The Corner

Words and the Word

In a below post, I mentioned Pope Francis and Rand Paul — not a pairing you see every day. But both of them speak boldly about religion and public affairs. Why shouldn’t they? Why shouldn’t we?

I will quote from that Reuters report again:

[Francis] was asked about a blog post in the Economist magazine that said he sounded like a Leninist when he criticized capitalism and called for radical economic reform.

“I can only say that the communists have stolen our flag. The flag of the poor is Christian. Poverty is at the center of the Gospel,” he said, citing Biblical passages about the need to help the poor, the sick and the needy.

“Communists say that all this is communism. Sure, twenty centuries later. So when they speak, one can say to them: ‘but then you are Christian’,” he said, laughing.

What would Stalin have said in response? He went to seminary. Might have been interesting. (When he was at the very top — Red Czar of Russia — his mother lamented, to his face, that he had not become a priest.)

All right, listen to Rand Paul, in an interview last year: “When people come to me and they’re lobbying for ratcheting up some sort of bellicose policy towards one country, even if it’s a bad country, I tell them, you know, when I read the New Testament, and when I read about Jesus, I don’t see him being involved, he wasn’t really involved with the war of his days. In fact, people rebuked him for not being the king they wanted. They wanted somebody to stand up to the Romans. He stood up in a different sort of way, but he didn’t organize coalitions and guerrilla bands and arm them.”

The senator continued, “Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have, you know, people who do want to defend against evil, bad forces around the world, but I think you need to remember that he was, you know, he was the prince of peace, you know, we’re talking about, you know, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ not ‘Blessed are the warmakers.’”

(The above-quoted remarks begin at 8:23 of the above-linked video.)

If Senator Paul pulls out Jesus in defense of his foreign policy during the 2016 presidential campaign, what will his opponents say? Will they try to out-Jesus him? Will they venture a different Scriptural interpretation? This could get messy: political battle combined with theological battle.

The rule in American politics is that if you espouse a left-leaning position, you can be as Jesus-y as you want. The same applies to a Paulite position on foreign or defense policy, I guess. (I’m referring to Ron and Rand, not the apostle.) The only people who have to shut up about Jesus are conservatives.

Addressing the 1992 Democratic convention, Jesse Jackson said that Mary, the mother of Jesus, “had family values. It was Herod — the Quayle of his day — who put no value on the family.”

Let me point out, for the young and unaware, that Dan Quayle was the incumbent vice-president. He was pro-life, unlike Jackson, so the comparison to Herod was maybe a tiny bit unfair.

And I give you Nancy Pelosi, when she was speaker of the House: “My favorite word? That is really easy. My favorite word is the Word. Is the Word. And that is everything. It says it all for us. And you know the Biblical reference, you know the Gospel reference of the Word. And that Word is — we have to give voice to what that means in terms of public policy that would be in keeping with the values of the Word.” Etc., etc.

In the interview I quoted above, Rand Paul said, “Part of Republicans’ problems — and frankly, to tell you the truth, some in the evangelical Christian movement — I think have appeared too eager for war.”

If you will allow me something personal: I wrote a history of the Nobel Peace Prize, in which I confronted these issues daily, over a long stretch of time. Thought hard, sometimes agonizingly, about them. The Nobel people said “prince of peace” a lot — especially in the early days (well, only in the early days, when religious expression was common and unblushing). They also cited the one beatitude constantly: “Blessed are the peacemakers.” They still do, though less constantly. I bet I could find instances when they cracked Rand Paul’s joke, about how the beatitude is not “Blessed are the warmakers.”

I wrote a whole book on this subject, so I won’t detain you long here. Let me just excerpt a couple of paragraphs:

We can confidently say what peace is not: It is not the mere absence of war, as President Kennedy noted, and as countless others have noted. And yet, peace is not war either. “I hate war,” said FDR, in that incomparable voice of his. Well, who doesn’t? Who doesn’t hate war, except for psychopaths, some of whom rise to power? And the man who said “I hate war” waged it, in Europe, in the Pacific, and wherever else he found it necessary.

When people debate whether their country should go to war, they are divided into “pro-war” and “anti-war” camps (and we speak here of democratic countries, because, in non-democratic countries, there is no real debate). Those labels are more than a little unfair; they are at the least bothersome. Are those who conclude that war is necessary, or just, or the lesser of two evils, really pro-war, and not anti-war?

To be continued, ad infinitum . . .

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