Monday, April 17, 2006

# Posted 9:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUNDAY MORNING ROUND-UP: In honor of Passover and Easter Sunday, Meet the Press hosted a special round-table on faith in America. Face the Nation brought us George Allen and Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM), while This Week started off with Gen. (Ret.) Richard Myers, predecessor to Gen. Pace as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Afterwards, both senators from Indiana, Lugar and Bayh, had their say.
Dick Myers: C. Generals in uniform always support the President and the Secretary of Defense. Retired generals don't have much credibility when they dutifully insist that frank criticism is welcome within the Pentagon, so retired generals don't need to speak out.

Evan Bayh: B-. Presents himself well, but if you're for the Kerry ultimatum, I can't give you much of a grade.

Dick Lugar: B+. Reasonable as always. Didn't want to touch the Rumsfeld issue with a 10-foot pole.

George Allen: B-. So many words. So little meaning.

Bill Richardson: C-. Almost as bad as Kerry was last week, but at least Richardson didn't come up with these dumb ideas himself. See the post above for details.

The NBC roundtable: A. I won't hand out individual grades, since I don't know enough about the participants to make that a meaningful exercise. But I think it was a wonderful decision to bring on the show five individuals with a tremendous knowledge of religion, theology, and philosophy. At first, I got impatient because there was no rapid-fire back-and-forth and no sharp follow-ups. But I think Russert made the right decision to simply let his guests talk, because they were there to educate and not to recite talking points.

There were three points I found especially interesting from a political perspective on religion. First, neither of the liberal participants -- Sister Joan Chittester and Rabbi Michael Lerner -- ever indicated that religious ethics and morality should be separated from politics. Instead, they advocated the firm grounding of progressive politics in traditional faiths.

The second point concerns how Chittister and Lerner sought to accomplish this grounding. Both of them were very specific about the government using its financial leverage to confront American poverty. This was a shared point of emphasis. Chittister even said that "national budget is theology walking". Although Lerner spoke at length about the importance of transcending materialism, I think it will be hard for Democrats and progressives to re-establish their credibility on the values front if they take this sort of wonkish approach.

Third, I found it interesting that Chittister and Lerner were quite vehement in their attacks on the religious right, while their conservative counterparts made almost no effort to portray liberalism as the enemy of religion. For example, Lerner decided to call his book The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country From the Religious Right. The effect of this vehemence, I think, was to substantiate the conservatives' presentation of themselves as tolerant and welcoming.

By the way there was also a Muslim guest on the panel. I liked him, but his contributions would've added much more to a discussion of the West and Islam.
And now for the hosts:
Russert: A. I assume he strongly supported the idea of a roundtable on faith, or perhaps even came up with it.

Schieffer: B.

Stephanopoulos: B-. Myers was an easy target and should've been carpet-bombed.
See ya next week!
(4) opinions -- Add your opinion

I will never understand why some religious types are so willing to abdicate their responsibilities to the government to do the work of Jesus using money collected by Caesar. Last I heard that would have flat 10% tax (can I get a refund on the rest, are the rich closer to God since they are obviously doing more of God’s work, compulsory or not?). If the church is abdicating their role to government, why in the hell should they even exist in the first place?
RE: Meet the Press. It was a great show, but I came away with a different impression of the panelists. Maybe it is my intense dislike of Neuhaus, whom Andy Sullivan calls king of the theocons, maybe it is the degree in political theology, but I thought he was smug. He looked as if he'd fallen asleep at one point. And while he never stated it, his disdain for anything outside of his narrow interpretation of Christian tradition was always lurking. I particularly found his "read your Catechism!" quip ridiculous. His discourse on why bishops must chide pro-choice pols was both paternalistic and -- ironically -- eerily reminiscent of southern anti-Kennedy propaganda.

While all I got out of Lerner was a desire to sell books, I did think Sister Chittister came off rather well in the exchange. I'm not sure I would call her liberal, either. Her point was less about politics, and more about the necessity of a dialogue within the Church (well done on getting Neuhaus to almost concede this). This conversation has recently been muted and one sided, and the effect has been to exclude large groups of people (homosexuals, divorcees, people who have gotten abortions, etc...). My impression was that Chittister's emphasis on life as the Church's sine qua non value, as opposed to Neuhaus's categorical paternalism, made her look like everyone's favourite grandmother.

The real winner, though, was Joel Osteen. I've always just assumed he was the more telegenic 21st century Oral Roberts. I couldn't have been more wrong. He certainly wasn't the most involved panelist, but that worked for him. By rising above the fray and emphasing the Church as a non-political, all embracing community, I think he reached a note many Americans want to hear.
"I will never understand why some religious types are so willing to abdicate their responsibilities to the government to do the work of Jesus using money collected by Caesar."

Because Christian theology holds that moral agency can only rest in individuals, never governments. Read your Augustine or Neibuhr.
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