The New Litmus Test

For almost all of my political life, abortion has been the litmus test for conservatives in the United States. Not anymore.

Some pro-life leaders are worried about “fetus fatigue” (a term coined by Douglas Groothuis in 2008), where it appears that many young evangelicals have given up on making sigificant progress in reeling back from Roe v. Wade. I think Groothuis is correct in part. However, I also think that conservatives, evangelical Christian and otherwise, can only handle one Big Issue at a time. Move over, Abortion – Immigration is here.

All of my friends (and yes, I have a few) who used to go on and on about abortion now go on and on about immigration. The level of perjorative that used to be reserved for those favouring abortion rights or, at worst, abortion providers, are now reserved for those favouring leniency toward undocumented immigrants. In fact, if anything, it is worse. In reading around the conservative blogosphere and even in talking to individuals face-to-face (because people tend to be much less restrained in the pseudonyminous detachment of the internet), opposing views are treated with anger, aggression, and a remarkable lack of civility.

In one sense, the anti-immigration crowd have become the new liberals. I say this only with regard to manners and decorum. I used to occasionally read liberal blogs – mostly if said bloggers strayed over to this or predecessor blogs and left a link with their comment.  The venom and vitriol spewed at virtually anyone in the Republican Party was astonishing. I’ve been around for a long time and met a lot of people of various backgrounds carrying a variety of baggage, but I had never seen anything like it. Now it has become increasingly the common behaviour of those who comment in conservative blogs to do the same thing.

A recent troll commented on another post I wrote about immigration: “You seem to consider yourself a Christian. I don’t think you’re a especially good one, but perhaps you’ve be better off dropping the ‘conservative’ label entirely and just using the Christian one.” If it comes down to it, that would be my choice. I still consider myself a conservative and I believe that my political views – including my views on immigration – reflect true conservative values. I believe in small government and a free market. I believe in the sanctity of life and of the family as created by God. However, if I’m only allowed one, I’ll take the label that has eternal value.

Bad Scholarship, Bad Behaviour and the Call to Something Better

Tonight I was looking for some books as presents. A couple of volumes that had been recently featured or recommended by Glenn Beck were suggested to me as appropriate for the intended recipient. I searched for them on Amazon and decided to read some of the reviews.

In both cases, the overwhelming number of reviews were accompanied by a five-star rating of each book.  Seems like a no-brainer. Everybody likes these books. Must be good. Why even bother with the couple of two-star ratings and reviews?  Maybe it was Proverbs 18:17 niggling in the back of my mind:

The first one to plead his cause seems right,
Until his neighbor comes and examines him.

In both cases, there was a very thoughtful, thorough, critical review. There was detailed analysis and no hint of ad hominem. However, it was only tonight I discovered that Amazon reviews are subject to their own reviews. Each one has its own comment section. That’s where the detailed analysis and lack of ad hominem ended. It’s just an extension of the blogosphere.

In both cases the source of the attacks was patently clear. They confirmed that I’m becoming increasingly disturbed by fortress Christian America. There is one narrow interpretation of history and anyone who questions it or one of its recognised spokesmen (I can’t use the word “scholars”) is a liberal, a secularist, and in all likelihood a homosexual. I’m just telling you what I’ve read from some very angry people.

Does this mean I’m disturbed by the idea of Christians being involved in politics at every level? No. Do I think Christians should exert their influence to bring the law at every level and in every area into conformity with Christian morality? Absolutely.

However, the idea that we can only gain the moral high ground by proving that everything of any importance in early American history was done by Christians operating out of a Christian worldview in the ultimate pursuit of promoting Christianity is wrong. It’s wrong because it isn’t necessary to operate from this presupposition and it’s wrong because it just ain’t true. I’m sorry folks. I’m happy to find Christians wherever  and whenever in history I can. I’m always pleased to see those whose heart and actions were set on building the Kingdom of God, whatever their calling, including statesmanship. But the idea is becoming pervasive in certain circles, mostly emanating concentrically from people like David Barton and Peter Lillback, that if we dig deep enough we’ll find that virtually all of the Founding Fathers were trinitarian Christians with good conservative Protestant theology. If we ferret out enough quotes, partial quotes, or buzz words, that must prove something, right?

All we prove is that there are Christians who are willing to be at best shabby, and at worst dishonest, scholars. And if book sales and the Texas State Board of Education are any indication, there are a lot of people out there who don’t care. They don’t care about the shabbiness and dishonesty, that is. As the Amazon review comments demonstrated, they care very much if anyone dares to call them on it. If Glen Beck endorsed it, that’s good enough.

Christians are called to something better than this. We do not need to engage in historical re-revisionism. We don’t need to prove that Christians formed a perfect country that secularists and liberals went and messed up. We don’t need to prove Original Christian Intent. We don’t need to be afraid of review and criticism.

In reading the Amazon reviews, as well as in reading the engagement in the comboxes of much more popular places in the blogosphere, I read lots of militancy and lots of anger. I see lots of name-calling. I see the exact same behaviour that I have seen from the secularists and liberals. It doesn’t look prettier because the mud is being slung in the other face. I’ll say it again: Christians are called to something better than this.

We are not going to achieve whatever our goal may be by cheating and bullying our way there. We have to strive for what is right and rely upon Divine Providence. As a Christian and as a historian I know two things. First, God wrote the history that has already happened. We don’t have to dig around and find Him in it. It is what it is and He did it how He did it. Second, He wrote the history that has yet to happen. What is true of the Gospel is true in everything: “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.” In the history yet to be made, we labor faithfully, but God will determine the outcome of our labors.

Delicious Lamb Stew

Ingredients:
Lamb stew meat – cubed
Floury potatoes (I used baking potatoes) – thickly sliced
Carrots – thickly sliced
Onion – thickly sliced
Fresh thyme
Parsely – fresh if you can afford it after buying the thyme, otherwise dried
Salt
Pepper
Wife – irritated and incredulous
Lamb stock cubes
Flour

Prep time: 18 hours
Cooking time: 7 hours

In a large casserole dish, create layers of lamb, potatoes, carrots, and onion, with a final layer of potatoes on top. On top of each layer added fresh thyme, parsley, salt and pepper. Just before you are about to put it into the oven, wife will ring and insist the stew meat will not cook sufficiently in two hours and will not be fit for the dog to eat and besides, since you did not flour the meat it will not yield a stew gravy. She will tell you to put it in the fridge and she will cook something else when she gets home. She will also suggest the meat will probably go off because it has been out of the freezer for two days. Enjoy chicken fajitas.

The next morning, empty the casserole dish into the slow cooker, but pick out the pieces of lamb and roll them in flour before returning them to the cooker. Add the 450 ml of lamb stock that you were just about to make before you got the phone call the day before explaining that you are an idiot. Set the slow cooker to high out of fear that setting it to low will not kill all the food poisoning from the meat being out of the freezer for too long. After two hours set it to medium, because you are not wearing your reading glasses and for some inexplicable reason the settings on your slow cooker knob go clockwise in the following order: high, low, medium. After another two hours, set it to low.

After six hours, you will discover that simply rolling the meat in flour does not magically create stewy gravy. In a measuring jug, add a small amount of boiling water to a stock cube, then add flour and wisk very fast. Really fast. Then add more flour until it is nice and thick. Continue wisking and slowly add water to 450 ml. Wisk again. Pour into the stew and stir it around so it looks like it was always stewy looking.

After seven hours the lamb will be falling apart and the vegetable will be very soft without being mushy. The gravy will both look and taste stewy. Serves two with plenty of leftovers because without tasting it the kids don’t like lamb stew and insist on bean burritos. Their loss.