The other day my friend told me something I’ve heard from many Christians over the years. He said, “As a Christian I think it is the church’s job to help the poor, not the government’s.”
While this sentence has a nice, reassuring neatness, it is actually a pretty problematic way to talk about politics “as a Christian.”
To see why this is the case, consider first the “as a Christian, I think” part of his statement. Now, obviously, we can think a lot of things "as Christians." To name three, we could think that Christians should love their neighbors, that the death penalty is wrong, or that pizza is delicious. It is clear that thinking of them “as a Christian” means something different in each case.
What does it mean to be conservative? Conservatism as a political philosophy is rooted in the “test of time.” The best guide for present action is past experience. Its core principle is that the best political system is one that reflects human nature, and the best resource for understanding human nature is the record of history. Put your trust not in what “should work” according to an abstract theory, but first and foremost in what “has worked” in real life. So conservatism is not against progress; rather, conservatism is against naïve idealism. A conservative is open to new ideas, but those new ideas need to be justified in the light of the accumulated wisdom of the centuries. Conservatism is “Just the facts, ma’am.” It’s “That’s all fine in theory, but how does it work in practice?” It’s “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
It is a vertigo-inducing experience for me to poke my head out of my theology books and see headlines about Christians coming around to supporting Trump and absolutely losing their minds about transgendered folks and bathrooms. The first of these is so self-evidently absurd, I’m not sure there is anything else to write about it.
The second one is a different case, but still bizarre. . Let’s grant, for a second, that it is possible to search the deep recesses of the Bible and find a passage that can be made to say something about transgendered people (we should all be clear, of course, that gender transitions were never on the mind of a single biblical author when he was writing)
[Originally posted on Facebook on 2/12/16]
Dear haters of Beyoncé's Super Bowl performance,
I'll be more specific. Many people have criticized Beyoncé and her dancers for dressing up in outfits reminiscent of the Black Panthers from the 60s and 70s. So people are upset because Beyoncé is representing a group with a violent history at an NFL game? The same NFL that has a team called the Vikings? And one called the Raiders? And the Buccaneers? And, while we're at it, one called the Texans? But whatever, I'll let it slide. I for one think Beyoncé can reasonably laud the Black Panther Party's commitment to organize against police brutality without thereby endorsing all of the actions taken by its members. But there's room for argument.
The whole “Trump is a fascist” thing is a little overblown, I think. He is the sorcerer’s apprentice of fascism, not nearly coherent or profound enough to guide or control what he has unleashed, so I don’t mean to say anything close to “Trump is Hitler.” Rather, I think he has failed to learn the lessons that fascism ought to have taught us. The mistake of theirs that he repeats is that, like fascists and other reactionaries, he has no solutions to the problems of a diversifying society in a complex global age and can only dream of forcing a return to an idealized, fictional past in which he thinks these problems didn’t exist.