Are Conservatives Unable to Deal with the Complexity of American History?

Why Study HistoryThe responses to the 1619 Project sure make it look that way.

Complexity, of course, is one of the 5 Cs of historical thinking.

Over at Slate, Rebecca Onion traces the conservative backlash to The New York Times project back to the “history wars” of the 1990s.  Here is a taste of her piece, “A Brief History of the History Wars“:

The controversial history standards, along with the defeated and revised Enola Gay exhibit, provided a fine set of talking points for Republicans seeking election in 1995. Presidential candidate Bob Dole referenced the Enola Gay exhibit controversy in a speech to the American Legion in September 1995, calling the national history standards an effort “to denigrate America’s story while sanitizing and glorifying other cultures.” Newt Gingrich—a history Ph.D. who has long delighted in claiming the authority of “historian,” despite having left the academy in 1978 after being denied tenure—made hay of the exhibit and the standards in his own efforts to flip the House to the Republicans. “In a postelection interview,” Wallace writes, “Gingrich said that the new Republican leadership intended to improve the country’s moral climate, especially by ‘teaching the truth about American history.’ ” Later, Gingrich told the National Governors Association: “The Enola Gay fight was a fight, in effect, over the reassertion by most Americans that they’re sick and tired of being told by some cultural elite that they ought to be ashamed of their country.”

By 2019, these arguments have become standard conservative fare, and liberals continue to have a hard time countering them. The New York Times Magazine’s use of the term reframe to describe its intention in reconceptualizing the sweep of American history drew particular conservative ire. I think that’s because it sounds a little like “revisionist,” a favorite trigger word for history culture warriors. In 2003, when George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice used it to slam those who criticized the foundations of the war in Iraq, then-president of the American Historical Association James McPherson observed: “Neither Bush nor Rice offered a definition of this phrase, but their body language and tone of voice appeared to suggest that they wanted listeners to understand ‘revisionist history’ to be a consciously falsified interpretation of the past to serve partisan or ideological purposes in the present.”

Read the rest here.

Onion is right about conservative’s resistance to words like “reframing” and “revisionism.”  Yesterday I argued the same thing about The 1619 Project.  I have also said a few things over the years about revisionist history.  This is from Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past:

…the responsibility of the historian is to resurrect the past.  Yet, because we live in the present, far removed from the events of the past, our ability to construct what happened in by-gone eras is limited.  This is why the doing of history requires an act of the imagination.  Sometimes we do not have the sources to provide a complete picture of “what happened” at any given time….

Even the best accounts of the past are open to change based on new evidence or the work of historians who approach a subject with a different lens of interpretation.  In this sense, history is more about competing perceptions of the past than it is about nailing down a definitive account of a specific event or life…While the past never changes, history changes all the time.  Think, for example, about two eyewitness accounts of the same auto accident.  Even if we assume that the drivers involved in the accident believe that they are telling the truth about what happened, it is still likely that the police will receive two very different accounts  of how the accident occurred and two different accounts of who is to blame or who caused the accident.  It is thus up to the police officer in charge, or perhaps a judge, to weigh the evidence and come up with a plausible interpretation of this historical event.  But let’s imagine two weeks after the paperwork is filed and the case is closed, a reliable eyewitness to the accident emerges with new evidence to suggest that the person who the judge held responsible for the accident was actually not at fault.  This new information leads to a new historical narrative of what happened.  History has changed.  This is called revisionism, and it is the lifeblood of the historical profession.

The word revisionism carries a negative connotation in American society because it is usually associated with changing true facts of the past in order to fit some kind of agenda in the present.  But actually, the historian who is called a “revisionist” received a high compliment.  In his book Who Owns History?, Pulitzer Prize-winning history professor Eric Foner recalls a conversation with a Newsweek reporter who asked him, “When did historians stop relating facts and start all this revising of interpretations of the past?”  Foner responded, “Around the time of Thucydides.” (Thucydides is the Greek writer who is often credited with being one of the first historians in the West).  Those who believe “revisionism” is a negative term often misunderstands the way it is used by historians.  Revisionists are not in the business of changing the facts of history.  Any good revisionist interpretation of history will be based on evidence–documents or other artifacts that people in the past left behind.  This type of reconstruction of the past always takes place in community.  We know whether a particular revision of the past is good because it is vetted by a community of historians.  This is called peer review.  When bad history does make it into print, we rely on the community of historians to call this to our attention through reviews.

A few examples might help illustrate what I mean when I say that revisionism is the lifeblood of history.  Without revisionism, our understanding of racial relations in the American South after the Civil War would still be driven by what historians call the “Dunning School.”  William Dunning was an early twentieth-century who suggested that Reconstruction–the attempt to bring civil rights and voting rights to Southern blacks in the wake of the Civil War–was a mistake.  The Northern Republicans who promoted Reconstruction and the various “carpetbaggers” who came to the South to start schools for blacks and work for racial integration destroyed the Southern way of life.  In the end, however, the South did indeed rise again.  In Dunning’s portrayal, Southerners eventually rallied to overthrow this Northern invasion.  They removed blacks from positions of power and established a regime of segregation that would last for much of the twentieth century.  These so-called redeemers of Southern culture are the heroes of the Dunning School, an interpretation of Reconstruction that would inform D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915), one of the most popular, and most racist, motion pictures of the early twentieth century.  In the 1930s the Dunning School was challenged by a group of historians who began to interpret the period of Reconstruction from the perspective of the former slaves . Rather than viewing the blacks in the post-Civil War South as people without power, these revisionist authors provided a much richer understanding of the period that included a place for all historical actors, regardless of skin color or social standing, in the story of this important movement in American history.

Some Thoughts on the Opposition to the 1619 Project

1619

We introduced readers to The New York Times 1619 Project in this post.  It now looks like there are some people who do not like the newspaper’s attempt to observe the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery.  Here are a few examples:

I am not surprised by any of this.  I knew there would be push-back when I read that The New York Times was framing the 1619 Project as an attempt to “frame the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and, placing the consequences of slavery, and the contribution of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.”

I wonder if any of the aforementioned tweeters have read the essays in the 1619 Project.  Most of them probably stopped after they read the words “frame” and “true founding.”

Historians, of course, have been bringing slavery to the center of the American story for a long time–more than half a century.  The 1619 Project reflects this scholarship and takes it to its logical conclusion.

Frankly, the 1619 project is excellent.  Americans need to wrestle with the legacy of slavery.  I hope teachers will use it in their classrooms.

Newt Gingrich is completely wrong when he says that “if you are an African American slavery is at the center of what YOU see as the American experience, but for most Americans, most of the time, there were a lot of other things going on.” Gingrich is an embarrassment.  (I am especially tough on him because he has a Ph.D in history).

So what were some of those “other things going on?”

Edmund Morgan, of course, showed us that American freedom has always been intricately linked to American slavery.  Pennsylvania farmers in the so-called “best poor man’s country in the world,” pursued their “American” dream by supplying grain to feed West Indian slaves in the British sugar colonies.  As historians Edward Baptist, Sven Beckert, and others have taught us, slavery fueled capitalism and American economic growth.  Even those living in the free-soil north benefited from the wealth generated by slave labor.  As Robert Parkinson argues in his recent book, the racial fears of American patriots had something to do with the way they understood the Revolution.  In Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, I trace the history of race and the legacy of slavery in shaping an evangelical approach to political life.  And we could go on.

But there is plenty of room at the “center” of the American story for native Americans, women, working people, white people, and many others.  We can’t forget, for example, that Western ideas, as articulated in some of our founding documents and by people of Christian faith, provided the impetus for the abolition of slavery.

History is messy and complex.  We should make every effort to remember our past.  And now is the time to remember the significance of 1619 and the central role that slavery and racism has played in the making of America.

Is David Brooks the Last American Whig?

Brooks speaking

No newspaper, magazine, or website is credible these days until it publishes a “David Brooks spiritual pilgrimage” article. 🙂

Most of these pieces are reviews of his latest book The Second Mountain.  Check out examples of this genre at The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Columbia Journalism Review, Religion News Service, Christianity Today, Times of Israel, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and The Christian Century.

The latest Brooks spiritual pilgrimage piece can be found at America magazine where writer Bill McGarvey explores The New York Times columnist’s interest in the writings of St. Augustine and Dorothy Day.

What struck me most about McGarvey’s piece was a paragraph in which writer E.J. Dionne calls Brooks “the last living, surviving American Whig:

“David is the last living, surviving American Whig,” says E. J. Dionne Jr., a Washington Post columnist and Brooks’s frequent debate partner on NPR. In the mid-19th century, the Whig Party—typified by Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln—advocated for “old national greatness conservatism…internal improvements, use the government to build the country and its competitive capacity. But there was also a very strong moral and religious strain to the Whigs,” he says. “Even in David’s most conservative period, he was always drawn to the communitarian strains of conservatism.”

Read the entire piece here.

If you want to learn more about the Whig Party, start with Daniel Walker Howe’s book What Hath God Wrought or Allen Guelzo’s Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer PresidentIf you want to go even deeper, check out Howe’s The Political Culture of the American Whigs or Michael Holt’s The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party.

*The New York Times* Introduces the “1619 Project”

1619

Here is what it’s all about:

The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.

Learn more here.

Alabama Governor Signs Anti-Abortion Bill One Day and Plans to Execute Someone on the Next Day

Alabama Governor

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey

Today I had a long conversation with New York Times reporter Adeel Hassan.  He was trying to figure out how Alabama could execute a convicted murderer on the day after the state passed a very extreme abortion law.  Here is his report:

A scholar of evangelical Christianity said that most evangelicals in Alabama probably feel no tension between support for the death penalty and opposition to abortion.

“Most conservative evangelicals wouldn’t think twice about executing someone and then going to a pro-life march the next day,” said John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College. He said their views have often been shaped by the political battles that have raged over social issues in recent decades, so that, for example, they also tend to oppose spending tax money on government programs that might reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

Progressive evangelicals see the issues differently, Mr. Fea said, but “they are a minority in the state of Alabama and most of the evangelical South.”

Read the entire piece here.

Some Historical Perspective on the Trump Evangelicals

I am happy to contribute to this video posted today at The New York Times.

Retro Report spent over an hour interviewing me at Messiah College back in August.  I was apparently not as engaging as Cal Thomas, Jerry Falwell Jr. and Randall Balmer since I only got a quick soundbite.  (They even made me go home and change my shirt because it had too many stripes and did not look good on the camera!)

Whatever the case, it is a nice piece:

https://www.nytimes.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000006182547

Did Jon Huntsman Write the Anonymous Op-Ed?

db6bf-huntsman-jon2

It is certainly possible.  William Saleton makes the case at Slate:

Who wrote the anonymous op-ed against President Trump in Wednesday’s New York Times? All we know for certain is what the Times disclosed: that it’s a “senior official in the Trump administration.” But the most likely author, based on the op-ed’s content and style, is the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman.

Huntsman is an obvious suspect for several reasons. The article’s themes are classic Huntsman: effusive about conservative policies, blunt about low character. In 2016, he made the same points for and against Trump. The topic that gets the most space and detail in the piece is Huntsman’s current area, Russia. (As Slate’s Fred Kaplan points out, Trump has been circumventing and undermining Huntsman.) The prose, as in Huntsman’s speeches and interviews, is flamboyantly erudite. The tone, like Huntsman’s, is pious. And the article’s stated motive—“Americans should know that there are adults in the room”—matches a letter that Huntsman wrote to the Salt Lake Tribune in July. In the letter, Huntsman, responding to a columnist who thought the ambassador should resign rather than keep working for Trump, explained that public servants such as himself were dutifully attending to the nation’s business.

Read the rest here.

Who Has Denied Writing the Anti-Trump Op-Ed in *The New York Times*?

Times Op-Ed

Mike Pence, James Mattis, Mike Pompeo, Jeff Sessions, Steve Mnuchin, Dan Coats, Ben Carson, Nikki Haley, Mick Mulvaney, Rick Perry, Wilbur Ross, Betsy DeVos, and John Bolton have all denied it.

Of course this means nothing.  All of these cabinet members and senior officials are complicit with a presidential administration that lies to the American people multiple times a day.  Should we really believe them now?

Peter Beinart on the “Real Authors” of *The New York Times* Op-Ed

Congress

Writing at The Atlantic, Beinart argues that Republicans in Congress are the “real authors of the anonymous New York Times op-ed.  Here is a taste:

In theory, in America’s constitutional system, the different branches of the federal government check one another. When a presidents acts in corrupt, authoritarian, or reckless ways, the legislative branch holds hearings, blocks his agenda, refuses to confirm his nominees, even impeaches him. That’s how America’s government is supposed to work. But it no longer does. Instead, for the last year and a half, congressional Republicans have acted, for the most part, as Trump’s agents. Not only have they refused to seriously investigate or limit him, they have assaulted those within the federal bureaucracy—the justice department and the FBI in particular—who have.

So in the absence of this public, constitutional system of checks and balances, a secret, unauthorized system has emerged to replace it. Because Congress won’t check the president, the president’s own appointees are doing so instead. 

Read the rest here.

The 25th Amendment

 

Ford

Yesterday’s anonymous op-ed in The New York Times noted that some of Trump’s senior staff have talked about the 25th Amendment in the context of his inept presidency.

If you are unfamiliar with the 25th Amendment, I recommend this piece at National Public Radio.

Here is the text of the amendment:

Section 1.

In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.

Section 2.

Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

Section 3.

Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.

Section 4.

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

The Morning Headlines are Back!

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The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog intern Devon Hearn is back in the saddle after spending the summer in Kenya.  This means that our “Morning Headlines” feature is also back.  Check in every morning to see daily headlines from The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Wall Street Journal, the BBC, CNN, and Fox News.  And for those who are local, we also post the daily headline from The Harrisburg Patriot News.

We have found that teachers have found these headlines useful not only for getting up to speed with current events, but also for teaching their students how to detect bias in various news sources.

“I am Part of the Resistance”

trump

By this point, many of you have seen the anonymous New York Times op-ed written by  a senior official in the Trump White House.

Read it here.

I don’t know what to make of this piece.  On the surface, it seems to square with everything we have heard about the chaos of the Trump White House.  But what is the motive?  Does the author want to paint Trump as a sympathetic character whose administration is being undermined by spies, leakers and other potential “deep staters”?  Does the author want to assure Americans that there are rational people trying to hold the republic together?  Is this an attempt to get Trump to do something irrational so that he can be removed from office?

I don’t know what qualifies as a “senior official” in the Trump administration, but apparently the editors of The New York Times thought this person was important enough to protect her or his anonymity.

Over at CNN, political reporter Chris Cilizza tries to guess who is behind the op-ed.  Some of these suggestions are outrageous (Kellyanne Conway?  Mike Pence? Javanka?), but anything is possible in this administration.

Now Trump is demanding that The New York Times reveal the identity of this person.

Sorry Donald, it doesn’t work that way.  We have something in the United States called the First Amendment.

*The New York Times* on Jeff Sessions and Romans 13

jeff-sessions

It’s been a crazy day.  Last night I was wrapping-up some writing on the Southern Baptist Convention, trying to finish some end-of- the-academic-year paperwork, scheduling some blog posts, and preparing for the Believe Me book tour.

Then Jeff Sessions referenced Romans 13 and The Washington Post asked me for some historical context. I have been answering questions all day.

Here is my contribution to Julia Jacobs’s piece at The New York Times:

Referring to the Bible in political speeches is nothing new, said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush did so liberally, for example. But using Scripture as an enforcement tool for a particular federal policy is more concerning, Dr. Fea said.

“The founding fathers created the criminal justice system to be a largely secular criminal justice system,” he said. “They didn’t have in mind punishing criminals and condemning them using Bible verses.”

And the passage he chose drew considerable criticism. Historians and theologians took to the internet to point out that Romans 13 has been used to defend antiquated or outright contemptible points of view.

Before the nation’s founding, it was frequently used by Loyalists to oppose the American Revolution, Dr. Fea said. And in the 19th century, pro-slavery Southerners often cited the chapter’s opening verses to defend slavery — in particular, adherence to the Fugitive Slave Act, which required the seizure and return of runaway slaves.

Read the entire piece here.

The “Court Evangelicals” in *The New York Times*

Trump court evangelicals

Check out Laurie Goodstein‘s piece on anti-Trump evangelicals at The New York Times.  The article focuses on Shane Claiborne and the recent Red-Letter Revival in Lynchburg, but it also mentions our phrase “court evangelicals” and links to The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog.

Here is a taste:

The revival last month was the most energetic of several recent attempts by Christians in various camps to confront what they see as Mr. Trump’s “court evangelicals” selling out the faith. The critics have written columns, and a book called “Still Evangelical?” They convened a closed-door summit last month at Wheaton College. A number of bereaved, eminent elders plan a procession to the White House soon to hand over their manifesto, “Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis.”

Read the entire piece here.

Overlooked

Ida_B._Wells_Barnett

The New York Times is publishing obituaries for important people in history who never got an obituary published in the Times at the time of their deaths.  Learn more here.

The initial installment of the “Overlooked” series includes obituaries of fifteen women:  Ida B. Wells, Qui Jin, Mary Ewing Outerbridge, Diane Arbus, Marsha Johnson, Sylvia Plath, Henrietta Lacks, Madhubala, Emily Warren Roebling, Nella Larsen, Ada Lovelace, Margaret Abbott, Belkis Ayon, Charlotte Bronte, and Lillias Campbell Davidson.

Here is a taste of the Ida B. Wells obit:

Wells was born into slavery in Holly Springs, Miss., in 1862, less than a year before Emancipation. She grew up during Reconstruction, the period when black people, including her father, were able to vote, ushering black representatives into state legislatures across the South. One of eight siblings, she often tagged along to Bible school on her mother’s hip.

In 1878, her parents both died of yellow fever, along with one of her brothers; and at 16, she took on caring for the rest of her siblings. She supported them by working as a teacher after dropping out of high school and lying about her age. She finished her own education at night and on weekends.

Around the same time, the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was largely nullified by the Supreme Court, reversing many of the advancements of Reconstruction. The anti-black sentiment that grew around her was ultimately codified into Jim Crow.

“It felt like a dramatic whiplash,” said Troy Duster, Wells’s grandson, who is a sociology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and New York University. “She cuts her teeth politically in this time of justice, justice, justice, and then injustice.”

Observing the changes around her, Wells decided to become a journalist during what was a golden era for black writers and editors. Her goal was to write about black people for black people, in a way that was accessible to those who, like her, were born the property of white owners and had much to defend.

Her articles were often reprinted abroad, as well as in the more than 200 black weeklies then in circulation in the United States.

Read the rest here.

How Major Media Outlets Covered Billy Graham’s Death

Duisburg, Veranstaltung mit Billy Graham

Via Wikipedia commons

I haven’t watched much television today, but I have noticed that every time I tuned into CNN on my computer I found very little coverage about the death of Billy Graham, arguably the most famous person in the 20th-century world.  Granted, there are issues related to guns and school shootings in Florida and beyond.  I thus fully understand why Graham took a back seat on my preferred cable news station.

So I decided to cruise around the Internet a bit.  On CNN’s website, I needed to scroll down a bit before I found a link to Graham’s death.  The same was true for MSNBC, Fox News, and The Washington Post.

Graham’s death is front and center at the websites of the BBC, The New York TimesLos Angeles TimesUSA TodayThe Wall Street Journal.  On the BBC site I was able to click on links to two articles on Graham without having to scroll down.

The Last Great Newspaper War?

PostCheck out James Warren’s Vanity Fair piece, “Is The New York Times Vs. The Washington Post Vs. Trump The Last Great Great Newspaper War?

The answer to Warren’s question just might be “yes.”  Here is a taste:

The financial models at the two newspapers are different, and so is what they are selling. The Post, whose coverage is Washington-driven, can never hope to match the Times’s range across culture, business, and international affairs, and the Times, whose total revenues are less today than they were a dozen years ago, cannot hope to match the deep pockets of Jeff Bezos, who sometimes earns more in a few hours, if Amazon stock goes up, than he paid for his newspaper to begin with. (Bezos made $2.5 billion—10 times what he had paid for the Post—in the two hours after Amazon’s takeover of Whole Foods was announced.) The Post is more advanced technologically than the Times and seems to recognize that the true competition, as publisher Fred Ryan Jr. put it, is “anything that engages you in your non-sleeping hours.” But both papers are ultimately built on people paying for quality.

You can argue that Trump has bought both newspapers some time—which makes you wonder if their success will continue once Trump is no longer an irresistible and unsettling object of scrutiny. Will even the world’s second-richest man lose his passion somewhere down the road? Will the fifth generation of a newspaper family be done in by what is, essentially, their one and only revenue stream? The leaders of both newspapers say they will continue to double down on content. The Times is now available in Spanish and Mandarin, with big plans in places as diverse as Mexico and Canada, Hong Kong and Australia. On the margins it hopes to generate additional revenue with gimmicky ventures such as around-the-world trips by private jet (for $135,000 a person) in the company of Times journalists.

TimesBut an existential threat is already apparent: many Americans won’t believe a thing either newspaper says, no matter how great the accuracy, attention to detail, or fair-mindedness. The sharp uptick in Times and Post readership may obscure a larger cultural change. The unequivocal evidence of Russian involvement in the presidential campaign exemplifies the state of play. In June, a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll showed that more than half of those surveyed believe that the Russians interfered in the presidential election, with about one-third believing it influenced the outcome, and more Americans buying Comey’s explanation of his dismissal than Trump’s. But half think the press has been overly dramatic and irresponsible in its Russia-related coverage, with two-thirds of Republicans simply not believing that the Russians interfered at all, despite evidence assessed by four different U.S. intelligence services. Dig deeper and you find that, while 89 percent of Democrats believe in the importance of the media’s “watchdog” role, only 42 percent of Republicans do, according to the Pew Research Center. It is the widest gap that Pew has ever seen. What’s astonishing is that in early 2016, according to Pew, Democrats and Republicans essentially agreed on the role of the press, with Republicans (77 percent) actually outpacing Democrats (74 percent) in their support.

Read the entire piece here.

 

Nicholas Kristof to Tim Keller: “Am I a Christian?”

22cb0-kristof-new-184Today Nicholas Kristof devoted his New York Times column to a conversation with Tim Keller, prominent evangelical minister and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.  The title of the column is “Pastor, Am I a Christian?

Kristof is not the first New York Times columnist who seems to be on a spiritual journey that involved a consideration of Christianity. His colleague David Brooks has also talked openly about such a journey.

Kristof’s conversation with Keller is one of the most openly religious pieces I have ever read in The New York Times.  

Here is a taste:

Kristof: Tim, people sometimes say that the answer is faith. But, as a journalist, I’ve found skepticism useful. If I hear something that sounds superstitious, I want eyewitnesses and evidence. That’s the attitude we take toward Islam and Hinduism and Taoism, so why suspend skepticism in our own faith tradition?

Keller:  I agree. We should require evidence and good reasoning, and we should not write off other religions as ‘superstitious’ and then fail to question our more familiar Jewish or Christian faith tradition.

But I don’t want to contrast faith with skepticism so sharply that they are seen to be opposites. They aren’t. I think we all base our lives on both reason and faith. For example, my faith is to some degree based on reasoning that the existence of God makes the most sense of what we see in nature, history and experience. Thomas Nagel recently wrote that the thoroughly materialistic view of nature can’t account for human consciousness, cognition and moral values. That’s part of the reasoning behind my faith. So my faith is based on logic and argument.

In the end, however, no one can demonstrably prove the primary things human beings base their lives on, whether we are talking about the existence of God or the importance of human rights and equality. Nietzsche argued that the humanistic values of most secular people, such as the importance of the individual, human rights and responsibility for the poor, have no place in a completely materialistic universe. He even accused people holding humanistic values as being “covert Christians” because it required a leap of faith to hold to them. We must all live by faith.

Kristof: I’ll grudgingly concede your point: My belief in human rights and morality may be more about faith than logic. But is it really analogous to believe in things that seem consistent with science and modernity, like human rights, and those that seem inconsistent, like a virgin birth or resurrection?

Keller: I don’t see why faith should be seen as inconsistent with science. There is nothing illogical about miracles if a Creator God exists. If a God exists who is big enough to create the universe in all its complexity and vastness, why should a mere miracle be such a mental stretch? To prove that miracles could not happen, you would have to know beyond a doubt that God does not exist. But that is not something anyone can prove.

Science must always assume that an effect has a repeatable, natural cause. That is its methodology. Imagine, then, for the sake of argument that a miracle actually occurred. Science would have no way to confirm a nonrepeatable, supernatural cause. Alvin Plantinga argued that to say that there must be a scientific cause for any apparently miraculous phenomenon is like insisting that your lost keys must be under the streetlight because that’s the only place you can see.

Read the entire column here.

Quote of the Day

From the editorial board of The New York Times:

The Carrier deal stands as an interesting argument against longstanding Republican economic orthodoxy.  In making the deal, Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence have embraced the idea that government does indeed have a role to play in the free market.  They intervened, and as a result, 800 people will keep their jobs.  If they applied the same interventionist approach to other labor issues–raising the minimum wage and expanding overtime pay come to mind–millions of working people might actually stand a chance.

Voices from a Trump Rally

A couple of things about this New York Times video:

  1. It contains a lot vulgarity.  If this kind of language bothers you please do not watch it.
  2. People interested in thinking critically about what they are about to see should raise a few questions.  Do the people in this video portray the majority of Trump supporters or the general culture of the campaign?  How was this source edited? What is the relationship between the people shown in the video and the actual rally?(What is the context?)