Close to the Bone

One article recently really hit my cranky bone. Way more information than a pastor should be writing.

That article was David Brooks. The truth is that I haven’t felt at home in a political party for most of my voting life. The last guy I felt completely comfortable voting for was G. H. W. Bush (Bush 41) which was also the first ballot I cast. Clinton was an opportunist and the moral example set gave cover to the worst of our natures. Bush (43) I’d liken to Old King Stephen – “a good man who did no justice”. (Less poetic but better the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s verdict – “he took action without judgment”.) And let’s just not talk about Obama. The lawlessness of the current resident of 1600 shocks even me. I recount my “man without a party” narrative because David Brooks laments the loss of “the traditional conservative”. The modern GOP started out as a coalition between people like me best defined by Brooks’ paragraph…

Because they were conservative, they tended to believe that power should be devolved down to the lower levels of this chain. They believed that people should lead disciplined, orderly lives, but doubted that individuals have the ability to do this alone, unaided by social custom and by God. So they were intensely interested in creating the sort of social, economic and political order that would encourage people to work hard, finish school and postpone childbearing until marriage.

…and so-called economic conservatives which are best thought of as libertarians. And Brooks is right that “The two conservative tendencies lived in tension. But together they embodied a truth that was put into words by the child psychologist John Bowlby, that life is best organized as a series of daring ventures from a secure base. ” But here is where David Brooks starts misfiring or let’s steal a phrase from getreligion, “there is a religious ghost haunting the story”.

David Brooks complains,

“In the polarized political conflict with liberalism, shrinking government has become the organizing conservative principle. Economic conservatives have the money and the institutions. They have taken control. Traditional conservatism has gone into eclipse. These days, speakers at Republican gatherings almost always use the language of market conservatism — getting government off our backs, enhancing economic freedom. Even Mitt Romney, who subscribes to a faith that knows a lot about social capital, relies exclusively on the language of market conservatism.”

Why does Romney use only market language? Why is shrinking government the organizing principle? Did anybody see what happened to Mike Huckabee in 2008?

The answer or the ghost is that “traditional conservatives” are really religious conservatives. WFB, patron saint and original forger of the coalition, was an every day mass attending Catholic. They have received help from God in ordering lives. And we as a people, we won’t hear talk about God. As a Lutheran what I would say is that we won’t hear the Law. We won’t stand for the traditional teaching of the church. A wall of separation has been erected to prevent anyone from accidentally having their feelings hurt by being implied a sinner and feeling the law. Those people and that language have been run out of polite society as just not acceptable by a corrupt and decadent elite from both parties. We can have plenty of nonsense about God and lots of dressed up language, but direct to the bone Orthodoxy; the type that you say “This is the Word of the Lord” after, none of that stuff allowed.

Brooks again,

“There are few people on the conservative side who’d be willing to raise taxes on the affluent to fund mobility programs for the working class. There are very few willing to use government to actively intervene in chaotic neighborhoods, even when 40 percent of American kids are born out of wedlock. There are very few Republicans who protest against a House Republican budget proposal that cuts domestic discretionary spending to absurdly low levels. “

The government has been doling out programs and money for decades and all the illegitimacy rate does is rise. You know what used to work? Its called the 6th commandment – “don’t commit adultery.” Who and what are exactly the programs or people that are excluded from receiving dollars? People that might accidentally say- “Hey, God says don’t screw around”. Who are the people who are declared ineligible for higher office like Huckabee in 2008? The same people who might tax a little and spend a little through government because the seventh commandment that says “don’t steal” includes the positive force of “helping your neighbor to improve and protect his possessions and income”. (Small Catechism) {Of course being conservative they’d rather see that taking place in city hall or the county seat compared to Washington.}

The fact is that the “traditional conservatives” that Brooks laments are exactly the people that are tarred and feathered the second they are in public life. And that is in both parties. They haven’t gone missing, they’ve just been forced underground.

Now not all the fault is on a secret cabal. The gospel has a consistent external enemy. But it has had an internal enemy as well, recently best described by Brooks co-worker Ross Douthat in Bad Religion. If we don’t take our own religion seriously, why would anyone outside? This takes so many forms its not even funny. Let’s just say when you are willing to change the name of God to something silly, or are willing to ignore clear scripture because of the passions of the day, I wouldn’t take you seriously either.

Law and Gospel, sin and absolution, is serious. You don’t like the thought of Hell, we’ll do away with it and everybody gets a free pass, is not serious. The theology of the cross is serious. Your best life now is not serious.

So, David Brooks, are you willing to say that serious religious people deserve to be heard, or are you lamenting something but not willing to accept the answer?