David Brooks's New York Times column Tuesday has launched a fascinating theological discussion among some a-list bloggers. At issue is a statement Bush made while meeting Friday with ten conservative journalists. Brooks has the quote in part, but National Review Online's Rich Lowry posted it in full after Brooks's column came out:
The other debate is whether or not it is a hopeless venture to encourage the spread of liberty. Most of you all around this table are much better historians than I am. And people have said, you know, this is Wilsonian, it's hopelessly idealistic. One, it is idealistic, to this extent: It's idealistic to believe people long to be free. And nothing will change my belief. I come at it many different ways. Really not primarily from a political science perspective, frankly; it's more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn't exist.
Lowry isn't buying it. "You can believe freedom is a gift from the Almighty and still recognize that some cultural soil is more or less compatible with supporting political systems that protect liberty," he wrote. "But Bush believes the spread of liberty is 'inevitable.' If that is the case, why not spare ourselves all the effort and let the inevitable flowering of liberty take hold?"
Rod Dreher chimes in: "I believe there's an Almighty too, and that He desires his human creatures to live in freedom. But good grief, you can't start wars based on that messianic principle, and continuing them on the same grounds!"
Andrew Sullivan writes,
As a very abstract theological principle, it's hard for a fellow Christian to disagree [with Bush's statement that 'a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom']. But, of course, as a political or historical principle, this is dangerous, delusional hogwash. There is a distinction between Burke theology and politics, a distinction between theory and practice: a distinction at the core of the very meaning of conservatism. The notion that free will or even human freedom is destined to be humanity's future, and that this destiny can be achieved by a Supreme Leader, is a function not of conservatism in any sense, but of a messianic, eschatological ideology.
The harshest remark comes from Ross Douthat, whose post is titled "Our President, The Heretic":
I think Andrew lets Bush off too easily when he says "as a very abstract theological principle, it's hard for a fellow Christian to disagree" with the President's contention that "a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom." On the one hand, there's nothing 'abstract' about that particular Christian principle: The gift of freedom that Christ promises is far more real than anything else in this world, if Christian teaching on the matter is correct. On the other hand, there's nothing that's political about that promise, and the attempt to transform God's promise of freedom through Jesus Christ into a this-world promise of universal democracy is the worst kind of "immanentizing the eschaton" utopian bull****. It's Hegel meets Woodrow Wilson meets James Kurth's 'Protestant Deformation' meets the American heresy [Douthat apparently means David Gerlernter's "Americanism" more than Pope Leo XIII's], and Christians and conservatives alike ought to be appalled by it.
Back at National Review Online, Ramesh Ponnuru defends Bush: '[I]t may be unconservative to think that an aggressively liberty-promoting foreign policy follows from the idea that all human beings have a God-given right to be free, and certainly Christians are not obliged to believe that it does so follow. But the proposition that our rights are a gift from God is neither un-conservative nor un-Christian; it is a commonplace observation in the context of American political history." (Douthat agrees in part here.)
We've seen similar statements from Bush throughout his presidency, and we've seen conservative Christians disagreeing. But it is new that people like Douthat, who supported the war, are declaring Bush's rationale heretical.
This hits on what I think is the biggest question for western Christians right now: Should Christians in democracies work to make governmental actions reflect biblical priorities? If God loves human "freedom," should we then get the government to act for "freedom" worldwide? If God loves the poor, should we get the government to enact polices aimed at reducing (or eliminating) poverty?
Touchstone provided an interesting answer in a recent editorial. "[W]e know abortion is murder but do not know what God would have us do about global warming," the magazine stated. The implication is that we know what God would have us do about abortion but even prolife allies who agree that God wants his people to work for a governmental ban disagree on what the ban should look like and how to work for it.
Many evangelicals who agree with Douthat's criticism of Bush argue that it is their Christian obligation to work against the Iraq war because "God loves peace." Thus they employ the same logic as Bush. Are we all a bunch of heretics?
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