Martin Peretz gets religion

Martin PeretzMartin Peretz, editor in chief of The New Republic, must read GetReligion. I always know, when I read a piece by Peretz on the Middle East, I will be getting and honest and knowledgeable assessment on the conflict, but I wasn’t aware of his ability to grill a public figure for incoherent comments on religious matters.

I found one of his most recent blog posts, on the comments of presidential wannabe and already-run Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., as quoted in a recent New York Times article, to be quite impressive. Kerry said that “not in one page, not in one phrase uttered and reported by the Lord Jesus Christ, can you find anything that suggests that there is a virtue in cutting children from Medicare.”

Peretz, doing my job, ripped into Kerry:

I’d actually go Kerry one further: I doubt that Jesus ever mentioned Medicare at all. Still, it’s probably significant that some presidential aspirants — Kerry, for one — want to demonstrate that there are among them some real live Democrats for God. Or, as the Times said about him, he is “A Roman Catholic, who has struggled at times to talk about his own faith … Mr. Kerry also told the group that he believed ‘deeply in my faith’.” Now, there are many Catholics including high ecclesiastics who doubt this. But who am I to have a point of view on what is essentially an intramural fight? In any case, as it turns out, Kerry is not only a Roman Catholic but also an ecumenicist.

Kerry also said the Koran, the Torah, the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles had influenced a social conscience that he exercised in politics. To this Peretz said:

[L]et me ask: What hadith of the Prophet influenced him the most, and why? And here I have a personal interest: Which of the injunctions of Leviticus and who among the Prophets have the most meaning for him? Ordinarily, of course, I wouldn’t ask such personal questions of a politician. In the spirit of Jesus, Kerry will certainly forgive me for doing so.

Sure Peretz is being somewhat picky, but that is what we do here. Those who know religion must critique public figures invoking religious themes and historical analogies. While I would expect a reporter writing about such comments to ask probing questions and dig into the subject instead of merely rewriting what was said, I realize that is not always going to happen for a variety of reasons. That’s why we’re here, and it’s comforting to know that others are helping us out with the job.

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  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Did he question Bush similarly when he claimed Jesus was his most influential political philosopher? I waited in vain during that campaign for somebody to try to pin Bush down on exactly which passages, verses, sayings of Jesus informed his political philosophy — and how he might use that philosophy in the presidency.
    Which just goes to show that politicians shouldn’t try to do theology.

  • Erik Nelson

    It’s not that politicians shouldn’t do theology. I think they should (in a limited sort of way). But they should be sincere about it when they do. I, too, hoped that someone would ask Bush more specific questions about what passages informed his politics. But the press didn’t (I wonder if that is because they didn’t know the right questions to ask since many of them aren’t religious). Somehow, however, I expect that Bush would have given a better answer than Kerry on this point (if for no other reason than that Protestant laypeople tend to know their Bibles a bit better than Catholic laypeople).

  • Mark V.

    Perhaps Mr. Peretz should open a copy of the Bible before issuing such a vicious attack. See the latter part of Chapter 25 of St. Matthew’s Gospel for the Lord’s attitude towards the downtrodden. The Beatitudes, both from the Sermons on the Mount and the Plain, also are a good indication of how the poor and weak are regarded by the Lord. As for the Old Testament, the Torah outlines gleaning as a way to set aside food for the poor and marginalized. See also the Proverbs about the rich versus the poor.

  • Charlie

    Mark: I think Mr. Peretz’s reading of Jesus is pretty accurate. Jesus never called for a government program to feed the poor or clothe the naked, he called on us to do that work with our own hands, our own time and our own resources. To try to claim some kind of moral high ground for Medicare policy by associating it with the teachings of Jesus, as Kerry did, is either gross ignorance, or flagrant name-dropping.

  • Rose Daly

    I am quite sure Mr Kerry believes deeply in his faith. However, his faith – whatever it may be – and the Roman Catholic faith are two different things.

  • Mark V.

    I agree that Jesus did not endorse any government policies, as anachronistic as that would have been in the first century. I also agree that we must use our personal time, resources, and talents to fulfill our mission as the Body of Christ in the world. However, our society has come to the point where we live only for the benefit of free market policies. I say this as someone who is not a leftist. As Christians, we have the duty to infuse our society with the tenets of the Gospel. We cannot just let millions of people fall by the wayside for the sake of political ideology.

  • Stephen A.

    Jeffrey (above) is correct. When politicians, be they John Kerry or George Bush, venture into the theological, they should be held to account and tough questions should be asked.

    If Kerry said he loved the Quran, as a reporter, I’d say “Which chapter has informed your faith?” The second question is which chapters of the Quran inform a supposedly “Catholic Faith”?

    Bush also should have been asked for chapter and verse, but for some reason, I believe he could have credibily quoted them back to the reporter, and even those on the left know he’s more guided by religion than any other philosophy.

    But then again, the question is why are politicians putting these issues out there in the first place, if not to use religion as a political prop?