A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Theological Response to the Tragedy in Arizona

I was planning to write a post on this subject at some point this week, but it simply cannot be said better than what Scot McKnight has written. It is so heartening to read a Christian blogger who actually thinks about this stuff theologically instead of simply touting the same talking points we hear on the news. Thanks, Scot!

I quote a portion of the post here. The rest can be accessed from the link below.

We do hear over and over that our political rhetoric is too intense and too inflammatory and "toxic." That's true. Without minimizing the inhumanity of some of this rhetoric, when has political rhetoric not been exaggerated? When I was a kid, because I was listening to exaggerated rhetoric, I thought the world was going to fall apart if a Catholic — his name was John F. Kennedy — became President of this (apparently only Protestant Christian) nation. It didn't.

I've read a bit about this political rhetoric issue, and often the observations begin to look into the Old Testament prophets with their highly passionate, and hardly measured, rhetoric. I read that Thomas Jefferson was certain orthodox faith would be gone with a few years and even offered a few harsh judgments himself. Thomas Paine and (eventual) President Adams had more than their share of verbal fisticuffs. From Michael Moore to Glen Beck — extremism in political rhetoric is part of our country's approach. In fact, the whole world is filled with political rhetoric like this.

But the columnists and opinionators keep saying the same thing: things are getting out of hand, the rhetoric is too ramped up, and this will be our country's undoing.What we need is more even-handed statements. I agree but that's now what caused this tragedy nor is it the solution.

The problem, my friends, is not the rhetoric of the columnists, or the politicians, or the bloggers. Well, yes, it is. There is too much nonsense and inflammatory rhetoric. I am committed to working even harder at civil discourse. But heated political rhetoric is not new — it's the nature of the game and one can see it even in Thomas Paine's classic Common Sense? Political rhetoric is not what caused the tragedy.

The problem is that human beings are cracked. What happened in broad daylight, in broad premeditated daylight, in Tucson was sickening to the stomach and destructive of the human spirit. But that didn't happen because he was a right winger or left winger — and a case has been made for both. And it didn't happen because the Left or the Right had gotten inside that young man's head and spoiled it.

But our approach is to find the source so we can blame it and solve it instead of admitting the reality: our world, my friends, is not perfect; it is broken; we live among cracked people who are free to roam in ways that can harm others; we can't make enough laws to prevent disturbed people from doing despicable things. We can't, we can't, we can't. We can't protect the world from disturbed people unless we change the world dramatically.

The problem is right where Solzhenitsyn said it was: the line between good and evil runs through the heart of each of us. In each of us lies the capacity to become Cain.

___You can read Scot McKnight's entire post, "Looking in the Wrong Place," here.
Also check out the post by Michael Kruse which casts doubt on the media's mythological narrative that violence is increasing in American culture.


Robert Cornwall said...

Although violence itself isn't up, the level of angry/violent rhetoric is up. So, the question is -- when do the words lead to violence.

And I'm not sure that you can equate overall crime rates with politically motivated violence. We do know that after the health care votes there were death threats and vandalized offices -- Rep. Giffords being one of the targets.

As for Scot, while agree to some degree, I'm not sure it takes seriously enough the climate of the day.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Thanks for your comments, Bob.

So then my question to you is what evidence do you have that the angry/violent rhetoric is up? Have you seen any studies that suggest so. (And I mean serious independent studies, not something from left wing hacks like Media Matters.)

Here's my take so you can have it before you respond. I do not think the level of rhetoric is any higher than it has always been. I just think that liberals think it is because over the past two years their party has been in power and they are therefore more sensitive to it. It's like the narrative being spun a while ago that death threats against President Obama were much higher than against Bush or Clinton until the Secret Service came out and said that was not true. One other example-- Chris Matthews was stirring up the pot a few months ago concerning conservatives talking about regime change when it came to Obama and insinuated that this was charged rhetoric that was only used to overthrow governments and that liberals never used such language during Bush's presidency. Then someone published a video of all the liberals during the Bush years talking about regime change, including Matthews himself.

I think both political conservatives and liberals are so stuck in their own narratives that the almost instinctual mode of operation for both sides is to minimize whatever goes against the narrative and maximize whatever gives validity to the narrative.

So my point is not that the level of incendiary rhetoric is up, it's just seems that way when it is used against your party in power.

As far as the death threats during and after the health care vote, that is true and unacceptable, but I want to ask, what's the point? Just Google "death threats against Republicans" and see what pops up.

I'm am not suggesting that one side is worse than the other. What I am suggesting that it has always been bad and it is not worse now unless you have some good study to demonstrate otherwise.

One other point and then I'll be quiet and let you respond (and anyone else who wants to). When these kinds of things happen I can always predict ahead of time how conservatives and liberals will respond. In reference to Arizona, conservatives are saying don't jump to conclusions while liberals are jumping to conclusions. After the Ft. Hood shootings it was the liberals cautioning us not to jump to conclusions while conservative were jumping to conclusions.

This just gets too predictable.

Which is why I like Scot's post; it is insightful precisely because it is not more of the same ole' same ole' we get from both sides of the political aisle.

Michael A. Andrews said...

Last Wednesday as I read the Bible, Jeremiah 19-21, the Scriptures was fitting to the state our Nation is in.
My Church Antioch, was lead to host a Prayer Breakfast at 0830 on Saturday to noon.
The Scripture was 2 Chronicles 7:14,this prayer was broken down into seven parts and in succession each group prayed and they prayed.
During this time, was when the tragedy took place in Tucson, Az.
We call it the heightening of rhetoric on the left and on the right, either way the temperature is boiling, hearts have grown cold, heads have cracked, a Nation that have forsaken God, we need to return because the consequences are grievious.
This Scripture fell right into my lap last Wednesday at 0630, I didn't go searching for it, but feel this message must be preached.
"Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Behold, I am about to bring on this city and all its towns the entire calamity that I have declared against it, because they have stiffened their necks so as not to heed My words"
(Jeremiah 19:15).

Allan R. Bevere said...

"We call it the heightening of rhetoric on the left and on the right, either way the temperature is boiling."

Yes, it indeed is, Michael... and while I do not think it worse now than in earlier days, we Christians do have a role to play in insisting that folks on both sides tone it down.

Michael A. Andrews said...

Well we have started to address it. This morning I read the parable of a man that had two sons, they were asked to go work in the vineyard, the first said "I will Not," but regretted it and went and the other son said "I will Sir," but he did not go Matthew 28: 28-30 paraphrased. Just like the right and the left, it's time to realize that it doesn't matter what you say anymore, it matters what you do.
A lot of talk without action will not get us anywhere, people are getting tired of just talk, it is time to go to work in the vineyard.

Robert Cornwall said...


I don't know that I have data to support this, but when I go to the book store and see the titles of right wing writers, see the vitriol coming from Hannity, Beck, Michael Savage, Limbaugh, and maybe not quite as bad from O'Reilly, it does seem different.

I realize that liberals took their shots (and I use the word advisedly) at Bush, but more often than not it was more a mocking tone.

Perhaps it's not all that different, but the means by which the vitriol spreads has become more pronounced.

My point though is simply this -- let's tone it down. My response to Scot is that it didn't seem as if he took the issue that seriously. It's just my sense, but I could be wrong.

All I can say is that this event has moved me deeply to speak out.

The best place to see my thoughts is in my sermon yesterday.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Bob, thanks for the dialogue. It is appreciated.

Daniel said...

FWIW, even though though there are those who desperately want to paint the conservative movement with the blame for the violence it seems the ideological angle is too messed up to make that point stick. It is really sad to read Christians who have no trouble frequenting the Daily Kos, Huffington Post, Obermann and Matthews essentially parroting their views to the minimization of a biblical perspective.

McKnight is a liberal Christian but at least he is able to separate lunacy from ideological discourse. The replies to McKnight's post are pretty interesting along with links to some informative sites. Kudos to McKnight and others who are able to put their political ideology in perspective.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Daniel, thanks for your thoughts... I think to label Scot as a liberal Christian is a mischaracterization. I find his theology and his politics more complex and sophisticated than to be labeled in such a way.

Daniel said...

Allan, OK, I did not mean it as an insult, simply to denote that he leans more left than right. He has told me so himself.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Fair enough... Daniel... I think what I was simply saying was that both liberals and conservatives would not necessarily embrace Scot as one of their own, particularly his Anabaptist leanings in reference to politics. But Scot certainly doesn't need me to speak for him.

Daniel said...

Allen, I suppose you are right. And there is a difference between theology and politics. Sorta like the "fiscally conservative but socially moderate" distinction that one sees. The diversity makes for good blog discussions.

Gary Lyn said...

Perhaps the kind of angry/violent rhetoric is not that different from the past. And while I have not studies to support this, it seems clear that the sheer volume of rhetoric, angry or otherwise, and availability to that rhetoric, has increased exponentially. The fact that we are having this conversation on-line is an amazing expression of that. I would guess that the great majority of American citizens in the early years had little or no knowledge of the political rhetoric on display. But with so many media and information avenues, the sheer volume of it and people reached...well, I don't know what the impact might be but it must be some. I would even say significant.

Steve North said...

For an example of political rhetoric in an age upon which many look back with the idea political discourse was less incendiary, just Google the U.S. presidential election of 1824. The idea that there could be a return to some political nirvana of civility reminds me of church folks who pine for a long-lost, but only selectively remembered, time of "glory days." Most pastors have encountered this more than once.

Regardless of the level of vitriol in our current (or past) political climate, I believe Scot McKnight's insight to be both correct and helpful. As stated in Michael Andrews' post, the temperature is certainly boiling, yet this is clearly not new. Our propensity to blame - always someone on the other side, of course - is not helpful. I believe that recognizing the universality of both our individual and societal brokenness is required in order to de-escalate rhetoric in this or any time, not to mention in order to have any hope of mitigating our bent toward violence.

Should the political rhetoric of our time be toned down? Of course. The question, for me, is not whether, but how. I believe a Kingdom kind of approach begins with the acknowledgment of our universal brokenness and complicity in the problem, well-articulated by Scot McKnight in the final two paragraphs of his blog post.