I have alluded frequently to my break with the Republican party upon George W. Bush’s second inaugural address. Damon Linker captures my attitude:
… George W. Bush’s second inaugural address. You remember: It was a speech that consisted of a series of sweeping assertions about America’s God-appointed task to end “tyranny in our world.” (Bush made more than 50 references to “freedom” and “liberty” in a speech of 2,000 words.)
For Bottum, this was “the most purely philosophical address in the history of America’s inaugurations,” one that deployed “a Catholic philosophical vocabulary” rooted in natural law theory to “express a moral seriousness the nation needs.”
That’s one way to look at it.
Here’s another: The speech was a crude expression of American parochialism and pious self-congratulation — the kind of address you’d expect from someone who believed toppling Saddam Hussein was a sufficient condition for creating a functioning democracy in Iraq, and who thinks that presidential rhetoric can rise no higher than paraphrasing the lyrics to “Onward Christian Soldiers.” It was the speech of a simple-minded man leading a simple-minded administration.
The man who uttered such simple-minded utopian rhetoric had run originally on a platform including a humbler foreign policy, a major reason I voted for him. He had been hailed as a born again Christian and had uttered pieties about Christ being his favorite philosopher.
Most Christians I knew saw no incongruity between that rhetoric and their belief that Bush was a sound Christian. That boggles my mind. The second inaugural to me was a broken promise far worse than his father’s breach of “read my lips: no new taxes.” And it was the promise that more than any other had won my vote.
Dubya’s simple-minded utopian rhetoric lives on in the chest-thumping foreign policy poses of most GOP hopefuls.
I recall in 2002 being particularly irritated with Reed R. Heustis, Jr., my new and brief acquaintance, for insisting that the GOP, for the insincerity of its putative positions, was no less than the Democrats, not worth the powder to blow it up.
I now see that his fault was apprehending the awful truth before I did. But I could not, then or now, embrace the <epithet>Christianist</epithet> Constitution Party that he was embracing at the time. We may just have to muddle along with trying to ameliorate some of the mess we’re in, expecting no miracle cure until the parousia.
Noah Millman helpfully tries to pin down the defining traits of neoconservatism:
If we’re to be more precise, then, neoconservatism should be characterized by three attributes in particular.
First, neoconservatism’s main analytical insight is that the internal character of a regime can have a material effect on its foreign policy …
Second, neoconservatism is fundamentally activist, by which I mean not merely that it has an expansive view of national interests or that it has no moral problem with intervening in other countries, but that it holds as an article of faith that power cannot be husbanded. On the contrary, a vigorously activist and successful power will grow more powerful simply by virtue of having demonstrated such vigor. Another way of putting it is that neoconservatives don’t really believe that an aggressive power will trigger balancing by lesser powers; rather, they believe that an aggressive power will more-likely trigger bandwagoning …
Third, neoconservatives have a strong bias against the legitimacy and value of international law …
Millman then identifies the kernel of truth in each of the three and the abuse of each in practice. I quoted the second at greatest length because it is the one which I have previously most thought was going to blow up on us “big time,” in the “paybacks are hell” sense. I don’t deny that it has sorta kinda worked for a fairly long time, but like my bitter break with the GOP, it could get ugly when “the little light goes on” in the world as it did in me.
As is too common, I went to confession at the last possible minute this Lent. It’s not that I dislike it (particularly), but that I’m a creature of habit, and confession wasn’t even on my radar for some 50 years.
Confession is almost completely impenetrable to low Protestant of the sort I was. Here, without any claim that I’m telling you the true or full teaching of the Church, is how I seem to approach confession.
- I don’t go to confession to get forgiven by an otherwise-angry God. I’m quite convinced that God is gracious and loves mankind, unwilling that any should perish. I confess my sins daily and ask forgiveness, and I believe that I receive God’s forgiveness then (if not even before I ask explicitly).
- Confession, like Lent, requires special focus. I get out some lists beforehand (Commandments, Cardinal Sins, Cardinal Virtues, ways of participating in Sin – that’s my list of lists) with notes of how other than the obvious one can sin in various ways. I get to a quiet place and reflect on those lists and my life. I write stuff down so I don’t forget. Then I go to confession. I don’t do that every day and neither, probably, do you.
- I don’t go to confession because my Priest is a clairvoyant saint-in-the-making who will guide me infallibly. Not every Parish is the spiritual equivalent of The Mayo Clinic, not every Priest a Christian Barnard. My Priest may jump to conclusions and miss the diagnostic mark a bit. But since a lot of sins are rooted in pride, it’s salutary sometimes for me just to shut up and do as I’ve been told – to take my prescribed medicine even if it’s not what I’d have bought over-the-counter. My Priest has the authority to tell me that.
- In short, I go to confession to work on some attitudes, starting with pride, that could keep my forgiven soul from willingness to enter into an eternity that isn’t about me. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. It’s only 160 pages. I didn’t really get it until I encountered Orthodoxy.
That may be a really inadequate explanation, but it’s mine for now.
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)