G3 Dean heats up DC press

Well, there is a certain logic to the question — even if Fox’s Brian Wilson was tossing raw meat to his cable-TV base demographic. I am referring to reporter Mark Leibovich’s chatty piece in The Washington Post‘s Style section — that lively dwelling place of the old New Journalism — about Howard “God, gays and guns” Dean coming to a major U.S. Capitol photo op.

Here is the mean, but logical, question reported from the scene:

The press chorus then devolved into a cacophony of competing screams. (And Dean knows screams!) After several seconds, a booming voice cut through the noise. It belonged to Brian Wilson, a Fox News correspondent who was standing in the middle of the crowd. He asked Dean “if people are focused on the other things that you’ve said about hating Republicans, about Republicans being dishonest and then this latest comment about the Republican Party is full of white Christians. You say you hate Republicans — does that mean you also” hate white Christians?

Dean is, of course, a white liberal Christian. It does no good to claim that he is a secularist of some kind. He is not.

This serves as yet another reminder that the blue-red zip code divide is not about “secular” vs. “religious.” It is, in large part, about two radically different versions of faith, with divisions among progressive and traditional Christians, Jews and others. Yes, this does return us to James Davison Hunter territory. And, of course, ditto for the work of those New York University guys, Gerald De Maio and Louis Bolce.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • wildwest

    I really wish Dean hadn’t said he “hated” Republicans. We in the progressive camp, particularly those of us who are Christian, do not wish to encourage hatred in any form. Here he is not doing us any favors, I’m afraid.

  • http://www.rodgarvin.blogspot.com Rod

    I think Dean just likes to be antagonistic for the hell of it. There is definitely a schism in American Christianity, which I would say is on the verge of a spiritual, “civil” war. I think if this can be done in a loving and honest way (yeah right!) it can be healthy for the devolopment of the faith. Either way there are some deep rifts and the monopoly that conservative Christians want to have on the interpretation of Christ has to be challenged.

  • J-D

    I’m wondering how we know Dean is even a “liberal Christian”. He apparently doesn’t attend Church. He doesn’t read scripture (or at least not enough to know the book of Job is not in the New Testament) and it has been reported that there was NO “religious talk” during his campaign. My impression is that he is precisely a “secularist” who nonetheless wants religious people to accept him. I would suggest Dean be looked upon with the same jaundiced eye St. John the Forerunner displayed toward the Pharisees who came out to him, “…bring forth fruit meet unto repentance.”

    And if “liberal Christians” wish to be taken seriously as Christians, perhaps they should quit denying 2000 year old tenets of the faith.

  • wildwest

    Other liberal Christians take me very seriously as a Christian. If Christians with a pre-scientific worldview do not want to count me as one of them, that is their right. I am not going to deny what I know to be true in order to win their approval.

  • ECJ

    It seems a “Liberal” Christian refers to a man who believes this:

    “I still believe Jesus is the way and the truth — for me. But it’s that last part that troubles me, the part that says ‘no man comes to the father, except by me.’

    The man who believes this is not a Christian. The center of Christianity is the unique Atoning work of the Christ – the Incarnate God. Change that and you create a different religion. One may call it ‘Christian’ if he likes – the Mormons certainly do – but it is otherwise of a different Genus.

    And this liberal “ersatz Christianity” isn’t really culturally significant. It is dying everywhere you look. Every demoninational representation of this theology is whithering in the heat – ECUSA, UCC, PCUSA, ELCA. Only the UMC has some resiliency, and that because it still has a large orthodox component.

    People don’t need to go to church to hear how wonderful they are. They have better things to do with their money and Sunday mornings. Where the Gospel is not preached, there the Church dies.


  • J-D

    Do you believe that Christ was uniquely God-man, God incarnate?

    Do you believe He innocently suffered a cruel death on the cross to redeem the world; that He died and that by that death He took “captivity captive” and destroyed death; that on the third day He rose from the dead and, after appearing to the Apostles for 40 days, ascended to the Father? Do you believe that the Holy Spirit is “the Lord, the giver of life” and that He, “…with the Father and the Son together, is worshipped and glorified”?

    While there is much more that makes one a “Christian”, without faith in these things it is impossible.

  • http://www.bluffton.edu/~bergerd Dan Berger

    “If Christians with a pre-scientific worldview do not want to count me as one of them, that is their right. I am not going to deny what I know to be true in order to win their approval.”

    Very laudable. I suggest that you don’t really know what a “scientific” or “pre-scientific” worldview really is. I refer you to the following quote from historian of science Ted Davis (Zygon 35, 972, 2000):

    “December, 1987. I am … in a highly revealing conversation about the resurrection of Jesus. Most of those present are clergy or theologians, and some of them are trying to convince the rest of us–two or three quantum physicists, an astronomer, a biochemist, and a science historian–that “science” has made it “impossible” to believe in the traditional story, with a risen body and an empty tomb. … I [can't believe it, and] notice that the other science types are equally incredulous: science, we realize, has done nothing of the sort alleged by our theological friends.”

    Miracles are perfectly reasonable things; see, for example, Ruse’s “Can a Darwinian Be a Christian?”

  • tmatt

    J-D and others:

    Whatever your views about Dean and his faith, that is really beside the point at this blog. People on both sides of the church aisle deserve accurate coverage in public newspapers. Religious liberals face inaccurate coverage too, along with the waves of flawed coverage that we often — repeat often, not always — see of the Right.

    The the left-wing of the Democrats have every write to fire at will against the Religious Right, underlining the religious differences. Go for it. The question is whether they are doing this in a fair manner and whether this makes any political sense. That is Noonan’s wider point. Should a party’s top political leaders talk like this?

  • wildwest

    ECJ, J-D, and Dan Berger, I am very familiar with your versions of Christianity. I am steeped in doctrinal orthodoxy, and am totally aware of the varieties of interpretations of Christianity. There have been many for a very long time. Since the Reformation in the West there has been considerable confusion due to myriad opinions emerging, and I realize many of you would like to put the genie back in the bottle and replace freedom of conscience with the authority of the state in such matters.

    There are many interpretations of Christianity. Yours and mine are different interpretations. You can say that a false version by your definition is something other than Christianity, but that is not and never will be the consensus among all who go by the name “Christian.”

    Your point about liberal churches, however, is well taken. Most simply have little or nothing to offer, and so they are shrinking. Other groups do. Aside from a very few mainline congregations, groups like Unity and MSIA (universalistic and “New Age”-type groups) have much to offer. Duncan Littlefair was one minister who understood the failure of mainline liberal churches to offer much to their members. I knew him, and so did a very conservative Christian member of our community, who came to see him as a fine example of what it means to be a Christian.


    As for the conversation on the meaning of “prescientific,” there simply isn’t time and space here to carry on that conversation. Still, I remain committed to my own intellectual integrity. This does not mean I refuse to change my mind when discovery of new facts warrants it, but I seriously doubt you have any arguments I have not already heard.

    I am speaking for myself only, and have no idea what Howard Dean’s views are.

  • wildwest


    I acknowledge your efforts at bringing the conversation back to the topic. Yes, the views of religious persons other than those on the right have been given less attention in the media than is warranted. I am grateful for the attention given to Jim Wallis, and I think his statements are far more helpful and diplomatic than the shrill statements of Howard Dean quoted above.

  • http://www.bluffton.edu/~bergerd Dan Berger

    Sorry to continue off-topic; I’ll keep it short.

    My point was simply that “pre-scientific” is condescending (especially to working scientists like myself) and probably inaccurate; if you’re looking for a chronologically correct form, perhaps “pre-” or “non-Humeian” would do.

    A Democrat myself, I agree that I’d rather see Dr. Dean relegated to permanent obscurity in favor of Jim Wallis. But I would maintain that the former is shamming; the latter is an actual Christian.

    Isn’t it a bit odd that, because Dean claims to be a Christian, nobody is allowed to question it even when he can’t even place Job within the correct two-thirds of the Bible? That seems like shamming to me.

  • ECJ


    For reason and discourse to occur, words have to have meaning. If the concept of ‘Christian’ has been so broadened that it can encompass a monotheist, a polythest, and a pantheist, then it has ceased to have meaning. It is nothing more than a box in the attic marked ‘stuff.’


  • wildwest


    “nobody is allowed to question it”

    You just did.


    The word ‘Christian’ does have meaning. To describe what you mean I would place the adjective ‘orthodox’ or ‘traditional’ or ‘evangelical’ in front of it.

  • ECJ


    “The word ‘Christian’ does have meaning. To describe what you mean I would place the adjective ‘orthodox’ or ‘traditional’ or ‘evangelical’ in front of it.”

    This doesn’t explain anything because you are forcing the adjective to bear the entire weight of description. Instead you have to explain those unifying characteristics which necessarily apply to all groups which may properly call themselves ‘Christian.’ And these characteristics must extend beyond mere nomenclature.

    So what do the following have in common?

    1. A typical unreconstructed pre-modern Calvinistic Protestant such as myself.

    2. The universalism of the (dying) mainline Protestant Churches.

    3. The polytheistic paganism of Mormonism.

    4. The Gnosticism of Christian Science.

    5. The New Age pantheistic mysticism of Unity.

    6. The atheism of Bishop John Shelby Spong.

    What are the unifying presuppositions which unite these six groups – all of which claim the title ‘Christian?’ These common presuppositions must exist if the word ‘Christian’ is to have any meaning under your usage.


  • wildwest

    The unifying presupposition is they all use the term “Christian.” Granted, they are not all orthodox or evangelical. Perhaps, as I’m sure you will attest, the first one on your list is the only true Christian. But that’s another question altogether.

  • ECJ


    Bob can take the hormones, and get the operation, and dress up all fancy, and call himself Barb. But every cell in his body will still contain a Y chromosome. It doesn’t matter that he calls himself a woman. His identity is in the DNA.

    So what is the identifying marker which distinguishes all Christians (by your def’n) from non-Christians? Self-identification simply won’t suffice. For if it did suffice, then anyone could properly identify himself as a Christian for any reason. If that is all you have, then you have conceded the term by your usage is devoid of content.


  • wildwest

    But people do identify themselves as “Christians” for all sorts of reasons. You may not think that Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example are truly Christian, and I won’t argue the point. But the term is used in a myriad number of ways among those who speak our language, and the dictionary definitions, like them or not, cover a broad area. ‘The American Heritage Dictionary,’ for instance, gives the following definitions of Christian:


    1. Professing belief in Jesus as Christ or following the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.

    2. Related to or derived from Jesus or Jesus’ teachings.

    3. Manifesting the qualities or spirit of Jesus; Christlike.

    4. Relating to or characteristic of Christianity or its adherents.

    5. Showing a loving concern for others; humane.


    1. One who professes belief in Jesus Christ or follows the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.

    2. One who lives according to the teachings of Jesus.

  • jayman

    I don’t want to sound like I’m piling on to wildwest here, but his argument really is a bit of semantical sophistry. If I can be forgiven for putting things in philosophical terms “progressive” Christians posit a different ontology for what lies behind the terminology of Christian faith: “salvation,” “trinity,” “ressurrection,” and even the word God itself than do orthodox Christians of all stripes whether their lineage is of Rome, Byzantium, Geneva, or Asuza Street. More plainly, the language is the same, but the meaning is utterly different. We can quibble over the term “Christian” until global warming finally sets in, but progressive and orthodox Christians believe in quite different religions, and as one of the orthodox I would respect the progressives a lot more if more of them faced up to that fact.

  • wildwest

    “…as one of the orthodox I would respect the progressives a lot more if more of them faced up to that fact.”

    Yes, we believe quite different things. Whether it is a different religion is indeed a matter of semantics. Perhaps the definition of “Christian” as someone possessing the metaphysical reality of salvation by grace by means of the substitutionary atonement expressed through a belief in the tenets of the Nicene Creed should appear in the dictionary alongside the others. It is used that way often enough by orthodox, evangelical Christians.

    I am sorry if my use of the term “Christian” to describe myself causes you to lose respect for me. If you want to discard me as being “Christian” I have no argument with you. If, however, you are unwilling to accept any definition of the word than your own, that’s fine, but you’ll be hard pressed to get the entire English-speaking world to agree with you.

  • jayman


    If you want to use the word Christian to describe yourself there’s nothing I can do stop you, though I’d be really curious to know when a person ceases to be a Christian in your book besides his or her decision to discard the label. In any case, the label isn’t so important to me. We could even flip for it; though those on my side of the fence have a far stronger historical claim on it. What I’d really wish progressives like yourself would do is acknowledge that progressive or revisionist (a more accurate term for my money) “Christianity” is a metaphysically distinct and incompatible worldview from historic Christian orthodoxy. They are incompatible because they do not share certain basic assumptions about God, humanity, and the world. That such differences require language referring to them that is equivalent to the depth of those differences would seem to be obvious. That it’s not is a sign of the times.

  • wildwest

    Dear jayman,

    Well, now you’re off onto a whole different conversation altogether. It could go on and on and on, and that’s OK. But you’re talking a lifetime. It raises so many different issues and has so many angles. You might begin by turning the question around and address the issue from your standpoint of what exactly *is* a Christian, according to your professed belief. Then you might want to explore the blog of another contributor to this site:


    See the rest of his blog entries, also. Joe Perez and I do not think alike on everything, but he provides a framework within which to discuss the issues you raise.

  • ECJ


    Your definition claims that a ‘Christian’ is someone who “professes belief in Jesus Christ or follows the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus” or one who “lives according to the teachings of Jesus.” In both case you have to define:

    1) Who He is.
    2) What He taught.

    Each of the six categories I listed claims to be Christian. Yet those in the six categories would agree on nothing regarding the answer to these two questions. So how then can the answers to the questions be definitional? If you are right, they can’t. So you are essentially claiming that we have no clear idea regarding either who Jesus is, or what He taught. If we did, then by your own definition, you would have to agree with me.

    But we do know who He is, and we do know what He taught. The Bible is not a mysterious enigmatic book like say the Rig Veda. People just find the whole council offensive so they seek ways to remove the offense. You can’t claim part of the Lord Jesus. It is all or nothing.

    I think I shall bow out, and let you have the last word. Thanks for the civil exchange. For the record, I agree with everything jayman has said in his posts.


  • wildwest


    First, it’s not my definition, but *The American Heritage Dictionary’s* definition.

    Second, you’re right that there is no consensus about who Jesus was and what He taught among those who fit the said definition.

    The definition you cite is, admittedly, very, very broad. There are also multiple definitions.

    I am not claiming to have no knowledge of Jesus, only that that is the dictionary definition of “Christian.” I also suggested to jayman that your definition of Christian be added to the lexicon as it is used so frequently.

    (I still find parts of the Bible to be mysterious and enigmatic, but that’s another conversation.)

    I enjoyed the exchange.

  • jayman


    Let me compliment you on being polite even as your feats in missing the point are Olympic in skill, and suggest to me you’ve read a few too many deconstructionists in an overly receptive frame of mind.

    A last points suggest itself. My issue with you in this forum doesn’t have so much to do with what you believe, but with the way you and fellow revisionists (looking very briefly at Joe Perez’s website I wonder if you are not more of a latter day Gnostic or a “christian” Jungian)use language. You, I, the AHD, or anyone else can construct a definition for term Christian to include what I believe and what you believe, but the utter difference at the worldview level remains. Insofar as that change in definition obscures that difference in public discourse at large the intellectual clarity and honesty of public discourse suffers badly. I won’t get into here the sort of disaster it creates in the churches.

  • wildwest

    I know there are differences in worldview. But what is the point you think I am missing?

  • wildwest

    I think I got suckered into that conversation.