Gerson: Trump Broke Conservatism

Trump

Here is a taste of the latest from Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson:

A common defense of President Trump points to the positive things he has done from a Republican perspective — his appointment of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch and other conservative judges, his pursuit of the Islamic State, his honoring of institutional religious freedom. This argument is not frivolous. What frustrates is the steadfast refusal among most Republicans and conservatives to recognize the costs on the other side of the scale.

Chief among them is Trump’s assault on truth, which takes a now-familiar form. First, assert and maintain a favorable lie. Second, attack and discredit sources of opposition. Third, declare victory based on power or applause. So, Trump claimed that Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson’s account of his conversation with a Gold Star widow was “totally fabricated.” (Not true.) Wilson, after all, is “wacky.” (Not relevant.) And Trump won the interchange because Wilson is “killing the Democrat Party.” (We’ll see.)

Read the entire piece here.

Michael Gerson is Doing Theology from the Pages of *The Washington Post*

c0d8e-gersonThe election of Donald Trump has really lit a fire under Michael Gerson.  His columns on the POTUS do not mince words.  He is speaking with a prophetic Christian voice and we need him to keep writing.

But this post is not about one of Gerson’s Trump columns.  Rather, I want to bring your attention to his piece written in the wake of the Vegas tragedy.  As I read this column I wondered at what point we should start calling Gerson a public theologian.

Here is a taste:

That said, I do come at these events from a religious perspective, as some of the victims surely did, and as some of their loved ones surely do. The Christian faith involves a whisper from beyond time that death, while horrible, is not final — that the affirmations of the creeds and the inscriptions on tombstones are not lies. And for many, this hope is a barrier against despair.

Yet faith also encompasses something deeper and more difficult — what theologian Jurgen Moltmann has called “God’s terrible silence.” In that silence, only the scarred God, the weak and victimized God, the God of the cross seems to communicate. Not in words, but in a shocking example of lonely suffering. Christians turn to a God who once felt godforsaken, as all of us may feel in the nightmare of loss.

At this type of moment, even those with tenuous ties to religion offer their thoughts and prayers. But how should we pray? Concerning grief, as many can attest, it is not strength or struggle that matters most; it is perseverance. And that is as good a thing to pray for as any, for those who cannot see a future without their friend, without their child. Our attention is temporary; their suffering will not fade easily, if ever.

Read the entire piece here.

Gerson: Roy Moore Embraces the “Shabby, Third-Rate Gospel of Stephen K. Bannon”

MooreIn his most recent column, Michael Gerson, the conservative evangelical columnist at The Washington Post, explains the Christian nationalism of Judge Roy Moore:

But Moore represents a peculiar challenge to the GOP future. He holds to a particularly rigorous vision of a Christian America, ultimately ruled and legitimated by “biblical law.” In his conception, the freedom of “religion” in the First Amendment is limited to the Christian (and presumably Jewish) version of the creator God. So the protections of the Constitution do not extend to, say, Buddhism and Islam. “Buddha didn’t create us,” explains Moore. “Muhammad didn’t create us. It’s the God of the Holy Scriptures.”

The absurdity of this claim is just stunning. Moore is contending that when the First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” the document was actually intending to establish a religion. This indicates a type of zealotry willing to call night day and day night.

Stunning indeed.  I need to do some checking, but I think Moore’s position is an even more consistent Christian nationalism than the stuff peddled by David Barton.

Gerson argues that Moore is less theonomist and more Bannonist:

It is easy to imagine Moore sleeplessly considering American decadence, because his version of biblical law is ceaselessly violated. It is worth asking: What is his limiting principle in enforcing the voice of Heaven? The Ten Commandments set aside the Sabbath for rest. Should that be mandated? How about Old Testament recommendations of the death penalty for adulterers, apostates, blasphemers and incorrigible children? Why not enforce the Apostle Paul’s admonition against “foolish talk”? But that would leave Moore speechless.

No, Moore is not really a theonomist. The boundaries of his worldview, it turns out, almost exactly coincide with those of the Breitbart agenda. Moore’s study of divine law has led him, in the end, to the shabby, third-rate gospel of Stephen K. Bannon.

Read the rest here.  I also wonder how much longer we should call Gerson an “evangelical” or a “conservative.”

Gerson: Trump is a “racial demagogue”

buffalo-bills

It is rare when a white evangelical who is politically conservative calls someone a ‘racial demagogue,” but that is actually what Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson has called the President of the United States.  Here is a taste of his piece on the NFL protests this weekend.

Here is a taste:

Stop and consider. This is a sobering historical moment. America has a racial demagogue as president. We play hail to this chief. We stand when he enters the room. We continue to honor an office he so often dishonors. It is appropriate but increasingly difficult.

In this case, demagoguery is likely to be effective, in part because protesters have chosen their method poorly. The American flag is not the racist symbol of a racist country. It is the symbol of a country with ideals far superior to its practice. This is the banner under which the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry — the first African American regiment organized in the Civil War — fought the Confederacy. This is the flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol on July 2, 1964, when the Civil Rights Act was passed. This is the flag that drapes the coffins of the honored dead on their final homeward trip, to a flawed nation still worthy of their sacrifice.

The extraordinary achievement of America’s founders was to elevate a set of ideals that judged (in many cases) their own hypocritical conduct. With the Declaration of Independence, they put a self-destruct mechanism in the edifice of slavery. They designed a system that eventually transcended their own failures of courage. At least in part. With more to go….

Read the rest here.

Maybe it is time to take a knee when Trump enters the room.

Michael Gerson on Dianne Feinstein’s “ignorance of religion itself”

Dianne+Feinstein+Senate+Judiciary+Committee+zsjEg92T4Itl

Washington Post commentator Michael Gerson has joined the list of Dianne Feinstein critics.  In case you are not up to speed, Feinstein appears to have shown anti-Catholic bias in her recent questioning of federal court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.  She may have also violated Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.

We have posted on this case here and here and here and here.

Gerson writes:

Where to start? How about with the fact that Feinstein’s line of questioning was itself a violation of the Constitution? Here is constitutional scholar and Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber: “By prohibiting religious tests, the Constitution makes it impermissible to deny any person a national, state or local office on the basis of their religious convictions or lack thereof. Because religious belief is constitutionally irrelevant to the qualifications for a federal judgeship, the Senate should not interrogate any nominee about those beliefs. I believe, more specifically, that the questions directed to professor Barrett about her faith were not consistent with the principle set forth in the Constitution’s ‘no religious test’ clause.”

How about Feinstein’s indifference to the sordid history of anti-Catholic bias? “Feinstein leapt past 20th-century suspicions of Catholic allegiances,” legal scholar John Inazu told me, “to 19th-century bigotry toward Catholic identity: Who you are as a Catholic is ‘of concern.’ ”

How about Feinstein’s ignorance of religion itself? In defending her animus, she called particular attention to Barrett’s statement that Christians should be “building the kingdom of God.” That would be the kingdom that Jesus insisted is “not of this world,” much to the confusion of 1st-century politicians. It is a description of transformed hearts, not a prescription for theocracy.

Read the entire piece here.

Michael Cromartie

michael-cromartie

I was saddened to learn of the passing of Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington D.C.  Cromartie worked quietly behind the scenes to help evangelicals engage politics and the larger culture with civility and grace. I only met him once–at a teacher-education seminar at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. I remember the kindness he showed me on that day as I talked with him about my work on the Christian America book.

Here is Christianity Today‘s obituary:

Michael Cromartie, a Washington networker who helped rebrand America’s image of Christian political engagement, has died of cancer at age 67.

Cromartie brought Christian thought leaders and secular journalists under the same roof at the Faith Angle Forum, held every year since 1999. Through his work as EPPC vice president, he evoked theologians and philosophers as he advocated for thoughtful engagement in public policy and civil discourse.

In a political arena often dominated by competition, power grabs, and culture war debates, Cromartie stuck out by offering a friendlier, humbler approach. It’s this attitude that his colleagues remember most and cite as his greatest legacy.

“It can’t be said of many people, but everyone Mike touched was influenced for the better,” said Michael Gerson, a Washington Post columnist and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. “His passing leaves a huge gap in American public life and in the lives of his friends.

“Mike was a man of great knowledge who made it accessible to others,” Gerson told CT. “He was a man of great faith, who make it real and attractive to others. And he was a man of exceptional decency, who demonstrated how to live with joy and integrity.”

Journalists and Christian leaders alike shared their tributes.

“Michael Cromartie was different from what most people think of when they think ‘evangelicals and politics.’ Thanks be to God,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who admired his humble character and effective engagement with journalists.

“After his cancer diagnosis, every time I saw Mike he would say, ‘Pray like a Pentecostal.’ We did,” Moore shared with CT. “Mike now is in the presence of the Lord of Pentecost. We will miss him here, and must pray for more like him.”

Read the entire obit here.

Babbling in the Face of Tragedy

c0d8e-gersonOnce again, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson gets it right:

But Trump could offer no context for this latest conflict. No inspiring ideals from the author of the Declaration of Independence, who called Charlottesville home. No healing words from the president who was killed by a white supremacist. By his flat, foolish utterance, Trump proved once again that he has no place in the company of these leaders.

Ultimately this was not merely the failure of rhetoric or context, but of moral judgment. The president could not bring himself initially to directly acknowledge the victims or distinguish between the instigators and the dead. He could not focus on the provocations of the side marching under a Nazi flag. Is this because he did not want to repudiate some of his strongest supporters? This would indicate that Trump views loyalty to himself as mitigation for nearly any crime or prejudice. Or is the president truly convinced of the moral equivalence of the sides in Charlottesville? This is to diagnose an ethical sickness for which there is no cure.

There is no denying that Trump has used dehumanization — refugees are “animals,” Mexican migrants are “rapists,” Muslims are threats — as a political tool. And there is no denying that hateful political rhetoric can give permission for prejudice. “It acts as a psychological lubricant,” says David Livingstone Smith, “dissolving our inhibitions and inflaming destructive passions. As such, it empowers us to perform acts that would, under normal circumstances, be unthinkable.”

If great words can heal and inspire, base words can corrupt. Trump has been delivering the poison of prejudice in small but increasing doses. In Charlottesville, the effect became fully evident. And the president had no intention of decisively repudiating his work.

What do we do with a president who is incapable or unwilling to perform his basic duties? What do we do when he is incapable of outrage at outrageous things? What do we do with a president who provides barely veiled cover for the darkest instincts of the human heart? These questions lead to the dead end of political realism — a hopeless recognition of limited options. But the questions intensify.

Read the entire piece here.

 

The Mark of a Narcissist

This tweet is one of the many signs that Donald Trump is a narcissist.  It shows he is incapable of seeing himself as part of a presidential history that is larger than himself. Not all presidents have been perfect, and others have certainly shown narcissistic tendencies, but many of them have been humbled in some way by the office.  Our best presidents thought about their four or eight years in power with historical continuity in mind.  This required them to respect the integrity of the office and the unofficial moral qualifications that come with it.

Trump spits in the face of such historical continuity.  This is progressive thinking at its worst.  It makes me think of Tocqueville in Democracy of America

Not only does democracy make men forget their ancestors, but also clouds their view of their descendants and isolates them from their contemporaries. Each man is forever thrown back on himself alone, and there is danger that he may be shut up in the solitude of his own heart.

Michael Gerson put it his way: “Trump seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American story he is about to enter.”

And let’s not forget Sam Wineburg in the context of historical thinking:

For the narcissist sees the world–both the past and the present–in his own image.  Mature historical understanding teaches us to do the opposite: to go beyond our own image, to go beyond our brief life, and to go beyond the fleeting moment in human history into which we have been born.  History educates (“leads outward” in the Latin) in the deepest sense.  Of the subjects in the secular curriculum, it is the best at teaching those virtues once reserved for theology–humility in the face of our limited ability to know, and awe in the face of the expanse of history.–Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.

If Wineburg is correct, the antidote to narcissism is “mature historical understanding.” Let’s keep working.

Michael Gerson on Bernie Sanders and Religious Test Oaths

Bernie

Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson recently commented on the Bernie Sanders-Russell Vought controversy.  Here is a taste of his column “Bernie Sanders’s Crusade Against…Believing in Hell?

Here is a taste:

Perhaps Sanders was just meaning to deny a government job to someone whose theology he finds objectionable. Which is not only presumptuous but unconstitutional (see Article VI). The same would be true in the case of a Muslim nominee or anyone else willing to serve the country and uphold the Constitution. A pluralism too weak to protect Christian believers is too weak to protect Muslim believers, and vice versa. And both have the right to think they are right.

A few questions for the senator: Does he really want to begin examining Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians and everyone else for theological beliefs that offend his ideal of liberalism? How strongly does a belief need to be held to be disqualifying for employment? Would he permit a Christian colleague to shoot down a government job seeker if that man or woman believed that the universe is an echoing void and that human beings are merely bags of chemicals?

Read the entire column here.

Michael Gerson Explains the Court Evangelicals

U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. during a campaign event in Sioux City Iowa

REUTERS/Dave Kaup – RTX24V1N

Today in the Washington Post, columnist Michael Gerson explained why Jerry Falwell Jr. and other Court Evangelicals are so attracted to Donald Trump:

  1. Evangelicals do not have a “body of social teaching equivalent, say, to Catholic social doctrine.”  Yes, they oppose abortion, but they do not extend life issues to health care and immigration.
  2. Evangelicalism is “racially and ethnically homogeneous.”  This means that Trump’s white populism is often left “unchallenged.”
  3. Trump offers a “secular version of evangelical eschatology” that fits well with the “evangelical narrative of moral and national decline.”

Gerson concludes:

In the Trump era, evangelicals have gotten a conservative Supreme Court justice for their pains — which is significant. And they have gotten a leader who shows contempt for those who hold them in contempt — which is emotionally satisfying.

The cost? Evangelicals have become loyal to a leader of shockingly low character. They have associated their faith with exclusion and bias. They have become another Washington interest group, striving for advantage rather than seeking the common good. And a movement that should be known for grace is now known for its seething resentments.

Read the entire piece here.

Michael Gerson Pulls No Punches on Fox News

 

Fox NewsAs many of you know, Michael Gerson is a conservative columnist for The Washington Post.  In his most recent column the former George W. Bush speechwriter tells us what he really thinks about Fox News.

Here is a taste:

Reading the accumulated sexual harassment accusations against Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and former network executive Roger Ailes is like a quick dip in a sewage treatment pond. After even a brief exposure, the stench stays with you for days.

If the accusations of dozens of women over two decades are correct — and it is hard to dismiss the women, as the accused have done, as unbalanced, dishonest or disgruntled — then Fox News is the focus of hypocrisy in the modern world. While preaching traditional values, it has operated, according to former Fox anchor Andrea Tantaros, “like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny.”

Read the rest here.

Donald Trump Will Be Bringing a 1,400 Pound Block of Cheese to the White House Next Week

Trump Jackson

Just kidding. I think the kids call that “click bait.”

Everyone seems to writing about Andrew Jackson this week.  Do you think it might have something to do with the fact that Donald Trump visited his grave the other day? 🙂 (And by the way, click here to learn more about the cheese story).

Michael Gerson devoted his most recent column at The Washington Post to Trump’s fascination with the 7th POTUS.

Jamelle Bouie reflects on Jackson and Trump here.

Here is David S. Reynolds at CNN:

When President Donald Trump laid a wreath Wednesday at Andrew Jackson’s grave in Nashville, he paid homage to a president whose mantle as a populist hero he is trying to wear. Does he deserve the honor?

There are, to be sure, similarities between Jackson and Trump.

Trump succeeding Barack Obama resembles Jackson taking over from John Quincy Adams. In both cases, a populist president followed a cerebral one. Adams, like Obama, enjoyed reading books. Adams graduated second in his class at Harvard and read widely on all kinds of subjects, from science to history. He engaged in careful discussion of political issues, as does Obama.
 
Jackson, by contrast, had little time for books — so little, according to contemporary biographer James Parton, that the only book besides the Bible that Jackson read all the way through was “The Vicar of Wakefield,” a novel by Oliver Goldsmith. Trump, likewise, prefers bullet points to books and tweets to discussion.

They also shared a near-obsession with the media. A curator at the Hermitage, Jackson’s home, explained to Trump during his visit that Jackson subscribed to over a dozen newspapers and made notes on what he liked and what he disagreed with. One one editorial he found particularly irksome, Jackson drew a big black X, the curator said. “We know that feeling, we know that feeling,” Trump responded.

Jackson anticipated today’s anti-intellectualism, epitomized by Trump, who has — among other things — rejected the science behind climate change. His science denial was matched by Jackson, who, according to his private secretary Nicholas Trist, reportedly told a family member that he didn’t believe the Earth was round.

But, like Trump, Jackson spoke the language of everyday Americans, who went delirious in his presence. When Jackson was elected to a second term in 1832 by a tremendous margin, a politician of the time said, “My opinion is that he may be President for life if he chooses.”

Read the entire piece here.

Michael Gerson: Christians Are In “Grave Spiritual Danger” Under Trump

trump-liberty

Michael Gerson continues his full-blown frontal assault on Donald Trump from the pages of The Washington Post.

In yesterday’s column Gerson admits that evangelical Christians may have it easier under Trump.  For example, today Trump reinstated a ban on using U.S. funds to promote abortions in foreign countries.  We will see if this appeal to evangelical concerns continues when Trump gets around to appointing a Supreme Court justice to replace the late Antonin Scalia.

But evangelicals, Gerson argues, must take seriously three other important dimensions of their faith and political witness in the age of Trump.

  1. Trump is a nativist who devalues immigrants.  Evangelicals must take him on when he demeans other human beings this way.
  2. Evangelicals need to remember that religious liberty does not only apply to them.  It applies to Muslims as well.  If they refuse to grant the same degree of religious liberty to Muslims they are ultimately shooting themselves in the foot. As Gerson writes, “hypocrisy is a form of self-harm.”  Evangelicals should not fail to show love to their Muslim neighbors, especially since they fear what will happen to them now that Trump is President.
  3. Evangelicals should be cautious about seeking political power.  Gerson writes: “when religion identifies with a political order, it is generally not the political order that suffers most.”

He concludes:

In politics, Christians should not be known primarily for defending their institutional liberty, as important as that is. They should be known for a Christian anthropology that puts the dignity of life — of every life — at the center of the political enterprise. And they should be known for courage in applying this commitment, without prejudice, to every party and ideology.

There are temptations of pride in this prophetic role as well. (Obviously, some of my regular readers might sigh.) It is easy, through an excess of outrage, to become the parody of a prophet. But Christian faith, at its best, points to a transcendent order of justice and hope that stands above politics. So it was in the abolitionist struggle and the civil rights movement. So it needs to be in the Trump era.

Read the entire piece here.

“The Essence of Narcissism”

Those who follow me on Twitter (@johnfea1) may recall that last week I got a bit obsessed with the present-day relevance of Christopher Lasch’s 1979 best-seller The Culture of Narcissism.

It seems that Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson has been having similar thoughts. Here is a taste of his most recent column “Trump’s Attack on John Lewis is the Essence of Narcissism.”

…The problem, however, runs deeper. Trump seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American story he is about to enter. He will lead a nation that accommodated a cruel exception to its founding creed; that bled and nearly died to recover its ideals; and that was only fully redeemed by the courage and moral clarity of the very people it had oppressed. People like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. People like John Lewis.

“Trump seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American story he is about to enter.” Brilliant.  Such a “feel” or “interest” would require some degree of empathy and self-sacrifice.

Somebody needs to issue a new edition of The Culture of Narcissism.  Eric Miller should edit it and write an introduction connecting it to our times.

 

Quote of the Day

Washington Post columnist and evangelical Christian Michael Gerson on Facebook after he learned that Donald Trump threatened to mount a political attack against Ted Cruz’s wife Heidi:

How could anyone, anyone, support this vile man for president after his Twitter threat against Heidi Cruz. If Chris Christie and Jeff Sessions do not renounce Trump, they will be disgraced and discredited for life. And how to explain Jerry Falwell Jr.? He is now actively complicit in the degradation of American culture and politics. Anyone who dismisses this as “Trump being Trump” is hurting our country. This is Trump being a vindictive, odious low life, while seeking the highest office in the land. If Trump were somehow, God forbid, to be elected president, he would immediately defile the office, and surely abuse it.

Another Evangelical Repudiates the Trump Candidacy

First it was Russell Moore, the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, from the pages of The New York Times.  Now Michael Gerson, the evangelical Washington Post columnist (and graduate of Wheaton College), has repudiated Trump’s candidacy.

Here is a taste:

And Trump would make — has already half-made — the GOP into an anti-immigrant party. Much of Trump’s appeal is reactionary. He has tapped into a sense that an older America is being lost. In a recent poll, 62 percent of Republicans reported feeling like “a stranger in their own country.” This is a protest against rapid and disorienting social change, against an increasingly multicultural country, and against the changes of the Obama years.
It does not take much political talent to turn this sense of cultural displacement into anti-immigrant resentment; only a reckless disregard for the moral and political consequences.
As denial in the GOP fades, a question is laid upon the table: Is it possible, and morally permissible, for economic and foreign policy conservatives, and for Republicans motivated by their faith, to share a coalition with the advocates of an increasingly raw and repugnant nativism?

Michael Gerson on What Evangelicals Can Learn From the Pope

Gerson is an evangelical, but he also wants to seek common ground with the message of Pope Francis.  He has hard words for the Christian Right and looks to Francis as a model for evangelical public engagement because the Pope is acting like Jesus and considering the dignity of people.

Francis: “The church is not an NGO, it is a love story.”

And he also compares Pope Francis to Taylor Swift in the first minute or two. Hilarious.

Michael Gerson Blasts Scott Walker for Questioning Obama’s Faith

In his regular Washington Post column, Michael Gerson chides Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for questioning the Christian faith of the President of the United States.  


Gerson, of course, is an evangelical Christian,  a political conservative, a Wheaton College graduate, and a former George W. Bush speechwriter. 


Here is a taste of his column:


Walker’s Baptist upbringing — he is the son of a pastor — does put a particular emphasis on the personal acceptance of Christ. It was another Baptist governor, Jimmy Carter, who elevated the idea of being “born again” into the realm of presidential politics. For evangelicals in general, there is no such thing as a birthright Christian. Faith requires a conscious and highly consequential decision — a choice that some do not make.
But here Obama has been as forthright as anyone could be. “I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian,” he said in a 2008 Christianity Today interview. “I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life. But most importantly, I believe in the example that Jesus set by feeding the hungry and healing the sick and always prioritizing the least of these over the powerful. I didn’t ‘fall out in church’ as they say, but there was a very strong awakening in me of the importance of these issues in my life. I didn’t want to walk alone on this journey. Accepting Jesus Christ in my life has been a powerful guide for my conduct and my values and my ideals.”
Questioning this affirmation involves a serious charge — an accusation of the worst sort of cynicism. And it is simply not the role of a Christian layman to publicly dispute the self-identification of other Christians, especially in a political context. It is a practice that can lead down ugly alleys of sectarianism.

Catholicism and Libertarianism

Is Catholicism compatible with libertarianism?  According to Fordham University theologian Michael Peppard, the “definitive answer” is No.  See Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum.  See John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus.  See Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Vertiate.  See Francis I’s Evangelii Gaudium.

Peppard argues that “it has taken Pope Francis’s singular history, style, and gift for communication to break through the noise of American-style capitalism….” Even “compassionate conservative” and evangelical Michael Gerson of The Washington Post seems convinced.
Here is a taste of Peppard’s post at dotCommonweal:
Now listen to how the architect of “compassionate conservatism” relays Francis’s exhortation:
In “The Joy of the Gospel,” Francis returns to the defining theme of his papacy: the priority of the person. Human beings have an essential value and nature. They can’t be reduced to economic objects or to the sum of their desires. “We do not live better,” he says, “when we flee, hide, refuse to share, stop giving and lock ourselves up in our own comforts. Such a life is nothing less than slow suicide.”
The pope contends that individualism can dull us to the requirements of justice, and that prosperity can be a prison. In making this case, Francis is demonstrating that Christian faith is not an ideology; it stands in judgment of all ideologies, including the ones we justify in the name of freedom.
On the one hand, one might be concerned that Gerson is over-spiritualizing the concrete message of Francis about justice. Is he going to make this into an individualized version that focuses on charity only? To the contrary, he writes:
But in the absence of certain social conditions — the rule of law, equal opportunity, effective public administration — capitalism can result in caste-like inequality.
As my colleague E.J. Dionne Jr. points out, the first pope from the Southern Hemisphere naturally has a more skeptical take on globalization. He empathizes with the marginalized: exploited migrants, bonded laborers, people in sexual slavery. This is the dark side of markets — the sale of life and dignity. And Francis vividly warns against the “globalization of indifference.”
Here Gerson emphasizes the “dark side of markets” and the necessary “social conditions” for capitalism to work virtuously. Most importantly, he goes on to tell the truth about the Catholic position on these matters:
Those surprised that Catholic social thought is incompatible with libertarianism haven’t been paying attention — for decades. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI said the same. And all warned of the danger when a mode of economic exchange becomes a mind-set. Absent a moral commitment to human dignity, justice and compassion, capitalism is conducive to materialism, individualism and selfishness. It is a system that depends on virtues it does not create.

Gerson and Wallis Agree on "The Common Good"

Gerson

Michael Gerson, a Wheaton College graduate, former George W. Bush speechwriter, and Washington Post columnist, is an evangelical Christian of conservative political sympathies.  Jim Wallis is the founder of Sojourners, a progressive evangelical organization and an outspoken leader of the Christian left.  I would imagine that Gerson and Wallis share a common faith in the Christian gospel, but have profoundly different political convictions.

Except on their mutual commitment to “the common good.”  Gerson has several nice things to say about Wallis’s latest book, On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good.

In yesterday’s column Gerson writes:

…But the book has broader value in challenging a variety of shallow modern ideologies. 

Contra libertarianism: The common good is not identical to the triumph of market forces. Constructing it is the shared duty of communities, corporations and government. 

Contra modern liberalism: The common good is not identical to the triumph of autonomy and choice. Humans flourish in the context of binding moral commitments such as marriage and family. And the most vulnerable members of the human community deserve special concern and protection. 

Contra secularism: The common good is not achieved by banishing religion from the public square. Religious institutions perform works of mercy, carry ideals of justice and should be sheltered by a generous interpretation of religious liberty.

Wallis

Wallis’ argument, offered by a man of the left, reaches well beyond the left: In a political era of rights talk and special-interest pleading, a greater emphasis on the common good would make American politics more civil, admirable and humane.

Read the entire column here.