November 28, 2006

The Degradation of Society's Morals

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 10:09 pm

Two totally different items crossed my computer screen today, and in a way that’s not readily apparent, I think they’re related.

First, let me say that I really don’t follow celebrity gossip. Really, I don’t. I do read Salon.com regularly, though, and occasionally something in Salon’s “The Fix” celebrity news column will catch my eye, and once I start reading, my eyes automatically move through the page. It was in this way that I stumbled across this:

ABC News online is trying to answer some of the most pressing questions of the day: “Not so long ago, when a society woman flashed a hint of leg from beneath her petticoat, onlookers gasped. Today, when Britney Spears displays her private parts to the paparazzi, the world points and laughs. Spears is the latest star to give people a glimpse of what’s usually covered up, a trend that asks the question: What value, if any, does culture place on modesty today?” (ABC News)

I couldn’t believe what I was reading, so I clicked through, and after googling a bit, came to find out that of late Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and now Britney Spears have taken to wearing mini-skirts sans underwear, and rather gracelessly exiting their limos in full view of the paparazzi. The documentary evidence, photographs that should make their mothers faint away from the sheer shame of it all, are freely available on the web. (You’ll have to find the pics yourself, although it’s not hard.)

Now, I already held Lohan, Hilton and Spears in pretty low esteem, but I found that my opinion of them could, in fact, go quite a bit lower. Still, I had to stop to think what I felt about this. My knee jerk reaction was that this is one more step in the coarsening of our culture, a path that will ultimately lead to a complete disintegration of any semblance of public morality. But then I remembered the streaking fad back in the 70’s. While I never did, some of my best friends engaged in some good natured streaking, and these friends are now respected doctors, lawyers and bankers. So maybe this recent flashing phenomenon deserves, dare I say, a second look. Maybe it’s just another passing trend that will soon be forgotten (although not only will these women never be respected doctors, lawyers or bankers, I doubt they’ll ever be respected period).

Let me now switch to the second item that caught my eye today. Rev. Tim Simpson from the Christian Alliance for Progress sent out an email with the following:

The Christian Alliance for Progress deplores the release of the video game Left Behind: Eternal Forces in which the game’s object is to convert or kill any who stand in opposition to the ideology that the game and its companion book series seek to promote. We urge the game’s sponsor, Tyndale House, a Christian publishing business which used to be concerned with sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, to recall its values and withdraw its support for such an un-Christian enterprise as this.

[…]

[R]ather than seeking to close the gap between neighbors, as Jesus did in his ministry, the game’s purpose is to drive a wedge between people, teaching teenagers that what God intends is for them to slaughter those who do not share their beliefs. Because of the predominance of Christian fundamentalists on television and radio in the past generation, the American people have been left with the false impression that this strange way of interpreting the Bible is what Christians have always believed and taught. We are here today to challenge that view and to name it for the error that it is.

More on this, including an online petition I’d urge you to sign, can be found here.

So here’s a question: which of these items represents a greater threat to the moral character of our society? Should we be more concerned with a) some marginally talented celebrities displaying their genitalia along with poor judgment and sub-par intelligence, or b) a video game marketed to youth that promotes murdering people that don’t accept their fundamentalist religion, a Christianity that distorts the meaning of Scripture?

I vote b.

November 27, 2006

IRD's Tooley vs. Mainline Protestantism

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 8:47 pm

For 25 years, the Institute on Religion and Democracy has been pushing the meme that mainline protestant churches are losing members because they are too liberal. Their solution is a theology that looks remarkably like that of fundamentalist Christianity. Mark Tooley, in a review of Diana Butler Bass’s book Christianity for the Rest of Us, trots this bit out again:

Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith

All of the mainline denominations guided by liberal theology in the 20th century have been in decline since the early 1960s. Mainline Protestant church members once numbered one out of every six Americans. Now they are one out of every thirty. Meanwhile, Roman Catholicism has retained its market share of the U.S. population, and evangelicals have be come the largest religious demographic in America. Seemingly, the hour of liberal Protestantism has come and gone.

Via Father Jake, it turns out that Tooley doesn’t have it quite right. From a year-old article in the Baptist Standard:

While mainline churches could claim 60 percent of the total Protestant congregants in 1900, their share fell to 40 percent in 1960. Many religious observers and some sociologists attributed the drop–and simultaneous growth of conservative churches–to the lethargy of liberalism and the appeal of biblical certainty.

But what’s the real reason for the membership decline? Birth rates.

The popular notion that conservative churches are growing because mainline churches are too liberal is being challenged by new research that offers a simpler cause for much of the mainline decline–the use of birth control. Differences in fertility rates account for 70 percent of the decline of mainline Protestant church membership from 1900 to 1975 and the simultaneous rise in conservative church membership, the sociologists said.

[…]

However, the authors suggested, the trends underlying the mainline’s decline “may be nearing their end.”

Fertility rates now are virtually the same between the two groups and will produce only a 1 percent decline in mainline membership over the next decade, they noted.

So much for Tooley’s and the IRD’s favorite narrative and their call to mainline churches to adopt a more conservative theology. But what did Tooley think of Bass’s book? He sniffs that:

Bass’s favored churches host speakers like the Gnostic enthusiast Elaine Pagels and the interfaith advocate Karen Armstrong. They read books by the New Age mystic Marcus Borg. They walk labyrinths and meditate. They enjoy liturgy, vestments, the lighting of candles, and anointing with oil. They are interested in “reconciliation,” in psychic healing and “cosmic restoration.” They share faith stories. They employ tambourines and drums in their worship. Some do Latin chants. They want a connection to Christian tradition without necessarily being bound by it.

So if Tooley’s chief critique of the mainline is its liberalism, it’s interesting that this is the list of things he finds unique about the mainline churches Bass profiles. Let’s take a look…

  • Elaine Pagels, Karen Armstrong, Marcus Borg – theologically progressive. (Although in fairness, the church in question did not endorse their views, but did provide them an opportunity to speak.)
  • Labyrinths, meditation, liturgy, vestments, candles, oil – very traditional Christian practices going back 2000 years.
  • Reconciliation, psychic healing, cosmic restoration – new ways of describing very traditional Christian concepts.
  • Sharing faith stories – traditional.
  • Tambourines and drums – progressive.
  • Latin chants – very traditional.
  • A connection to Christian tradition without being bound by it – traditional.

This is a great list of traditional Christian practices mixed with a few bits of innovation. Compare this to PowerPoint slides and rock bands (not that I have a problem with them), and these mainline churches are clearly the traditional ones. But as it turns out, Tooley doesn’t really have a problem with these practices:

Bass’s vibrant liberal congregations, though not focused on soul-saving, are not entirely dissimilar to vibrant evangelical ones. Both emphasize innovation, personal testimony, and catering to the customer. But Bass’s liberal worshippers tend to meet in more tasteful surroundings, drink better wine, and read more quality literature.

Well, I hardly agree that mainline churches “cater to the customer”. We prefer to call it ministry. Which, by the way, tends to save souls, so it seems to me these mainline congregations are entirely “focused on soul-saving”. (I’ll defer to Tooley’s opinion regarding the surroundings, wine and literature.)

At one point Tooley states “But it is hard to understand exactly what the objective is for Bass’s book, other than to affirm her own spiritual choices.” Funny, the same thought occurs to me regarding Tooley’s review of Bass’s book as well. Besides returning to his mainline-churches-are-in-decline-because-they-aren’t-conservative-like-fundamentalist-churches meme, Tooley addresses the politics of it all:

Bass, like many on the religious left, seems overly preoccupied by the supposed political threat of conservative Christianity. But contrary to stereotypes, most conservative churches are not focused on politics. Bass should just chill out, and enjoy the companionship of the many like-minded Christians whom she found on her book-writing journey.

Let’s see if we can reconstruct this graf by swapping a few words here and there:

Tooley, like many on the religious right, seems overly preoccupied by the supposed political threat of liberal Christianity. But contrary to stereotypes, most liberal churches are not focused on politics. Tooley should just chill out, and enjoy the companionship of the many like-minded Christians whom he found on his mainline-bashing journey.

November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 11:27 am

For those in the States, have a great Thanksgiving!

November 22, 2006

Pete Huttlinger: Superstition

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 8:06 pm

My last post got a little dark, so apropos of nothing, here’s an awesome solo guitar version of Superstition by Pete Huttlinger.

November 21, 2006

Erica, 1947-2006

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 5:34 pm

Well, it hasn’t been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon. We’ve had another death in my extended family. My sister-in-law died suddenly and unexpectedly at age 59, leaving behind her husband and three children. It happened last week, but I’ve only just felt like blogging about it.

In my darker moments, this whole death thing seems like God’s cruel cosmic prank. God has rigged this whole mortal life thing so that, by all appearances, death is the end of our existence. Sure, we have the promises of Scripture regarding everlasting life, and faith borne by the presence of the Holy Spirt, but we don’t have proof. So we are condemned to suffer excruciating grief when someone close to us dies, especially someone that dies too young, and all we can do is to “cling to a promise” as my brother-in-law put it. So here we are, clinging desperately to the promise that Erica has joined the saints in the eternal kingdom of God, while suffering the terrible pain of her absence from the only world we can see and touch and feel.

But those are my darker moments. Over the past week I have seen another aspect of the way God has rigged this mortal death/eternal life thing. The tragic death of someone close to us drives us to God, and to one another, in a way nothing else does. Not always — death can drive families apart too — but it often does, and Erica’s death certaiinly did so for many of her friends and family. Without death, without untimely tragic deaths, we would live in a dehumanized Brave New World with no need to drop our illusions about our ability to control our lives, safe in the illusion that God is somehow irrelevant. Instead, seeing how helpless we are in the face of death, we seek out God and each other. And doing so, we come closer to understanding that death isn’t a tragedy for the deceased, but only for those they have left behind, and only if we stop clinging to God’s promise.

November 15, 2006

The New Atheism

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 9:48 pm

Now that the election is over, I can turn to more theological topics, like this article in Wired on The Crusade Against Religion on the part of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett among others. (Hat tip to Chris at Even the Devils Believe, with his own cogent comments on the article and several follow-up posts.) I found this article both extremely interesting and extremely maddening. Dawkins’ and Harris’s statements have so much of the certainty I rebel against with the religious right. They leave no room for doubt, which as I’ve said, is a fundamental part of my intellectual and spiritual make-up.

This isn’t to say that I doubt the results of the scientific method — in fact, my undergraduate degree is in Physics (while I have no formal training in Theology). So of course I accept the Big Bang, the Theory of Evolution and all the rest as true. Where I depart dramatically from Dawkins et al is the belief that all truth is attainable through the scientific method. While science is very effective at arriving at a subset of the truth, there is no reason to suspect that the truth accessible to science is exhaustive. Science relies upon repeatable experiments, but there may be a class of truths that can’t be demonstrated experimentally and can’t be repeated. (For more, take a look at Kurt Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem.)

But Dawkins’ rejection of extra-scientific truth isn’t as ironclad as it might seem. Time has excerpts from a debate between Dawkins and Francis Collins where Dawkins brings up the idea of a “multiverse” to explain the fact that the fundamental constants of our universe are tuned precisely to allow life to form (what is called the Anthropic Principle).

That says that maybe the universe we are in is one of a very large number of universes. The vast majority will not contain life because they have the wrong gravitational constant or the wrong this constant or that constant. But as the number of universes climbs, the odds mount that a tiny minority of universes will have the right fine-tuning.

Of course the existence of any universe outside our own is impossible to detect through scientific means, and hence is not science but must be accepted on faith. But this theory does point out a problem with the Anthropic Principle, that it can’t prove the existence of God, but can only point the way to God. In fact, God has clearly designed our world such that proof of God is impossible. Faith is clearly very important to God, and faith would end with proof. Chris quotes Barth on this point:

Note well: in the whole Bible of the Old and New Testaments not the slightest attempt is ever made to prove God. This attempt has always been made only outside the biblical view of God, and only where it has been forgotten with whom we have to do, when we speak of God. […] I will not enter into these ‘proofs’ of God. I don’t know if you can at once see the humour and the fragility of these proofs. These proofs may avail for the alleged gods; if it were my task to make you acquainted with these allegedly supreme beings, I would occupy myself with the five famous proofs of God. In the Bible there is no such argumentation; the Bible speaks of God simply as of One who needs no proof.

But what really floors me about Dawkins, Harris and Dennett is their idea that religion must be stamped out because it causes so much evil in the world. It’s not bad religion they deplore, but any religion. So I am as much their enemy as is Osama bin Laden, because somehow I am enabling ObL’s violent jihad against the West. Since I don’t accept their rejection of anything metaphysical, I am allowing Islamofascists and Christian theocrats to maintain their illogical beliefs. Their answer is to stamp out religion of any kind:

But the atheist movement, by his lights, has no choice but to aggressively spread the good news. Evangelism is a moral imperative. Dawkins does not merely disagree with religious myths. He disagrees with tolerating them, with cooperating in their colonization of the brains of innocent tykes.

“How much do we regard children as being the property of their parents?” Dawkins asks. “It’s one thing to say people should be free to believe whatever they like, but should they be free to impose their beliefs on their children? Is there something to be said for society stepping in? What about bringing up children to believe manifest falsehoods?”

This is a fundamentalism that would make Richard Land blush. As Chris notes, this is starting to sound like a Soviet-style totalitarianism, and of course the atheistic Soviets put a lie to the idea that religion is to blame for all the immorality in the world.

As much as I respect the scientific accomplishments of Dawkins and Dennett (Harris, not so much), I have to regard them the same way I regard the most intolerant of the Christian right. It’s not that science is bad, but that when science is thought to be all there is, all that there can be, it becomes another religion. And it isn’t a tolerant, compassionate, or uplifting religion. It’s just arrogant.

November 11, 2006

We Still Have to Change Some Minds on Gay Marriage

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 10:04 pm

It was great to see the Arizona voters reject an initiative that would ban gay marriage. Unfortunately, seven other states approved similar initiatives.

I’ve long been optimistic regarding the legalization of gay marriage within the next decade or so, mainly for demographic reasons. Younger voters have much less of a problem with gay marriage than older voters. Since the exit poll data is available online, I figured this was a chance to test my theory. For the Arizona, Virginia and Wisconsin gay marriage ban propositions, here are the percentage voting yes for the four age bands provided in the exit polling data (they also have data on Tennessee’s ban initiative, but for some reason it isn’t broken out into these four age bands.)

gay marriage bans exit polling by ageIn each of these three states, voters under 30 are more open to gay marriage than voters over 60. There is a 15% drop in the percentage approving a gay marriage ban between those over 60 and under 30 in Arizona, an 11% drop in Virginia, and an astounding 27% drop in Wisconsin. (As an aside, it’s interesting that voters that came of age during the 60s and 70s had a lower percentage voting for the bans in every state than voters that came of age in the 80s and early 90s. My generation really is more tolerant and open-minded than the generation immediately following us.)

Given this generational shift in attitudes towards gay marriage, I’ve been thinking that we could just wait it out, since between elections some of the over 60 voters will have died, thereby becoming ineligible to vote (except in Chicago), and will have been replaced by new, younger voters. I did a quck back of the napkin calculation to see how rapidly the Wisconsin election results might change, assuming that on average voters stop voting at 75, new voters vote in the same proportions as the under 30 voters did in this election, and everyone else stays the same.

Unfortunately, this demographic shift only makes half a percentage point difference in the vote totals per year. This means that we would have to wait about 18 years for Wisconsin to move from 59% to 49.9% in favor of the gay marriage ban.

I can’t wait that long. And since a majority of under 30 voters in Virginia voted for the ban, they’ll never approve gay marriage at this rate.

So we can’t just sit back and let demography be our destiny. We have to change people’s minds about gay marriage now instead of letting nature take its course. We don’t have enough time to wait.

November 8, 2006

Americans Vote for Change!

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 8:56 pm

Well, that was interesting! The Iowa Electronic Market, along with other markets and betting sites, was predicting the Republicans would hold the Senate. So this was clearly unexpected, but welcome, news.

I started blogging almost two years ago because of the 2004 election, and the media’s storyline that the Christian vote won it for Bush. Not so this time around. From Amy Sullivan:

It’s finally time to retire that tiresome, inaccurate phrase “the God Gap,” so beloved by pollsters and commentators after the 2004 election. Coined to reflect the fact that weekly churchgoing Americans split their votes 58 to 41 percent for George W. Bush that year, the label ignored the fact that a supermajority of Democratic voters attend church as well. And, more importantly, it implied that the loyalty of religious Americans was securely with the Republican Party, not to be wrested away by heathen Democrats.

Yesterday, the God Gap all but disappeared.

Even before we started voting, Newsweek came out with cover stories titled “Sex vs. Social Justice: Evangelicals at a Crossroads” and “A New Faith-Based Agenda”. The latter is authored by Michael Gerson, a former Bush administration speechwriter, who writes:

The goal is not only to stand for Christianity’s moral teachings but to emulate the manner of its Founder, who showed that kindness is not weakness, and had more tenderness for moral outcasts than for moral hypocrites.

So the storyline that Christians elected Bush to stop abortion and protect marriage from gays has now been replaced by a storyline that Christians care about the poor and the suffering and are as willing to vote for Democrats as they are for Republicans.

Well, it’s been a long, tough two years blogging about Christian progressives, but it seems I have successfully turned American Christianity around from an arch-conservatism to political pluralism, from a narrow focus on sex to a social gospel. My work here is done.

(Just kidding.)

November 4, 2006

Ted Haggard, Grace and Hypocrisy

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 3:17 pm

For those of you looking for some schadenfreude here regarding Ted Haggard’s fall, I’m afraid to disappoint. This is not an opportunity for progressives to take perverse pleasure in another’s tragedy. We are all condemned by our membership in the human race to scandal. We are all sinners. This describes not our actions, but our condition, and applies to liberals as much as to conservatives.

Having said that, there is a great deal of silliness over at NRO’s The Corner regarding liberal reaction to Haggard’s revelations. From Jonah Goldberg:

liberals and some libertarians have a very hard time articulating what’s bad about these sorts of stories beyond hypocrisy. Very few liberals denounced Bill Bennett’s actual gambling or Rush Limbaugh’s drug use. How could they? The arguments usually sound like hypocrisy is the tip of the iceberg of so-and-so’s transgressions, when actually that’s all critics can actually condemn. The underlying behavior — in Haggard’s case drug use and gay romps — is not something liberals generally condemn on the merits.

Hypocrisy isn’t all that liberals condemn, but isn’t it enough? Hypocrisy isn’t some minor trespass, but is an act that Jesus reserves for some of his harshest criticism:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.

But Goldberg interprets liberals’ unwillingness to publicly judge another’s personal sin as a liberal rejection of morality altogether:

The liberals aren’t defending a standard, they are defending the lack of standards.

Which of course couldn’t be further from the truth, at least in my case. It is certainly true that my understanding of God’s moral standards differs from Goldberg’s, since I don’t believe that gay sex in the context of a committed, monogamous relationship is a sin, and I presume Goldberg does. But I do believe in standards. I believe drug abuse, adultery and compulsive gambling separate us from God and each other, and are therefore sinful, which makes Haggard, Bennett and Limbaugh sinners. But we knew that already by virtue of their membership in the human race. Join the club.

I am not advocating a lack of moral standards, but a moral standard that includes a prohibition against judging others:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”

It’s this element of judging others that turns a sinner into a hypocrite, which many conservatives don’t seem to understand. More silliness at The Corner, this time from a reader email posted by Goldberg:

Every bona fide Christian knows and believes he is a hypocrite because, in moral and ethical behavior, he constantly falls short in his heart and in his deeds. Pointing out Haggard’s hypocrisy is therefore to point out that, yes, the grass is green. It is an irreducible plank of Christian theology that all persons are sinners, all persons are flawed, all persons require redemption, and all persons are subject to immutable moral laws. Rejection of these ideas, and not some person’s failure to live up to them, is why the Left goes bananas when a pastor stumbles.

Every bona fide Christian knows and believes that he or she is a sinner, but not all sinners are hypocrites. A hypocrite condemns the sin in others instead of condemning the sin in themselves, creating a pretense they have no sin.

This conservative blind spot regarding the sin of hypocrisy seems to have infected all of the bloggers at The Corner. How else to explain David Frum’s statement:

Instead of regarding hypocrisy as the ultimate sin, could it not be regarded as a kind of virtue – or at least as a mitigation of his offense?

It’s really not clear to me how one sin – hypocrisy borne out of judgmentalism – piled on top of any other sins Haggard has committed somehow mitigates them. Unless, of course, passing judgment on others without looking at your own fallibility first isn’t considered a sin.

Conversely, we progressives seem to particularly abhor hypocrisy because we abhor the judging of others that leads to hypocrisy. So Ted Haggard, like Bill Bennett, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly before him, is susceptible to this charge of hypocrisy in a way that more moderate voices aren’t.

But let me leave off where I began – hypocrite or not, Ted Haggard is a brother in the faith we share in Christ, and deserves our grace and compassion first and foremost, as do we all.

November 2, 2006

Kerry, Bush and the Nature of Truth

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 9:17 pm

Given my previous disclosure that I am still resentful of past swiftboating, I have to comment on the Kerry “stuck in Iraq” flap. First, let’s just look at some of the facts. Here’s the prepared text of the speech Kerry was supposed to give:

Do you know where you end up if you don’t study, if you aren’t smart, if you’re intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush.

Kerry, unfortunately and perhaps even unprofessionally, left off that last line when he delivered it. But the intended meaning is pretty clear.

And here’s Keith Olbermann, God bless him, with another of his special comments, providing the context leading up to Kerry’s famous comment:

Sen. Kerry, as you well know, spoke at a college in Southern California. With bitter humor he told the students that he had been in Texas the day before, that President Bush used to live in that state, but that now he lives in the state of denial.

He said the trip had reminded him about the value of education — that “if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

The context, missing from all the press accounts, seems that his topic was President Bush, not the troops.

What would an objective, uninvolved observer conclude? Either Kerry seemed to be setting up to criticize President Bush, then veered off and criticized the troops out of the blue, and his staff then doctored his prepared speech after the fact to try to change the apparent meaning of what he said. Or Kerry botched the line.

Which is the reasonable conclusion? Which would we conclude, in the absence of a hotly contested election, is the true explanation? Which is truth?

Clearly the latter interpretation.

But alas we are not uninvolved observers, and we are in the midst of a hotly contested election, so we see comments like this from a conservative blogger at The Corner (via Kevin Drum):

Every Democratic candidate should now be asked whether they think the troops are in Iraq because (a) they are committed to the mission and want to win or (b) because of their lack of economic and social opportunity back home. The latter is plainly Kerry’s position — and that of the Democratic left — and it has now been revealed as a position for which one has to apologize. [emphasis mine]

Ah, but there is no absolute truth in this post-modern era! How else to claim that not only Kerry, but the whole Democratic left, think our troops are uneducated? After all, Bush creates his own reality, which is why

Bush told a cheering throng in Georgia that Kerry’s remarks were “insulting” and “shameful,” and he called on him to apologize to U.S. troops.

Faced with these two alternative conclusions, President Bush created his own truth. Which is why Olbermann, in that same special comment, said:

And Mr. Bush and his minions responded by appearing to be too stupid to realize that they had been called stupid.

They demanded Kerry apologize to the troops in Iraq.

And so he now has.

That phrase — “appearing to be too stupid” — is used deliberately, Mr. Bush.

Because there are only three possibilities here.

One, sir, is that you are far more stupid than the worst of your critics have suggested; that you could not follow the construction of a simple sentence; that you could not recognize your own life story when it was deftly summarized; that you could not perceive it was the sad ledger of your presidency that was being recounted.

This, of course, compliments you, Mr. Bush, because even those who do not “make the most of it,” who do not “study hard,” who do not “do their homework,” and who do not “make an effort to be smart” might still just be stupid, but honest.

No, the first option, sir, is, at best, improbable. You are not honest.

The second option is that you and those who work for you deliberately twisted what Sen. Kerry said to fit your political template; that you decided to take advantage of it, to once again pretend that the attacks, solely about your own incompetence, were in fact attacks on the troops or even on the nation itself.

The third possibility is, obviously, the nightmare scenario: that the first two options are in some way conflated.

That it is both politically convenient for you and personally satisfying to you, to confuse yourself with the country for which, sir, you work.

Truth matters, and it should matter even more during an election campaign. For Christians who bemoan the coarsening of our culture, we should look to our political elites, not only the cultural elites, and demand, if nothing else, truth. For truth is a moral issue, and a moral value. We sacrifice truth at our peril.

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