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Monday, November 8, 2004

Hypocrisy and idolatry.

Former Senator Gary Hart packs a lot into his New York Times op-ed, so I'm pulling out two themes that are woven through his essay:

  • Hypocrisy: "[O]ne's religious beliefs — though they will and should affect one's outlook on public policy and life — are personal," he says, but when people in politics tells us what standards they hold themselves accountable to, we should hold them accountable:

    Having claimed moral authority to achieve political victory, religious conservatives should be very careful, in their administration of the public trust, to live up to the standards they have claimed for themselves. They should also be called upon to address the teachings of Jesus and the prophets concerning care for the poor, the barriers that wealth presents to entering heaven, the blessings on the peacemakers, and the belief that no person should be left behind.

    If we are to insert "faith" into the public dialogue more directly and assertively, let's not be selective. Let's go all the way. Let's not just define "faith" in terms of the law and judgment; let's define it also in terms of love, caring, forgiveness. Compassionate conservatives can believe social ills should be addressed by charity and the private sector; liberals can believe that the government has a role to play in correcting social injustice. But both can agree that human need, poverty, homelessness, illiteracy and sickness must be addressed. Liberals are not against religion. They are against hypocrisy, exclusion and judgmentalism. They resist the notion that one side or the other possesses "the truth" to the exclusion of others.

  • Idolatry: "America is a secular, not a theocratic, republic," he says. The problem with finding religious meaning in the nation-state is idolatry, although Hart calls it by the less theological term "theocracy": "There is also the disturbing tendency to insert theocratic principles into the vision of America's role in the world. . . . Neither Washington, Adams, Madison nor Jefferson saw America as the world's avenging angel." Casting the nation-state in such a role is idolatrous because it usually abandons self-criticism and humility in the process:

    The religions of Abraham all teach a sense of personal and collective humility. It was a note briefly struck very early by Mr. Bush and largely abandoned thereafter. It would be well for those in the second Bush term to ponder that attribute. Whether Bush supporters care or not, people around the world now see America as arrogant, self-righteous and superior. These are not qualities of any traditional faith I am aware of.

    If faith now drives our politics, at the very least let's make it a faith of inclusion, genuine compassion, humility, justice and accountability. In the words of the prophet Micah: "He hath shown thee, O man, what is good. What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" And, instead of "O man," let's insert "O America."

("When the Personal Shouldn't Be Political," Gary Hart, New York Times 11.8.04, reg req'd; via The Revealer)

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 8 November 2004 at 10:08 PM

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