January 1, 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
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