The Corner

Religion

Saletan’s ‘Un-Christian’ Canard

People pray at the start of President Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again rally at the Civic Center in Charleston, W.V., August 21, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters )

Everybody is a deficit hawk when the government is doing something they don’t like. The same progressives who clapped and cheered at the proposal to simply pass a single-payer health-care law “and then figure out how to pay for it” were livid over the relatively paltry amount of money spent on investigating the Benghazi fiasco. Democrats described the Benghazi investigation as “an unethical abuse of millions of taxpayer dollars.” Millions! Once. The cost of a single-payer health-care system? Trillions of dollars — every year. The left-leaning Urban Institute estimated that Senator Sanders’s proposed national health-care program would cost $32 trillion in the first ten years. Put another way: The total cost of the Benghazi investigation, a one-time expense, amounted to about what the Sanders health-care plan would cost every two minutes — forever.

I couldn’t help but think about those fair-weather fiscal hawks when I read William Saletan charging white Evangelicals with “un-Christian” behavior in their continued support of Donald Trump. The usual religiously illiterate horsepucky is there in abundance — e.g., conflating care for the poor with political support for the current social-welfare bureaucracy and politics-powered do-goodism in general — but what interests me is the more basic assumption: Does William Saletan desire a more robustly Christian society, and a more aggressively political Christianity? Are we really caring now about who is a good Christian as a political matter? And who exactly appointed William Saletan as the pope of Evangelical Protestantism, White People Synod?

This approach has always struck me as being a form of intellectual dishonesty. There is little or nothing in Saletan’s writing to suggest a substantive interest in these subjects. In the course of praising Ross Douthat’s book Bad Religion, he wrote: “I think I speak for a lot of secular liberals when I confess my lifelong skepticism that anyone could make a rational case for such old-fashioned ideas,” those old-fashioned ideas being Christianity.

Saletan is welcome to argue that Christianity should be a cult of niceness and that it ought to be considered socially relevant to the precise extent that its doctrines can be read as coinciding with his own political preferences — which is in fact more or less what he’s doing without having the intellectual honesty to just say so. Pretending that Christianity’s failure to reduce itself to a subdivision of the progressive project somehow makes its adherents “un-Christian” is absurd.

Christians have the same legitimate right as any other group in a liberal democratic society to pursue their own political interests as they understand them. That those interests are not what Saletan wishes they were does not make them un-Christian. American Christians are obliged to operate in a secular political system, the democratic realities of which necessitate various compromises and tradeoffs. Presumably, William Saletan, denouncer of “theocratic” politicians, prefers it that way. I do not think that he or many other progressives (or libertarians, or conservatives, or Christians) would be very comfortable in a society that tried to make Christianity its organizing political principle.

As with the case of opportunistic deficit-hawking, this is the sort of non-argument argument that ought to embarrass the man making it.

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