Daniel Larison

No “Marvelous Opportunities,” Please

It turns out, however, that many Christian leaders are choosing a completely different approach to the movie. They certainly aren’t embracing “The Da Vinci Code” and its conspiracy theories about the supposed marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, the phony divinity of Christ and so on. Yet many view the film as providing an unconventional occasion–a “teachable moment,” as they say–to spread their faith. “It’s a marvelous opportunity to be positive,” said Josh McDowell of Campus Crusade for Christ in the Orlando Sentinel. “If you look carefully, truth will always stand.” ~John Miller, OpinionJournal.com

What is there to say about The DaVinci Code, except that the current excessive promotion of it by Borders has made me lose any desire whatever to patronise their stores for a very, very long time? It is very simply a sad and stupid lie, not even as intellectually interesting as Arianism but just as false (actually, it is even more in error, since Arius may have been an arrogant heresiarch but even he would never engage in the mockery of Christ and the Apostles that this book does). I feel sorry for people who have wasted time actually reading the book. Those who want to use this as a “teaching opportunity” to bring people to the Gospel are all very well-intentioned, but they are coming at all of this under the mistaken impression that when people have become inured to falsehoods they will excitedly welcome the truth when it is offered to them.

The best thing for Christians to do has to be simply to ignore it as much as possible. Most should certainly not try to “engage” with it except for the specific purposes of correcting its false claims, and even then this is not something that is desirable for everyone to do. Finally, they should encourage everyone they know to ignore the phenomenon. Ordinary Christian parishioners are not all heresiologists, and not everyone is suited to handling spiritually toxic substances. St. John of Damascus justifies inquiries into the beliefs of heretics as the necessary work of a doctor who must make use of poison to create the antidote to it, but many Christians will find in these things only sources of doubt, confusion and scandal. Good pastors would tell them to steer clear of this garbage.
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One Notable Race in 2006

Last week Daniel McCarthy pointed to this National Journal article that discussed the strengthening of Democratic prospects in so-called second tier congressional districts (more on this in a moment). The article has this interesting detail for those interested in ’94/’06 comparisons:

The latest Gallup poll has Congress’ job-approval rating getting a lot closer to 1994 levels. It stands now at 23 percent. In April ’94, Gallup put the rating at 29 percent, and by July ’94, the rating had slid to 27 percent in the Gallup survey. It wasn’t until late October ’94 that approval ratings for Congress hit the 23 percent mark that mirrored what Gallup pollsters found this month.

Depending on what happens in the rest of the year, GOP fortunes might revive (though they have no legislative agenda worth mentioning and have already run out of time to push very much if they did have an agenda, and the war and Dobleve’s immigration buffoonery can only hurt them), but this must be a grim time to be a GOP loyalist. As the article goes on to explain, one reason why the Democratic chances of retaking Congress still seem remote is that they have recruited more “surfers,” the second tier candidates (who will ride the political wave if it comes) than able navigators.
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That Crazy Consensus About Religion and Politics

This one really is a slippery slope. Once you have accepted that large numbers of people voted for W solely on the basis of his evangelical protestantism, then how can you argue against people voting against him or anyone else on similar, purely sectarian grounds? Ross is right that the constitutional issue is separate: there’s no legal bar on someone of any faith from becoming president. But there is a growing social consensus that religion matters in politics. The theocons have helped bring this about; the Christianists have pioneered it; the Catholic hierarchy in Rome is abetting it. Once public policy issues become religious and doctrinal issues, all this is on the table. But it is a dangerous and divisive world we are creating. It would be ironic if Romney, the theocon candidate for 2008, were a primary victim. Stupid poetic justice, as Homer would say. ~Andrew Sullivan

Mr. Sullivan’s riposte doesn’t really have much zing, does it? Oh, there are the usual shots at Christianists (has anyone ever met a Christianist? do they really subscribe to Christianism?) and the Catholic hierarchy (never one of Sullivan’s favourites), but in the end he comes at us with the dire warning: someday someone might vote against a religious candidate because of his religion! Now that is frightening. Except that it already happened in 1928, and this has already happened in 2000 and 2004–surely there were more than a few who voted against Mr. Bush because of his religion. Today we might look down on this opposition to Al Smith, and Catholics will presumably remember it with hard feelings, but there is nothing necessarily scandalous about such opposition unless you consider strong religious belief and confessional identity to be scandals. Mr. Sullivan evidently does find both to be a bit troubling.
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Nuestro Himno, My Eye!

Timed to debut the week Congress returned to debate immigration reform, with the country riven by the issue, “Nuestro Himno” is intended to be an anthem of solidarity for the movement that has drawn hundreds of thousands of people to march peacefully for immigrant rights in Washington and cities across the country, says Adam Kidron, president of Urban Box Office, the New York-based entertainment company that launched the project. ~The Washington Post

I really should thank the people behind the creation of a Spanish version of the National Anthem. Nothing could better symbolise the new Latino immigrants’ pride in their failure to assimilate to the language and customs of our country than a translation of the anthem into another language. Note that it is being called Nuestro Himno, Our Hymn, as if it belongs to them. I don’t think they get to claim it. Certainly not when its purpose is to serve as cover for justifying mass lawbreaking, which is what it is intended to do. Some of them already showed a preference for flying the Mexican flag in their protests, so why not sing the Mexican anthem as well? I don’t know what’s more irritating–the presumption of translating the anthem, or the political cynicism behind the effort to translate it.

National anthems may be dubious aids in helping to form national identity (a friend of mine who grew up in Europe once marveled that our anthem was just a very long question), but surely there is no sense in having a national anthem in a language that most of the people in the nation do not speak and which reinforces one of the most obvious aspects of the cultural separation between the new immigrants and the natives. But I’d be willing to compromise: if the creators of the song can tell us who wrote the national anthem, the battle to which it referred, the causes of that war, and basically recount in sufficient detail an outline of the history of the United States from independence to the time the anthem was written the rest of us might entertain having a translated version of the anthem.

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Why Darfur Does Not Register With the West

The United Nations said on Friday it would cut food rations for more than 6 million people in Sudan, half of them in Darfur, due to a severe lack of funds.

Many donor countries appear to have tired of the long-term conflict in Darfur, despite signs that malnutrition is again on the rise among people living in squalid camps, the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) said. ~MSNBC

One simple reason why Darfur does not register with most Westerners is that the Sudan really is a place very far away about which we (or most of us) know nothing. The conflict there is explicitly political and territorial. Talk of genocide profoundly misrepresents what is going on there. It is a nasty and ugly internal war for control of land and water. Not all of the victims are black Africans, though many are, but belong to marginal tribes who compete with Arab groups for scarce resources. Dissatisfied with their situation, a Darfurian rebel group made the colossal error of rising up against Khartoum and they and their many innocent neighbours are now reaping the whirlwind. This is tragic, and this is awful to see, but it is inextricably bound up in a Sudanese civil war that the West is not going to be able to solve militarily without either plunging the country into anarchy or setting up an even more expensive occupation of the country (though where the soldiers would come from is a mystery to all), which would in turn encounter its own insurgency redolent of the followers of the Mahdi in the 19th century.

The shortfall in funding for something as basic and relatively easy as food and medicine–which, if we are to provide anything, it is these things that we should be providing–should tell us that another do-gooding interventionist mission to stabilise yet another blighted African country has little or no purchase on Western minds, particularly Americans who still remember the mess in Somalia. Iraq has been the war to end all nation-building, and if the allegedly “most modern” Arab state in the region does not take well to nation-building (and it does not) the Sudan would be even more hopeless.

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Just Say No to Ukraine in NATO

Ukraine expects a green light to join the NATO alliance in 2008, Kiev’s Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk said Friday.

‘Ukraine’s strategic foreign policy objective – that is to join NATO – is irreversible,’ Tarasyuk told reporters after discussions with foreign ministers of the 26 NATO member states meeting in the Bulgarian capital.

Tarasyuk said he hoped NATO would launch a ‘membership action plan’ with Ukraine in September this year. Such a blueprint would be the first step in Kiev’s drive to join the Alliance. ~Monsters and Critics

This is not difficult to oppose. Ukraine has no business in NATO. Kiev should be told that we appreciate the interest, but that we are not taking any more members at this time, or indeed ever. For that matter, NATO should no longer exist, but if it is going to exist I see no reason to make security guarantees to a country whose territory has been subject to some Muscovite ruler or other for the better part of the last 500 years and whose population has a significant consciously ethnic Russian minority that distinguishes itself from the Ukrainians. Whether you accept the “clash of civilizations” business or not, in which Huntington identified the Ukraine as a fault-line between his artificial conceptions of Western and Orthodox civilisations (I consider that division arbitrary and mistaken, but there you have it), committing NATO to a war with Russia in the event that Moscow ever decides to fight with its smaller neighbour is a grave mistake and it serves no conceivable real American interest. What it does is further overextend the future commitments of our already overextended armed forces. Besides, what American is willing to run the slightest risk of nuclear or conventional war with the Russians to keep Dnepropetrovsk Ukrainian? Don’t let them do this to our country again.

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Clooney and Brownback: Gloriously Out of Touch Together!

Brownback joined Academy Award-winning actor George Clooney Thursday at a news conference to highlight the ongoing genocide in the Darfur region of the Sudan.

Also there: Sen. Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat who has worked closely with the Republican in trying to bring Darfur to the forefront of the congressional agenda and the American consciousness.

For all the efforts of the two senators over the past three years, though, both conceded Clooney’s aura probably could do more than they’ve been able to thus far — as the overflow crowd at the National Press Club indicated.

“I really want to thank George Clooney for investing your political capital — your star power — in this topic,” Brownback said.

“You’re giving voice to people who don’t have a voice. You have a lot of things you could do. You could just sit at home. But you didn’t. By you going, you draw attention, and we get this. … You give voice to people who don’t have a voice. And without this, they die. They die.”

About 400,000 have died so far. Two million more are displaced and risk starvation. Even Thursday, there were reports of helicopter gunships heading into Darfur to attack more villages, Obama said. ~Kansas City Star

I suppose now the Clooney hate-fest that has animated some portions of the right will come screeching to a halt as we all realise that in this case Clooney’s entry into the political field is deeply moral and wonderful? Except that it isn’t. It’s the same ill-informed “humanitarianism,” sentimentality and politics of victimisation that informs so much liberal activism. The Sudan is a timely target for these reflexive, unthinking reactions. It is what Thomas Fleming calls the “pornography of compassion” acted out as high policy debate. Sen. Brownback, Ross Douthat’s poster boy for “theoconservatism”, is not doing the cause of “Darfur awareness” any favours by prominently linking it to Clooney, when it is something close to axiomatic among ordinary Republicans that George Clooney is the obnoxious political celebrity par excellence these days. A lot of people may become more aware of the situation in Darfur because of Clooney’s fame and conclude (not unreasonably) that activism on behalf of Darfur is more the same liberal internationalist bleeding-heart nonsense that informs the politics of most actors and pop stars, and which pulled us into the Balkans and suckered more than a few people into supporting the invasion of Iraq. The presence of the South Side’s own Barack Obama will not improve matters. At the Oscars, Clooney exulted in being “out of touch” for the sake of upholding certain progressive ideas. Now he and the senator can be out of touch together.

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Does It Matter That Romney Is a Mormon?

Nobody is suggesting that Mitt Romney as president of the United States would be taking orders from the president of the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City. The Republican whispering campaign against Mormons is broader — based on ridicule of the church’s doctrine. I have heard Republicans who have read the Book of Mormon express astonishment that any rational person could believe that.

These amateur theologians occasionally get mixed up, with some Republicans asserting that Mormons do not believe in the divinity of Christ. The first of Mormon founder Joseph Smith’s 13 Articles of Faith reads: ”We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” It is true that the Mormon understanding of the Trinity is not what is taught by Catholic and most Protestant faiths. But nobody today seeks to disqualify Jews and non-Trinitarian Protestants from high office. ~Robert Novak

Via Ross Douthat

In short, it doesn’t really matter. Will the LDS belief in baptism for the dead affect how the man handled budget policy, and will his crediting the revelation of the angel Moroni adversely affect his views on Iranian nuclear development? Of course not. In a very practical sense, it doesn’t matter. But it does matter greatly to the voters Mr. Romney needs to get the nomination, and so it definitely does matter politically.
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The Vision Thing, Democrat-Style

But is that as true as it appears? Certainly, today’s Democrats can’t simply return to the philosophy that was defeated in the late 1970s. But at the same time, let’s recognize a new historical moment when we see one: Today, for the first time since 1980, it is conservative philosophy that is being discredited (or rather, is discrediting itself) on a scale liberals wouldn’t have dared imagine a few years ago. An opening now exists, as it hasn’t in a very long time, for the Democrats to be the visionaries. To seize this moment, the Democrats need to think differently — to stop focusing on their grab bag of small-bore proposals that so often seek not to offend and that accept conservative terms of debate. And to do that, they need to begin by looking to their history, for in that history there is an idea about liberal governance that amounts to more than the million-little-pieces, interest-group approach to politics that has recently come under deserved scrutiny and that can clearly offer the most compelling progressive response to the radical individualism of the Bush era. ~Michael Tomasky, The American Prospect

Via Rod Dreher

Big Ideas can be fun to talk about, but very often it is the Big Ideas that lead to ludicrous social engineering programs that, on one side, destroy entire communities, lock whole classes of people in poverty and undermine the integrity of families (LBJ’s gifts to posterity) or, on the other, explode federal debt, cause the deaths of tens of thousands of people, bog down the military in a pointless conflict and subvert any and all legal checks on executive power (some of Bush’s greatest hits). It is therefore hardly consolation for the rest of us that Democrats are getting back into the Big Idea business. It makes great copy for political junkies, but it fills me, a non-GOP conservative, with the same dread I would feel if Mr. Bush were allowed a third term.
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Some Muslims Are More Equal Than Others, or Why Muslims Are Mute About Darfur

Last week, Salih Mahmoud Osman, a Darfurian Muslim and human rights activist, came to our newspaper to meet with the editorial board. He told us that not a single outside Muslim group has come to Darfur and expressed sympathy with the suffering of its people at the hands of the Janjaweed militia and the government of Sudan. In fact, he told of one Egyptian professional organization that came down, looked around, and went back to Egypt to denounce the claims of genocide against Darfur’s black Muslims as a conspiracy cooked up by the Zionists and the Crusaders. ~Rod Dreher

Rod’s post points to an interesting Dallas Morning News editorial discussing bin Laden’s endorsement of Khartoum’s proxy war in Darfur and the noticeable silence of Muslims elsewhere regarding the Muslims of Darfur. My own views about the “genocide” in Darfur aside for a moment, I am not entirely sure why this ought to surprise anyone. The reason for bin Laden’s enthusiasm for Khartoum’s war seems fairly straightforward: Khartoum is a hard-line Islamic regime of the type that warms bin Laden’s heart, and it was the same regime that sheltered him for several years before the Sudanese government was persuaded to have him depart. Exterminating insufficiently zealous and pure Muslims is par for the course for this sort–the Hazaras’ Islamic credentials counted for nothing in Afghanistan, because they were Shi’ites, and Darfurian Muslims likely will be viewed through the same lens.
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