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October 20, 2005


bart naylor

It is good to see that a Christian leader is defending liberal thinking. It’s good that the book is selling well. But I don’t think it’s accurate that the Left is tone death about the role of religion in politics. I work occasionally in Maryland on health care reform, and religious leaders figure very prominently in this campaign (on our side). In labor unions, we constantly recruit religious leaders to help articulate our cause to the public.

It is insightful that by 2-1, people who are Democrats say they are not religious, and by the same margin, Republicans say they are. So that’s not really a tactical problem for the Left, but a demographic reality.

It’s nice to say “give peace a chance,” but I don’t think a candidate who said so would win many votes. Carter’s non-aggression in the Iran hostage crisis (which I supported), possibly cost him his reelection. In other words, if Wallis is saying that if Liberal Christians voiced their opinions, and noted their Christianity, I don’t think that would mean much at the polling booths. Of course, if we were all good Christians (or agreed with Wallis’s Christian-inspired viewpoints), that might change election results; but that begs the question. That is, we’re apparently not good Christians.

Most generally, he covers a big pond, but with only one inch. About Walmart, he says we should stop shopping there and let the free market really rule. I believe the free market gives us Walmart. We need regulation. He then says we need a revitalized labor movement. Bromide without insight. Enron was unChristian because the execs got golden parachutes, and the workers got defunct pensions. Much reported on, and opined on, even by Christian leaders, already.

Says Christian left must come out of the closet in politics, yet agrees/celebrates that many/most major churches opposed Iraq war, and said so.

His solution is that we should have had international sanctions on Saddam. Let the world force him out. I probably agree, but he needs to build this case a little better to persuade. Our sanctions on Castro have been in place for a half-century. The UN did pass numerous resolutions on Saddam. Would a court decision have done any better.

Wallis goes through Bush’s dissembling about the reasons for war. Old news.

Supports Palestinian poet’s declaration that no war/terror can legitimize collatoral casualty, which is a pacificist pov (which I probably support) yet later says there must be a middle way between pacificism and just war

Quotes Lincoln about using spiritual justification; my history reading says he shunned it, especially about abolition, and that his prosecution of the war was aggressive. Give a general who will fight. He sanctioned Sherman’s total war.

Personal annoyances: he quotes himself. “Like I told these students,” or “As I told this reporter.” I find this self-important. I was good enough to lecture at Harvard, or to interested a reporter, so you, the reader should be interested. The reader should be interested by his content.
He in unrigorous/sloppy. “the only way” etc. Few routes are “the only way”

Theo heard him speak and found him engrossing, inspiring. Perhaps I’d be more inspired by his verbal presentation. I bring a prejudice to a book that it should challenge me, tell me something I don’t know, or haven’t thought of, or argue an opinion I don’t share. His footnotes show that he’s basically reading the same popular newspapers I do, and bolstering his opinion with what he reads. I’d rather have someone do some research/reading I haven’t done, and tell me about it. In fact, I think he’s wrong about some conclusions. He says that poverty is a breeding ground for terrorists. It makes sense, and I bet that’s part of it. But many articles I’ve seen show that many terrorists are from the middle class, are educated, etc. The 911 bombers, or the London bombers are examples. They came from relatively comfortable backgrounds.

So, is it going to be important that the Christian left is rallied to leave the closet? I doubt it. Is there anything to rebut the yelling right? Maybe. Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, I think, is have some impact. He’s using humor (not religion), but I think he’s getting harder punches in on Bush & Co. and to a bigger audience than many. He’s even educating my kids. They know who Barak Obama is because of his appearance on the Daily Show. Ditto John McCain. They know something about the torture debate. They’re not getting that from the newspaper (which they don’t much read, other than the comics). And they aren’t getting it from liberal St Georges (Sunday school, sermons, etc.)

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Scott Paeth teaches Religious Studies at DePaul University