Q: You distinguish between messianism, which you consider the crutch of the liberal Christian, and apocalyptism, the conservative Christian’s crutch. But isn’t messianism now at least as much a conservative, or neoconservative, idea or temptation?A. This is part of what’s interesting, and troubling, about our current moment: Both political factions seem to be tempted by both forms of the heresy of nationalism — by messianism when they’re in power, and apocalypticism when they’re out. So the presidency of George W. Bush represented, in certain ways, a kind of conservative messianism — free-spending at home and crusading overseas, much like Woodrow Wilson a century earlier. But then the utopianism of Bushism gave way to the paranoia of Glenn Beck as soon as the Republicans lost their hold on power. Likewise, the American left spent much of the Bush era wallowing in its own form of apocalyptic paranoia (“Fahrenheit 9/11” is as hysterical as any of Beck’s monologues), only to suddenly shift to a “yes we can/hope and change/the oceans will stop their rise” messianism as soon as Barack Obama appeared as a potential savior figure.
Q. Isn’t determining what is genuinely Christian a big part of the problem when dealing with politics? You say yourself that Christianity contains many paradoxes. How do we get around that problem of interpretation?
A. You can never get around it completely. But I do think one way to identify a genuinely Christian public figure is to look for people whose faith seems to trump their partisanship on some high-profile issue. Maybe that means a very liberal Democrat who is nonetheless pro-life. Maybe it means a conservative Republican who opposes waterboarding. A certain amount of partisanship is inevitable in politics, but there should be some visible Christian difference, some sign that the figure regards the teachings of his faith as more important than the commandments of his party.
Readers, can any of you think of conservative or liberal public figures who are genuinely Christian, by Douthat’s definition? Whom can you identify as a prominent public figure — politician or not — who has stood up to his or her own side out of Christian conviction, on a high-profile public issue?
(BTW, did you see Michael Sean Winters’s trashing of the book in TNR? It was very, very far off the mark; I genuinely couldn’t believe that MSW read the same book I did. I highly commend Ross’s response to you.)