The Proud Duck
Friday, March 25, 2005
Rich Lowry in National Review Online has a piece today that echoes my post of January 18, on Democrats' belated attempts to put a religious gloss on their politics after getting shellacked in the last election, apparently in part out of a perception that they're dismissive of the concerns of religious people.
Essentially, Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean, in his latest incarnation as a revival preacher, is trying to make the case that not only are Democrats deeply religious, they out-Christian the Christians.
Essentially, his argument is that Christian conservatives focus too much on the "peripheral" teachings of the Gospel, as they consider, for example, sexual morality to be, and neglect the "weightier matters of the law" like mercy and justice. They "strain at a gnat and swallow a camel," if you will (see Matthew, ch. 23). (A side note -- I strongly suspect that Mr. Dean has no more knowledge of the Bible than a cherry-picked verse or two, because if he had any sense and wanted to make his argument stronger, he'd cite precisely those passage instead of the shopworn cliches he uses instead.)
The idea is apparently that Democrats are so strong on the "mercy" issue (although they're not so keen on "judgment," as in their inevitable "who are YOU to judge?!") that they can safely ignore the "peripheral" matters. It doesn't work that way. As I noted below, Matthew 23 blasts the religious formalists for "pay[ing] tithes of mint and anise and cumin" (i.e. satisfying the formal requirements of their religion) but neglecting the moral core. But it also advises people "not to leave the other [i.e. the other religious duties] undone.
In other words, you don't get an exemption from the "thou shalt not commit adultery" part just because you support a 5% increase in Head Start funding.
Dean also quoted the New Testament passage about it being harder for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. In that case, Dean needs to go on a serious diet if he's going to fit through that needle's eye -- he would qualify as "rich" by most standards. As would the billionaire (by marriage) John Kerry, George Soros, Barbara Streisand (and the rest of the almost-uniformly-Democratic Hollywood elite), and Michael Moore (who would need to go on a serious diet).
I read the "camel through the eye of a needle" passage in Matthew 19 in context with the passage that follows, in which the apostles are "amazed" at what Jesus has just said about the rich, and question whether it is possible for anyone to be saved. Jesus responds that salvation is impossible for men to accomplish alone, but "with God all things are possible." It appears, then, that the "camel through the eye of a needle" passage is in effect a setup for a larger point -- that all people are deeply flawed and need divine redemption, with the attachment of the rich to their possessions being merely the particular flaw that is manifested once people get rich. The non-rich, it is implied, have their own needle's eyes to squeeze through.
No matter how hard Democrats may try to position themselves as a party friendly to faith (advice to Mr. Dean: trying to argue that conservatives are "bad Christians" is probably not the way to go; try showing that you are equal to conservatives in your respect for faith before you try to argue you're superior), they have a major problem in that there is a perception that while not all Democrats are hostile to Christianity, those who are most hostile to or exaggeratedly fearful of Christianity do tend to fall on the liberal side of the spectrum. I have absolutely no constructive advice on how to solve that problem, frankly, other than to suggest that the way Mr. Dean is trying to solve it is probably not going to work very well.