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June 24, 2006

Testify and Amen

From Randall Balmer, professor of American religious history at Barnard College: Jesus is not a Republican:

I went to Sunday school nearly every week of my childhood. But I must have been absent the day they told us that the followers of Jesus were obliged to secure even greater economic advantages for the affluent, to deprive those Jesus called "the least of these" of a living wage, and to despoil the environment by sacrificing it on the altar of free enterprise. I missed the lesson telling me that I should turn a blind eye to the suffering of others, even those designated as my enemies.
The Bible I read says something quite different. It tells the story of ancient Israel's epic struggle against injustice and bondage — and of the Almighty's investment in the outcome of that struggle. But the Hebrew Scriptures also caution against the imperiousness of that people, newly liberated from their oppressors, lest they treat others the way they themselves were treated back in Egypt. The prophets enjoin Yahweh's chosen people to "act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" and warn of the consequences of failing to do so: exile and abandonment. "Administer true justice," the prophet Zechariah declares on behalf of the Lord Almighty. "Show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other."
The New Testament echoes those themes, calling the followers of Jesus to care for orphans and widows, to clothe the naked, and to shelter the homeless. The New Testament I read says that, in the eyes of Jesus, there is no preference among the races and no distinction between the sexes. The Jesus I try to follow tells me that those who take on the role of peacemakers "will be called the children of God," and this same Jesus spells out the kind of behavior that might be grounds for exclusion from the kingdom of heaven: "I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me."

Balmer, incidentally, considers himself an evangelical Christian, although he is under no illusion that he has the same views as the majority of evangelicals in the US. Based on the essay, to which I commend you, I wish that more evangelicals did share his views. Perhaps in time more will.

Posted by john at June 24, 2006 03:22 PM

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Comments

abi | June 24, 2006 03:42 PM

Amen, brother.

My version of these thoughts is primarily about Guantanamo, and whether Jesus would be dressed in camoflauge or orange were He there. If the answer is what I think it is, what does that say about the guys in camo?

I am sure Balmer will get the usual degree of smearing for saying this, and that drive-bys here will cite "righteous anger" and the driving of the money changers from the temple as an example of Violent Jesus.

But that's OK. It's better said than left unsaid.

CoolBlue | June 24, 2006 04:29 PM

There are so many problems with this. First, of course, is with the premise; that Republicans, as a group do not live up to the values of Jesus.

Second, is that non-Republicans (how many?) do embrace such values or perhaps, even, that the selected values represent "goodness".

And when we say "blessed are the Peacemakers" what exactly does it mean? The Marines have a motto: No better friend, no worse enemy. Would they qualify as Peacemakers? Or are pacifists Peacemakers? Was Neville Chamberline a peacemaker? If it could be shown that pacifism actually increased violence would pacifism still be better?

Now I like religion just fine. I don't partake myself, but I'm absolutley sure that the selective interpretations of sacred scriptures done by almost every religion are mostly harmless.

But one thing is for sure, I don't want to be judged by your (the rhetorical "your") religion and I sure don't want to be basing public (or foreign) policy on anyone's interpretation of what this or that religious belief or interpretation may mean.

This gentleman may believe in this interpretation of scripture and how it relates to politics and foreign relations but it sure doesn't mean that it is the benchmark by which all other interpretations should be judged.

John Scalzi | June 24, 2006 04:45 PM

CoolBlue:

"First, of course, is with the premise; that Republicans, as a group do not live up to the values of Jesus."

By all means, you are welcome to provide evidence that the Republican party does. I suggest you start with all the wonderful things the Republican party has done for the poor since January 20, 2001.

"Second, is that non-Republicans (how many?) do embrace such values or perhaps, even, that the selected values represent 'goodness'."

That premise is not in evidence in the essay; that's your inference, which is not supported in the text.

"I sure don't want to be basing public (or foreign) policy on anyone's interpretation of what this or that religious belief or interpretation may mean."

Boy, have we got the wrong President for you, then.

CoolBlue | June 24, 2006 04:57 PM

John Scalzi

You are welcome to provide evidence that they do, of course.

By who's interpretation? Mr Ballmer's? Yours? Mine? Theirs?

Nor is that premise in evidence in the essay; that's your inference

Please. Did he say "Jesus is not only a Republican"? No. The implication exists.

Boy, have we got the wrong President for you, then.

I'm sorry but the President is part of the Executive Branch of government. That branch can not make laws. The executive branch supervises the execution of the laws.

The laws are made by a diverse body of 635 individuals guaranteeing that no one interpretation of any scripture gets translated into public policy.

Granted there are some exceptions, but they are limited in scope. For instance, while Bush has (wrongly in my opinion) limited stem cell research, this is only applicable to scientists within the Federal government. Stem Cell research is legal in the US and being pursued aggresively by some State Governments and private researchers.

John Scalzi | June 24, 2006 05:18 PM

CoolBlue:

"By who's interpretation? Mr Ballmer's? Yours? Mine? Theirs?"

By all means, start with yours. I'm intrigued.

"Please. Did he say "Jesus is not only a Republican"? No. The implication exists."

Actually, no, it doesn't, your attempts at rhetorical parsing notwithstanding. There is no rhetorical or logical reason why suggesting a group is acting in a particular manner would imply some other group (or all other groups, by your formulation) is acting in another way.

"I'm sorry but the President is part of the Executive Branch of government. That branch can not make laws. The executive branch supervises the execution of the laws."

Oh, for God's sake. If you're actually this appallingly unaware of all the ways in which the president of the United States as the executive and the leader of his party influences all manner of government policy, both domestic and international, particularly when his party runs Congress, there's no point even having this conversation.

Honestly, CoolBlue, this is about as patently stupid and oblivious a thing as anyone has written on my site in a good long time, and I'm personally offended you apparently think I'm brain-damaged enough to swallow it as a valid point of discussion. Don't do it again.

John H | June 24, 2006 05:20 PM

The Colbert Report had a segment last week where Stephen was trying to explain the difference between advocates of big government and those of small government. For his last comparison he said if they quote Jesus in their speeches, they're for small government. If they go around doing what Jesus asked his followers to do, they're for big government.

Dan Geiser | June 24, 2006 05:20 PM

Coolblue, you didn't say anything about "making laws" in your original post. You said "policy". And I think the President has a lot to do with the policies of the U.S. Government.

CoolBlue | June 24, 2006 07:40 PM

John Scalzi

By all means, start with yours. I'm intrigued.

My interpretation of Jesus is that he was not divine, and certainly not God. He was not even a prophet of God. I also don't believe he was a pacifist, nor do I believe he intended to start a pacifistic religion or, for that matter, any religion at all.

I also believe that much of what is in the official "New Testament" was made up.

Jesus was a mystic and mysticism has been applied by both warriors and monks.

"Please. Did he say "Jesus is not only a Republican"? No. The implication exists."

Actually, no, it doesn't, your attempts at rhetorical parsing notwithstanding. There is no rhetorical or logical reason why suggesting a group is acting in a particular manner would imply some other group (or all other groups, by your formulation) is acting in another way.

OK. Then he could just have easily titled his piece Jesus is not a Democrat or Jesus is not a Green.

My point is this is not a religious tract it is a political hitpiece. And worse, it is a hit piece that claims to be the authority on how to interpret Jesus.

Oh, for God's sake. If you're actually this appallingly unaware of all the ways in which the president of the United States as the executive and the leader of his party influences all manner of government policy, both domestic and international

Sure the President has influence. Every President has had influence to one extent or another, so what? And I would go further to say that every President's morals have been informed by his religion. But influence is all they have. And this President is no different from any others in that respect, nor different from many people in general.

But let's return to the argument that Mr Balmer is making: He first sets up a strawman that, one may presume, is his interpretation of what a follower of Jesus is, then sets out to show that Republicans, or more precisely "the religious right" don't measure up. And in doing so, he paints the whole Republican party with the brush of the religious right. This is clearly as disingenuous as painting the whole of the Democratic Party with the same brush as the neo-Stalinist wing.

For instance, when discussing Jesus' statement regarding feeding the hungry and the poor, he says "We could have a lively discussion and even vigorous disagreement over whether it is incumbent upon the government to provide services to the poor, but those who argue against such measures should be prepared with some alternative program or apparatus." As if there is no such alternative proposed by Republicans or the "religious right.

He accuses the "religious right" of "distorting the teachings of Jesus" which only means that he disagrees with their proposed implementation of Jesus' teachings in the political arena. Would Jesus really make a whole group of people dependent upon government for their sustenence? And if so, does that make Lyndon Johnson, who knowingly decieived us into entering the Vietnam War with a manufactured "Gulf of Tonkin" event a saint because of his failed War On Poverty?

Continuing, Mr. Balmer says:

the purpose of all this grasping for power looks something like this: an expansion of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, the continued prosecution of a war in the Middle East that enraged our longtime allies and would not meet even the barest of just-war criteria, and a rejiggering of Social Security, the effect of which, most observers agree, would be to fray the social-safety net for the poorest among us. Public education is very much imperiled by Republican policies, to the evident satisfaction of the religious right, and it seeks to replace science curricula with theology, thereby transforming students into catechumens.

As if all of the above policies are against Jesus and as such betryaing Christianity. Why is that when tax revenues from the "rich" are up, buisness is expanding giving poor people more opportunities to work and the fact remains, it is anti-Christian? And despite his drive-by reference, Social Security can not continue as it is today without a train crash. Now don't get me wrong, I won't have a problem living high in retiurement while you pay half you paycheck to support me, but I think it's not good policy.

And I wonder what exactly America would look like if Mr Balmer had his way? Dare I say Socialism? I don't know. He doesn't say. But it seems to me that he paints Jesus as a socialist.

Honestly, CoolBlue, this is about as patently stupid and oblivious a thing as anyone has written on my site in a good long time, and I'm personally offended you apparently think I'm brain-damaged enough to swallow it as a valid point of discussion. Don't do it again.

Ah. I see.

Dan Geiser

Coolblue, you didn't say anything about "making laws" in your original post. You said "policy". And I think the President has a lot to do with the policies of the U.S. Government.

Clearly. But all the policies the President makes must be in accordance with the laws set forth by COngress. No matter what the President believes, he can not simply say that everyone now has to sing Christian Hymns before beginning class.

John Scalzi | June 24, 2006 07:53 PM

CoolBlue:

"My point is this is not a religious tract it is a political hitpiece. And worse, it is a hit piece that claims to be the authority on how to interpret Jesus."

Show me where he says he is the absolute authority on the matter, and I'll give you this point. Otherwise you're putting words in the man's mouth.

The fact the piece is political is obvious.

"Then he could just have easily titled his piece Jesus is not a Democrat or Jesus is not a Green."

Clearly not, since he's not writing about the Democrats or the Greens, he's writing about Republicans. I would agree as a statement, it's certainly true.

"But influence is all they have."

You really are appallingly ignorant on this matter, then. Well, that's good to know for future reference.

I'm done with you on this conversation, CoolBlue.

Martin Langeland | June 24, 2006 08:36 PM

"Driving out the money changers"
sounds more like an appropriate rsponse to the current administation than an example of violence.
-- ml

CoolBlue | June 24, 2006 08:43 PM

Show me where he says he is the absolute authority on the matter

Don't be silly. He sets up his interpretation of the bible and then shows how the "Republicans" don't live up to it. He never comes off as saying "well they disagree with me". The whole article's point of view is that "Republicans" are not doing what the Bible commands. He does this in a number of places

I went to Sunday school nearly every week of my childhood. But I must have been absent the day they told us that the followers of Jesus were obliged to secure even greater economic advantages for the affluent, to deprive those Jesus called "the least of these" of a living wage, and to despoil the environment by sacrificing it on the altar of free enterprise. I missed the lesson telling me that I should turn a blind eye to the suffering of others, even those designated as my enemies. The Bible I read says something quite different.

The best part though follows

It tells the story of ancient Israel's epic struggle against injustice and bondage — and of the Almighty's investment in the outcome of that struggle. But the Hebrew Scriptures also caution against the imperiousness of that people, newly liberated from their oppressors, lest they treat others the way they themselves were treated back in Egypt. The prophets enjoin Yahweh's chosen people to "act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" and warn of the consequences of failing to do so: exile and abandonment. "Administer true justice," the prophet Zechariah declares on behalf of the Lord Almighty. "Show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other."

The funny thing about this is that he makes it seem as if the God of the old Testament was some nice righteous guy. I guess he skipped all of the books of the bible where God orders the complete annihilation of Israel's enemies on a number of occasions. Such as Samuel 15:3

Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.

Many of these books, Judges, Samuel, Kings, etc. are just blood soaked and merciless with regards to the enemies of God.

Despite this, I don't see how one could read this article and not come away saying that Mr Blamer is acting as if his interpretation of how Christianity should be implemented is the correct one and Republicans are wrong. That's what the whole piece is about.

If that is not setting yourself up as the authority on the matter I don't know what it is.

I'm done with you on this conversation, CoolBlue.

Your forum, you're call.

I'll shut up now.

John Scalzi | June 24, 2006 08:49 PM

No, no, CoolBlue. You don't have to shut up. Please continue chatting on the topic with others. I'm done talking to you about it. That you should cease other conversations is not implied.

Jon Marcus | June 24, 2006 09:21 PM

CoolBlue, I gotta say I'm disappointed. Usually I disagree with you, but you make me think about why. And you're response about what caring for the poor means is at least reasonable.

But saying he's against Republicans? Yeah, so? Leaders of the Republican party have been pretty open about saying they are warriors for Christ. (e.g. Tom Delay talking about his "war" against his political opponents.) So why's it out of line for someone to disagree with that?

And finally, trying to say that the President (who's also the head of the Republican Party) doesn't set policy is just...lame.

Chris Gabel | June 24, 2006 09:50 PM

Cool Blue;

You are making a valiant effort, but truly you are arguing with the equivalent of large chunks of granite....immovable....they couldn't see your point if you opened their minds for them. But I congratulate you....you are dancing circles about them.....

John Scalzi | June 24, 2006 10:15 PM

Good lord, Chris. What an unbelievably vacuous post. Save this sort of fluffery for private e-mail.

Adam Ziegler | June 24, 2006 10:15 PM

Coolblue,

The republican leaders and the evangelical leaders who support them have actively made the assertion that they are authoritative with regard to Jesus's teachings and what Jesus wants to happen in the world. It is the very basis on which they commend their followers to action. They exhort people to support republicans because that, they say, is what Jesus would want.

To my knowledge, no other party, not the democrats, not the greens, has advanced such a claim.

The author of the article doesn't spend much exposition on these matters because it has been pretty damn obvious to anyone who has been paying attention for the past ten years or so.

With regard to the matter of interpretation, it is important to understand that the author's argument is directed at the evangelicals who support the republicans and the republicans who exploit them, and not at you personally. He is saying that the actions of the religious right are not consistent with the historical practice of evangelical Christianity specifically, and other denominations in general, a matter on which I would expect him to have some authority given his position as a scholar of religious history.

Even ignoring his credentials, I find his "interpretation" consistent with what is known about historical evangelical views. He's saying that they have lost their way because their current path is such a departure from their historical path. Understood this way, his personal views are anecdotal, and not the main basis for his argument.

Your own interpretation of Jesus as a "mystic" is irrelevant, and besides is so vague as to be meaningless. By introducing it at all, you only demonstrate that you aren't party to the argument being made.

In short, the author is calling the Republicans to task for not living up to Jesus' teachings because 1) they claim that they are and 2) because the actions of the republicans are not consistent with evangelical or even Christian practice prior to the intermingling of evanglical faith with politics. This is not a strawman argument.

If he had claimed that, say, the libertarians were letting Jesus down, you might have had a point. Or if he had made the claim that his interpretation of the Gospel was that we really need to wear more hats, and therefore the Republicans aren't cutting it, then also you might have had a point.

But as it is, you seem to be spouting unintentional ironies out of your ass.

Chris Gabel | June 24, 2006 10:30 PM

"And finally, trying to say that the President (who's also the head of the Republican Party) doesn't set policy is just...lame."

I see....so Bush got his private Social Security accounts right? Oops...

Well, then, he got his version of immigration reform then....um, nope....

OK, well we all know that Clinton got everything he wanted when his party controlled congress his first 2 years - like that health care reform Hillary worked on.

Gee, this isn't working very well....Aha! Jimmy Carter had the congress firmly in his party for 4 years - he got everything he wanted, right? Just ask him - he got stabbed in the back so many times, he could have passed for a screen door....

Cool Blue said it right - the President Influences - he can't control. I'm appalled that not only did you not see his point, you actually called him a idiot for pointing out obvious truth.

Brad Selbst | June 24, 2006 10:33 PM

CoolBlue is on target... The Jews conquered mercilessly (man, woman, child) to take Israel originally, then argued and plotted among themselves until they had to unite and fight external enemies. So, in that light, the Republicans are very similar to the original Jews. The Republicans are merciless and they believe God is on their side.

Having said this, why the democrats/liberals should believe they are any more innocent/nicer is beyond me. Is it because most of them don't believe in God, and paradoxically that confers a special status on them of being good? Is it because they are not Republicans and therefore are good by virtue of that fact? Incidentally, being able to knock down the other guy doesn't make you good or all that smart.

We need a new party... The American Party. The platform is: God is OK, pro-choice, fiscally conservative, small government, medical coverage for all, pro-military/strong defense, etc. What I am calling for is a middle ground, a third party that is powerful enough to win so we don't have to make binary choices anymore, or worse, vote for our guy and push the election in the wrong candidate's favor.

What is really lame is the way humans seem to be programmed like sheep, in group dynamics. It seems that if you are a democrat you can't see the virtues in the Republicans and the same goes for the Republicans. Therefore, each side is demonized by the other.

John Scalzi | June 24, 2006 10:55 PM

Chris Gabel:

"Cool Blue said it right - the President Influences - he can't control. I'm appalled that not only did you not see his point, you actually called him a idiot for pointing out obvious truth."

One, it's not an obvious truth, because it's not true. Two, as apparently you're as ignorant about the subject as he appears to be, I can't say I'm particularly concerned what you think on the matter.

Also, I invite you to show me precisely where in this thread I called Cool Blue an "idiot." If you can't, you might consider apologizing to me. As a general rule, I avoid calling commentors here idiots (and CoolBlue clearly is not one, even if he is saying ignorant things about the nature of Presidential power). However, if you keep putting words into my mouth, I may make an exception for you.

Adam Ziegler | June 24, 2006 11:00 PM

Chris Gabel:

First point: it's misleading to take a few examples, out of thousands, and claim that this somehow shows that a given president merely influences the actions of Congress. This Congress give Bush most of what he asks for and, worse, they do not exercise their oversight responsibilities on the executive branch.

Second point: It doesn't have any relevance to the article under discussion! The article is about the republicans in general, not President Bush specifically. John only mentioned Bush as an example of a republican who bases policy on faith. Take Frist or Delay if you want a legislator instead.

Brad Selbst
I don't recall that the article makes any claims that the Democrats are "more innocent/nicer." The article isn't titled "Jesus is a Democrat" and it would be an error of logic to conclude that this title is implied. You seem to be rebutting claims that the article hasn't made. Have you actually read the article? Perhaps you read a different article? Perhaps you think this is Slashdot?

Gabriel Malor | June 25, 2006 04:39 AM

Sometimes it just sucks to be stuck seven time-zones away. I miss the most interesting conversations as they happen. I apologize for missing the fireworks, but I would like to address some of the topics raised here. I will do two things; first, I will write briefly to address the problem "provid[ing] evidence that the Republican party does [live up to the values of Jesus]. Second, I will writes specifically in response to the claim of Balmer (and others) that the Iraq War is not a just war.

The problem with attempting to show to non-Republicans that Republican policies are good (by which I mean, for the moment anyways, policies which live up to the values of Jesus) is that they've already decided that they are not. If they believed Republicans had good policies, they'd be Republicans.

Setting that aside as a problem without a solution, I will instead describe Republican policies which Republicans believe conform to the values of Jesus. It will be pointed out that these policies are not, in fact, good policies—but that’s the same old debate the political parties have had forever; it has nothing to do with whether the policies are, in fact, the policies of Jesus. And, to make it easy on myself, I’ll just use the 2004 Republican Party Platform.

1. To win the war on terror, promote peace, and build a better world. The key parts of this were to finish the war in Iraq, end state-sponsored terrorism, and continue the process of combating WMD proliferation. Let’s ignore the war in Iraq for now (because I’ll address it later), and just note that ending state-sponsored terrorism and combating WMD proliferation sound like pretty good things. The debate arises because Democrats (and others) believe that Republicans cannot achieve those goals (the incompetent theory), or do not want to achieve those goals (the wicked theory).

2. To strengthen alliances to win the war on terror, promote peace, and build a better world. I don’t really have to go into this one in depth. Balmer already noted that we “enraged our long-time allies” and I’m guessing it’s an article of faith (heh) that there is no justification for that. Again, though I want to point out the divergence in Democratic belief as to why Republicans would do such a thing. Either they are incompetent (or just plain indifferent to the more…nuanced issues) or they are wicked and wanted to isolate us.

Let’s skip on down to “Ownership Era”, but on the way please recall the 2004 Republicans’ emphasis on democracy abroad (which they believe makes people free, a good thing), free markets (which they believe give people a higher standard of living), and combating AIDS in Africa (which was a specific program that President Bush seems to have an unusual fetish for). Keep in mind, of course, that Republicans are either incompetent or wicked. They can’t actually do this stuff or this stuff is not as good as they claim.

Under the broad idea of “Ownership Era” comes ideas like tax cuts, social security reform, and healthcare reform. Regarding taxes, Democrats can come at this two ways. First, they can frown on tax cuts generally. After all, we’re in a little bit of a financial hole here and even when we weren’t the government is a great way to reach out to those whom society has treated as less fortunate. Second, Democrats can say that tax cuts are okay as long as they go to the right people.

Let’s just ignore for a minute the “tax cuts for the rich” (I know, I know, this is the heart of Bush’s wrong-ness, just hold on), and look at what the middle class got. On average, they got $2,000 each. Not bad. Sadly, they’re still paying taxes. Small business owners, who generally fall into the middle or upper-middle classes) also got generous cuts and incentives. But what about the poor, you ask (or maybe you don’t because you realize I just put those words in your mouths so I could scream at you: THE POOR DON’T PAY TAXES)…moving on. Oh, right, those fat-cats and their tax cuts. I think we’re just going to have to disagree about the fairness (or justice) of giving a break to those who pay the most. Also, I don’t really feel like explaining how that can be a good thing for the economy. Again, you can either believe the Republicans are stupid or evil. Take your pick, I hardly think I’m changing any minds.

Anyways, you get the point. Social security reform, that is, ensuring that our elderly are cared for seems to me to be a pretty Jesus-like thing to do. I grant that the Democrats are just as interested in seeing that the elderly in America aren’t living in boxes on the street. This is another area where it comes down to a question of how to achieve a common goal. The same goes for healthcare in this country.

Well this ran pretty long. I’ll get to Just War theory in a bit. I gotta get some breakfast first. Oh, and I thought I’d just throw out some bonafides, I’m a Republican, but not a social conservative. That’s why I haven’t talked about gays, stem cells, etc. etc.

Gabriel Malor | June 25, 2006 05:28 AM

Now, there are many versions of Just War theory. Almost all of them have in common the requirements formulated by Aquinas (who built on the requirements of Augustine). So, we’ll start there (if you’re interested in the text look at Summa Theologica Question 40). According to Aquinas’ just war theory, a just war is one that is waged by a duly recognized sovereign with just cause to attain a better outcome than the status quo ante. If you look closely there are four requirements buried in there (though Aquinas only says 3).

1. A duly recognized sovereign. A duly recognized sovereign is the final legitimate arbiter of the decision to use force. This is a two part standard. First, the actor must be recognized as sovereign. Second, the actor must be able to use force (must be an actor). Here, the US obviously has the ability to use force. The real question is whether the US is a recognized sovereign. We derive that sovereignty from the US Constitution. However, the UN looks a lot like a sovereign when it comes to matters of war (I mean, wasn’t that why it was created?). Well, if you look at the UN Charter Article 51, you’ll see that member states retained the right to wage war as “individual or collective self-defense.” Whether attacking Iraq constitutes “individual or collective self-defense” probably depends on your particular political persuasion. Also on your personal beliefs about history for the last thirty years or so. Anyways, I tend to think of my country as a sovereign nation and in possession of all the privileges of a sovereign nation. Others may reasonably disagree.

2. Just cause. Augustine defined just cause as one of three things: defense, re-capture, or punishing those who have done wrong. I’m sure we can all think of other things which may constitute just cause (alternatively, there are those who believe there are no just causes at all: pacifists). In any case, it isn’t hard to believe that just cause existed to attack Iraq. General Powell outlined in front of the UN General Assembly both the defense aspect and the belief that punishing Saddam Hussein and his regime (as distinct from the Iraqi people) was a good thing. I happened to believe him (I’m sure the Kurds, the Marsh Arabs, and the Iranians agreed.) Whatever the case, acting in the interest of an injured third party was good enough for Aquinas.

3. Better outcome than the status quo ante. Well, obviously this is not something that can be determined with certainty before the war has begun and ended. We’ll just have to let this one lie until about 2015 or so. Which is why I read a fourth requirement:

4. Likelihood of a better outcome than the status quo ante. Was it, in 2003 before the war, more or less likely that a post-Saddam Iraq would be better? I believed then that it was likely that an Iraq without Saddam Hussein would be better and I believe it now as well. (I guess that makes me a True Believer. I’m sorry that so many of you are choking back your gag reflex right now. Just think of me as incompetent or wicked, it’ll be easier for you.)

And there you have it. The Just War Doctrine of Aquinas and Augustine. Though, I should note that it doesn’t end there. In recent years, some new requirements have been added to the bunch. They are proportionality and what many refer to as “Last Resort.” Whether these have been satisfied will also depend on your political persuasion. After all, if you believe that we routinely make practices of using cluster bombs on urban areas, paying Shi’a night-raiders, and torturing indiscriminately then you may question whether this war has been “proportional.” The same goes for the “Last Resort” requirement. After all, if 16 UN resolutions (or however many it was) were not enough, how could Bush just jump to the conclusion that a seventeenth wouldn’t work? Look, all I’m saying is there were other options, man. Like, we coulda offered to build a safe electric-generating-only nuclear reactor ourselves, or something.

Whoops. I just got carried away. By myself.

Anyways, obviously I believe that the Iraq war was a just one (to the extent possible since the outcome is undetermined). Others disagree, but it frustrates the hell out of me that someone like Balmer can claim the moral high ground with such willing credulity on the part of his readers. I suppose it’s easier to just think of those of us who disagree as incompetent or wicked. After all, doesn’t Bush just want to benefit his oil buddies? Aren’t US soldiers just dupes of a secretive, but widespread conspiracy to kill brown people?

I apologize for the hyperbole. Sometimes I think it works to emphasize my points. I concede that it can also make some readers turn away in disgust. For that I do apologize. We can all lament the fact that American politics has come to this. Has it always been this way? I honestly don’t know, seeing as how I grew up during the good years (the 90s) so I don’t remember what it was like under Reagan or Bush 41.

Adam Ziegler | June 25, 2006 08:37 AM

Gabriel,

I find it tedious that, apparently having no way to refute the argument at hand, you ascribe to Mr. Balmer a different argument as a pretext for employing that cliché so favored by the supporters of the current government: divide everyone into two groups and, with a bit of handwaving and false equivalents, cast the other side as strident, close-minded and unreasoning.

To say that a policy is "good" does not imply that it is the policy of Jesus. To cite examples of what you consider to be good policy is beside the point, unless you also go on to show how these are the policies of Jesus, and you don't. You simply assume that one implies the other.

For example, you wrote: "ending state-sponsored terrorism and combating WMD proliferation sound like pretty good things" and assume, apparently, that this would meet Jesus' standard. This is mere hand waving, and does not withstand examination. Would Jesus approve regardless of the method? Would Jesus approve of our methods? I think a reasonble case can be made, leaving politics aside, that he would not.

Another example: "Social security reform, that is, ensuring that our elderly are cared for seems to me to be a pretty Jesus-like thing to do."

"Jesus-like" is to Jesus as "truthiness" is to truth. You might have a point here if social security reform, as proposed by the republicans, had anything to do with ensuring that our elderly are cared for. It didn't, and I have to conclude here that you are being either naïve or disingenuous.


JC | June 25, 2006 08:59 AM

If we're going to talk about how Democrats malign all Republican actions with either the incompetence theory or the malice theory, I think it's only fair to bring up the appalling tendency in political rhetoric to conflate "what" and "how." That is, a disagreement over how to do something gets interpreted as a disagreement over what to do.

For example, the problem is not that the Republicans and Democrats do not agree that stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons is a good thing. The problem is that the Republicans and Democrats do not agree on how to do this. Unfortunately, what I see in politics these days are politicians distorting their opponents positions along the lines of "if you don't agree with how I do something, you must also disagree with what goal we aim to achieve."

Incidentally, the "'I hardly think I'm changing any minds' so I'm not going to bother justifying their actions' gambit strikes me as a cop-out. The question you should be asking is, "What would it take to convince you that how the Republicans seek to achieve their goals is good policy?" That way, you can assay whether you are truly talking to the closed-minded rather than merely assuming this.

My answer to this is that it would take someone showing me how the policies of this Republican administration has actually led towards achieving any of those goals. As near as I can tell, under this administration, the poor have gotten poor, the rich have gotten richer, and the world is more destabilized now than it had been under the previous administration. Why is it that insisting on abstinence education in Africa when abstinence education programs has been shown to be not the best value for the dollar moves us towards the laudable goal of ending AIDS in Africa? Yet, I'm willing to hear why the Republican policy actually heads us towards the lofty goals (e.g. stopping the proliferation of nuclear arms) which I think few would disagree with.

For starters, rather than merely assuming the correctness of various positions because the opposing arguments supposed all boil down to accusations of ignorance or malice, you may want to show their correctness instead. For example, why is that "we have enranged our long time allies" a good thing? You say that it is merely an "article of faith [heh] that there is no justification for that." I'm going to infer from this that you think that there is a justification for this and that this is somehow a good thing. So I would love to hear the justification. Inquiring minds want to know.

(I could go through and do this with every point where you excute this gambit. However, that would make this post too long so I will just say that it is possible. Presumably, you don't need me to point all of them out to you. I think you let yourself off the hook too easily by dismissing opposing arguments as either accusations of ignorance or malice. I think that if the policies of this adminstrations are truly good ones to take and genuinely take us towards the laudable goals with which we can all agree, then you should be able to show this in its own right.)

Finally, my question to you is actually the dual of the question I suggested you should ask: "What would it take to show you that the policies of the Republican party are not the best policies for their laudiable goals, or even good policies for that matter?"

JC | June 25, 2006 09:19 AM

Another example: "Social security reform, that is, ensuring that our elderly are cared for seems to me to be a pretty Jesus-like thing to do."

Incidentally, this is an example of what I mean by conflating "what" with "how." I don't think anyone disagrees that taking care of our elderly is a good thing. The problem is the notion that refusing to go along with how the administration wanted to do it was portrayed as not wanting to take care of our elderly.

You might have a point here if social security reform, as proposed by the republicans, had anything to do with ensuring that our elderly are cared for. It didn't, and I have to conclude here that you are being either naïve or disingenuous.

This will, of course, cause Mr. Malor to come back with the "I'm going to dismiss this because it's a charge of ignorance or malice" gambit again. I suggest that a more productive line of argument for Mr. Malor would be to explain how borrowing the large sums of money required to convert from a "pay as you go" system to a "private savings account" system and converting Social Security from an entitlement system where there is a guarenteed income to an investment plan where there is not would have ultimately resulted in better care of the elderly than we have now. (At the time of the debate, it was generally acknowledged by all sides that moving to "private savings accounts" would not, in fact, alleviate the shortfall in Social Security. So, barring new evidence, that argument is off the table.)

I saw the push to change Social Security as a dogmatic move more than anything else. That is, a classic Republican "small government" attempt to privatize government functions because, apparently, to political conservatives anyways, privatization is a laudable goal unto itself rather than merely as a means to a laudable goal. (i.e., during the debate, no one ever actually explained as near as I can tell why privatizing Social Security was a good thing. If someone had, they might have had more success.) I don't think one needs to be ignorant, malicious or deluded to support privatization of Social Security... unless one can't rationally support the thesis that doing so would result in better care for the elderly.

Kurt Perry | June 25, 2006 10:38 AM

John,
I recently discovered your writing and in turn, this sight. I enjoy both and intend to read more as you write more.

Politics and religion.....As a 23 year vet, I can assure you that most of us who wear or wore the uniform including those guys at Guantanamo who are by the way doing a thankless job under a high degree of scrutiny, believe very deeply in god in one form or another.

As to weather or not God is a republican, who cares!!! If by some twist of fate Al Gore had gotten elected prior to 9-11, we could be having a discussion like "are the democrats in league with Satan"

The problem is one of polarization. There really isnt much difference between one party or another, the one is power is always under fire from the one that isnt and should you choose to ignore party affiliations, and look at the people involved as people, you would find good people on both sides trying their best to work within a flawed system to do the right thing.

I have never been comfortable with educated people who quote the bible to make their points, political or otherwise. the bible is a collection of heavily edited stories translated, iterpreted, and sometimes deleted by men and is by no means a good source document for proving anything.... Check out the Skeptics annotated bible.com and educate yourself on all the inconsistancies in the bible, Quran, and all the other religious writings out there.

Phillip J. Birmingham | June 25, 2006 11:20 AM

It's funny how you can interpret a piece differently depending on your viewpoint.

Republican partisans see an anti-GOP hit piece. I, a former Baptist from the South (then Catholic, now non-believer) see more of a "brothers and sisters, we have wandered astray" essay.

He's not saying that Republicans suck, he's lamenting that leading organizations that purport to represent evangelicals cannot even put together a statement like "torture is wrong" because they're afraid it might hurt the President.

John Scalzi | June 25, 2006 11:57 AM

Yup, that's how I saw it as well.

Chris Gabel | June 25, 2006 12:21 PM

Scalzi sez:

"I invite you to show me precisely where in this thread I called Cool Blue an "idiot."

Okey dokey:

"Oh, for God's sake. If you're actually this appallingly unaware..."

A rhetorical equivalalent to "you're an idiot if I've ever seen one. Or how about:

"Honestly, CoolBlue, this is about as patently stupid and oblivious a thing as anyone has written on my site in a good long time..."

So Scalzi, if you want to challenge me on the basis that you didn't use the actual word "idiot", fine - but demanding an apology when your rhetoric was as strong or stronger than the word used is, frankly, idiotic. Honest to gawd, I have reached the conclusion that having a reasonable conversation with you when you argue something THAT obviously false.... well, I think it's the very definition of "waste of time."

Tell you what, John - how about you apologize to me....

Anonymous | June 25, 2006 12:42 PM

Scalzi sez:

"One, it's not an obvious truth, because it's not true. Two, as apparently you're as ignorant about the subject as he appears to be, I can't say I'm particularly concerned what you think on the matter."

Well spoken in your best assholish manner, but utterly devoid of substance, as usual. All he was saying is that the POTUS is highly limited in his use of power. The FACT is that most heads of government in the world have more power within their governmental structure than does POTUS....I suggest you take some polisci courses, John.

Gabriel Malor | June 25, 2006 12:51 PM

I’m going to respond, first to Adam and then to JC. I’ll try and keep it as brief as possible.

Adam, you are correct that I have not come right out and refuted the argument made by Balmer. To do that would require a good fisking that I’m not sure would be proper in this venue. The intent behind my original comments was to “address the problem of providing evidence that the Republican party does live up to the values of Jesus.” I did not say that I was going to refute the argument at hand.

It was in that context that I wrote, “The problem with attempting to show to non-Republicans that Republican policies are good (by which I mean, for the moment anyways, policies which live up to the values of Jesus) is that they've already decided that they are not.” Please note that for the sake of ease I conflated “good” and “living up to the values of Jesus.” I will admit that this conflation led to some sloppiness on my part.

You referenced two policies I brought up. First, in the context of terrorism and WMD proliferation, you questioned whether Jesus would approve of the methods we’ve used to achieve our goals as distinct from the value of those goals in themselves. You said, “I think a reasonable case can be made, leaving politics aside, that he would not.” I disagree. But I think a lot of our difference in that conclusion will be what you consider “our methods.”

Second, you wrote that the Republican idea for social security reform which I had mentioned had nothing to do with ensuring that our elderly are cared for. Your comment is echoed by JC, below. JC notes that an enormous shortfall would result from moving from a “pay as you go” system to a private savings account system. I’m not an economist, nor have I had any special interest in examining the few social security reform ideas. But one thing I’m certain of is that the “pay as you go” system will collapse at some point. Once I realized that the idea of “pay as you go” is actually “pay for your grandparents and their bridge buddies as you go” I started to wonder who will be paying for me and my bridge buddies when I’m a grandparent. It sounds to me like we’re on our way to a shortfall either way. It’s just a question of when we want to confront the problem and how can we avoid it in the future.

And, yes, JC, I was surprised to see Adam sign off with “and I have to conclude here that you are being either naïve or disingenuous.” And I don’t see why I shouldn’t just shrug him off with a reference to my incompetence or wicked theory. After all, he—apparently without any irony—called me “naïve or disingenuous.”

JC, you thought I would have more success if I stopped the rhetorical gambits and started actually talking about results. So, here are a few regarding the points you listed:

1. “the poor have gotten poor, the rich have gotten richer”

Let’s set aside the fact that you think the rich getting richer is a bad thing. (My question is, wouldn’t you want everyone to be better off?) Incidentally, Q1 growth was the greatest it’s been in 2 and a half years. And, yes, I believe the benefit of a vigorous economy accrues to the poor as well as the rich. The employment figures for March were excellent, with unemployment down to 4.7 percent, and the average hourly earnings up .2% to $16.49. The poor are worse off? Says who? (Oddly enough, I just googled “poor worse off” and came across this article written in 1997 that argues that the poor were worse off in the 90s than they were in the 80s. It never ends. Please note that I’m not a Clinton-basher. I kinda liked the guy; he seemed like a pretty cool president to a teenager.)

2. “the world is more destabilized now than it had been under the previous administration.”

Well, I don’t know about that. Of course, it’ll depend on what you mean by “more destabilized” but, for what it’s worth, there are fewer countries at war now than their were under Clinton. For example, the following countries experienced a conflict that began during the Clinton years and continues to today (note, I’m not even including the conflicts that were resolved): Algeria, Congo, Indonesia, Israel, Laos, Nepal, Nigeria. During Bush’s term: Ivory Coast, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Yemen. Well known conflicts that pre-date both presidencies include: Somalia, Chechnya, and Iraq.

Maybe it would be more instructive to look at the number of US military operations begun by each president? Clinton: 35. Bush: 15. Clinton’s include operations in Haiti, Kenya, and Somalia. Not to mention the NATO actions in eastern Europe. My point is, do you think it more or less likely that a country other than the US is going to go to war now that everyone thinks the US is in an ally-enraging mood?

3. “abstinence education programs have been shown to be not the best value”

I agree. The best programs here in the US use a dual approach, that’s contraception plus abstinence. We should be encouraging such programs everywhere.

JC, you ask why I think enraging our allies was a good thing. I never said it was a good thing. I just said that I think it’s an article of faith among Democrats that there is no justification for enraging our allies. My implication was that there are circumstances in which it would be justified to do so. Again for emphasis: that is not the same thing as saying it’s good to piss off our allies. I believe that we were justified in going a different way than France and Russia on Iraq. And I’m still waiting to find out the downside of enraging the French. I mean, you’re telling me that they’re gonna start looking down their noses at us and calling us names? Sacrebleu! You’ll note that they took the lead on Iran willingly enough. And Russia agreed to sit down at the table with North Korea. So what’s the big deal?

Anyways, you ask “what would it take to show that the policies of the Republican party are not the best policies for their laudable goals, or even good policies for that matter?” I think I’d ask the same from you as you’ve asked from me: proof. Or in the absence of proof, likelihood based on historical precedent.

This has gone rather far afield.

John Scalzi | June 25, 2006 12:52 PM

How about this, Chris: You learn the difference between saying someone's statements are stupid and saying someone is stupid. Likewise, learn the difference between saying someone is ignorant and saying someone is an idiot. If you are unable to parse that difference, or if you're foolish enough to think that there's no difference, that's your problem, not mine. However, I will attribute that to your ignorance, which is correctible, as opposed to you being as dumb as a snail, which, alas, would not be.

As for apologizing to you, well, I'm sorry you're apparently too ignorant about how words are used that you can't tell the difference noted above. That's not an apology, but it's a genuine regret. Because your ignorance is embarrassing, and it makes you say stupid things, and the really sad thing is that you're apparently too ignorant to know just how much of an ass you make yourself out to be every time you write something as stupid as your comment above.

That's about as much of an apology as you're going to get out of me on this matter, Chris. I have neither the obligation nor the desire to educate you on the proper use of language, nor am I required to suffer your foolishness lightly. Learn to use the language properly on your own time, not on mine.

Anonymous:

"I suggest you take some polisci courses, John."

I suggest you pull your head out of your ass, anonymous commenter. Your notation that other heads of state have more power than our president, even if true, says nothing about the power he does wield; it's like saying a 125-watt bulb is brighter than a 100-watt bulb. Likewise, noting that the president's powers are "highly limited" means nothing -- there are consitutional limits on the role of the president, but that neither means the powers the president does have are not both highly significant domestically and internationally, or that as the head of his political party he does not have rather substantial power on lawmaking, particularly when that party owns the Congress.

I'm not obliged to take seriously the proposition the president does not wield signficant political power because someone wants to front a jackassed interpretation of the role of the executive that flies in the face of the scope of the powers of the president and the executive branch of the US Government here in the real world. Nor am I obliged to take seriously people who show up and say "nuh-uh, you're wrong" to no useful effect. And for that matter, I'm not obliged to take seriously anonymous commentors who can't craft a rhetorical argument any better than this lame-ass piece of crap you're serving in front of me right now. I feel profoundly sorry for CoolBlue that the best arguments he has coming to the defense of his proposition are coming from you and Chris Gabel. Because, honestly, you guys suck at this.

Chris Gabel | June 25, 2006 01:07 PM

John:

Thank you for demonstrating once and for all who you are and what you're all about. I can't for the life of me remember why I thought I might like you or want to communicate with you.

I know you'll say - don't let the door hit you on the way out - and I really don't care. You've already demonstrated that you simply abuse anybody who isn't a member of your amen chorus. You've accused me of playing rhetorical games, but are the worst abuser of such. Have a nice life....asshole.

Gabriel Malor | June 25, 2006 01:08 PM

Oh, and in reply to those of you who saw it as a "brothers we've wandered astray" article, I think that the following statements gave it a more accusatory tone:

"Public education is very much imperiled by Republican policies, to the evident satisfaction of the religious right..." Eh?

"America's grossly disproportionate consumption of energy continues unabated, prompting demands for oil exploration in environmentally sensitive areas." No mention that America is the largest high-tech manufacturer (and exporter) in the world. That takes power, folks. The statement itself is pretty accusatory.

"The Bush administration has jettisoned U.S. participation in the Kyoto Protocol on climate change..." No mention that the Kyoto Protocol wasn't implimented under the previous administration either. Yet, Bush "jettisoned" it. Pretty accusatory.

He goes on.

John Scalzi | June 25, 2006 01:23 PM

Chris Gabel:

"I can't for the life of me remember why I thought I might like you or want to communicate with you."

Communicating is predicated on the ability to communicate, Chris.

And for the record, I'm not aware of accusing you of playing rhetorical games, I just expect you to understand the rhetoric you attempt to use, or attempt to accuse me of using. When you don't, that's where the trouble begins, because unlike you, I know what I'm doing when I use the language.

Re: the "Amen chorus" -- there are lots of people who visit here who disagree with my positions, who can well express why they do and why they feel I'm wrong. I'm delighted that they are here and I enjoy arguing with them and I don't take it personally when things get heated, in part because I think as rule we focus here on attacking ideas and statements, not the people behind them. Clearly, if you can't understand the difference between the two, as it's clear you don't, you're going to get hurt feelings. Again, that's not my problem.

Chris gerrib | June 25, 2006 01:51 PM

Folks, go read the entire article. If you do, what you'll find is that Balmer's point isn't that the Republicans are evil, but that politics and religion don't mix - and religion looses.

Balmer traces the history of state-sponsored religion in America, starting from Puritan New England. In that case, state-sponsored religion became ossified and unable to respond to outside challenges.

He traces the current "problem" with evangelical Christianity to Jimmy Carter, hardly a Republican. His beef isn't with the Republicans, it's with his own church for getting in bed (his words) with politicians - any politicians.

Go read the whole thing (trademark Glenn Reynolds)

Jon Marcus | June 25, 2006 02:00 PM

Gabriel

I think the "brothers we've wandered astray" argument would be directed towards those who support Republicans because of their own religon, not towards Republican politicians themselves. So saying "These guys are doing some really bad things," (such as Kyoto) would be consistent with such an argument.

P.S. Kyoto was signed by Clinton. Bush's postion was as follows: "The President has been unequivocal. He does not support the Kyoto treaty. It...is not in the United States' economic best interest. (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/briefings/20010328.html#KyotoTreaty)

Saying Republicans jettisoned is an accurate representation, whatever you think of that decision.

Chris Gabel

Has your approach ever convinced anyone to reconsider their position? I'm guessing not. If you're trolling or just making noise for the fun of it, I wish you'd go do it elsewhere. If you're trying to engage in a sensible debate, you should reconsider your approach.

re setting policy
C'mon people. Sure, policy is not invariably dictated by the POTUS. But the claim was that Bush and the Republican party are the basis for US domestic and foreign policy. And that's inarguably true. There's room for interesting and serious debate on the post. But not on this.

Lars | June 25, 2006 02:01 PM


"I missed the lesson telling me that I should turn a blind eye to the suffering of others, even those designated as my enemies."

That irked me a little, as I'd be readier to turn a blind eye to the suffering of my enemies than I would to the suffering of my friends, and the phrasing here suggests an inversion of that. Just wanted to put that in...

Jon Marcus | June 25, 2006 02:03 PM

Sorry for the double post, but I came across this right after I posted that last:

http://www.sltrib.com/ci_3970622

Republican congressman says Satan is working against his re-election.

JC | June 25, 2006 02:32 PM

Let’s set aside the fact that you think the rich getting richer is a bad thing.

Actually, no, let's not. You had quoted me correctly in the previous sentence, and then those to respond to me out of context. Why did you do that? The poor getting poorer while the rich get richer is a bad thing. To apply your own tactic back to you would have me think that you believe the poor getting poorer is ok. I don't think you believe that. So I don't understand why you choose to play games.

About military intervention, is the absolute number of military operations more important than working within the context of structures of global cooperation? It seems to me that a strategy of deliberately flouting structures of global cooperation is far more destabilizing than participating in military operations as part of a global force.

As for AIDS prevention, you left out a third of the US policy for which the slogan is the "ABC approach." In other words, Abstinence, Be Careful, Condoms, where each component must get 1/3 the total funding despite the fact that the Abstinence has been shown to be less effective than, say, Condoms. If the idea is to end AIDS in Africa, wouldn't it make sense to spend the funding with maximum efficiency rather than engage in such a procrustean approach? Why is this approach better than one where we spend more money on approaches which work? This takes me back to my orginal question of how the Republican policy leads the laudable goal which I note you have chosen not to answer.

JC, you ask why I think enraging our allies was a good thing. I never said it was a good thing. I just said that I think it’s an article of faith among Democrats that there is no justification for enraging our allies. My implication was that there are circumstances in which it would be justified to do so.

The implication here is that this is one of those circumstances for which there is justification. Otherwise, that is, if you feel there is no justification in this case, I fail to understand you even bother to make the argument at all because you would effectively be saying that the Democrats take it as an article of faith they're right and in this case they happen to be. So, if you think there is a justification, please present it to put to a lie the notion that there is no justification. If you feel that there is no justification in this case, please state that.

I think I’d ask the same from you as you’ve asked from me: proof. Or in the absence of proof, likelihood based on historical precedent.

It's worth noting that all you have written are games of rhetoric. It's also worth noting that you have still yet to explain how the transition of Social Security to a private investment system would have improved the care of the elderly whereas you do not dispute my argument that it would not. To note merely that Social Security needs to be repaired is not a counterargument when the proposed fix would not have actually fixed anything. If we, as a country, had taken proposals like raising the income cap on FICA taxes seriously, for example, then one might be able to build an argument based on the notion of needing to fix Social Security. So the Republican policy on Social Security is an example of where the Republican policy is not the best approach to their laudable goal.

This as well as the AIDS issue which you brought up shows that I have already pointed out ways in which the Republican policy is not the best approach to their laudable goals.

Chris Gabel | June 25, 2006 02:37 PM

Last post & gone forever:

Actually, the last thing I expect from you is apology. You've taught me well. You're never wrong and my reading comprehension is poor. I'm functionally illiterate. Ahem.

None of this is really a problem. I just see how it is now. You're an asshole with an inflated ego who only truly suffers the company of sycophants & makes no effort to even try see anyone else's else's point of view. Other than that you're a great guy.

No need to respond....it's pointless. Goodbye.

John Scalzi | June 25, 2006 02:57 PM

Chris Gabel:

"You're never wrong and my reading comprehension is poor."

Actually, I'm wrong all the time. Your reading comprehension may be poor, which would partially explain your difficulty crafting decent arguments. At the very least, as noted earlier, you have difficulty differentiating between ideas and the people behind them. However, your major problem, as far as I can see, is that you argue very poorly. Your minor problem is that you don't like it when that's pointed out. Once again, that's not my problem. If you make a poor argument, I'm going to point it out.

"You're an asshole with an inflated ego who only truly suffers the company of sycophants & makes no effort to even try see anyone else's else's point of view."

I've never denied being either an asshole or an egotist, so this is not news, nor am I particularly concerned about being called such (this is all covered in the site disclaimer). However, if I only suffered sycophants, only half this particular thread would exist, and other threads would be likewise truncated, so this proposition of yours doesn't fly. Another unfortunate example of your poor arguing skills, Chris: the posit of your argument is outflanked by reality.

That you argue poorly is an entirely separate issue from whether you and I agree on things; were you able to argue well (and additionally not become Mr. Pouty McPouterson when your bad arguments were pointed out and called what they are), you probably would not feel the need to stomp out of the site (twice, now). I certainly do make an effort to see other people's points of views -- when those points of view are clearly and intelligently expressed. I may agree or disagree as I will, but I will appreciate those points of view being cogently expressed. That is really what I value.

Now, Chris, if you're going to go away, then go away. If you're going to stay, then stay. It really is all the same to me. All this stomping in and out and making final final statements is silly.

Jim | June 25, 2006 03:49 PM

John, some times you are right and some times you are wrong (definition of right and wrong, of course, is by how close your views are to mine *grin*) but what I enjoy about your site is that your thoughts and opinions are generally both interesting and expressed in an interesting fashion.

That said, were I to be leafing through The Chronicle of Higher Education (or any other publication) and came upon an article titled "Jesus Is Not a Republican" (or "Jesus Is Not a Democrat" or "Jesus Is Not a Libertarian" or "Jesus Is Not a NASCAR fan" or whatever) I would most likely just flip on to the next article while mentally flipping the bird to the author and the editor.

John Scalzi | June 25, 2006 03:55 PM

Jim:

I personally would not have chosen that headline myself, for the reasons you note (I don't think Blamer titled his essay such, as people who write stories/essays for newspapers only infrequently write the headlines).

Adam Ziegler | June 25, 2006 05:56 PM

John Scalzi:

"...if I only suffered sycophants, only half this particular thread would exist..."

Hey now. I do not know specifically in which half you'd place me, but just to be on record here, I'm sending back my John Scalzi Fan Club Secret Decoder Ring. Wouldn't want to give the wrong impression.

John Scalzi | June 25, 2006 06:04 PM

That's all right, Adam. The only secret messages I send out read "Drink more Ovaltine" anyway.

mds | June 25, 2006 06:24 PM

He is saying that the actions of the religious right are not consistent with the historical practice of evangelical Christianity specifically

Indeed. The Baptist Faith and Message (the "Pirates' Code" for the Southern Baptist Convention) explicitly points out, among other things, that "Church and state should be separate," and that the church should not rely upon civil power to achieve its ends. Yet the Southern Baptist Convention was one of the driving forces behind the formation of the Christian Coalition in the 1980s. I believe Judge Roy Moore, who defied separation of church and state, and continues to shriek for their combination, is also a Southern Baptist. An awareness of how much the Church had already become entwined with the State, and the damage that was doing to the Church's true calling, was the subject of Blinded by Might, co-authored by Cal Thomas. Mr. Thomas was formerly a major player in the Christian Coalition. Amusingly enough, Ralph Reed's leadership of the Coalition contributed to Mr. Thomas's disillusionment.

Now, I could take Mr. DeLay at his word, when he compares himself to Jesus. I could believe Mr. Moore when he demands the erection of graven images to his religious beliefs in the courtroom. I could accept the acknowledgment of the corrupting effect of politics on the church by Mr. Thomas. I could watch Mr. McCain suck up to Jerry Falwell in order to further his political ambitions. I could simply listen to the participants at the "Justice Sunday" events, where Republican congressional leaders pander to Mr. Dobson and his fellows. Or I could accept simple assertions that none of this is an accurate analysis of the modern Republican Party. I'm afraid I'd have to go with Cal Thomas on this one. That's a shame, because

But one thing is for sure, I don't want to be judged by your (the rhetorical "your") religion and I sure don't want to be basing public (or foreign) policy on anyone's interpretation of what this or that religious belief or interpretation may mean.
is a sentiment with which I could agree.

Anonymous | June 25, 2006 07:05 PM

RE: Salt Lake Tribune quote. That is not what it said. A challenger to the republican incumbent made this colorful statement. The incumbent said no such thing.

CartoonCoyote | June 25, 2006 09:37 PM

The piece (in Firefox, at least) ends with this:

"Taking such a broader approach to "life issues" would affect evangelical attitudes not only toward abortion and capital punishme"

Can anyone point me to a complete link, if they'd be so kind?

Brian Greenberg | June 26, 2006 01:40 AM

Oh man, there you go again...

It drive me up a f*cking wall when people criticize public policy (or, for that matter, recommend public policy) based on "What Jesus Would Do" or any other religious context. Haven't we learned by now that religion is interpreted in thousands of different ways, and that just about everyone believes that his/her interpretation is the only correct one? Even if I agree with your criticism/recommendation, using this tack is bound to get me to disagree with your argument.

In other words: if you think the war was a bad thing, the last possible way to get me to agree with you is to tell me that Jesus wouldn't have invaded.

In defense of CoolBlue (who, John has argued, hasn't had quality defenders here): the President sets the agenda. The Congress proposes & enacts the laws based on that agenda. The role of public opinion/pressure that shape the way Congress acts is always underestimated, and it's this very control that keeps an evangelical plurality in Congress (or the White House) from turning us all into a nation of bible-thumpers.

In a previous thread, we had a lengthy discussion in which I advanced the theory that while the religious right has been extremely vocal lately, they have been highly unsuccessful in enacting their agenda during the Bush presidency. I believe we actually reached agreement on this point (with the exception of a few "I can't believe you just said that" stragglers). It's of note, therefore, that many of the things Balmer criticizes in his article are things the religious right wanted to enact, but never did...

Finally, a comment on the Chris Gabel discussion: John - when you engage in logical, fact-based debate, your blog is an absolute pleasure to read - educational, thought-provoking, and occasionally opinion changing.

However, when you make a statement, then criticize those who disagree with you as saying stupid/idiotic/assinine things, then respond to complaints about those responses with lessons in reading comprehension ("I didn't say he was stupid, I said he said a stupid thing"), followed by a link to your site disclaimer, which (you say) allows you to be obnoxious, the blog becomes nothing more than a 1990's-style flamewar. Not only is it boring, but it robs us all of the thought-provoking conversation we should be having.

Many is the time you've hit me with the same club you hit Chris with in this thread, and many is the time I've wondered "why don't I just delete the bookmark & move on." You say you value contributions from people who disagree with you. I know it's your site & you can do what you want, but please know that the difference between your two modes of discussion is glaringly obvious, that many of us notice it, and that many of us wish you'd stick with the former more often.

John Scalzi | June 26, 2006 08:44 AM

Brian Greenberg:

"However, when you make a statement, then criticize those who disagree with you as saying stupid/idiotic/assinine things, then respond to complaints about those responses with lessons in reading comprehension ("I didn't say he was stupid, I said he said a stupid thing"), followed by a link to your site disclaimer, which (you say) allows you to be obnoxious, the blog becomes nothing more than a 1990's-style flamewar. Not only is it boring, but it robs us all of the thought-provoking conversation we should be having."

Having been in some classic flamewars in my time (surprising, I know), I dispute things here get that bad. But I take your point.

This much is certainly true: I am more likely to find what I think are asinine and stupid arguments in people with opposing viewpoints, not because people whose viewpoints are the same as mine are any more logical on average than those with opposing viewpoints, but because I'm simply not as likely to spend the time picking apart that viewpoint (in part because I know others here will do that; in part because it simply doesn't interest me to do so). I do know that I have noted what I think are bad arguements when they have been made in support of something I've said, but, yeah. That's a rather rarer thing.

Likewise, I agree there have been times when I should have just walked away from the keyboard and come back later when I was less annoyed and everyone would have been happier (this is why on occasion I edit a comment I've already posted; because I know I've been too hot-headed). This is something I'm aware of and that I do try to do less of as time goes on, with varying levels of success. I have apologized when I know I've gone over the edge, but I also know that like confession, apologies are not meant to be a blank check to continue bad behavior. So this is something for me to work on.

Having said that, let me note the following: In my experience there is no good way to tell someone you think their arguments are fundamentally bad, and likewise there will always be people who will come to the following conclusion: "He thinks my argument is bad, therefore he thinks I'm a moron." I do think it's important to establish when people start from bad premises; however, no matter how pretty the bow you put on that, no one wants to unwrap that. But, again, I do think it's important to establish when someone is making a bad argument; therein lies the conundrum.

I can say "your argument here is fundamentally flawed," and people seem to be just as upset as when I say "that's a pretty damn idiotic thing to say." Rhetorically speaking, the first makes me sound cold and snooty; the second makes me sound like a hot-headed jerk. The question is which of the two I want to be perceived as. There are possibly more euphemistic ways to tell people they've said something I see as badly posited, but at a certain point, it becomes pointless; civility is nice and useful but you also do need to get to the point.

Likewise, I don't know how I can help that some people don't believe I make the distinction between bad ideas and being an idiot, or that some people don't make that distinction for themselves. I'm sorry they don't, but nevertheless the distinction exists. I'm a pretty smart guy; I also say a number of damn foolish things. It would be uncharitable and counter to my own personal experience if I didn't allow others the same courtesy I extend to myself by recognizing even smart people say dumb things.

My only counter to people who think I think they're an idiot when I say their ideas are bad is: You'll know if I think you're an idiot because I will tell you, flat out, that I think you are one.

As for the disclaimer, I would note that it doesn't exist to excuse occasional bad behavior on my part, it exists to warn people that it happens. The disclaimer is, more or less, an acknowledgement that I am an imperfect being, and people need to be aware of that sooner than later.

Brian Greenberg | June 26, 2006 01:02 PM

Having said that, let me note the following: In my experience there is no good way to tell someone you think their arguments are fundamentally bad...but I do think it's important to establish when someone is making a bad argument; therein lies the conundrum.

Well put. And while I'm not particularly qualified to give advice in this area, I do have one suggestion: rather than telling them their argument is bad, prove it to them. I find that if I support my disagreement with facts (or at least logic), people will argue the facts/logic, but steer away from the "don't call me an idiot" mindset.

This approach has the added bonus of sharing the maximum amount of facts/logic with the other readers, which allows more (and more informed) opinions to surface.

So check this out: rules for civility in a flame war. Only took 25 years, huh? ;-)

Adam Ziegler | June 26, 2006 07:59 PM

...rather than telling them their argument is bad, prove it to them.

It would seem a rare incident to me if John didn't offer some logical or factual support in conjunction with telling someone they've made a logic boo-boo.

The problem is that people who make bad arguments tend, unsurprisingly, to have difficulty in distinguishing good arguments from bad. They ignore whatever facts or inferences are brought into evidence and continue to argue imcompetently, compounding their offenses. (And perhaps some fully realize what they are doing and aim to win the minds of observers through force of rhetoric alone.)

One reaches a point where it seems embarassing to both parties to continue. For how long is one obligated to humor someone before declaring that the opposing arguments are simply too idiotic to merit further discussion?

In answering that question, you would seem to be more patient and forgiving than John. That is perhaps noble, but for my part, I tire of fools quickly and am pleased to seem them get their due with haste. It doesn't hurt that John knows how to write:

"I feel profoundly sorry for CoolBlue that the best arguments he has coming to the defense of his proposition are coming from you and Chris Gabel. Because, honestly, you guys suck at this."

I mean, damn, that's funny.

Jon Marcus | June 26, 2006 11:54 PM

Brian

The article refers to the platforms of the Republican party. (There's more than that, but platforms are recorded documents, which makes things a little simpler.)

You're talking about the results. We can get into a whole different argument about why the results are different from the platforms' stated goals. But if you're attacking this article, you should attack the arguments it makes.

Tripp | June 27, 2006 11:35 AM

Damn, I miss the best arguments!

I know you're gone, Chris, but I bet you are reading this, too.

If you are going to get into a war of words with a writer then you better make sure you use the correct words. You have a bad habit of either misreading what John says or perhaps ignorance of what the words mean. Then when called on it you try to bluster your way out instead of acknowledging the error and proceeding.

For example I more or less called you ignorant above. If you claim that I called you an idiot you are wrong and shouldn't try to convince me that ignorance is the same (or worse) than being an idiot.

I doubt this gets through to you. You seem to be arguing with some phantom in your head and every now and then peeking out to the real world.

Tripp | June 27, 2006 11:40 AM

Gabriel,

THE POOR DON’T PAY TAXES)

Do you honestly believe this? Around these parts they certainly do. One of my main gripes with Bush's tax changes is that they are shifting some of the tax burden from the rich to the middle and poor.

I find this despicable, especially when the gap between rich and poor is getting bigger.

Anonymous | June 27, 2006 04:53 PM

Gabriel,

Of course the poor pay taxes, sales tax, gas tax, taxes on alochol and tobacco, property taxes and all other taxes not levied on income.

Brian Greenberg | June 27, 2006 04:55 PM

Jon Marcus:
The article refers to the platforms of the Republican party. . . You're talking about the results. We can get into a whole different argument about why the results are different from the platforms' stated goals. But if you're attacking this article, you should attack the arguments it makes.

Point taken, Jon - he doesn't say the Republicans have implemented all these evil things; he says they advocate for these evil things. This is an interesting point, but the only reason to be OUTRAGED!!! (and I assume we can agree that he's outraged) is to suggest that the country is changing for the worse (i.e., that these things are happening). If you point out that they're not, a lot of air gets let out of the balloon.

Related thought: Although I disagree with the religious right on many of the policies mentioned in the article, I'm in favor of discussing them in a public forum. Sunlight is the great purifier, and when someone is trying to garner support for a particularly evil thing, nothing quashes it more effectively than shining the light of public attention on it. In that sense, the religious right is doing us all a favor...

SFC SKI | June 28, 2006 04:05 PM

Thanks for bringing this article to my attention. Religion, or one's relationship with God, is a personal thing exemplified by one's actions, or best efforts at least. It is not a political tool to be wielded.

I don't have a lot of time on the Internet, (especially because it's like an addiction) but I really enjoy reading a lot of what you post, thanks.

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