to vote for non-Christians. There are extremely active christian sects which preach that all non-christians are damned regardless of the ethical status of their actual lives (I've been proseltyzed by them in mass mailings from Fargo, North Dakota). Cal Thomas's article draws on much of the same language, and points to the same logical conclusion.

Cal Thomas's point wasn't merely that he thinks Dean doesn't believe in Jesus, or that Dean isn't a congregationalist (an actual christian sect) its that if Dean didn't either a) refuse to marry a Jew, b) force his children to follow his faith, or c) believe as Thomas does that all non-christians are in total and complete error concerning the nature of god he can't be a good president. Thomas's point is that Dean's Jesus isn't Thomas's Jesus and therefore that dean isn't a good person.

It should be obvious that Thomas's Jesus is just one of many possible Jesus interpretations (check out the new book about the changing face of Jesus as an American Icon for the history of the evolution of the particular brand Thomas favors.) But Thomas's opinions about who Jesus was, and how we must think of him (let alone how particular Christians must think of him) is not only arguable, it is unprovable. It is certainly not the only version of Jesus that christians hold or have held (who do you think CS Lewis was chastising in that quote exept other Christians?)Thomas is criticizing Dean for being the wrong kind of Christian, one whose faith is not strong enough (for what? for Thomas.) Well, that is a pretty subjective standard, and not one that accords well with what I know of Christianity but then, I don't belong to any of the Christian denominations, I just observe them.

As for Bush being "grilled" on his faith--I've never seen anyone bother. I look at Bush's faith and I see a faith of convenience, but it doesn't matter to me because I judge him on his policies--it is his policies that affect me and the rest of us. His salvation is his buisness, and I resent very much being made to observe it or discuss it.

In Dean's case, he has chosen to make something private, public but he has chosen to do it under the following constraint: that a certain non-neglibible portion of the population is being told over and over again by the Cal Thomases that they should demand to care about the candidates religion, and that they should use what they can see of a candidates religion as a proxy for thinking about what kind of person he or she is.

The so called "god gap" isn't a gap like the gender gap--God isn't voting and if he is interested in what is happening he is not showing himself very effective at controlling things. The god gap is a marketing ploy used by people interested in using the religious right as a voting base: it panders to their sense that they are truly religious while the rest of us are either not, or damnably wrong.

I don't use religion that way. I believe firmly in the separation of church and state, and the freedom of the individual to find their own way to their own salvation. On the merits and the historical evidence, I don't believe in the disinheriting god that Thomas and his ilk do: the God who creates a world in which the vast majority of individuals will fall into religious error and be damned for it.

Thomas's piece doesn't come in a vaccuum--it is in fact right in line with things that are being said and written every day on the far right and to excuse it as being merely some kind of personal opinion is to very much mistake the nature of our current mass media: Thomas is a point man for Bush and the republican agenda and he is using Christianity and his ideas about Jesus in a proxy war. I'd argue that if Thomas had to write an essay on the actual Bush agenda he'd be hard pressed to reconcile it with any model of Jesus (other than Franken's supply side jesus)but that would require actual political commentary rather than religious bigotry.

Posted by: Kate Gilbert at January 4, 2004 12:06 PM

DAvid,

We are cross posting. I don't care at all about Israel, Israel is not "the Jews" and I certainly don't care to be helped by Evangelists who believe that by helping "the jews" they hasten armageddon and the second coming of Christ.

I resolutely deny the right of any group--and that includes the Jews--to tell others that they are going to hell for believing in the wrong god. If that makes me "hate filled" well, you have a very different notion of hate than I do.

best
kate Gilbert

Posted by: Kate Gilbert at January 4, 2004 12:08 PM

Kate Gilbert mentions the Christian Identity movement as if they have a connection to the evangelical community or the Republican party. They have no connection, whatsoever, to either. The Christian Identity movement is a neo-nazi front group that has at most a few thousand followers. One of their tactics is to distribute racist flyers in very liberal communities and then then revel in the uproar they created. They have as much to do with the Republican party as the Maoist International movement has to do with the Democratic party.

Posted by: Reid at January 4, 2004 12:31 PM

Thomas's point is that Dean's Jesus isn't Thomas's Jesus and therefore that dean isn't a good person.

Kate,

what nonsense. I doubt you honestly believe this, and I'm sure few people have reached this conclusion. Cal Thomas can criticize Dean's sincerity, and Dean's theology, without implying Dean is not a "good person".

Grow up.

Regarding the rest of your post; it was pretty pathetic how you attempted to tarnish the evagelical community by attributing to them the beliefs of the white identity sect. They have no relation, and it shows your utter hate-filled ignorance.

Posted by: David at January 4, 2004 12:50 PM

David,

Imagine to yourself that I'm a 43 year old, educated, mother of two young children. I live in a city, pay my taxes, am concerned for my neighbors and the country. I vote, and I want to keep voting. I am a Democrat, and I tend to vote Democratic. I have Christian relatives, and friends. I read widely. I open the paper and I read Thomas's attack on Dean and I understand it the way I've laid out. Tell me how Thomas is speaking to me, an utterly average American citizen? Tell me how what he is saying shouldn't offend me? He is implying that his god (jesus) could never be thought of as conforming to Democratic ideals; he is implying that a sincere christian (aka a good person) could never be married to a jewish woman or having jewish children and that the fact that he does is proof positive that he is "not sincere" in his religious beliefs.

As for any connection between the evangelical community and the white identity sect they are all christians aren't they? They disagree on some points of theology but as far as I can see by actually reading their texts (which I have) and listenting to their various representatives they share many similar ideas. To the extent that they don't, well, that just make's thomas's point that there is and only can be one jesus and howard dean's isn't it all the more bizarre. There are many christianities, and many jesuses, and many believers who believe in their own way. That is my point and its yours, too, to the extent that you distinguish among different christian sects.

best
Kate Gilbert
PS: As for your anger that I have "tarnished the evangelical community" if the shoe doesn't fit, don't wear it. I don't object to your thinking that because I identify myself as a jew I would necessarily be pro-israel. I recognize the stereotype for what it is, sometimes reasonable, and simply state that it doesn't apply to me and why.

Posted by: Kate Gilbert at January 4, 2004 01:01 PM

Kate comments "As for any connection between the evangelical community and the white identity sect they are all christians aren't they?"

Kate you are clueless and bigoted. The Christian Identity movement is Christian in name only. If you had a clue you would know that. The Nazi parties in the US are now defunct and have reincorporated as religions. Those groups are called the Christian Identity movement. The Nazi's realized that the government has much less ability to go after them financially if they are religions as opposed to a political party. But don't take my word for it. Find out what the Anti-defamation League and the Simon Weisenthal Center say about Christian Identity groups. By the way I'm Jewish and find your thin skin and view "they are all christians aren't they?" pathetic.

Posted by: Reid at January 4, 2004 01:10 PM

Your Jesus, My Jesus, his Jesus, her Jesus!

I thought the arguments over the Islam's god vs. the Judeo-christian god were silly and specious.

OK, quick runddown. Correct if I am wrong.

Jews believe they are God's Chosen people.

Christians believe that in order to enter heaven, you must accept christ as your saviour.

Muslims believe that you must follow the teachings of the Koran to enter heaven.

Blah, blah, blah blah, blah.

All of these beliefs are the foundation of the various religions. And all of these beliefs necessarily exclude people that don't follow them.

And all of these beliefs have adherents that are crazy. And none of those insane maniacs represent the original religions.

The racist christian identity sects that were mentioned have been alienated and ostracized by the vast majority of christians. The JDL has been alienated and ostracized as well.

If you want to argue valid points about religions, at least use valid arguments.

Agnostically yours,

bb

Posted by: bbridges at January 4, 2004 01:29 PM

Look, all the arguments are valid, the question is--do they take you where you want to go. My original point, which I stand by, is that Thomas's article "works" only if you agree with him that Dean doesn't know the real Jesus and that makes him "insincere" and, therefore, not a good presidential candidate. In order to believe that, you have to accept thomas's particular version of who/what Jesus is (and he states it for the record) and you have to accept that Thomas's version of Jesus is the only one acceptable for a christian (of any denomination) because otherwise he has ended up accusing dean only of belonging to the congregationalists and that is not a either a crime, or a problem, in most people's view.

Specifically, the sign that Dean is not serious about Jesus/christianity is that he married a Jew and that he permitted his children to be raised Jewish. To me, as a Jew, that is highly problematic and, in fact, downright insulting. It might not be insulting to other Jews, I didn't say it was. It worries me because I see signs of this kind of exclusionary thinking and writing accross the political spectrum. I oppose it here in this country as an American Citizen, and I oppose it in Israel where the Jews are (still) in the majority. That is my point. I'm very happy that the Christian identity groups are not considered Christian by people on this blog. Please explain to me how the Leftbehind books, with their vast readership, the 700 club and numerous other outlets for a certain type of christian political thinking do not also drive towards, or look towards, a society freed of Jews and non-believers?

By the way, bbridges: its true that Muslims and christians believe you must follow certain teachings to enter heaven. and that "jews believe they are god's chosen people." But judaism is a lot less clear that other people are not also chosen in their own way. In fact, judaism doesn't really possess a clear theory of what happens to everyone else and does not necesarily propose that they are damned--we don't even have a clear theory of heaven for us. Most Jews I know think the whole "chosen people" thing is a macabre joke.

As for christianity, as I said above I have christian relatives and friends and they universally ascribe to the theory that "everyone is saved" and everyone must seek their own path to the divine (sounds like the congregationalists, to me) so they don't have any problem with mixed marriages or with dean's religiosity or otherwise. I'd think they'd have a lot of trouble with thomas's version of christianity, though. I've forwarded his column to a lot of people precisely because I don't think he speaks for christians generically. Like I said above, I think he is using christianity as a proxy club for a political agenda.

Posted by: Kate Gilbert at January 4, 2004 01:45 PM

The way I read the Cal Thomas article was (in part) that Howard Dean couldn't really be a Christian at all because he didn't convert his wife to Christianity and he allowed his kids to be raised Jewish. Then Thomas followed it up with the "lord, liar or lunatic" argument from C.S. Lewis, wrapped it up in a bow and deposited this big fat turd in American newspapers. I'm not going to mince words about it, that's pretty much what Thomas did.

The fact of the matter is that if you quizzed Thomas and his ilk with a blowtorch, you'd find out that Dean and the rest of the Democratic candidates are absolutely unacceptable as Presidential candidates because they are not part of the Only True Christians. It doesn't matter if they're devout Catholics and go to Mass every Sunday or people who may go to church occasionally; if you don't hold the specific view that unless you've accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, you're not just no a good Christian, you're on the highway to hell.

And, oh yes, I forgot...after you get saved you're supposed to go to one of those Bible-believing churches, the same churches where the GOP is acknowledged with a nudge, a wink and a Christian voters guide (as if raising taxes and military spending was somehow a "Christian" issue).

To conclude this, I'd like to bring to your attention a collection of interlinked websites. They belong to the "Coral Ridge Minstries" of D. James Kennedy. You may not know who Kennedy is, but you surely know the results of the money he's put up: his groups have been behind the antics of ex-Chief Justice Roy Moore. I challenge anyone here to go read these sites and then come back and tell me that there isn't a bias toward a certain type of Christianity as well as the GOP.

The Center for Reclaiming America (from what?)
http://www.reclaimamerica.org/

Truths that Transform
http://www.truthsthattransform.org/

Coral Ridge Ministries (note the many faces of D. James Kennedy):
http://www.coralridge.org/

Read through that, and then come back to me and tell me that these people are tolerant of Christians who don't meet their definition of Christian, Democrats or anyone else who crosses them. This, folks, is the proof in the pudding: you go and look at their websites (and D. James Kennedy is not the only one, I would also suggest Focus on the Family as another big offender). You'll see what I'm saying. There is no tolerance for someone like Howard Dean, who married outside the One And Only True Faith™, didn't convert his wife and then let his kids be raised outside that same Faith ™. I find it repulsive, myself.

Finally I'd like to point out that I, for one, am not voting for someone this November to be Chief Christian. I am voting for the President of the United States. The best Christian may be the worst president. Remembering that the Constitution itself does prohibit religious tests for office (Art. 6), I'd like to suggest that Cal Thomas and his ilk maybe ought to think about that as well.

Posted by: Deana Holmes at January 4, 2004 02:26 PM

My original point, which I stand by, is that Thomas's article "works" only if you agree with him that Dean doesn't know the real Jesus and that makes him "insincere" and, therefore, not a good presidential candidate.

If Dean is a "christian" only when he campaigns in the South, and only to gain votes, then Cal Thomas is right--Dean is insincere. And that was Cal Thomas's only point when he made the comments everybody is so "outraged" about. Everything Thomas said was to make that one point.

If Dean's (insincere) faith is irrelevant to you, then that's fine, and it's your prerogative. If you don't mind that Dean is an insincere panderer, that's also fine. But Cal Thomas is not writing the column for you or the likes of Michael Totten. He's writing it to people for whom these things matter, and who are YOU to say they're wrong to give these things importance.

Posted by: David at January 4, 2004 03:07 PM

Please explain to me how the Leftbehind books, with their vast readership, the 700 club and numerous other outlets for a certain type of christian political thinking do not also drive towards, or look towards, a society freed of Jews and non-believers?

So basically you're offended that many christians belief non-christians aren't saved. Is this what this is all about? If you believe they're wrong, then what does it matter what they think of your afterlife? Do their beliefs about heaven and hell make any difference as to where you'll end up? No. Only what YOU believe matters. So quit being so intolerant just because many christians don't fit your politically correct, "inclusionist", unitarian/secularist worldview. They aren't a threat to you. Nobody on the 700 Club is forcing jews to convert to Jesus. Besides, you can't force people to convert, they do so willingly. If you have a problem with that, then you have a problem with free will, which makes YOU the intolerant one.

Posted by: David at January 4, 2004 03:20 PM

I know my christian friends and relatives believe that I will not enter heaven when I die. I know they pray for my soul. Whatever.

I know there are some people who believe that I will never enter the underground-monkey-pig-seltzer-spa unless I convert my 401K into sliver ingots. Whatever.

As I clumsily tried to point out before, every religion has beliefs that exclude those of us that don't share those beliefs. And to take offense at that is a little silly in my humble opinion.

Or we could all stay offended at anybody who ever believes differently than us. Because they will believe what I describe above.

Or we could get over it and learn to live together.

Cal Thomas could claim to represent all of humanity and all religions (In fact, maybe I will start doing that.) But that is about Cal Thomas and not all of christianity. I don't like Cal Thomas and I don't ever want to find myself defending the guy but I think this is all ado about nothing. Dean is a hypocrite and his blatant use of christianity for his impending southern tour may insult some christians. I have no problem with them speaking their mind.

Finally, why would anybody use a book series to indict an entire religion? Should the Elders of Zion indict all of Germany? Or Islam? Or who should we condemn for its existence? I'm stumped.

bb

Posted by: bbridges at January 4, 2004 04:45 PM

I'll use the books because my in-laws keep giving me the damn things in an attempt to convert me. Nice people, but sheesh.

Posted by: Kimmitt at January 4, 2004 07:40 PM

I'll use the books because my in-laws keep giving me the damn things in an attempt to convert me.

The only things those books prove is that your in-laws are well-intentioned but annoying. To try to make any other point beyond that is to show the same intolerance they are being accused of.

Posted by: David at January 4, 2004 08:13 PM

I've got to say I agree with Deanu on most points. She or he is exactly right: and its not just me who is not voting for "chief Christian" it is the entire country. Just as I have to put aside my regional preferences when voting, put aside my personal preferences and really put myself out to think what is best for the entire country when I vote I expect not less from Cal Thomas and my southern bretheren.

bbridges: it goes without saying that I am not condemning an entire religion, I am condemning that part of it that is arrogating to itself the right to not only determine whether it is saved, but whether any non-saved person can ever consider themselves moral (not saved, merely acceptably moral to operate in this world). It should also go without saying that the Elders of Zion was not, in fact, written by "the jews" and if it had been I would certainly condemn it (qua jew). As it is, I condemn it qua racist anti-semitc propaganda.

David's point seems to be that complaining about being treated as a non-person (if one is not saved) is exactly the same intolerance as thinking that other people are not saved and acting on that. I don't agree. Its not a sign of "intolerance" to object to having someone else's religious beliefs foisted onto one, or onto the public sphere, it is merely a natural reaction.

Something that undergirds this discussion is what I think a natural belief on the part of David and the Thomas defenders that since wanting to save people is a natural part of some forms of christianity and wanting to save people and get them to heaven is kind of presumptively "good" that all the acts committed in the name of that goal are also, presumptively, good. I can see that argument. I certainly don't object if my sister in law says to me (which she hasn't yet) "you are such a wonderful person...I just wish you weren't going to hell!" To which I would only respond "oh, how nice of you! I hope you don't go there either!"
But to thomas's column I would like to say something that a muslim taxi driver once said to me. We were having a wonderful discussion of religion, war and peace and he burst out "Islam teaches that every person can convert to Islam--tomorrow you could be a muslim and I would have to honor you and respect you as a muslim, I would have to call you brother or sister as a muslim. Can I frown on you today if you are not a muslim? Can I say you are a bad person today,b ut you will be a good person tomorrow? No! I have to treat you today as well as I treat you tomorrow, I have to like you today as well I as like you tomorrow! Because what if you become a muslim?? Can I have frowned on you today and smile at you tomorrow? NO!" I've never forgotten that, it was a beautiful moment.

As for the "dean is a hypocrite" and its ok for Thomas to say so. I agree: it is ok for the small sect of christians who believe that only a person who is saved in the particular way they understand that to be president. But they not only don't speak for me, they don't even speak for all christians (they don't, for example, speak for the congregationalists, they don't clearly speak for the catholics, I don't think they speak for the episcopalians, and etc...)I'd be very comfortable if they just changed their name so I could better find out what sources of media and of political punditry they follow and realize that it has a big sign slapped on it marked "non-believers (and that means other so-called-christians) don't enter here.

As a Jew (that darned word again) I routinely vote for people who are not jews. Mormons have had to do the same. With the exception of JFK, catholics have done the same. Blacks routinely have to vote for white people. If any of those groups asserted flatly that they wouldn't vote for a member of some other group because they couldn't act enough like us we would (rightly) accuse them of a kind of bigotry that has no place in modern civil society. Why is it more acceptable for this sect of christianity to do so?

Kate Gilbert

Posted by: Kate Gilbert at January 5, 2004 05:16 AM

Look, all the arguments are valid, the question is--do they take you where you want to go. My original point, which I stand by, is that Thomas's article "works" only if you agree with him that Dean doesn't know the real Jesus and that makes him "insincere" and, therefore, not a good presidential candidate. In order to believe that, you have to accept thomas's particular version of who/what Jesus is (and he states it for the record) and you have to accept that Thomas's version of Jesus is the only one acceptable for a christian (of any denomination) because otherwise he has ended up accusing dean only of belonging to the congregationalists and that is not a either a crime, or a problem, in most people's view.

Specifically, the sign that Dean is not serious about Jesus/christianity is that he married a Jew and that he permitted his children to be raised Jewish. To me, as a Jew, that is highly problematic and, in fact, downright insulting. It might not be insulting to other Jews, I didn't say it was. It worries me because I see signs of this kind of exclusionary thinking and writing accross the political spectrum. I oppose it here in this country as an American Citizen, and I oppose it in Israel where the Jews are (still) in the majority. That is my point. I'm very happy that the Christian identity groups are not considered Christian by people on this blog. Please explain to me how the Leftbehind books, with their vast readership, the 700 club and numerous other outlets for a certain type of christian political thinking do not also drive towards, or look towards, a society freed of Jews and non-believers?

By the way, bbridges: its true that Muslims and christians believe you must follow certain teachings to enter heaven. and that "jews believe they are god's chosen people." But judaism is a lot less clear that other people are not also chosen in their own way. In fact, judaism doesn't really possess a clear theory of what happens to everyone else and does not necesarily propose that they are damned--we don't even have a clear theory of heaven for us. Most Jews I know think the whole "chosen people" thing is a macabre joke.

As for christianity, as I said above I have christian relatives and friends and they universally ascribe to the theory that "everyone is saved" and everyone must seek their own path to the divine (sounds like the congregationalists, to me) so they don't have any problem with mixed marriages or with dean's religiosity or otherwise. I'd think they'd have a lot of trouble with thomas's version of christianity, though. I've forwarded his column to a lot of people precisely because I don't think he speaks for christians generically. Like I said above, I think he is using christianity as a proxy club for a political agenda.

Posted by: Kate Gilbert at January 5, 2004 05:16 AM

Lost my whole long post on this topic. And aren't you glad?

I disagree that the point of the article is that dean is a hypocrite for talking about one thing infront of one audience and talking about something else in front of another. That is called targeted marketing, and, oddly enough, even george bush does that. He gives one speech in front of an education audience and another in front of soldiers, he gives one speech in front of a very conservative crowd (and often no reporters are allowed in) and another one when he talks about being a "uniter and not a divider." I don't call Bush a hypocrite, I call him a guy with a lot of different constituencies. Does Dean not talking about religion to me matter to me? No, I want to hear about politics and policy. I take for granted that he is a christian, for what that is worth, which to me is nothing in particular. But to another christian, I can well imagine him having a discussion about god, his interfaith marriage, whatever. Its just a different discussion. So I don't buy the argument that Thomas's column, which goes way, way beyond accusing Dean of simply saying different things to different audiences, is simply a critique of Dean on the grounds that he does so. It is specifically a critique of him on the grounds that he is insufficiently christian because he doesn't conform to the particular beliefs of one small subset of christians.

In fact, every time I try to pin down which subset of christians would believe that marrying a jewish woman or having children who are raised to be jews is the very definition of not saved (and therefore the very definition of not seriously christian and hypocritical for even having a discussion about the term and the very definition of not a good person) I'm told that whatever group I point to are not "all christians" or "not really christians or that I'm bigoted and hate filled for even noticing what Thomas is doing. I wouldn't agree that analysing Thomas's words is bigoted, but I would agree--and in fact argued--that his claims about Jesus and about what real christians believe applies to only a very small subset, and a very historically limited subset, of believing, self described christians. That's my point. For Thomas to argue (and for readers to accept) that this is merely a typical unmarked christian response to dean, dean's life, and dean's candidacy is misleading and self serving.

Look, bbridges, it must go without saying, surely, that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion were not, in fact, written 'by the jews' and if they had been I would reject them and their principles out of hand. I also don't object to Dune or Enders Game or any other fantasy novel for its content or its writer. I do point to the Left Behind books because they are widely read (and I wouldnt propose to ban them) because they reflect and produce a world view in which helping the jews (David's claim on my theoretical good will) goes hand in hand with expecting and even rejoicing in an armageddon in which all the non-converting jews perish.

I also don't object if/when my christian relatives say, sadly, "you are such a wonderful person, its too bad you are going to hell!" I just say (or would say, if necessary,) "I feel the same way about you!" and leave it at that.

In conclusion, and before I time out again, I'd like to point out that Jews, Catholics before JFK, African Americans, Native Americans, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Atheists, Mormons, SEventh Day Adventists, and hundreds of other groups have routinely had to vote for people who did not follow their faiths, did not look like them, and often who didn't know who or what they were. When we do so we are taking part in one of the greatest civil experiments in human history. We are looking beyond our own history and our own self interest to join with other citizens in choosing our leaders. I'd like to see the same generosity of spirit, the same oppeness to difference, the same critical thinking from Cal Thomas and his group.

Posted by: Kate Gilbert at January 5, 2004 05:35 AM

Oh! I apologize for double posting!

Posted by: Kate Gilbert at January 5, 2004 05:36 AM

I want to make very clear that I was not implying that Jews wrote the Elders of Zion. I was trying to make the opposite point. That this forgery was obviously written by anti-semetics, and has been used in the past to support anti-semitism. But do you condemn the entire group that those anti-semetics come from? Ahh, it has become way too convoluted.

I think it is safe to say that if christians in the US insisted on only voting for christians, we would have only christian office holders. I don't think that is the case.

I'm not trying to defend christians from every obnoxious attitude or comment but from my observation they get hammered for saying what a lot of other religious types think. I was raised by christians and grew up with christians. They typically had good intentions. There was plenty of hypocrisy but the teachings (Southern Baptist) were all based on those of christ (ok, ok, the hellfire of revelations was pretty scary) and at least there was an attempt at living a pious life.

I think one of the problems of some christians is that they accept the duty to evangelize to others as taught in the new testament. It is annoying and can be obnoxious. But from my experience it comes from a genuine love for others. I'm just glad jesus didn't tell everybody to burp in our faces (or worse) each time they wanted to bring us to Jesus. Now that would be annoying.

I don't know, maybe it is just the road I've been on through life but I've arrived at a place where I just don't take offense anymore. Anymore offense than I would take the ravings of a madman.

Unoffendedly yours,
bb

Posted by: bbridges at January 5, 2004 06:38 AM

Howard Dean is not being accused of not knowing "the real Jesus". He's being accused of insincerity when he says he knows ANY Jesus. In other words, Cal Thomas is not faulting Dean's theology, he's faulting his heart, his sincerity. Lieberman doesn't know Jesus; is Cal Thomas going after him? No, because Lieberman is a real and sincere Jew. So knowing the "real Jesus" is not the issue. SINCERITY is the issue. He's basically accusing him of cynically pandering to southern christian voters. Cal Thomas is calling him out and shining the light of day on that weasel. Is this unusual to do in an election year? Not at all. But Cal Thomas is a conservative christian, and THIS is his only crime. He's not allowed to comment from that perspective. It's "intolerant".

Posted by: David at January 5, 2004 09:43 AM

DAvid,

You are absolutely right, Thomas is faulting dean's heart and sincerity--on the basis of a specific reading of christianity in which even the congregationalists would come up wanting and defined as not christian. There are many, many, moral and ethical people who call themselves christians--and even more who don't--who would be called hypocrites, insincere, and even damned if they were measured by Cal thomas's standard of what proves belief (not what is belief, since he can only look at the outside of the situation). Even a cursory reading of the various bibles available would make this a very risky proposition for a believing christian. Judge not, lest ye be judged, being a huge part of all the traditions.

I have nothing against calling any candidate a hypocrite for any number of things--all of them a guilty of some amount of pandering. I just object to thomas's naked appropriation of Jesus to serve nakedly political goals. IF you don't like Dean's politics--don't vote for him. If you don't like any democrats politics (which thomas' digs at clinton and gore and a general knowledge of his column indicates) then don't vote for democrats. But don't start from the premise that no democrat can be religious, that no democrat can ever have known or thought about god "correctly" or that no democrat regardless of their religious status (saved? unsaved? just kind of waiting to find out what happens after death?) can have a moral perspective and be a good political leader.

David, we are basically disagreeing on what Thomas is "basically" doing. You prefer a generous reading, in which Thomas is "Merely" calling dean out for insincerity. I take a broader reading, which is backed up by looking at the place of Thomas's work generally in an ongoing attempt to shift the dialogue about politics from policy to culture, from something that can be negotiated to something that has to just be accepted, from a bipartisan system to a one party system and I see its function as very different.

I'm not charging thomas with a crime,I'm simply arguing that the reason this article appears attacking Dean isn't that Dean's religiosity or lack of it is a threat to the religion of the South but because Dean's candidacy is a threat to the administration Thomas is backing politically. Nothing wrong with that, its just not a particularly pure set of motivations.

In addition, I would not accurse Thomas of being "intolerant" religiously: after all, this article appeared (among other places) as paid-for-commentary in the Washington Times, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Reverend Moon who himself not only doubts the primacy of Jesus, but refers to himself as God and insists that eventually his followers will take over the world. That is certainly prima facia evidence of Thomas's tolerance for other views--as long as they are paid for.

Posted by: Kate Gilbert at January 5, 2004 10:03 AM

Sorry about hitting the post button before I edited. I didn't mean to "not accurse" thomas, though its a very funny freudian slip, I meant to "not accuse" him...

Posted by: Kate Gilbert at January 5, 2004 10:05 AM

Most religious believers reject the notion that "all religious beliefs are right." Therefore, if you are saying that anyone who holds that position is a bigot, you are calling a lot of people bigots.

Having a religious discussion: good.

Trying to tell someone else to not discuss their religious beliefs: bad.

Trying to prevent the government from respecting the establishment of religion and from prohibiting the free exercise thereof: in accordance with the First Amendment.

Arguing over what that means: good.

Posted by: Andrew Hagen at January 5, 2004 11:24 AM

That is certainly prima facia evidence of Thomas's tolerance for other views--as long as they are paid for.

So basically Cal Thomas is tolerant of Moonies because they're paying for it? That's a pretty intolerant thing to say, and unfounded.

Forgive me, but you come off as far more intolerant than Thomas ever has; and even more so because you claim to represent "tolerance".

I think I've had enough of Liberal "tolerance" for one day, thank you.

Posted by: David at January 5, 2004 02:10 PM

Just a few points. It has been my observation that when two people of different religions marry, the children are raised in the faith of the parent who is the stronger believer in that faith or a third alternative is found. The average person also likes to know a candidates religious beliefs since it gives them a better handle on their behavior. It is a benchmark, if you will, of their past and future actions. If I know that you were raised Catholic , I know a great deal about your background, what you were raised to believe, what expectations others had of you and the expectations that you had of yourself. People stop believing in a faith for many reasons but that faith still informs their actions. Ex Catholics go on and on about Catholic guilt. Catholic guilt is simply a Catholic conscience which will not shut up. They have internalized a Catholic definition of right and wrong. When it comes to talking about religion, candidates need to be honest. Voters respect honestly held beliefs even if they disagree with them. Candidates should not pretend to be something they are not. People can tell. Why should Dean comment about his faith at all if he is uncomfortable doing so in public? All he needed to say was that his faith was a very private thing period. Unfortunately, it is too late now. Dean stated that he left his church over a bike path which says a great deal about the depth of his faith. You do not leave a church over a political disagreement if you believe in the teachings of that church. I will concede you may wish to change buildings if it becomes personally difficult to worship there, however, he switched denominations! There has been a lot of commentary and much snickering on various web sites over this. Sorry, the man is just out for votes and it appears that he believes that Southerners do not read the papers.

Posted by: allison at January 5, 2004 07:44 PM

People of faith, any faith, can smell a phony.

Posted by: David at January 5, 2004 07:55 PM

I'm not sure whether that was a brutal assault on the faith of tens of millions of Bush supporters or just a cheap shot with no basis in reality.

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