Saturday, August 16, 2008

Where does he put it?

Rick Warren, the televangelist who is hosting the faith forum with John McCain and Barack Obama today is being marketed by the press as a new breed of politically active Evangelical who is a less divisive figure than previous televangelists. I don't see it. From my seat (one of the cheap seats, to be sure) the only real difference I can between him and a Swagart or a Robertson is of style. He appears to spend less on haircare products. He presents the same old culture war policies in slightly less confrontational language and that seems to have the pundits swooning.

Earlier this week, over at The Atlantic, Jeffery Goldberg interviewed him.

JG: What are you, as a human, a Christian, and an American, commanded to do when you know a genocide is taking place, a documented genocide?

RW: In the Old Testament, it says that if you have the power to do something good, then you have to do it. You're not to avoid helping somebody in their time of need. Shoot, the Torah says that if you find a cow in a ditch you've got to help it out. Even if it's the enemy's cow, you've got to help it out. We've got this compassion fatigue in America. It's why we have a slow genocide going on in Darfur.

JG: So America has a duty to help.

RW: The answer is, we must do all we can. People say America is not the policeman of the world. We may not be, but the Bible says, if you have been blessed, then you are to care for people who can't care for themselves, you are to speak up for people who can't speak for themselves, and to defend the defenseless.

JG: Some people argue that we're not so great ourselves.

RW: The difference is that there are no death squads in America. The worst you can get here is that you can get blogged, you can get Lewinskied, on the Internet. There is a difference between that and living under oppression, living with fear for your life. That's why whether or not they found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is beside the point. Saddam and his sons were raping the country, literally. And we morally had to do something.

Matt Stoller had something to say about that: "So invading Iraq based on lies is not bearing false witness, as long as the end goal is just?" It is a fair question.

I happen to agree with Warren that, as a powerful and influential country, we have an obligation to try and influence the world to make it a better place, but I find his answer frustratingly incomplete. How do we decide which actions to take in response to which bad players? Over which countries should our leaders fabricate evidence, lie to our own people, villify our allies, assemble a Potemkin alliance, and invade? Over which ones do we use international law and alliances to wage war against? Which ones are treated to sanctions, or to dirty looks? Which ones do we continue to do business with while ignoring their crimes? I could easily make arguments that the people of North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Belarus, and Equatorial Guinea would benefit from having their governments deposed. How do we decide which ones should get which treatment. Warren has no answers. he simply falls in with the Bush loyalists in assuring us that the need for removing and killing Saddam and his sons was strong enough to justify any action by our government.

But his statement raises another question. he says, "Saddam and his sons were raping the country, literally." When bad guys "rap[e] the country, literally," exactly where do they insert their penises? It's important that we know this, because this seems to be the action that determines whether our leaders are justified in bearing false witness and violating their vows.

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