Friday, May 23, 2008

Fundamentally Dangerous

What is the warped logic that links Pastor John Hagee’s claim that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment on homosexuals in New Orleans with his now famous claim that the holocaust was part of God’s grand plan to create the state of Israel? It is simply the idea that God is in control. There is something elegant about this position because it admits of no troubling exceptions. Even evil, that nagging aspect of the human condition, can be explained away with the comforting idea that in the end, God knows what he is doing. Via backward induction, even the most heinous episodes of human history are justified. (Heterosexual suffering in New Orleans, and the death of 6 million Jews are, by Hagee's logic, necessary collateral damages en route to God’s perfect and uncontestable plan.)

This fundamentally pantheistic perspective may well be more defensible than other religious perspectives valiantly (if convolutedly) offered to explain away what philosophers of religion call the “problem of evil.” How could it not? A position that stakes an Archimedean point as a properly basic belief and reconstructs the world around it must at least exhibit the virtue of consistency. So the brand of Christianity that Pastor John Hagee represents is easily consistent with itself and even the problem of evil; but difficulties arise when it is forced to intersect with politics, when elegant answers that offend simply will not do. Some fundamentalist Christians probably agree with me; after all, for years they insulated themselves from politics, and it is only in recent years that political entrepreneurs on the Republican side were able to convince some Christians that involvement in politics would not sully their souls.

Even though fundamentalist and categorical language can be inspirational and therefore politically powerful (as George Bush found out), as a practical matter, a democratic politician attempting to galvanize a diverse spectrum of voters runs a risk of offending certain potential constituents when using such rhetoric. As a normative matter, she or he should not attempt to do so, because fundamentalist and categorical language dismisses alternative arguments and points of view. Because it ends, rather than promotes debate, there should be no place for it in a democracy.

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