Two different reasons to be civil

Michael Gerson asks, “Why, other than upbringing, should we be civil in the first place?”  He cites two different and competing reasons:

In the Western tradition, one answer has been rooted in epistemology – the limits of knowledge. Citizens, in this view, should not be arrogant or intolerant about their political, moral and religious views because no one has the right to be certain of his or her views. What our public life needs is more ambiguity, agnosticism and detachment. The humble are less strident, more peaceful.

This argument is made by a certain kind of campus relativist, who views the purpose of education as the systematic cultivation of doubt. But it is also reflected in the conservative tradition, which is suspicious of ideological certainties that lead to radical social experiments. Both the liberal and conservative variants of this epistemological modesty can be traced back to classical liberal thinkers such as John Locke, whose overriding concern was to prevent wars of opinion, particularly religious wars. If no one believed their opinions were absolutely true, there would be less incentive to attack or coerce others. In the absence of harmful certainty, society would operate by barter and compromise.

But there is a second, very different argument for civility – this one rooted in anthropology. The Christian and natural law traditions assert that human beings are equal and valuable, not because of what they think but because of who they are. Even when they are badly mistaken, their dignity requires respect for their freedom and conscience. A society becomes more just and civil as more people are converted to this moral belief in human dignity and reflect that conviction in their lives and laws.

Without a doubt, doubt is useful and needed at the margins of any ideology. The world is too complex to know completely. Many of our judgments are, by nature, provisional. Those who are immune to evidence, who claim infallibility on debatable matters, are known as bores – or maybe columnists.

Yet doubt becomes destructive as it reaches the center of a belief and becomes its substitute. A systematic skepticism may keep us from bothering our neighbor. It does not motivate a passion to fight for his or her dignity and rights. How do ambiguity and agnosticism result in dreams of justice, in altruism and honor, in sacrifices for the common good? What great reformers of American history can be explained by their elegant ambivalence?

via Michael Gerson – Two good arguments for civility – and passion – in politics.

So one is a negative reason  (we can’t know anything for sure, so we have to be tolerant of all views and the people who hold them).  The other is a positive reason (human beings have an intrinsic value by virtue of their creation by God and so should not be mistreated).

It seems to me that the first view will NOT be civil or tolerant to those who do have beliefs they are sure of.  Whereas the second view will be civil or tolerant to skeptics as well as believers.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Carl Vehse

    The Liberal Lie: All beliefs are to be tolerated except those that are not tolerant.

  • Carl Vehse

    The Liberal Lie: All beliefs are to be tolerated except those that are not tolerant.

  • http://www.newsbusters.org/blogs/rich-noyes/2011/01/23/special-edition-notable-quotables-conservatives-crosshairs Carl Vehse

    As noted in today’s Powerline blog, National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman Jim Leach is going on a 50- (or is it 57-?) state “civility tour” (aka ‘never let a good tragedy go to waste’), largely at taxpayer’s expense.

  • http://www.newsbusters.org/blogs/rich-noyes/2011/01/23/special-edition-notable-quotables-conservatives-crosshairs Carl Vehse

    As noted in today’s Powerline blog, National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman Jim Leach is going on a 50- (or is it 57-?) state “civility tour” (aka ‘never let a good tragedy go to waste’), largely at taxpayer’s expense.

  • trotk

    Ladies and Gentlemen, the voice of civility and tolerance, Carl Vehse!

  • trotk

    Ladies and Gentlemen, the voice of civility and tolerance, Carl Vehse!

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “we can’t know anything for sure”

    Wait a minute, what about death and taxes?

    I think it is worthwhile to discuss the level of certainty of many of these notions. Some things are mighty, mighty simple and certain, nigh onto 99.99% certain. While others are highly dependent and complex. We need to distinguish among probabilities what is very certain and what is rather unlikely. That doesn’t mean ignore the possibility and promise that the unlikely may hold, but we need to test thoroughly.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “we can’t know anything for sure”

    Wait a minute, what about death and taxes?

    I think it is worthwhile to discuss the level of certainty of many of these notions. Some things are mighty, mighty simple and certain, nigh onto 99.99% certain. While others are highly dependent and complex. We need to distinguish among probabilities what is very certain and what is rather unlikely. That doesn’t mean ignore the possibility and promise that the unlikely may hold, but we need to test thoroughly.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “Ladies and Gentlemen, the voice of civility and tolerance, Carl Vehse!”

    Boys and girls, the reflexive ad hominem!

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “Ladies and Gentlemen, the voice of civility and tolerance, Carl Vehse!”

    Boys and girls, the reflexive ad hominem!

  • WebMonk

    “It seems to me that the first view will NOT be civil or tolerant to those who do have beliefs they are sure of.”

    I don’t see why that would be. Under the first view’s considerations, it doesn’t matter whether or not the one with whom you disagree is 100% certain about his opinions or not – the person with the first view still treats them with the humility that comes from recognizing one’s own view might be flawed.

    It doesn’t matter whether or not the opposition is certain, the civility stems from the recognition that oneself could be mistaken. That doesn’t change according to the opposition’s position.

    So why would the first view be hostile toward those who are 100% certain?

  • WebMonk

    “It seems to me that the first view will NOT be civil or tolerant to those who do have beliefs they are sure of.”

    I don’t see why that would be. Under the first view’s considerations, it doesn’t matter whether or not the one with whom you disagree is 100% certain about his opinions or not – the person with the first view still treats them with the humility that comes from recognizing one’s own view might be flawed.

    It doesn’t matter whether or not the opposition is certain, the civility stems from the recognition that oneself could be mistaken. That doesn’t change according to the opposition’s position.

    So why would the first view be hostile toward those who are 100% certain?

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    We are talking very abstractly here. When the issues hit close to home, it is not so clear. Consider the opinions about having a toxic waste dump near your town, or whether to cut off irrigation water that you promised to sell farmers, but now the drought means you need that water for the drinking water for your town. When your health, safety or existence are threatened, it ads quite a dimension to the discussion.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    We are talking very abstractly here. When the issues hit close to home, it is not so clear. Consider the opinions about having a toxic waste dump near your town, or whether to cut off irrigation water that you promised to sell farmers, but now the drought means you need that water for the drinking water for your town. When your health, safety or existence are threatened, it ads quite a dimension to the discussion.

  • Porcell

    Now that Obama has come under serious criticism from conservatives, the liberals are on a campaign for civility. Where were they, including the head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, when Pres. Bush was savagely criticized during the whole of his administration.

    Among the most intolerant people on earth are liberal ideologues. A good recent example of this would be Paul Krugman, et al, trying to pin the blame for the Tucson slaughter on conservatives. Glen Reynolds, writes in the WSJ about this:

    With only the barest outline of events available, pundits and reporters seemed to agree that the massacre had to be the fault of the tea party movement in general, and of Sarah Palin in particular. Why? Because they had created, in New York Times columnist Paul Krugman’s words, a ‘climate of hate.’

    Carl Vehse is right; this liberal palaver about civility is a crock.

  • Porcell

    Now that Obama has come under serious criticism from conservatives, the liberals are on a campaign for civility. Where were they, including the head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, when Pres. Bush was savagely criticized during the whole of his administration.

    Among the most intolerant people on earth are liberal ideologues. A good recent example of this would be Paul Krugman, et al, trying to pin the blame for the Tucson slaughter on conservatives. Glen Reynolds, writes in the WSJ about this:

    With only the barest outline of events available, pundits and reporters seemed to agree that the massacre had to be the fault of the tea party movement in general, and of Sarah Palin in particular. Why? Because they had created, in New York Times columnist Paul Krugman’s words, a ‘climate of hate.’

    Carl Vehse is right; this liberal palaver about civility is a crock.

  • Kirk

    @8 Yes, because we all know what a liberal crock Michael Gerson is.

    And, it’s inspiring to see such an outright rejection of “do unto others…” and “love thine enemies” and “love thy neighbor…” etc.

  • Kirk

    @8 Yes, because we all know what a liberal crock Michael Gerson is.

    And, it’s inspiring to see such an outright rejection of “do unto others…” and “love thine enemies” and “love thy neighbor…” etc.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “And, it’s inspiring to see such an outright rejection of “do unto others…” and “love thine enemies” and “love thy neighbor…” etc.”

    Um, no. Just the opposite. They give themselves license to call others hateful or compare them to Nazis etc. However, they cry foul at any criticism of them. They are asking others to treat them well without any intention of reciprocity. It is the exact opposite of setting a good example.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “And, it’s inspiring to see such an outright rejection of “do unto others…” and “love thine enemies” and “love thy neighbor…” etc.”

    Um, no. Just the opposite. They give themselves license to call others hateful or compare them to Nazis etc. However, they cry foul at any criticism of them. They are asking others to treat them well without any intention of reciprocity. It is the exact opposite of setting a good example.

  • DonS

    Once again I will make the point that Gerson gets far more ink than he deserves. I’m still waiting for him to make his first courageous point, and actually say something that isn’t stunningly obvious.

    The beginning of civility is self-examination. If your idea of promoting civility is to point out how your foes are being uncivil, then you have joined them.

    Of course we need to treat other people with dignity. That is clearly what is often wrong with political discourse today. Address the arguments, not the person. While you may be certain of your beliefs (as I hope all we who are Christian are concerning our fundamental beliefs in our sovereign God and Savior Jesus Christ), that certitude will not convince your foes without evidence. Moreover, seldom should we be insisting that the government act to impose our view of the world on others who may not share that view.

    Civility isn’t hard if you keep your own ego in check.

  • DonS

    Once again I will make the point that Gerson gets far more ink than he deserves. I’m still waiting for him to make his first courageous point, and actually say something that isn’t stunningly obvious.

    The beginning of civility is self-examination. If your idea of promoting civility is to point out how your foes are being uncivil, then you have joined them.

    Of course we need to treat other people with dignity. That is clearly what is often wrong with political discourse today. Address the arguments, not the person. While you may be certain of your beliefs (as I hope all we who are Christian are concerning our fundamental beliefs in our sovereign God and Savior Jesus Christ), that certitude will not convince your foes without evidence. Moreover, seldom should we be insisting that the government act to impose our view of the world on others who may not share that view.

    Civility isn’t hard if you keep your own ego in check.

  • Ryan

    I think we would be more civil and polite in mixed company if we were all armed.

  • Ryan

    I think we would be more civil and polite in mixed company if we were all armed.

  • Kirk

    @10

    So, you’re saying that conservatives have license to be uncivil to liberals because liberals have been uncivil in the past, and will continue to be uncivil in the future. Because that’s basically what Porcell was saying and, by extension, exactly what I said violated the aforementioned scriptural commands. So, no, it’s not really the opposite at all. I don’t see any conditions placed upon those verses. No, “unless they’re liberals” or “unless they’re really, really mean to you.”

  • Kirk

    @10

    So, you’re saying that conservatives have license to be uncivil to liberals because liberals have been uncivil in the past, and will continue to be uncivil in the future. Because that’s basically what Porcell was saying and, by extension, exactly what I said violated the aforementioned scriptural commands. So, no, it’s not really the opposite at all. I don’t see any conditions placed upon those verses. No, “unless they’re liberals” or “unless they’re really, really mean to you.”

  • Porcell

    Kirk, I was commenting on the hypocrisy of the present liberal campaign for civility, not advocating for any debating lex talionis. One of the reasons I admire Pres. Bush is that he never responded in kind to the vicious criticism he received from liberal opponents. He kept his dignity as president and as a former president. Compared to the classless Obama, he is a model of debate.

  • Porcell

    Kirk, I was commenting on the hypocrisy of the present liberal campaign for civility, not advocating for any debating lex talionis. One of the reasons I admire Pres. Bush is that he never responded in kind to the vicious criticism he received from liberal opponents. He kept his dignity as president and as a former president. Compared to the classless Obama, he is a model of debate.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    So what provokes incivility in the first place?

    Is it a clear and reasoned debate?

    I am going with no.

    Is it appeal to self interest of competing groups?

    Seems more likely.

    I think things will continue to degenerate as things get worse and finger pointing increases because a growing share of the electorate are in various ways dependent on government and their self interest will dominate their thinking. Now, of course, such will not be persuasive in a reasoned debate, so I expect more and more emotional appeals, baiting, and incivility. Too large a segment of society are simply not civic minded and do not care about the common good.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    So what provokes incivility in the first place?

    Is it a clear and reasoned debate?

    I am going with no.

    Is it appeal to self interest of competing groups?

    Seems more likely.

    I think things will continue to degenerate as things get worse and finger pointing increases because a growing share of the electorate are in various ways dependent on government and their self interest will dominate their thinking. Now, of course, such will not be persuasive in a reasoned debate, so I expect more and more emotional appeals, baiting, and incivility. Too large a segment of society are simply not civic minded and do not care about the common good.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Youtube has video of fights in parliaments and legislatures from all over the world. Pretty funny. Guys in suits brawling.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Youtube has video of fights in parliaments and legislatures from all over the world. Pretty funny. Guys in suits brawling.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    What the hell, people? Pardon my incivility, but isn’t it possible to actually discuss the idea proferred here without twisting the discussion to score your own partisan points? And in so doing making your own case against civility because the other side is so … incivil?! So let’s all just, in turn, be assholes of increasing caliber, then, hmm, and see how that works out, what say?!?!

    And Porcell (@14), do you know what you’re talking about when you declare your campaign against “the present liberal campaign for civility”? Because you’re using it in reply to a column written by the chief speechwriter for one George W. Bush. You know, Mr. Dignity. And so Bush’s former speechwriter somehow means that … Obama is to blame here? And yet you want to talk about “hypocrisy” when it comes to civility? Especially when lobbing around ad hominems like “classless Obama”? Really?

    Also, “Now that Obama has come under serious criticism from conservatives” (@8) … oh, yes, now that he has. Just last week, really, it all started. Yes, that was when conservatives finally — finally! — began to cluck their tonges at this Obama fellow, and now, in response, of course, “the liberals are on a campaign for civility” — if by “liberals” we mean “Pres. Bush’s chief speechwriter” and by “on a campaign for civility” we mean “have written an op-ed column”.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    What the hell, people? Pardon my incivility, but isn’t it possible to actually discuss the idea proferred here without twisting the discussion to score your own partisan points? And in so doing making your own case against civility because the other side is so … incivil?! So let’s all just, in turn, be assholes of increasing caliber, then, hmm, and see how that works out, what say?!?!

    And Porcell (@14), do you know what you’re talking about when you declare your campaign against “the present liberal campaign for civility”? Because you’re using it in reply to a column written by the chief speechwriter for one George W. Bush. You know, Mr. Dignity. And so Bush’s former speechwriter somehow means that … Obama is to blame here? And yet you want to talk about “hypocrisy” when it comes to civility? Especially when lobbing around ad hominems like “classless Obama”? Really?

    Also, “Now that Obama has come under serious criticism from conservatives” (@8) … oh, yes, now that he has. Just last week, really, it all started. Yes, that was when conservatives finally — finally! — began to cluck their tonges at this Obama fellow, and now, in response, of course, “the liberals are on a campaign for civility” — if by “liberals” we mean “Pres. Bush’s chief speechwriter” and by “on a campaign for civility” we mean “have written an op-ed column”.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Now, if you don’t mind my hypocritically attempting to reply to the actual question at hand, thankyouverymuch …

    I like WebMonk’s reply (@6) to Veith’s statement that “the first view will NOT be civil or tolerant to those who do have beliefs they are sure of”. An uncertain person need not chafe at the views of a certain person, provided that the uncertain person truly believes that he can’t know for sure that his beliefs are correct. He would therefore entertain the certain person’s ideas, on the possibility that they are better than the uncertain person’s.

    However, it is true that the “doubt” reason does not provide a solution for the occasion of two certain people exchanging ideas — that is, two people who have, at least in part, denied the notion that “we can’t know anything for sure”.

    I do think it’s interesting that Gerson said that “Christian and natural law traditions assert that human beings are equal and valuable, not because of what they think but because of who they are.” Does he think this belief is limited to only “Christian and natural law traditions”? I do not. Indeed, there’s nothing inherently Christian about the notion of believing in the equality, dignity, and value of every human life — though, of course, Christians (in theory) believe in just that.

    Of course, merely thinking that your neighbor’s life is valuable seems to fall a bit short of what we need to really aim for, which is (as Kirk notes @9), to love our neighbor, and even consider him better than ourselves.

    Of course, love doesn’t mean that ideas won’t be challenged and people won’t be called out on wrongdoing. Out of love, I frequently do those things — at least in my vocation as father and a few other vocations, as well.

    But I doubt that true love would merely sit on the sidelines taking potshots, branding others as evil hypocrites and thereby elevating one’s own status in the process. I mean, I know that when I do such things, it’s pretty much never done out of love and a desire to teach. So that does strike me as a way to increase civility in our nation’s discourse.

    But what do I know, I’m a liberal.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Now, if you don’t mind my hypocritically attempting to reply to the actual question at hand, thankyouverymuch …

    I like WebMonk’s reply (@6) to Veith’s statement that “the first view will NOT be civil or tolerant to those who do have beliefs they are sure of”. An uncertain person need not chafe at the views of a certain person, provided that the uncertain person truly believes that he can’t know for sure that his beliefs are correct. He would therefore entertain the certain person’s ideas, on the possibility that they are better than the uncertain person’s.

    However, it is true that the “doubt” reason does not provide a solution for the occasion of two certain people exchanging ideas — that is, two people who have, at least in part, denied the notion that “we can’t know anything for sure”.

    I do think it’s interesting that Gerson said that “Christian and natural law traditions assert that human beings are equal and valuable, not because of what they think but because of who they are.” Does he think this belief is limited to only “Christian and natural law traditions”? I do not. Indeed, there’s nothing inherently Christian about the notion of believing in the equality, dignity, and value of every human life — though, of course, Christians (in theory) believe in just that.

    Of course, merely thinking that your neighbor’s life is valuable seems to fall a bit short of what we need to really aim for, which is (as Kirk notes @9), to love our neighbor, and even consider him better than ourselves.

    Of course, love doesn’t mean that ideas won’t be challenged and people won’t be called out on wrongdoing. Out of love, I frequently do those things — at least in my vocation as father and a few other vocations, as well.

    But I doubt that true love would merely sit on the sidelines taking potshots, branding others as evil hypocrites and thereby elevating one’s own status in the process. I mean, I know that when I do such things, it’s pretty much never done out of love and a desire to teach. So that does strike me as a way to increase civility in our nation’s discourse.

    But what do I know, I’m a liberal.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “Indeed, there’s nothing inherently Christian about the notion of believing in the equality, dignity, and value of every human life”

    Not totally certain, but is that really true? and if so, to what extent and from what source?

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “Indeed, there’s nothing inherently Christian about the notion of believing in the equality, dignity, and value of every human life”

    Not totally certain, but is that really true? and if so, to what extent and from what source?

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD: Good point–we should discuss the ideas proffered by Gerson’s article rather than launching yet another tired partisan pity party.

    So, did Gerson actually present any interesting ideas? I’m going to go with no and instead second DonS’s assessment of Gerson’s tripe as “stunningly obvious.” You mean civility requires that we respect and give space for the ideas of others? HUH. Groundbreaking stuff. Is that all you have to come up with to become a nationally-syndicated editorialist for the Washington Post?

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD: Good point–we should discuss the ideas proffered by Gerson’s article rather than launching yet another tired partisan pity party.

    So, did Gerson actually present any interesting ideas? I’m going to go with no and instead second DonS’s assessment of Gerson’s tripe as “stunningly obvious.” You mean civility requires that we respect and give space for the ideas of others? HUH. Groundbreaking stuff. Is that all you have to come up with to become a nationally-syndicated editorialist for the Washington Post?

  • Porcell

    Todd, as explained earlier, I commented on liberal hypocrisy, not on Gerson’s points. My view of Gerson is that since joining the Washington Post he has rather lost any serious distinctiveness as a conservative writer. Most of his columns are of the mushy variety. There is a way for both liberals and conservatives to be hard-hitting on the issues without indulging in ad hominem debate. The British are masters at this.

    It is no accident that just now, after the Tucson slaughter, the liberals are involved in a campaign for civility, that underneath is aimed at impugning conservatives. It’s, also, no accident that the fawning WAPO writer, Gerson, would write such a milquetoast column.

    One hard-hitting conservative on the issue of “hate” speech, Michelle Malkin, wrote the following about what’s really going on with this issue:

    There isn’t a shred of evidence that deranged Tucson-massacre suspect Jared Loughner ever listened to talk radio or cared about illegal immigration. Indeed, after 300 exhaustive interviews, the feds “remain stumped” about his motives, according to Tuesday’s Washington Post. But that hasn’t stopped a coalition of power-grabbing politicians, progressive activists, and open-borders lobbyists from plying their quack cure for the American body politic: government-sponsored speech suppression.

    The article is The Hate Speech Inquisition
    They are real, and they do want to restrain speech.
    .

    Gerson should read it and, as Don suggests, find the courage to write a serious conservative article on the subject.

  • Porcell

    Todd, as explained earlier, I commented on liberal hypocrisy, not on Gerson’s points. My view of Gerson is that since joining the Washington Post he has rather lost any serious distinctiveness as a conservative writer. Most of his columns are of the mushy variety. There is a way for both liberals and conservatives to be hard-hitting on the issues without indulging in ad hominem debate. The British are masters at this.

    It is no accident that just now, after the Tucson slaughter, the liberals are involved in a campaign for civility, that underneath is aimed at impugning conservatives. It’s, also, no accident that the fawning WAPO writer, Gerson, would write such a milquetoast column.

    One hard-hitting conservative on the issue of “hate” speech, Michelle Malkin, wrote the following about what’s really going on with this issue:

    There isn’t a shred of evidence that deranged Tucson-massacre suspect Jared Loughner ever listened to talk radio or cared about illegal immigration. Indeed, after 300 exhaustive interviews, the feds “remain stumped” about his motives, according to Tuesday’s Washington Post. But that hasn’t stopped a coalition of power-grabbing politicians, progressive activists, and open-borders lobbyists from plying their quack cure for the American body politic: government-sponsored speech suppression.

    The article is The Hate Speech Inquisition
    They are real, and they do want to restrain speech.
    .

    Gerson should read it and, as Don suggests, find the courage to write a serious conservative article on the subject.

  • Cincinnatus

    sg@19: Recognizing, or in any case asserting, the “equality, dignity, and value of every human life” was, in fact, a Christian innovation, so your suspicious is warranted.

  • Cincinnatus

    sg@19: Recognizing, or in any case asserting, the “equality, dignity, and value of every human life” was, in fact, a Christian innovation, so your suspicious is warranted.

  • Cincinnatus

    Porcell@21: “The British are masters at this.”

    I’m going to have to call serious bull on this. Have you even seen a British newspaper, tabloid, or, for that matter, the Prime Minister’s Question Time? They make Glenn Beck look/sound like an NPR announcer!

  • Cincinnatus

    Porcell@21: “The British are masters at this.”

    I’m going to have to call serious bull on this. Have you even seen a British newspaper, tabloid, or, for that matter, the Prime Minister’s Question Time? They make Glenn Beck look/sound like an NPR announcer!

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Cincinnatus (@20), what’s your point?

    You mean civility requires that we respect and give space for the ideas of others? HUH. Groundbreaking stuff.

    No, it’s not “groundbreaking”. Did anyone say it was? Are you suggesting that “groundbreaking” is the measure by which successful columns are measured? Given that there is nothing new under the sun, that’s going to be a rather difficult hurdle to get over. Perhaps this is your way of advocating for the end of all op-ed columns, or perhaps all written communication in general. If so, I think you could have made your point more clearly.

    And if his points about civility were so bloomin’ [my nod to civility] obvious, then I don’t think this discussion — among others on the Internet — would have happened as it did. So it’s obviously something we need to hear. You could quibble with the way in which this idea was conveyed, but you didn’t. You just mocked Gerson for making it at all. Even as you made clear that you think that civility is really obvious stuff we (including you) understand all too well, thank you.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Cincinnatus (@20), what’s your point?

    You mean civility requires that we respect and give space for the ideas of others? HUH. Groundbreaking stuff.

    No, it’s not “groundbreaking”. Did anyone say it was? Are you suggesting that “groundbreaking” is the measure by which successful columns are measured? Given that there is nothing new under the sun, that’s going to be a rather difficult hurdle to get over. Perhaps this is your way of advocating for the end of all op-ed columns, or perhaps all written communication in general. If so, I think you could have made your point more clearly.

    And if his points about civility were so bloomin’ [my nod to civility] obvious, then I don’t think this discussion — among others on the Internet — would have happened as it did. So it’s obviously something we need to hear. You could quibble with the way in which this idea was conveyed, but you didn’t. You just mocked Gerson for making it at all. Even as you made clear that you think that civility is really obvious stuff we (including you) understand all too well, thank you.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Civility is obvious stuff, which is what makes the need for Gerson’s article so depressing.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Civility is obvious stuff, which is what makes the need for Gerson’s article so depressing.

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD, most people know they should be civil and respect the ideas of others. Those who don’t have articulated reasons for refusing to extend civility to the other side–e.g., “they started it,” “civility demonstrates weakness,” “certain principles are beyond compromise,” etc. Do you think Gerson’s “ideas”, so blindingly obvious and banal so as not even to be worth the paper (or virtual space) they are printed on, are actually going to change the mind of folks like this?

    Obviously, you took my use of “groundbreaking” and ran with it–uncharitably so, as I thought it was somewhat obvious that no one expects a newspaper editorial to embody an original contribution to human knowledge–but an editorial should at least be interesting. Like so much other journalism these days, Gerson’s editorial is just a bunch of stale rehashed talking points (blah blah let’s be civil kum bah yah cliched reasons for why civility is fun), and, like so much other journalism these days, it doesn’t deserve much attention.

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD, most people know they should be civil and respect the ideas of others. Those who don’t have articulated reasons for refusing to extend civility to the other side–e.g., “they started it,” “civility demonstrates weakness,” “certain principles are beyond compromise,” etc. Do you think Gerson’s “ideas”, so blindingly obvious and banal so as not even to be worth the paper (or virtual space) they are printed on, are actually going to change the mind of folks like this?

    Obviously, you took my use of “groundbreaking” and ran with it–uncharitably so, as I thought it was somewhat obvious that no one expects a newspaper editorial to embody an original contribution to human knowledge–but an editorial should at least be interesting. Like so much other journalism these days, Gerson’s editorial is just a bunch of stale rehashed talking points (blah blah let’s be civil kum bah yah cliched reasons for why civility is fun), and, like so much other journalism these days, it doesn’t deserve much attention.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Okay, guys, I finally had to resort to the numbers. Pew poll results. Of the 31% who thought the Tucson shooting could be related to broader social issues, only 2% thought political rhetoric was related.
    That’s right, 2% of 31%, rendering about 0.5%.

    Not endorsing rudeness, just thought it was an interesting side note.

    http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1864/post-tucson-shooting-gun-control-opinion-broader-problems-isolated-event

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Okay, guys, I finally had to resort to the numbers. Pew poll results. Of the 31% who thought the Tucson shooting could be related to broader social issues, only 2% thought political rhetoric was related.
    That’s right, 2% of 31%, rendering about 0.5%.

    Not endorsing rudeness, just thought it was an interesting side note.

    http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1864/post-tucson-shooting-gun-control-opinion-broader-problems-isolated-event

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “most people know they should be civil and respect the ideas of others. Those who don’t have articulated reasons for refusing to extend civility to the other side”

    Not so sure all have articulated their motives. I hear plenty of baiting, dog whistling out there to push the buttons of certain factions.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “most people know they should be civil and respect the ideas of others. Those who don’t have articulated reasons for refusing to extend civility to the other side”

    Not so sure all have articulated their motives. I hear plenty of baiting, dog whistling out there to push the buttons of certain factions.

  • Cincinnatus

    sg@28: And there are those people too. Doesn’t really change anything I’ve said.

  • Cincinnatus

    sg@28: And there are those people too. Doesn’t really change anything I’ve said.

  • Porcell

    Todd, in truth Christ’s thought was revolutionary for its time and our time. The Greek and Roman Empires were based on the highly arbitrary rule of elites; both the Jewish religious and political authorities had little respect for person’s individuality and equality. In truth down to the present, the Islamic religion and politics has no fundamental respect for individuals and their freedom.

    An excellent recent book on this is Todd Lindgren’sThe Political Teachings of Jesus Lindgren in his preface writes:

    While it’s unreasonable to call Jesus a “progressive” in the context of modern American politics, it is entirely reasonable to call him the progressive- and in that sense, ever since. Into a world of imperial occupation, cruelty, slavery, injustice, hereditary privilege, persecution, tribal conflict, collective punishment, piracy, the arrogance of the strong, the hopelessness of the weak, and the banishment of the sick, Jesus introduced the idea of universal freedom and the equality it produced when people recognize the freedom of others by treating them the way they themselves would like to be treated. Dead set against politics based on the rule of the strong, or of an elite, or of the mob, Jesus proposed instead a political order organized on the principle of shared recognition of freedom and equality-a community of goodwill.

  • Porcell

    Todd, in truth Christ’s thought was revolutionary for its time and our time. The Greek and Roman Empires were based on the highly arbitrary rule of elites; both the Jewish religious and political authorities had little respect for person’s individuality and equality. In truth down to the present, the Islamic religion and politics has no fundamental respect for individuals and their freedom.

    An excellent recent book on this is Todd Lindgren’sThe Political Teachings of Jesus Lindgren in his preface writes:

    While it’s unreasonable to call Jesus a “progressive” in the context of modern American politics, it is entirely reasonable to call him the progressive- and in that sense, ever since. Into a world of imperial occupation, cruelty, slavery, injustice, hereditary privilege, persecution, tribal conflict, collective punishment, piracy, the arrogance of the strong, the hopelessness of the weak, and the banishment of the sick, Jesus introduced the idea of universal freedom and the equality it produced when people recognize the freedom of others by treating them the way they themselves would like to be treated. Dead set against politics based on the rule of the strong, or of an elite, or of the mob, Jesus proposed instead a political order organized on the principle of shared recognition of freedom and equality-a community of goodwill.

  • utahrainbow

    Civility is “stunningly obvious”, “not hard if you keep your ego in check”, natural if “we were all armed”, and what “most people know”. The column is “so blindingly obvious and banal”.

    Now why would we here ever need to discuss this? What a waste of time, and paper, and virtual space. Puh-lease. I am pretty sure we have other such virtues down pat as well, like kindness, love, peace, fairness, patience, self-control…

    Now, on to more interesting topics, and serious conservative articles, like Malkin’s, and preferably ones that might change some ideas of those who, have dignity, sure, but are hopelessly confused…

  • utahrainbow

    Civility is “stunningly obvious”, “not hard if you keep your ego in check”, natural if “we were all armed”, and what “most people know”. The column is “so blindingly obvious and banal”.

    Now why would we here ever need to discuss this? What a waste of time, and paper, and virtual space. Puh-lease. I am pretty sure we have other such virtues down pat as well, like kindness, love, peace, fairness, patience, self-control…

    Now, on to more interesting topics, and serious conservative articles, like Malkin’s, and preferably ones that might change some ideas of those who, have dignity, sure, but are hopelessly confused…

  • DonS

    Utah @ 31: I did not say that civility is “stunningly obvious”. I said that Gerson’s column was “stunningly obvious”.

    If you read the rest of my post @ 11, it was all about civil discourse, and how to truly achieve it. You summarily dismissed, for whatever reason, my point that civility isn’t hard if you keep your ego in check. I guess I’m curious as to why you don’t believe incivility is rooted in ego, as that seems obvious to me.

  • DonS

    Utah @ 31: I did not say that civility is “stunningly obvious”. I said that Gerson’s column was “stunningly obvious”.

    If you read the rest of my post @ 11, it was all about civil discourse, and how to truly achieve it. You summarily dismissed, for whatever reason, my point that civility isn’t hard if you keep your ego in check. I guess I’m curious as to why you don’t believe incivility is rooted in ego, as that seems obvious to me.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Looking over my own comment (@18), I realized that I more likely meant to say that “there’s nothing uniquely Christian about the notion of believing in the equality, dignity, and value of every human life”, so if any of the replies to my comment hinged on that difference, my apologies.

    I’m not sure they did, though. SG said (@19), “is that really true? and if so, to what extent and from what source?” Assuming I understand your questions, one can find a decent list of non-Christian cultures’ variations on the Golden Rule at Wikipedia. The idea of reciprocity, whether stated positively or negatively, appears to be important to all sorts of faiths.

    And Cincinnatus said (@22) that, “Recognizing, or in any case asserting, the ‘equality, dignity, and value of every human life’ was, in fact, a Christian innovation” which goes beyond uniqueness into chronological claims. I still don’t see any basis for this, even if you only look to the Old Testament. Leviticus’ chapter 19 contains two verses (18 and 34) that seem to form a perfectly sufficient basis for the “equality, dignity, and value of every human life” — indeed, as Jesus himself pointed out. Which would appear to gainsay Porcell’s claims (@30), as well.

    Here’s the thing. In order for something to be inherently or uniquely Christian, it has to make reference to Christ and his nature, his work. You can try and pretend that Christianity has some unique kind of morality, different from everyone else, and “revolutionary for its time”, but it seems more than telling to me that, in summing up the Law, Jesus merely quoted from Leviticus rather than come up with some new, “Christian” set of morals. The unique idea in Christianity isn’t its morality, it’s that Jesus is the Christ, the God-Man, the promised savior who died to pay for our sins. Those sins including our near-constant inability to actually (and, bringing it back, civilly) love our neighbors and consider them (at least) equal to us.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Looking over my own comment (@18), I realized that I more likely meant to say that “there’s nothing uniquely Christian about the notion of believing in the equality, dignity, and value of every human life”, so if any of the replies to my comment hinged on that difference, my apologies.

    I’m not sure they did, though. SG said (@19), “is that really true? and if so, to what extent and from what source?” Assuming I understand your questions, one can find a decent list of non-Christian cultures’ variations on the Golden Rule at Wikipedia. The idea of reciprocity, whether stated positively or negatively, appears to be important to all sorts of faiths.

    And Cincinnatus said (@22) that, “Recognizing, or in any case asserting, the ‘equality, dignity, and value of every human life’ was, in fact, a Christian innovation” which goes beyond uniqueness into chronological claims. I still don’t see any basis for this, even if you only look to the Old Testament. Leviticus’ chapter 19 contains two verses (18 and 34) that seem to form a perfectly sufficient basis for the “equality, dignity, and value of every human life” — indeed, as Jesus himself pointed out. Which would appear to gainsay Porcell’s claims (@30), as well.

    Here’s the thing. In order for something to be inherently or uniquely Christian, it has to make reference to Christ and his nature, his work. You can try and pretend that Christianity has some unique kind of morality, different from everyone else, and “revolutionary for its time”, but it seems more than telling to me that, in summing up the Law, Jesus merely quoted from Leviticus rather than come up with some new, “Christian” set of morals. The unique idea in Christianity isn’t its morality, it’s that Jesus is the Christ, the God-Man, the promised savior who died to pay for our sins. Those sins including our near-constant inability to actually (and, bringing it back, civilly) love our neighbors and consider them (at least) equal to us.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Porcell (@21) said, “I commented on liberal hypocrisy, not on Gerson’s points”. Forgive me, but that sounds like you’re saying, “I chose to ignore the topic actually being offered so I could score political points.” Care to disagree?

    As for “hypocrisy”, let’s move on your claim that “There is a way for both liberals and conservatives to be hard-hitting on the issues without indulging in ad hominem debate.” Porcell, Porcell, Porcell! Really, are you going to complain about “ad hominem” attacks? When in the same comment, you accused liberals of running a campaign “that underneath is aimed at impugning conservatives”. And then went on to mock Gerson as “fawning” and “milquetoast”, lacking “the courage to write a serious conservative article on the subject”. Oh, and then there was your “classless Obama” snark (@14). And that’s just in this thread alone! And you want to complain about “ad hominem” attacks? Really?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Porcell (@21) said, “I commented on liberal hypocrisy, not on Gerson’s points”. Forgive me, but that sounds like you’re saying, “I chose to ignore the topic actually being offered so I could score political points.” Care to disagree?

    As for “hypocrisy”, let’s move on your claim that “There is a way for both liberals and conservatives to be hard-hitting on the issues without indulging in ad hominem debate.” Porcell, Porcell, Porcell! Really, are you going to complain about “ad hominem” attacks? When in the same comment, you accused liberals of running a campaign “that underneath is aimed at impugning conservatives”. And then went on to mock Gerson as “fawning” and “milquetoast”, lacking “the courage to write a serious conservative article on the subject”. Oh, and then there was your “classless Obama” snark (@14). And that’s just in this thread alone! And you want to complain about “ad hominem” attacks? Really?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Cincinnatus (@26), I don’t know why my focusing on your use of the word “groundbreaking” was “uncharitable” — if it was “somewhat obvious that no one expects a newspaper editorial to embody an original contribution to human knowledge”, then why sniff at one with “HUH. Groundbreaking stuff. Is that all you have to come up with to become a nationally-syndicated editorialist for the Washington Post?”

    Regardless, your main complaint (now) seems to be that “an editorial should at least be interesting“, which is a fine, if utterly subjective — and therefore largely pointless — thing to debate. I found it interesting (obviously), and it would appear that Veith did, too. It occurs to me, though, that the traditional approach to discussions one does not find interesting is simply to ignore them. You claim “it doesn’t deserve much attention”, and yet here you are, with five comments to your credit. Which of these two behaviors should I believe?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Cincinnatus (@26), I don’t know why my focusing on your use of the word “groundbreaking” was “uncharitable” — if it was “somewhat obvious that no one expects a newspaper editorial to embody an original contribution to human knowledge”, then why sniff at one with “HUH. Groundbreaking stuff. Is that all you have to come up with to become a nationally-syndicated editorialist for the Washington Post?”

    Regardless, your main complaint (now) seems to be that “an editorial should at least be interesting“, which is a fine, if utterly subjective — and therefore largely pointless — thing to debate. I found it interesting (obviously), and it would appear that Veith did, too. It occurs to me, though, that the traditional approach to discussions one does not find interesting is simply to ignore them. You claim “it doesn’t deserve much attention”, and yet here you are, with five comments to your credit. Which of these two behaviors should I believe?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    DonS, I seem to have missed your comment (@11) the first time around, but it strikes me that saying “Civility isn’t hard if you keep your own ego in check” does nothing. At most, it defines “civility” a bit further in terms of ego, but it still begs the question, “Why should we keep our egos in check?” Which brings us back to Gerson’s points.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    DonS, I seem to have missed your comment (@11) the first time around, but it strikes me that saying “Civility isn’t hard if you keep your own ego in check” does nothing. At most, it defines “civility” a bit further in terms of ego, but it still begs the question, “Why should we keep our egos in check?” Which brings us back to Gerson’s points.

  • trotk

    Peter, this comment at 30 needs addressing:

    “Todd, in truth Christ’s thought was revolutionary for its time and our time. The Greek and Roman Empires were based on the highly arbitrary rule of elites; both the Jewish religious and political authorities had little respect for person’s individuality and equality. ”

    You have missed the mark here. What made Christ unique was not his respect for a person’s individuality and equality. That stuff existed in the Greek and Roman empires. Obviously not in every era, every class, or every state, but in sufficient levels to be called normal. Consider the Athenian democracy, the teachings of Socrates (which focused on every individual as an equal moral agent), the Roman Republic (which allowed political office even to the plebes), etc, etc. In fact, I have know idea how you could claim that those cultures didn’t understand a person’s individuality and equality. It is just a vacuous claim that a few cherry-picked examples might support but many other examples don’t. People in power are always devaluing others, as do people who disagree with one another. And yet people are always aware of the Golden Rule, because we recognize inherently that we are equal. Societies in all times and and can exhibit either one of these things (or even both at the same time).

    On the other hand, Christ was truly revolutionary because He preached through His death on the cross that man cannot work enough to save Himself. He preached that those who hunger for righteousness would be filled, not those who work for it. He preached that the paupers in spirit will inherit. This stuff was revolutionary, because it is the gospel.

    Turning Christ into a political figure is terrible history and worse theology.

  • trotk

    Peter, this comment at 30 needs addressing:

    “Todd, in truth Christ’s thought was revolutionary for its time and our time. The Greek and Roman Empires were based on the highly arbitrary rule of elites; both the Jewish religious and political authorities had little respect for person’s individuality and equality. ”

    You have missed the mark here. What made Christ unique was not his respect for a person’s individuality and equality. That stuff existed in the Greek and Roman empires. Obviously not in every era, every class, or every state, but in sufficient levels to be called normal. Consider the Athenian democracy, the teachings of Socrates (which focused on every individual as an equal moral agent), the Roman Republic (which allowed political office even to the plebes), etc, etc. In fact, I have know idea how you could claim that those cultures didn’t understand a person’s individuality and equality. It is just a vacuous claim that a few cherry-picked examples might support but many other examples don’t. People in power are always devaluing others, as do people who disagree with one another. And yet people are always aware of the Golden Rule, because we recognize inherently that we are equal. Societies in all times and and can exhibit either one of these things (or even both at the same time).

    On the other hand, Christ was truly revolutionary because He preached through His death on the cross that man cannot work enough to save Himself. He preached that those who hunger for righteousness would be filled, not those who work for it. He preached that the paupers in spirit will inherit. This stuff was revolutionary, because it is the gospel.

    Turning Christ into a political figure is terrible history and worse theology.

  • trotk

    Given Christ’s willingness to die, I would say that Christian civility should spring from the recognition that Christ was just as willing to die for the person that I am disagreeing with as He was for me. Thus, to treat that person as less than the beloved of Christ is to fail to love.

    I am now coming to the point of saying that civility is a secular imitation of love. A pale shadow as it were. I guess we could just study I Cor. 13 and examine whether this is the way we treat our political opponents.

  • trotk

    Given Christ’s willingness to die, I would say that Christian civility should spring from the recognition that Christ was just as willing to die for the person that I am disagreeing with as He was for me. Thus, to treat that person as less than the beloved of Christ is to fail to love.

    I am now coming to the point of saying that civility is a secular imitation of love. A pale shadow as it were. I guess we could just study I Cor. 13 and examine whether this is the way we treat our political opponents.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    tODD, it seems you are saying yes, that the equal worth of the individual is elsewhere noted or alluded at least abstractly, which then leaves the issue of the extent to which the idea informed the thinking in a culture. The value of the individual seems more of a central focus of Christian faith and culture and by extension in western culture because it was influenced so heavily by Christianity. Christ’s sacrifice is for me personally, an individual sinner. He seeks each one to redeem and save them, rather than other religions where the person seeks the supernatural, or morality, or ritual in order to gain honor, nirvana, favor, status, or some such. In the Christian west, even the criminal going to his execution is sought for redemption, so a priest is there to minister to him in the place of Christ. His value is inherent although his crimes are punished in this world. Would a priest be there in Old Testament times just before a stoning of a criminal should he want to confess or somehow be absolved? I don’t know. I don’t recall ever learning that.

    Not trying to derail the civil discussion of civil discussion. :-)
    Your comment just made me wonder about that point.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    tODD, it seems you are saying yes, that the equal worth of the individual is elsewhere noted or alluded at least abstractly, which then leaves the issue of the extent to which the idea informed the thinking in a culture. The value of the individual seems more of a central focus of Christian faith and culture and by extension in western culture because it was influenced so heavily by Christianity. Christ’s sacrifice is for me personally, an individual sinner. He seeks each one to redeem and save them, rather than other religions where the person seeks the supernatural, or morality, or ritual in order to gain honor, nirvana, favor, status, or some such. In the Christian west, even the criminal going to his execution is sought for redemption, so a priest is there to minister to him in the place of Christ. His value is inherent although his crimes are punished in this world. Would a priest be there in Old Testament times just before a stoning of a criminal should he want to confess or somehow be absolved? I don’t know. I don’t recall ever learning that.

    Not trying to derail the civil discussion of civil discussion. :-)
    Your comment just made me wonder about that point.

  • utahrainbow

    Don @ 32,
    Sure, incivility might be rooted in ego, what sin isn’t? But it seems to me a great deal of virtuous behavior might be easy if we could just keep that ego in check. That is no help, and rhymed with the attitude expressed elsewhere–Well, duh, we know how to be civil. How uninteresting–

    I will admit, though, that my sarcastic comment @ 31 did not contribute much to the discussion, and I do regret posting it.

  • utahrainbow

    Don @ 32,
    Sure, incivility might be rooted in ego, what sin isn’t? But it seems to me a great deal of virtuous behavior might be easy if we could just keep that ego in check. That is no help, and rhymed with the attitude expressed elsewhere–Well, duh, we know how to be civil. How uninteresting–

    I will admit, though, that my sarcastic comment @ 31 did not contribute much to the discussion, and I do regret posting it.

  • DonS

    tODD @ 36 and Utah @ 40: Well, I guess I wasn’t really trying to be profound. Which is where Gerson and I differ ;-)

  • DonS

    tODD @ 36 and Utah @ 40: Well, I guess I wasn’t really trying to be profound. Which is where Gerson and I differ ;-)

  • Porcell

    Trotk, at 37, Lindgren’s view, that I share, is that Jesus’ teachings, especially in the beatitudes and parables, have very much to do with how people ought to live in the world, which, at base, are therefore political as well as spiritual. What Lindgren does in his book, without in the slightest disparaging the concept of Christ, is focus on Jesus’ teaching about how free and equal individuals should conduct themselves in the real world in order, to the extent humanly possible, that His will be done on earth. While Jesus never directly advocated democracy, his essential teachings are consonant with it.

    While, as you say, there was some regard for the free and equal individual in parts of the ancient world, we have no teacher that approximates Christ in this regard. Socrates, for example, essentially emphasized a philosophical seeking after truth and, like Plato, actually disparaged Greek democracy. He was an elitist to the core. It is no accident that the Greek and Roman empires had little regard for individuals. The patricians in Rome consented rather reluctantly to a plebeian share in rule. Further, that modern democracy has had its fullest development in the Western world.

    I should suggest that you read Lindgren’s remarkable book that demonstrates well Christ’s concern with the behavior of individuals in this world. Unless you reject Lindgren’s premise outright, I guarantee you that this book will give you a better insight into the very real political teachings of Jesus.

  • Porcell

    Trotk, at 37, Lindgren’s view, that I share, is that Jesus’ teachings, especially in the beatitudes and parables, have very much to do with how people ought to live in the world, which, at base, are therefore political as well as spiritual. What Lindgren does in his book, without in the slightest disparaging the concept of Christ, is focus on Jesus’ teaching about how free and equal individuals should conduct themselves in the real world in order, to the extent humanly possible, that His will be done on earth. While Jesus never directly advocated democracy, his essential teachings are consonant with it.

    While, as you say, there was some regard for the free and equal individual in parts of the ancient world, we have no teacher that approximates Christ in this regard. Socrates, for example, essentially emphasized a philosophical seeking after truth and, like Plato, actually disparaged Greek democracy. He was an elitist to the core. It is no accident that the Greek and Roman empires had little regard for individuals. The patricians in Rome consented rather reluctantly to a plebeian share in rule. Further, that modern democracy has had its fullest development in the Western world.

    I should suggest that you read Lindgren’s remarkable book that demonstrates well Christ’s concern with the behavior of individuals in this world. Unless you reject Lindgren’s premise outright, I guarantee you that this book will give you a better insight into the very real political teachings of Jesus.

  • Stephen

    I think this assessment hides a lot. I’d be curious to know how people see these worldviews working out in their experience. I think there are ditches to fall into on both sides of either path. It is interesting to me how a conservative always seems to make a caveat for a degree of flexibility as Gerson does here when he says:

    “Without a doubt, doubt is useful and needed at the margins of any ideology.”

    Sounds like he wants to have his cake of rock solid belief for which he is willing to die for and yet . . .

    I read what he said about liberal skepticism and what I hear is “liberals really have no faith because they see everything through the lens of doubt and thus really do not believe in anything at all.” This is a narrow view of faith. The opposite of faith is not doubt, it is more like fear. This works out as unbelief. It’s not about questioning things (doubt), it’s about turning away to other things (fear – idolatry would be another way to construe it).

    So when a conservative wants to stir the pot by suggesting that all liberals have a fundamental inability to believe in anything because they go at things with a premise of skepticism and doubt, what is he up to? He’s inciting fear, fear of those unbelievers, those people who are secularists to the core, who cannot be trusted because they do not know how to trust. It’s a lie. He’s actually creating the situation that he thinks he’s combating because now we can certainly be suspicious and fearful of “them.” What else has been lost? What other kinds of faith has been diminished by fear. What will people run to now?

    I had a teacher who said that in any conversation with someone of a different belief system there were two levels of conversion at stake. One is a small “c” conversion in which one must risk enough of their own belief in order to be willing to listen, take in, and at least attempt to find points of agreement in what the other is saying. Maybe this is like civility. It has to do with making space for others. It also has to do with being willing to accept the reality as Gerson himself notes: “The world is too complex to know completely.” The more you get out there the more you find this to be the case.

    The other is the capital “C” conversion that is always lying in wait where we might actually be turned to the other’s point of view. Many fear this, and so they do not allow for the small “c” because they fear the big “C” and stay grounded where they are, armed to the teeth with opinions, and hunker down. There’s a lot of that. Looking for a natural law argument on which to base reality is like that. It, by the way, has nothing to do with Lutheranism and trusting in Jesus Christ alone through faith. It has everything to do with believing in the power of human reason to puzzle out the basic structure of reality and to somehow incorporate it properly into everything that we are about. It was seized upon by Aquinas and is still seen as some indication of God’s order in the world, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with faith in Christ alone because it obfuscates and denies the reality of original sin. It is actually antinomian. I digress. Gerson put them side by side and I do not agree that they belong together. That’s my point. Notice he says it is rooted in anthropology. I thought that was interesting, because the whole thing is a ruse, I think, for trumpeting the value American civil religion if you asked me.

    One of the first theological books I ever read was by Fredrick Beuchner. In it he said “Doubt is the ants in the pants of faith.” I liked that, and I think it has helped me be a better Christian (that is, if “better” is the way to say it). It gave me permission to ask questions, something my pastor in confirmation couldn’t stand – Lord bless him. What did Jesus say? Ask, seek, knock. Is that limited to things and stuff, or did he mean higher things? And what was his prayer on the cross from Psalm 22:1? Was it some affirmation of natural law that all things were moving toward some certain and ordered end, or some exposition on freedom and moral values? Hardly. As I recall, what he spoke in anguish was a question “Why . . .” Sounds kind of like doubt.

    trotk @ 38 has said it quite well, reiterating what Todd said at the end of his post @ 33. If this discussion matters for the faith of a Christian, civility has something to do with seeing the other as someone for whom Christ has died, for whom that cry of dereliction on the cross was a cry for them and their separation from Him as much as anyone else. And when we are uncivil, that cross becomes law – I have not loved my neighbor as myself – until we have the Holy Gospel that is for us and for that neighbor spoken into that separation – you are marked forever and forgiven, his blood was shed for you.

    I’m going with doubt as good thing, and rejecting both of these characterizations as poor reductions and a false dichotomy. Cinncinatus is kind of right. This has been trotted out before, but I don’t like it because it is a made-up distinction that I don’t think quite fits. And I hate to see John Locke being dragged through the mud like that. There would be no US Constitution, no Tom Jefferson or James Madison without him. Doesn’t sound very conservative to me.

  • Stephen

    I think this assessment hides a lot. I’d be curious to know how people see these worldviews working out in their experience. I think there are ditches to fall into on both sides of either path. It is interesting to me how a conservative always seems to make a caveat for a degree of flexibility as Gerson does here when he says:

    “Without a doubt, doubt is useful and needed at the margins of any ideology.”

    Sounds like he wants to have his cake of rock solid belief for which he is willing to die for and yet . . .

    I read what he said about liberal skepticism and what I hear is “liberals really have no faith because they see everything through the lens of doubt and thus really do not believe in anything at all.” This is a narrow view of faith. The opposite of faith is not doubt, it is more like fear. This works out as unbelief. It’s not about questioning things (doubt), it’s about turning away to other things (fear – idolatry would be another way to construe it).

    So when a conservative wants to stir the pot by suggesting that all liberals have a fundamental inability to believe in anything because they go at things with a premise of skepticism and doubt, what is he up to? He’s inciting fear, fear of those unbelievers, those people who are secularists to the core, who cannot be trusted because they do not know how to trust. It’s a lie. He’s actually creating the situation that he thinks he’s combating because now we can certainly be suspicious and fearful of “them.” What else has been lost? What other kinds of faith has been diminished by fear. What will people run to now?

    I had a teacher who said that in any conversation with someone of a different belief system there were two levels of conversion at stake. One is a small “c” conversion in which one must risk enough of their own belief in order to be willing to listen, take in, and at least attempt to find points of agreement in what the other is saying. Maybe this is like civility. It has to do with making space for others. It also has to do with being willing to accept the reality as Gerson himself notes: “The world is too complex to know completely.” The more you get out there the more you find this to be the case.

    The other is the capital “C” conversion that is always lying in wait where we might actually be turned to the other’s point of view. Many fear this, and so they do not allow for the small “c” because they fear the big “C” and stay grounded where they are, armed to the teeth with opinions, and hunker down. There’s a lot of that. Looking for a natural law argument on which to base reality is like that. It, by the way, has nothing to do with Lutheranism and trusting in Jesus Christ alone through faith. It has everything to do with believing in the power of human reason to puzzle out the basic structure of reality and to somehow incorporate it properly into everything that we are about. It was seized upon by Aquinas and is still seen as some indication of God’s order in the world, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with faith in Christ alone because it obfuscates and denies the reality of original sin. It is actually antinomian. I digress. Gerson put them side by side and I do not agree that they belong together. That’s my point. Notice he says it is rooted in anthropology. I thought that was interesting, because the whole thing is a ruse, I think, for trumpeting the value American civil religion if you asked me.

    One of the first theological books I ever read was by Fredrick Beuchner. In it he said “Doubt is the ants in the pants of faith.” I liked that, and I think it has helped me be a better Christian (that is, if “better” is the way to say it). It gave me permission to ask questions, something my pastor in confirmation couldn’t stand – Lord bless him. What did Jesus say? Ask, seek, knock. Is that limited to things and stuff, or did he mean higher things? And what was his prayer on the cross from Psalm 22:1? Was it some affirmation of natural law that all things were moving toward some certain and ordered end, or some exposition on freedom and moral values? Hardly. As I recall, what he spoke in anguish was a question “Why . . .” Sounds kind of like doubt.

    trotk @ 38 has said it quite well, reiterating what Todd said at the end of his post @ 33. If this discussion matters for the faith of a Christian, civility has something to do with seeing the other as someone for whom Christ has died, for whom that cry of dereliction on the cross was a cry for them and their separation from Him as much as anyone else. And when we are uncivil, that cross becomes law – I have not loved my neighbor as myself – until we have the Holy Gospel that is for us and for that neighbor spoken into that separation – you are marked forever and forgiven, his blood was shed for you.

    I’m going with doubt as good thing, and rejecting both of these characterizations as poor reductions and a false dichotomy. Cinncinatus is kind of right. This has been trotted out before, but I don’t like it because it is a made-up distinction that I don’t think quite fits. And I hate to see John Locke being dragged through the mud like that. There would be no US Constitution, no Tom Jefferson or James Madison without him. Doesn’t sound very conservative to me.

  • Porcell

    Brett Stephens has a WSJ column today, Why I’ll Miss Keith Olbermann America does better when its political debates descend into honest brawls. that relates directly to this thread. He writes:

    Put simply, Mr. Olbermann had a genuine faith in populism, something liberals more often preach than practice. Say what you will about his on-air rants, I’ll take them any day over the subterfuges used by NPR to fire Juan Williams.

    All this matters in an era in which the greatest threat to public discourse isn’t “incivility,” as was so preposterously claimed after Tucson. Just compare the tedium of U.S. congressional debate with the rapier exchanges in Britain’s House of Commons, the catcalling in Israel’s Knesset, or the fist-fights in Taiwan’s parliament.

    One can make a case that nice Americans are rather too squeamish in debate.

  • Porcell

    Brett Stephens has a WSJ column today, Why I’ll Miss Keith Olbermann America does better when its political debates descend into honest brawls. that relates directly to this thread. He writes:

    Put simply, Mr. Olbermann had a genuine faith in populism, something liberals more often preach than practice. Say what you will about his on-air rants, I’ll take them any day over the subterfuges used by NPR to fire Juan Williams.

    All this matters in an era in which the greatest threat to public discourse isn’t “incivility,” as was so preposterously claimed after Tucson. Just compare the tedium of U.S. congressional debate with the rapier exchanges in Britain’s House of Commons, the catcalling in Israel’s Knesset, or the fist-fights in Taiwan’s parliament.

    One can make a case that nice Americans are rather too squeamish in debate.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “So when a conservative wants to stir the pot by suggesting that all liberals have a fundamental inability to believe in anything because they go at things with a premise of skepticism and doubt, what is he up to?”

    Liberals skeptics? I didn’t see that coming. I mean look at all the social engineering that, I assume, they believed would work. Even when it doesn’t work, they still believe and want more of the same.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “So when a conservative wants to stir the pot by suggesting that all liberals have a fundamental inability to believe in anything because they go at things with a premise of skepticism and doubt, what is he up to?”

    Liberals skeptics? I didn’t see that coming. I mean look at all the social engineering that, I assume, they believed would work. Even when it doesn’t work, they still believe and want more of the same.

  • trotk

    Peter, I reject the view that the parables and beatitudes are primarily about how we ought to live in the world. They are primarily about the unmerited grace of God. Find me a parable or beatitude that you believe is about our conduct, and I will show you how it is actually about the gospel.

    Secondly, you don’t know Socrates. He didn’t advocate the detached search for philosophical truth you claim. (Even if you had, it wouldn’t have made him a denier of the individuality or equality of the common man.) He taught the common man in common places, but what he taught them was that knowing truth leads to right action. Hence the Socratic paradox is about DOING good and evil. There are historians who believe that the message of Socrates and Jesus was essentially the same – personal accountability/responsibility for actions, movement from shame-based culture to guilt-based (although I reject this view, because it reduces Jesus to a moral teacher).

    Thirdly, Lindgren’s view of Old Testament Jewish culture is completely manufactured out of thin air, unless you have misrepresented it. Can you provide any supporting evidence that they didn’t believe in the equality and individuality of all men? All the evidence is to the contrary. A nation where every man was to know the Law and be a priest to the surrounding nations, a nation that was built to be a theocracy where no man ruled another, a nation where judges arose out of the common mass, where 8th sons and half-Jewish men became rulers – Jesus came to a world that recognized no aristocracy. Even the aristocracy of Jesus’ day (the Pharisees and Sadducees) were open societies wherein people of all classes could rise based on merit (witness Paul, a tent-maker!).

    In summary, elitism, and the accompanying devaluing of the individual happens in all cultures and at all times, even in democracies. But on the other hand, the valuing of individuals (regardless of whether it spawns a democracy) can and has occurred in far more times and places than you think.

    Lastly, Jesus’ teachings presume the worth of the individual (but this is not why they were revolutionary), demand higher fealty to the Law (but this is not why they were revolutionary), and communicate unmerited grace because we cannot keep that Law (this is what makes them revolutionary.

  • trotk

    Peter, I reject the view that the parables and beatitudes are primarily about how we ought to live in the world. They are primarily about the unmerited grace of God. Find me a parable or beatitude that you believe is about our conduct, and I will show you how it is actually about the gospel.

    Secondly, you don’t know Socrates. He didn’t advocate the detached search for philosophical truth you claim. (Even if you had, it wouldn’t have made him a denier of the individuality or equality of the common man.) He taught the common man in common places, but what he taught them was that knowing truth leads to right action. Hence the Socratic paradox is about DOING good and evil. There are historians who believe that the message of Socrates and Jesus was essentially the same – personal accountability/responsibility for actions, movement from shame-based culture to guilt-based (although I reject this view, because it reduces Jesus to a moral teacher).

    Thirdly, Lindgren’s view of Old Testament Jewish culture is completely manufactured out of thin air, unless you have misrepresented it. Can you provide any supporting evidence that they didn’t believe in the equality and individuality of all men? All the evidence is to the contrary. A nation where every man was to know the Law and be a priest to the surrounding nations, a nation that was built to be a theocracy where no man ruled another, a nation where judges arose out of the common mass, where 8th sons and half-Jewish men became rulers – Jesus came to a world that recognized no aristocracy. Even the aristocracy of Jesus’ day (the Pharisees and Sadducees) were open societies wherein people of all classes could rise based on merit (witness Paul, a tent-maker!).

    In summary, elitism, and the accompanying devaluing of the individual happens in all cultures and at all times, even in democracies. But on the other hand, the valuing of individuals (regardless of whether it spawns a democracy) can and has occurred in far more times and places than you think.

    Lastly, Jesus’ teachings presume the worth of the individual (but this is not why they were revolutionary), demand higher fealty to the Law (but this is not why they were revolutionary), and communicate unmerited grace because we cannot keep that Law (this is what makes them revolutionary.

  • Stephen

    sg @ 45

    I’m pretty sure that is what Gerson is suggesting, that all liberals are at base skeptics who have no faith in anything, not really. I think he’s wrong, and you may be right, at least to some degree.

  • Stephen

    sg @ 45

    I’m pretty sure that is what Gerson is suggesting, that all liberals are at base skeptics who have no faith in anything, not really. I think he’s wrong, and you may be right, at least to some degree.

  • Porcell

    Trotk, Jesus, while certainly, through the cross, was involved in salvation, He was, also, in the Sermon on the Mount, especially with the Beatitudes, and with the parables, involved with teaching how to live life on earth. Any such teaching has an important political aspect. His fundamental teaching had to do with the freedom and equality of every individual. This teaching was in fact both for the Roman and Jewish religious political authorities a revolutionary point of view that ultimately cost him his life.

    As to Socrates, though himself a commoner, he taught mostly
    Athenian aristocrats including Plato; he despised the conventions of ordinary Greek people. One may admire him for his rational philosophy, though hardly for his teaching on democracy or individual equality.

    I didn’t remark that Jesus’ teaching was primarily about earthly conduct. Lindgren’s view- that I agree with- is simply that Jesus did take seriously the part of the Lord’s prayer, My kingdom come, thigh will be done, on earth as it is in heaven..

    For an NRO interview with Lindberg, see Sermon on the Hill: Politics by Jesus Christ., including:

    We need to try to better understand what Jesus had to say for its own sake, as well as to fulfill the second part of the injunction Jesus embraces for inheriting eternal life: Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. The Sermon on the Mount and the parables are, among other things, an elaboration on what it means to love your neighbor. I wanted to try to draw out the social and political implications of his elaboration on that theme.

  • Porcell

    Trotk, Jesus, while certainly, through the cross, was involved in salvation, He was, also, in the Sermon on the Mount, especially with the Beatitudes, and with the parables, involved with teaching how to live life on earth. Any such teaching has an important political aspect. His fundamental teaching had to do with the freedom and equality of every individual. This teaching was in fact both for the Roman and Jewish religious political authorities a revolutionary point of view that ultimately cost him his life.

    As to Socrates, though himself a commoner, he taught mostly
    Athenian aristocrats including Plato; he despised the conventions of ordinary Greek people. One may admire him for his rational philosophy, though hardly for his teaching on democracy or individual equality.

    I didn’t remark that Jesus’ teaching was primarily about earthly conduct. Lindgren’s view- that I agree with- is simply that Jesus did take seriously the part of the Lord’s prayer, My kingdom come, thigh will be done, on earth as it is in heaven..

    For an NRO interview with Lindberg, see Sermon on the Hill: Politics by Jesus Christ., including:

    We need to try to better understand what Jesus had to say for its own sake, as well as to fulfill the second part of the injunction Jesus embraces for inheriting eternal life: Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. The Sermon on the Mount and the parables are, among other things, an elaboration on what it means to love your neighbor. I wanted to try to draw out the social and political implications of his elaboration on that theme.

  • trotk

    Peter, which Beatitude is about earthly morality?

  • trotk

    Peter, which Beatitude is about earthly morality?

  • Porcell

    Trotk, the “blessed,” in the beatitudes include the meek, who shall inherit theearth, the poor in spirit, the gentle, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Finally, as Lindberg remarks, says Jesus, fortunate are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Jesus contrasted these blessed people with the conventionally prosperous and powerful people who ruled, often heartlessly, on earth.

    While one may certainly interpret these beatitudes as spiritual teaching, one may, also, regard it as this worldly, therefore political, moral teaching that for two-millennia has revolutionized the political world, far more than any other teaching.

    There is more to heaven and earth than individual justification or salvation.

  • Porcell

    Trotk, the “blessed,” in the beatitudes include the meek, who shall inherit theearth, the poor in spirit, the gentle, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Finally, as Lindberg remarks, says Jesus, fortunate are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Jesus contrasted these blessed people with the conventionally prosperous and powerful people who ruled, often heartlessly, on earth.

    While one may certainly interpret these beatitudes as spiritual teaching, one may, also, regard it as this worldly, therefore political, moral teaching that for two-millennia has revolutionized the political world, far more than any other teaching.

    There is more to heaven and earth than individual justification or salvation.

  • Stephen

    Porcell –

    Did you really say this:

    “Trotk, Jesus, while certainly, through the cross, was involved in salvation, He was, also, in the Sermon on the Mount, especially with the Beatitudes, and with the parables, involved with teaching how to live life on earth.”

    Jesus was “involved” in salvation? He IS salvation!!!! Don’t you know that? What do you think that whole crucifixion stuff was all about, just blip on the cosmic radar screen. And when was the last time you sold EVERYTHING to follow him? When? Do you go to God first for every single incremental thing in you life? Give up your wife and your home and your children, all of it, and maybe, maybe, maybe, you’ve got a shot a truly following his “teachings” the way you seem to understand them. No. You would probably run away at the crucial moment just like your namesake did Peter. Because one more thing is missing that you cannot do, and that is die for your neighbor as the perfect God-man that he was, is, and ever shall be.

    Whenever will give up all that nonsense? Lindgren, whoever he is, does not know Jesus’ parables from nursery rhymes.

  • Stephen

    Porcell –

    Did you really say this:

    “Trotk, Jesus, while certainly, through the cross, was involved in salvation, He was, also, in the Sermon on the Mount, especially with the Beatitudes, and with the parables, involved with teaching how to live life on earth.”

    Jesus was “involved” in salvation? He IS salvation!!!! Don’t you know that? What do you think that whole crucifixion stuff was all about, just blip on the cosmic radar screen. And when was the last time you sold EVERYTHING to follow him? When? Do you go to God first for every single incremental thing in you life? Give up your wife and your home and your children, all of it, and maybe, maybe, maybe, you’ve got a shot a truly following his “teachings” the way you seem to understand them. No. You would probably run away at the crucial moment just like your namesake did Peter. Because one more thing is missing that you cannot do, and that is die for your neighbor as the perfect God-man that he was, is, and ever shall be.

    Whenever will give up all that nonsense? Lindgren, whoever he is, does not know Jesus’ parables from nursery rhymes.

  • Stephen

    Lindgren, Lindberg, he’s full of his own ideas and knows nothing about Jesus Christ. These guys are a dime a dozen. They think the scriptures are an antique, a curiosity. It has no living message, no life at all. It does not present to them the person of Jesus himself. He’s blinded by his own personal fascinations and makes Jesus into a reflection of his own ideas..

  • Stephen

    Lindgren, Lindberg, he’s full of his own ideas and knows nothing about Jesus Christ. These guys are a dime a dozen. They think the scriptures are an antique, a curiosity. It has no living message, no life at all. It does not present to them the person of Jesus himself. He’s blinded by his own personal fascinations and makes Jesus into a reflection of his own ideas..

  • trotk

    Well, Stephen beat me to it.

    Peter, I get the impression that you believe that changing the earthly political orders into free and equal societies was as important to Christ as saving our eternal souls. It seems that culture wars are your driving force. This explains why onetime you referred to my statement that loving one another and worshiping together perhaps is unity by calling it “sentimental piety.”

    On to your understanding of the beatitudes. They are spiritual, not earthly. Let me show you why I know this.

    The poor in SPIRIT. – those who acknowledge they have nothing to offer God are given a heavenly reward.

    Those who mourn (for their sin, because that was what their poverty of spirit was about) are comforted (through the gospel, which is the only way they can be).

    The meek (those who don’t try to accomplish earthly strength) are given the earth, which must be a spiritual promise, or else Jesus was a liar.

    Those who hunger and thirst (in other words, those who don’t have it) are given righteousness, which can only happen in the cross.

    The merciful (those who don’t treat others according to their sin) are given mercy (which again happens on the cross).

    The cleansed (better translation than pure) in HEART see God (a spiritual promise given to those who acknowledge their sin (catharos is properly a murderer who has been forgiven/cleansed).

    The peacemakers are called sons of God – the only peacemakers are those who share the only peace that exists, which is the peace that occurs between man and God through the cross, thus they are called sons of God by those who benefit from their witness, not by the world, who sees the cross as foolishness.

    The persecuted get the kingdom of heaven – a spiritual promise given to those whom the world rejects. (Do you see that? There is no restored social/political order; the world rejects them!)

    Peter, you see Christ as the ancient Jews saw their hoped-for Messiah, a king who would right the immediate, physical and political world. He offered promises that are heavenly based on His work on the cross to those who acknowledged that they were needy, mourning, humbled, hungry, murderers, etc.

    The whole gist of the sermon on the mount is a strengthening of the Law to a point that we all must acknowledge guilt, not a celebration of the hard-put-upon who will be vindicated.

    Notice that his followers made no attempt to change social structures. Paul told people to obey Nero. He also told slaves to remain slaves.

    I know that you have confessed that you won’t acknowledge that you are wrong, but you see the Bible as the gospel + culture war, which reduces the gospel to a means to an end, rather than the whole story.

  • trotk

    Well, Stephen beat me to it.

    Peter, I get the impression that you believe that changing the earthly political orders into free and equal societies was as important to Christ as saving our eternal souls. It seems that culture wars are your driving force. This explains why onetime you referred to my statement that loving one another and worshiping together perhaps is unity by calling it “sentimental piety.”

    On to your understanding of the beatitudes. They are spiritual, not earthly. Let me show you why I know this.

    The poor in SPIRIT. – those who acknowledge they have nothing to offer God are given a heavenly reward.

    Those who mourn (for their sin, because that was what their poverty of spirit was about) are comforted (through the gospel, which is the only way they can be).

    The meek (those who don’t try to accomplish earthly strength) are given the earth, which must be a spiritual promise, or else Jesus was a liar.

    Those who hunger and thirst (in other words, those who don’t have it) are given righteousness, which can only happen in the cross.

    The merciful (those who don’t treat others according to their sin) are given mercy (which again happens on the cross).

    The cleansed (better translation than pure) in HEART see God (a spiritual promise given to those who acknowledge their sin (catharos is properly a murderer who has been forgiven/cleansed).

    The peacemakers are called sons of God – the only peacemakers are those who share the only peace that exists, which is the peace that occurs between man and God through the cross, thus they are called sons of God by those who benefit from their witness, not by the world, who sees the cross as foolishness.

    The persecuted get the kingdom of heaven – a spiritual promise given to those whom the world rejects. (Do you see that? There is no restored social/political order; the world rejects them!)

    Peter, you see Christ as the ancient Jews saw their hoped-for Messiah, a king who would right the immediate, physical and political world. He offered promises that are heavenly based on His work on the cross to those who acknowledged that they were needy, mourning, humbled, hungry, murderers, etc.

    The whole gist of the sermon on the mount is a strengthening of the Law to a point that we all must acknowledge guilt, not a celebration of the hard-put-upon who will be vindicated.

    Notice that his followers made no attempt to change social structures. Paul told people to obey Nero. He also told slaves to remain slaves.

    I know that you have confessed that you won’t acknowledge that you are wrong, but you see the Bible as the gospel + culture war, which reduces the gospel to a means to an end, rather than the whole story.

  • Stephen

    Sorry to jump in Trotk. I was a little too flabbergasted.

    And to be perfectly clear, to see the bible as gospel + culture war is to have no gospel at all. It is all law, all of it, which only kills. Death is the end of it. The only way out is faith in the one who died under the law of sin and death which that same law could not touch – Jesus Christ.

  • Stephen

    Sorry to jump in Trotk. I was a little too flabbergasted.

    And to be perfectly clear, to see the bible as gospel + culture war is to have no gospel at all. It is all law, all of it, which only kills. Death is the end of it. The only way out is faith in the one who died under the law of sin and death which that same law could not touch – Jesus Christ.

  • Stephen

    Trotk –

    Great exegesis by the way. Thanks for that. Really nice. Just about my favorite part of Matthew for exactly all those reasons. It’s not about some kind of vapid “morality.” It’s about redemption.

  • Stephen

    Trotk –

    Great exegesis by the way. Thanks for that. Really nice. Just about my favorite part of Matthew for exactly all those reasons. It’s not about some kind of vapid “morality.” It’s about redemption.

  • DonS

    Stephen @ 43 and following: Stephen, I think you miss the point of Gerson’s article. It’s not just about matters of faith, in which many liberals are surely skeptical, or at least syncretistic. It’s other values as well. On the liberal side, how about global warming and evolution, as two examples? Do those promoting these theories allow for doubt, or are they swayable by evidence that the theories might be wrong, or at least unproven? It seems not, for they still persist in imposing their values on the rest of us — taxing and making scarcer our energy supplies, and teaching our children in the public schools that evolution is absolute truth. Of course conservatives do that as well, particularly in the areas of sexual behavior (the old sodomy and miscegenation laws) and drug and alcohol prohibitions.

    It’s hard to be perceived as civil when you are ramming your values down your fellow citizens’ throats.

    So, Gerson (who is not really very conservative) is not trying to incite fear of others who hold no firm beliefs. He is saying that healthy political discourse requires give and take, and compromise.

    One reason why his article is tripe is because it does not even attempt to distinguish between situations in which you are attempting to impose your values on someone else through legislation, regulation, or court decree, and those where you are trying to defend your current way of life. The burden is (or should be) much, much higher on those imposing their will on others. We will have a much more civil society when people realize that the highest value is individual liberty, and the default should always be to promote that liberty unless the evidence is compelling to the contrary.

  • DonS

    Stephen @ 43 and following: Stephen, I think you miss the point of Gerson’s article. It’s not just about matters of faith, in which many liberals are surely skeptical, or at least syncretistic. It’s other values as well. On the liberal side, how about global warming and evolution, as two examples? Do those promoting these theories allow for doubt, or are they swayable by evidence that the theories might be wrong, or at least unproven? It seems not, for they still persist in imposing their values on the rest of us — taxing and making scarcer our energy supplies, and teaching our children in the public schools that evolution is absolute truth. Of course conservatives do that as well, particularly in the areas of sexual behavior (the old sodomy and miscegenation laws) and drug and alcohol prohibitions.

    It’s hard to be perceived as civil when you are ramming your values down your fellow citizens’ throats.

    So, Gerson (who is not really very conservative) is not trying to incite fear of others who hold no firm beliefs. He is saying that healthy political discourse requires give and take, and compromise.

    One reason why his article is tripe is because it does not even attempt to distinguish between situations in which you are attempting to impose your values on someone else through legislation, regulation, or court decree, and those where you are trying to defend your current way of life. The burden is (or should be) much, much higher on those imposing their will on others. We will have a much more civil society when people realize that the highest value is individual liberty, and the default should always be to promote that liberty unless the evidence is compelling to the contrary.

  • Porcell

    Stephen, if you can’t handle Lindberg, you might try N.T. Wright, passim, and, especially, his recent book Justification, written in response to John Piper’s narrow overemphasis on individual justification and salvation.

    Specifically, Wright remarks in his Preface:

    Many Christians in the Western world, for many centuries now, have seen “salvation”as meaning “going to heaven when you die.” I and others have argued that this is inadequate. In the Bible salvation is not God’s rescue of people from the world but the world itself. The whole creation is to be liberated from its slavery and decay. [Romans 8: 21 ... because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage of decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God....]

  • Porcell

    Stephen, if you can’t handle Lindberg, you might try N.T. Wright, passim, and, especially, his recent book Justification, written in response to John Piper’s narrow overemphasis on individual justification and salvation.

    Specifically, Wright remarks in his Preface:

    Many Christians in the Western world, for many centuries now, have seen “salvation”as meaning “going to heaven when you die.” I and others have argued that this is inadequate. In the Bible salvation is not God’s rescue of people from the world but the world itself. The whole creation is to be liberated from its slavery and decay. [Romans 8: 21 ... because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage of decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God....]

  • Stephen

    I have that hunk of junk on my shelf, along with a few of his others, Porcell. It’s full of flase claims about scripture, straw men and red herrings a’plenty – and that’s in the first chapter. I don’t know what the point of your citation is, but Wright’s whole project is to perfect religion. That is my take. I think he’s a terrible exegete.

  • Stephen

    I have that hunk of junk on my shelf, along with a few of his others, Porcell. It’s full of flase claims about scripture, straw men and red herrings a’plenty – and that’s in the first chapter. I don’t know what the point of your citation is, but Wright’s whole project is to perfect religion. That is my take. I think he’s a terrible exegete.

  • Stephen

    Oh yeah, and he doesn’t know a darn thing about Luther like he claims.

  • Stephen

    Oh yeah, and he doesn’t know a darn thing about Luther like he claims.

  • Stephen

    But I have heard that Wright is a heck of speaker so maybe that is why all the evangelicals wet their pants over him. Otherwise, he’s awful. Shall I go on?

  • Stephen

    But I have heard that Wright is a heck of speaker so maybe that is why all the evangelicals wet their pants over him. Otherwise, he’s awful. Shall I go on?

  • Cincinnatus

    Having Anglican sympathies, I think you’re deeply underrating and underestimating Wright. He’s not on my list of “10 Best Theologians Ever,” but he is refreshing and refreshingly orthodox (in the pre-modern sense). In fact, I would welcome him as the next Archbishop of Canterbury–he’d be a lot better than that lout who holds the office currently.

    But you’re already an expert exegete, so why am I telling you this, Stephen?

  • Cincinnatus

    Having Anglican sympathies, I think you’re deeply underrating and underestimating Wright. He’s not on my list of “10 Best Theologians Ever,” but he is refreshing and refreshingly orthodox (in the pre-modern sense). In fact, I would welcome him as the next Archbishop of Canterbury–he’d be a lot better than that lout who holds the office currently.

    But you’re already an expert exegete, so why am I telling you this, Stephen?

  • http:theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Here I would like to quote from a recent post at Internet Monk:
    (http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/ranting-and-raving)

    Jesus is not a self-help guru. He is not interested in you becoming a better person. He could not care less with you improving in any area of your life. Because in the end that is your life. Yours. And he demands you give it to him. All of it. An unconditional surrender. He did not come to improve you, or encourage you, or spur you on to bigger and better things. He came to raise the dead. And if you insist on living, then you’re on your own. Good luck. Sign up for all the seminars, workshops and marriage improvement weekends that you can, because you’re going to need them.

    The Gospel is this: We are dead in our sins. Jesus, too, is dead in our sins. But because he is very God of very God, death could not hold him. He conquered sin and death and rose again. And the only life we are now offered is the life he lives in us. Period. He wants us dead. He’ll do the rest.

  • http:theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Here I would like to quote from a recent post at Internet Monk:
    (http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/ranting-and-raving)

    Jesus is not a self-help guru. He is not interested in you becoming a better person. He could not care less with you improving in any area of your life. Because in the end that is your life. Yours. And he demands you give it to him. All of it. An unconditional surrender. He did not come to improve you, or encourage you, or spur you on to bigger and better things. He came to raise the dead. And if you insist on living, then you’re on your own. Good luck. Sign up for all the seminars, workshops and marriage improvement weekends that you can, because you’re going to need them.

    The Gospel is this: We are dead in our sins. Jesus, too, is dead in our sins. But because he is very God of very God, death could not hold him. He conquered sin and death and rose again. And the only life we are now offered is the life he lives in us. Period. He wants us dead. He’ll do the rest.

  • Stephen

    Well, I don’t know if you were being sarcastic with that last comment, but I think he treats readers with contempt with a lot of false humility for one thing. Sure he can have his orthodoxy card punched. Good for him. But have you read his stuff? It’s a stew. Lots of ideas in there that are . . . his, and he finds a way to wrap the bible around them in my opinion. Publishers and readers like that. It’s fresh.

  • Stephen

    Well, I don’t know if you were being sarcastic with that last comment, but I think he treats readers with contempt with a lot of false humility for one thing. Sure he can have his orthodoxy card punched. Good for him. But have you read his stuff? It’s a stew. Lots of ideas in there that are . . . his, and he finds a way to wrap the bible around them in my opinion. Publishers and readers like that. It’s fresh.

  • Porcell

    Trotk: I get the impression that you believe that changing the earthly political orders into free and equal societies was as important to Christ as saving our eternal souls.

    This is a blatant distortion; I remarked at several points that Jesus’ biblical teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and parables have both a spiritual and earthly dimension. Your “impression” isn’t worth a pinch of coon manure.

    Stephen, your crude view of Wright is rather typical of his defensive critics. More heat than light.

  • Porcell

    Trotk: I get the impression that you believe that changing the earthly political orders into free and equal societies was as important to Christ as saving our eternal souls.

    This is a blatant distortion; I remarked at several points that Jesus’ biblical teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and parables have both a spiritual and earthly dimension. Your “impression” isn’t worth a pinch of coon manure.

    Stephen, your crude view of Wright is rather typical of his defensive critics. More heat than light.

  • http:theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Maybe I’ll quote a piece from Imonk (http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/ranting-and-raving) , in reference to the comments about what Christ came to do:

    “Jesus is not a self-help guru. He is not interested in you becoming a better person. He could not care less with you improving in any area of your life. Because in the end that is your life. Yours. And he demands you give it to him. All of it. An unconditional surrender. He did not come to improve you, or encourage you, or spur you on to bigger and better things. He came to raise the dead. And if you insist on living, then you’re on your own. Good luck. Sign up for all the seminars, workshops and marriage improvement weekends that you can, because you’re going to need them.

    The Gospel is this: We are dead in our sins. Jesus, too, is dead in our sins. But because he is very God of very God, death could not hold him. He conquered sin and death and rose again. And the only life we are now offered is the life he lives in us. Period. He wants us dead. He’ll do the rest.”

  • http:theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Maybe I’ll quote a piece from Imonk (http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/ranting-and-raving) , in reference to the comments about what Christ came to do:

    “Jesus is not a self-help guru. He is not interested in you becoming a better person. He could not care less with you improving in any area of your life. Because in the end that is your life. Yours. And he demands you give it to him. All of it. An unconditional surrender. He did not come to improve you, or encourage you, or spur you on to bigger and better things. He came to raise the dead. And if you insist on living, then you’re on your own. Good luck. Sign up for all the seminars, workshops and marriage improvement weekends that you can, because you’re going to need them.

    The Gospel is this: We are dead in our sins. Jesus, too, is dead in our sins. But because he is very God of very God, death could not hold him. He conquered sin and death and rose again. And the only life we are now offered is the life he lives in us. Period. He wants us dead. He’ll do the rest.”

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “It is all law, all of it, which only kills.”

    A bit of an overstatement. The law is good. Following it makes life better for everyone. Unfortunately we can’t keep it absolutely, so our sin of breaking it is the intractable problem. We absolutely need the Gospel for salvation and the distinction is very important, but the law is good for people.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “It is all law, all of it, which only kills.”

    A bit of an overstatement. The law is good. Following it makes life better for everyone. Unfortunately we can’t keep it absolutely, so our sin of breaking it is the intractable problem. We absolutely need the Gospel for salvation and the distinction is very important, but the law is good for people.

  • Stephen

    sg –

    When I speak of the law that kills I am speaking in this sense:

    Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,a 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man,d 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

    In other words, where there is no gospel there is only death (mortification) worked on the flesh by the law. That is the only possible outcome. Only the gospel that is Christ saves. Saying we can make the world better through morality and studying moral teachings is what Mormans say about Jesus. That is just law and no gospel. The law, any law, all law in fact, is weakened by the flesh as it says here, because of sin. That does not mean it has no purpose or is bad. As you rightly say with St. Paul, the law is good. It gets us to do things that God wants us to do for others. Even people who do not have Christ do things according to the law, and this is as God would have it, so that good things happen on the earth – love and mercy for instance, and peace and good governance (4th petition stuff). But it cannot bring salvation.

    Christ himself is the gospel – his love, his mercy, his cross. Only he saves. No one comes to the Father but by Christ alone, to paraphrase John. This is where we place our trust, not in the doing of righteous and moral things. We will never get that straightened out because we are sinners. We live in repentance and thanksgiving that God saves us anyway, completely through and because of Jesus.

  • Stephen

    sg –

    When I speak of the law that kills I am speaking in this sense:

    Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,a 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man,d 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

    In other words, where there is no gospel there is only death (mortification) worked on the flesh by the law. That is the only possible outcome. Only the gospel that is Christ saves. Saying we can make the world better through morality and studying moral teachings is what Mormans say about Jesus. That is just law and no gospel. The law, any law, all law in fact, is weakened by the flesh as it says here, because of sin. That does not mean it has no purpose or is bad. As you rightly say with St. Paul, the law is good. It gets us to do things that God wants us to do for others. Even people who do not have Christ do things according to the law, and this is as God would have it, so that good things happen on the earth – love and mercy for instance, and peace and good governance (4th petition stuff). But it cannot bring salvation.

    Christ himself is the gospel – his love, his mercy, his cross. Only he saves. No one comes to the Father but by Christ alone, to paraphrase John. This is where we place our trust, not in the doing of righteous and moral things. We will never get that straightened out because we are sinners. We live in repentance and thanksgiving that God saves us anyway, completely through and because of Jesus.

  • Stephen

    Porcell –

    Yes, I read in his own book he doesn’t like what people say about him on the Internet and it hurts his feelings. I’ll stop now. I apologize if I seemed uncivil toward him. I’m sure he’s a fine person trying to do what he can do for his fans. I just think his books are terrible.

  • Stephen

    Porcell –

    Yes, I read in his own book he doesn’t like what people say about him on the Internet and it hurts his feelings. I’ll stop now. I apologize if I seemed uncivil toward him. I’m sure he’s a fine person trying to do what he can do for his fans. I just think his books are terrible.

  • Stephen

    DonS @56

    Where did that post come from? I didn’t see it earlier.

    Well, you have lots of good points. I was trying to say something about doubt and about characterizing the other in a way that was deceptive, which is how I read it. I’m not sure we are crossing paths on this one. There were lots of things I disliked about the article which I think I noted: it’s basically a false dichotomy, he’s claiming to have faith while at the same time sabotaging it, and I particularly do not like the idea that Christianity and natural law somehow “naturally” go together like peanut butter and jelly. It sounded to me like he was picking on some foundational things about liberal democracy (in the classical sense, if I can get away with that distinction) and I especially thought the reference to Locke was dismissive, not just of Locke, but an entire heritage that gave us things we all argue about today – all the stuff you wrote about.

    So, in a way, I agree with you to the extent that plenty of people want things their way and think they know what the answers are for others. Some feel it is their duty to take the reins of government and use them to do things that fall in line with those answers. I wasn’t arguing for the quality of contemporary liberalism or even trying to defend it as such. But I read stuff like this and I feel set up. I was trying to take it apart. He happens to come at as a conservative, so maybe you feel attacked. That was not my intention. I found it loaded with falsehood and half-truth, so I tried to dismantle it on its own terms. If you think that sounds like I’m defending liberals and every tax policy that comes down the pike, you missed my point. But you were very civil about it. ;)

  • Stephen

    DonS @56

    Where did that post come from? I didn’t see it earlier.

    Well, you have lots of good points. I was trying to say something about doubt and about characterizing the other in a way that was deceptive, which is how I read it. I’m not sure we are crossing paths on this one. There were lots of things I disliked about the article which I think I noted: it’s basically a false dichotomy, he’s claiming to have faith while at the same time sabotaging it, and I particularly do not like the idea that Christianity and natural law somehow “naturally” go together like peanut butter and jelly. It sounded to me like he was picking on some foundational things about liberal democracy (in the classical sense, if I can get away with that distinction) and I especially thought the reference to Locke was dismissive, not just of Locke, but an entire heritage that gave us things we all argue about today – all the stuff you wrote about.

    So, in a way, I agree with you to the extent that plenty of people want things their way and think they know what the answers are for others. Some feel it is their duty to take the reins of government and use them to do things that fall in line with those answers. I wasn’t arguing for the quality of contemporary liberalism or even trying to defend it as such. But I read stuff like this and I feel set up. I was trying to take it apart. He happens to come at as a conservative, so maybe you feel attacked. That was not my intention. I found it loaded with falsehood and half-truth, so I tried to dismantle it on its own terms. If you think that sounds like I’m defending liberals and every tax policy that comes down the pike, you missed my point. But you were very civil about it. ;)

  • DonS

    Stephen @ 69: Haha! I saw your comment on a more recent thread that you had responded to my post to you on this one. Sorry I didn’t check back — I’ve been so busy lately.

    I think you left things at a good place — and quite civilly (is that a word?) as well! :-)

  • DonS

    Stephen @ 69: Haha! I saw your comment on a more recent thread that you had responded to my post to you on this one. Sorry I didn’t check back — I’ve been so busy lately.

    I think you left things at a good place — and quite civilly (is that a word?) as well! :-)


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