Thursday, January 14, 2016

Religion and Political Brutalism


I was fascinated by New York Times relatively conservative columnist David Brooks' recent response to the politics of Ted Cruz. He called it "pagan brutalism."  There is an apocalyptic, take no prisoners vision enunciated by the Presidential candidate. Now, if you know me at all you know that I'm not a member of Cruz's party and not likely to vote for him. So my concern isn't so much with who is doing what in the primary election race of the "other" party. It has to do with our national mood and the attractiveness of a candidate like Cruz to a significant segment of the Christian community.  


So, first an excerpt from Brooks' column:


But Cruz’s speeches are marked by what you might call pagan brutalism. There is not a hint of compassion, gentleness and mercy. Instead, his speeches are marked by a long list of enemies, and vows to crush, shred, destroy, bomb them. When he is speaking in a church the contrast between the setting and the emotional tone he sets is jarring.
The fact that Cruz, whose father is a preacher, is a self-proclaimed evangelical Christian and has been strongly courting evangelical voters stands in sharp contrast to his rhetoric and his past actions as a government official. Brooks notes that Cruz, as Solicitor General of Texas, took a case to the Supreme Court demanding that a man who had been in prison for six years for shop lifting (when the maximum penalty was two years) be left in prison for a full sixteen years (as a habitual offender). He lost the case, but it shows that Cruz is not known for his grace and mercy, which are generally considered good Christian virtues.


My concern here really isn't with Cruz, but with those who are Christians who are attracted to what Brooks calls "pagan brutalism" (pagans probably want to object here on being connected with him and with brutalism) would be attractive to large numbers of Christians.  Is a narrow, ham-fisted, unforgiving, self-centered message in line with the message of Jesus?  I  have spent enough time among evangelicals (I'm a graduate of a leading evangelical seminary) to wonder why self-described evangelicals would embrace such a message? Indeed, if we believe Jesus to reveal God's purpose to us, then how does such a message fit with the call to love one's neighbor? 

So here's a question for all my Christian friends, whether on the left or the right or in the middle, how does our faith impress itself on our vision world? Or does our world impress itself on our faith? 

(I take up many of these issues in my book Faith in the Public Square, (Energion, 2011). 

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