Tuesday, October 31, 2006
David Kuo's credulous Evangelicalism.
I haven't read David Kuo's book, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction, but I've been fascinated by the conversation surrounding it. Tom Ashbrook interviewed Kuo on NPR's On Point (one of my favorite podcasts), where he came across as sweet, thoughtful, and naive. Two recent reviews draw particular attention to the Evangelical roots of that naiveté. Alan Wolfe writes:
Tempting Faith is in its way a significant book, not for what it teaches about the Machiavellians in the White House — surely there are no longer any surprises to be had on that front — but for what we learn about young, idealistic, and phenomenally naive Christians such as David Kuo. It is not an analysis of a mentality, but a documentation of it. To be sure, there is no doubting Kuo's sincerity. His faith in God is unwavering. He is truly committed to good work on behalf of the poor. He did eventually leave the White House, and with the publication of this book he testifies to the cynicism that he found there. But his recovered righteousness is itself a kind of alibi. For people like him served as enablers for one of the most immoral presidencies Americans have ever endured. If we are to know what makes Bush so bad, we need to know more about why people who are so good could ever have been seduced by him.
And not just seduced. Kuo, whose goodness is as self-evident as it is a tad creepy, continues to defend Bush after this most self-professed of Christian presidents robbed the poor to pay the rich, broke his covenant with the Framers who wrote the Constitution of the United States, launched the first war of choice in our history since Polk attacked Mexico or McKinley attacked Spain, justified torture without a qualm of conscience, and, to top it all off, wound up treating his Christian supporters with a contempt that would put the most determined secular humanist to shame.
Wolfe suggests that Evangelicals were seduced by George W. Bush's false piety because of their religious preference for "testimonies": "[C]ompared with every other religion on the face of the earth, they judge sincerity by the power of the stories they tell each other." (And what a story-teller Bush has been.) Wolfe puts it even more sharply later in the review: "Sincerity, for them, is everything, which is another way of saying that facts are nothing. The proof of their faith is its credulity."
Peter Steinfels offers a less barbed review in the New York Times, but he makes the same point. Steinfels writes:
Mr. Kuo's religious forthrightness itself raises another intriguing question about evangelical culture. Evangelicals frequently demonstrate a verbal facility and emotional warmth in articulating their faith — in spontaneous prayer, for example, or in personal testimonies — that other believers envy. But does that put a premium on words and feelings rather than on actions and results?
Steinfels concludes his essay with a response to Kuo's call for a religious "fast" from politics:
Ultimately the lesson Mr. Kuo hopes his fellow evangelicals learn goes far beyond this president and his policies. "At the end of the day," he said, "politics is easy; God is hard." Politics, by setting up very tangible enemies to be defeated, "gives the illusion of a solution," he said, while God demands personal transformation. "What," he asked, "is harder than to be transformed by unconditional love?"
This very contrast between political change and personal transformation has deep evangelical roots, of course. Secular progressives might counter with the mirror image of his formulation: God is easy; politics is hard.
And then there is another possibility: God is hard, and so is politics — at least the politics practiced with a good deal of skepticism, with an anticipation of compromises and setbacks, and with a recognition of the pride and egoism, as the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr pointed out, that infects even (or perhaps especially) humanity's most faith-based initiatives.
("David Kuo on Tempting Faith," Tom Ashbrook, On Point [NPR] 10.18.06; "The God that never failed: A golden age of credulity, in politics and in religion," Alan Wolfe, New Republic 11.6.06; "The disillusionment of a young White House Evangelical," Peter Steinfels, New York Times 10.28.06, reg req'd)
Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 31 October 2006 at 7:52 AM