Sunday, November 28, 2004

Who Asked You, Jesus? 

Michael Kinsley is suffering -- suffering less, perhaps, than Yr. Mst. Hmbl. Mnrch., but suffering, just the same -- from a debilitating case of values fatigue:
I'm sick of talking about values, sick of pretending I have them or care more about them than I really do. Sick of bending and twisting the political causes I do care about to make them qualify as "values." News stories about values-mongers caught with their values down used to make my day. Now, the tale of Bill O'Reilly and phone sex induces barely a flicker of schadenfreude . . . .

Especially humiliating are efforts by liberals to reposition the issues they care about as conservative and therefore, we hope, transform them into values. Welfare? It (like nearly everything else) is about families, of course. And affirmative action is about work and opportunity. Liberals' actual motivation — the instinct that a prosperous society ought to mitigate the unfairness of life to some reasonable extent — isn't considered a value. So let's keep that one among ourselves.

Why should anyone care, or care so much, whether the people running the government have good values? Shouldn't we prefer a bit of competence, if forced to choose? For example, suppose we had a government that was capable of assuring enough flu vaccine to go around, like the governments of every other developed country in the world. Wouldn't that be nice? And if we could have that kind of government, would anyone really mind if a few more of its leaders secretly enjoyed Janet Jackson's halftime show at the Super Bowl?

The Republican congressional leadership says a clause giving congressional committee chairmen the power to examine anybody's tax returns just slipped into a big spending bill by accident. Whoops! OK, it's the holiday season: I'll buy that. Maybe. But if so — and call me a valueless heathen, if you must — I would like Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist from now on to read the laws he intends to impose on the nation, even if he does it on Sunday mornings and has to miss church as a result.

It's not just a question of values getting in the way of more pressing or relevant matters. It's also a question of how much you want the government to be worrying about your values. My answer: not very much. My values are my own business. True, they are influenced by private and public institutions and by the culture at large — no doubt in unhealthy ways, very often. But I don't relish the idea of government getting involved to rectify that. And I thought most conservatives would agree. But politicians elected because of their values will probably see values as part of their mandate. That's ominous.
One reason we want the values debate to be over: as the radical right ratchets up its efforts to enact fundamentalist "values" into law, the media will have to do its bit for the cause; the American public should therefore expect to have its collective brain softened over the next few years by a constant barrage of wiggity-wack roundtable discussions like the one this morning on Meet the Press, in which the Revs. Jerry Falwell, Al Sharpton, Jim Wallis (of Soujourners), and Richard Land (of the Southern Baptist Convention) skillfully reduced all policy decisions, foreign and domestic, to variations on the same dumb guessing game: "What Would Jesus Do?" The problem, of course, was that everyone on the panel had His Own Personal Jesus lodged in that cozy little brain-nook right behind the amygdala, and if you read the entire transcript you will see that the opinions of those four Jesi were all over the map -- on abortion, on state's rights, on the burning issue of whether a woman should run for President if her husband doesn't want her to, and (last but not least) on the proper political affiliation of the gay, currently-Republican creator of Desperate Housewives. A mere sample:
REV. WALLIS: But, Jerry, when you say things like what you just quoted, and you say God is pro-war, and so many things that you sometimes say...

DR. FALWELL: I said there is a just war in a theological position.

REV. WALLIS: You said God is pro-war.

DR. FALWELL: I don't believe God loves war.

REV. WALLIS: There are millions...

DR. FALWELL: Everybody hates war.

REV. SHARPTON: But you said it was pro-Christian.

REV. WALLIS: Jerry, there are millions and millions of Christians who want the nation to know that you don't speak for them...

REV. SHARPTON: That's right.

REV. WALLIS: ...that Jesus, our Jesus isn't pro-rich, pro-war and only pro-American. We don't find that Jesus anywhere in the Bible.

DR. FALWELL: I don't believe that either. But I was also against Adolf Hitler, and if you had been...

REV. WALLIS: Well, most of us were.

DR. FALWELL: If you had been the president in World War II, we'd all be speaking German now.

REV. WALLIS: Well, Jerry, that's--let's move beyond this.

DR. FALWELL: And that DNC ad that you pay $125,000 for a full-page ad to attack me on the war position, had you and Tony Campolo and a lot of other alleged evangelicals...

REV. SHARPTON: No, no, no, no. I think...

REV. WALLIS: There were over 200 evangelical theologians who said...

DR. FALWELL: That was one day ahead of Election Day...

REV. WALLIS: ...we were concerned about the war.

DR. FALWELL: ...but anybody reads into either the DNC or a DNC surrogate...

REV. SHARPTON: I think...

MR. RUSSERT: Reverend Sharpton, before--let me just show an ad that Religious Leaders for Sensible Priorities took out, signed by Reverend Wallis, and it says, "It is inconceivable that Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior and the Prince of Peace, would support this proposed attack [on Iraq]."

REV. SHARPTON: And see I think that's the point.

MR. RUSSERT: Both sides claiming they know how Jesus thinks.

REV. SHARPTON: I think the point is that for one to disagree with the right or to say that people have the right to disagree with us is like we're not Christian. I believe in Jesus. I'm saved.

DR. FALWELL: You guys says that.

REV. SHARPTON: May I finish?

DR. FALWELL: I've never said that.

REV. SHARPTON: May I finish? May I finish?

DR. FALWELL: I'm just saying you're wrong.

REV. SHARPTON: I believe in Jesus personally. I pray and I fast and I take my religion very seriously. But I also believe in a Jesus that went to the cross to uplift people and not condemn them, a Jesus that forgave people of their sins and converted them and didn't use the state to beat them down and force them to go in a different direction. And that Jesus is real.

DR. FALWELL: And a Jesus who drove the money-changers out of the temple.

MR. RUSSERT: What about people in this country who don't believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and savior?

REV. SHARPTON: Absolutely.

MR. RUSSERT: There are now more Muslims and Jews in the United States. Where is their place?

REV. WALLIS: Well, there is no--people who are religious, need I make very clear that we don't think religious people have a monopoly on morality. There are people in this country who have deeply held moral values who aren't affiliated in any religion. What we need is a serious moral conversation about things like Iraq, a moral discussion. What would Jesus do is a fair question for all of us. But other citizens have other compasses that they use. But let's have a moral conversation, talk about the soul of politics.

DR. FALWELL: Jim, I'm old enough to remember how much you fought--you and Sojourners, fought Ronald Reagan and his peace through strength initiative and had you been successful, the Soviet communism of the world would still be prevalent and existing. You fought Ronald Reagan.

REV. SHARPTON: But we could argue all morning on that.

DR. FALWELL: You're just anti-America.

DR. LAND: Can I ask you a question? I think that this is a country that has always been a very religious country. It's going to continue to be a very religious country. But it has always said there's room for people of all faiths and no faith. And they have a perfect right to public opinion, to the public marketplace, to public ideas, to bring their ideas to bear. And what we don't want, and I think that this is where we need to start and this is where I think the values question has really done a good thing. We don't have the right anymore to let the secular fundamentalists say if your views are based upon your religious beliefs, you are to somehow set them aside and not bring them to bear on public policy. We have the right to bring our religiously informed opinions to bear on public policy.
It's Sunday morning, fer Chrissakes. Can't they lay off this shit for one day a week and let people watch football in peace??

(Thanks to Zemblan patriot J.M. for the transcript.)

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