Is Capitalism evil? Is President Bush a bad president? Should health care be offered to everyone in all circumstances? Does everyone deserve a job? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. It’s that simple. Or at least, that’s what Michael Moore would have you think. And many have taken the bait.
Let’s get this straight: Michael Moore (and those who appreciate his films) are not completely off base. They’re right to point out the glaring flaws of capitalism, the problems with the abuses of executive power, and the need to take care of those who are sick and hurting. Christians would do well to listen to some of their arguments and engage them, and the Christians who count themselves among Moore supporters (of which there are an increasing number) are certainly not to be expected to simply “get over it.” As Christians living in a fallen world, one of the things we are meant to do is to bring the attributes of God to life in a real, tangible way. This is what being a “light on a hill” is all about.
Of course, how we go about doing this is where it gets complicated. Should we attempt to pass legislation so that a more just society will continue for generations, or is that simply an impossible fool’s errand? Should we seek merely to carry out as many acts of kindness as we can as individuals or are we wasting our time when we could be accomplishing some more “big picture” changes?
There may be answers to these questions. I certainly have my opinions. But one thing is for certain: Michael Moore is not supplying us with those answers. In fact, he is short-circuiting the discussion by oversimplifying it. While his concerns are often real and valid, he often invalidates his claims by framing them in broad, foreboding strokes. In Bowling for Columbine, the NRA is painted as an offshoot of the KKK (because it was established around the same time the KKK was disbanded), a group of hapless followers of the foreboding villain, Charlton Heston who, with the help of a craftily edited series of interviews and speeches, was made to look as if he was spitting on the graves of the victims of 9/11 and their families. In Fahrenheit 9/11, Bush was portrayed solely as a President who saw 9/11 as nothing except for an opportunity to invade a country in order to benefit his wealthy friends. In Sicko, the American health care system is portrayed as utterly broken, while Europe is portrayed as an example of perfect justice in the realm of health care. In Moore’s world, it was all so simple.
But the thing is, it’s just not. In this world there are no unadulterated villains and heroes. Comparing Bush to Hitler serves to either alienate those who differ or dilute the horror and tragedy of the holocaust. Lesser villains equated to great villains simply creates an army of people who have no clue what true evil and tragedy looks like.
Moore doesn’t usually outright lie (though he’s been known to come pretty close). Instead, he oversimplifies. He paints with a broad brush and dehumanizes everyone who disagrees with him. And others are following suit.
The scary thing is, those following suit are not always liberal democrats. Glenn Beck, who many see as one of the main voices for conservative politics, wrote a book with the empathetic and edifying title, “Arguing with Idiots.” He is apparently fast and loose with words like “socialism,” “racism,” and “indoctrination.” When Barack Obama sought to encourage students in a speech to do well in school, Glenn Beck called it indoctrination. He called global warming “the greatest scam in history.”
What Michael Moore and Glenn Beck have in common is a disdain for complexity. They find clarifying arguments to be frustrating and counterproductive to their cause and will seek to villainize anyone who suggests them. Watch, for instance, the calculated way in which Moore responds to criticisms of Sicko, not by addressing the issues but by claiming the entire news network is biased. Similarly, note how Glenn Beck, when asked simply to clarify his own statement, begins to accuse the news media of “trapping” him. When faced with the possibility that there may be more to an issue than at first meets the eye, both Beck and Moore become visibly frustrated.
To follow Moore’s or Beck’s lead is a huge mistake. While it may seem tempting to take the easy way to winning an argument, there are three crucial principles the Christians must never lose sight of: First, for the Christian, truth is a value that must be both treasured and actively protected, not only by refusing to tell lies, but by also acknowledging truths even when they are inconvenient. Second, Christians must remember that winning arguments is last on the list of priorities, and that political debate oftentimes serves to distract from the gospel. Imagine how thrilled Satan must be when we argue with our unsaved family members about socialism and gay marriage. Finally, we must remember that we are merely pilgrims in this world, and that any political defeat or victory will only last until he comes and is therefore of diminishing importance as each second passes.
Are Michael Moore and Glenn Beck horrible people? Man, it sure is tempting to say so, and it may even be partially truth. But the real truth is, it’s just not that simple.