Politics & Policy

The Trouble with Hillary’s Faith

Clinton speaks at the Old Brick Church in Iowa City, Iowa. (Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters)
Trump got it wrong: We know plenty about her religion, and none of it is encouraging.

Donald Trump offered one of his odd and unexpected attacks this week when he contended Hillary Clinton’s religion was unknown.

“We don’t know anything about Hillary in terms of religion. Now, she’s been in the public eye for years and years, and yet there’s no — there’s nothing out there,” Trump said during a closed-to-the-press meeting with evangelical leaders in New York City. “It’s going to be an extension of Obama, but it’s going to be worse, because with Obama you had your guard up; with Hillary, you don’t, and it’s going to be worse.”

Cue the howls of outrage. Hillary Clinton’s membership in the Methodist Church has been covered and analyzed to death; political scientist Paul Kengor wrote a whole book about it in 2007. What’s truly frustrating is that Trump contented himself to claim otherwise, apparently ignorant of the evidence, rather than tying Clinton’s interpretation of Christianity to her worldview — an all-encompassing statist progressivism she once described as the “politics of meaning.”

Inspired by the author and activist Michael Lerner, Clinton greeted America early in her political career as someone with limitless aspirations driven by her deep-rooted spiritual beliefs. In a scathing May 1993 New York Times Magazine profile entitled “Saint Hillary,” the late Michael Kelly wrote:

What Mrs. Clinton seems — in all apparent sincerity — to have in mind is leading the way to something on the order of a Reformation: the remaking of the American way of politics, government, indeed life. A lot of people, contemplating such a task, might fall prey to self doubts. Mrs. Clinton does not blink.

“It’s not going to be easy,” she says. “But we can’t get scared away from it because it is an overwhelming task.’

The previous month, then–First Lady Clinton had gone to the University of Texas and laid out her perspective on how government and all of society was meant to work as one to tackle the great questions of life, what she described as “a new politics of meaning.” It was an extraordinarily revealing speech, one part Hallmark card, one part new-age gobbledygook, and one part promise that she and her allies arriving in Washington would inevitably overhaul all of American life from the ground up.

“We are at a stage in history, I would suggest, in which remolding society certainly in the West is one of the great challenges facing all of us as individuals and as citizens,” Clinton said. “We lack, at some core level, meaning in our individual lives and meaning collectively — that sense that our lives are part of some greater effort, that we are connected to one another, that community means that we have a place where we belong no matter who we are.”

What Clinton proposed was nothing less than “a new ethos of individual responsibility and caring. We need a new definition of civil society which answers the unanswerable questions posed by both the market forces and the governmental ones, as to how we can have a society that fills us up again and makes us feel that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.”

A lot of thoughts jump out from the speech, but one is that in her vision, there’s no door to opt out. There’s no one in society who is doing okay and happy and content and generous and who doesn’t need to join Hillary Clinton in an effort to “redefine who we are as human beings in this post-modern age.” One of her emphasized points is that this grand project will require everyone: “How do we take old values and apply them to these new — for many of us — undreamed of problems that we now confront? And that is what all of us must be engaged in in our own lives, at every level, in every institution with which we interact.”

She declared that “conversations about how we break through old views and deal with new problems” needed “to take place in every family, every workplace, every political institution in our country. They need to take place in our schools.”

The notion of power, married to the belief that authority can make humanity new and better, ought to send a chill down every American spine.

The collective responsibility and blame spared no one; the problems she saw in Washington then were in fact a reflection of the problems within the collective American psyche, and they could only be solved by everyone looking within themselves: “We have to break out of the kind of gridlock mentality which exists not just in the Congress from time to time, but exists as well in all of us as we struggle to see the world differently and cope with the challenges it has given us.”

Kelly described her perspective as “the most purely voiced expression of the collective spirit of the Clinton Administration, a spirit that is notable both for the long reach of its reformist ambitions and the cocky assurance of its faith in the ideas of its own design.”

Indeed, she and her allies offered self-assurance by the bucket-full. There was little or no doubt from any of the “politics of meaning” fans, and perhaps that’s to be expected in the articulation of a political and societal agenda that derives, in the mind of the adherent, from God’s will. There’s also no modesty and not much hesitation.

In 2009, Grover Norquist described various groups of conservative and Libertarian-leaning Americans — gun owners, home schoolers, small-business owners — as the “leave me alone” coalition: people who simply didn’t want the government to do anything for them but let them live their lives. Hillary’s “politics of meaning” is the antithesis of the “leave me alone” ethos.

Kelly quotes Hillary’s youth pastor, Rev. Donald G. Jones: “My sense of Hillary is that she realizes absolutely the truth of the human condition, which is that you cannot depend on the basic nature of man to be good and you cannot depend entirely on moral suasion to make it good. You have to use power.”

The notion of power, married to the belief that authority can make humanity new and better, ought to send a chill down every American spine.

Twenty-one years later, we can all scoff loudly at the idea of Hillary Clinton leading a national effort at moral self-improvement, and her bizarre 1993 declaration that in the previous year, “selfishness and greed were given places of honor never before accorded.” When she and her husband rake in $153 million in speaking fees, averaging more than $200,000 per speech, it’s her credibility that’s “dead broke.”

Hillary never renounced the “politics of meaning” talk, though she steers away from the new-age buzzwords. Portions of her announcement speech this cycle didn’t sound all that different from that speech in Austin: “Our political system is so paralyzed by gridlock and dysfunction that most Americans have lost confidence that anything can actually get done. And they’ve lost trust in the ability of both government and Big Business to change course.”

We can have the debate over whether America needs a spiritual revival and a cultural reformation. But Hillary Clinton is the worst possible person to lead that effort: dishonest, secretive, arrogant, and prone to retreating into self-pity and claims of victimhood. Her problem is not insufficient faith in God; it is excessive faith in herself.

— Jim Geraghty is the senior political correspondent for National Review.

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