Steven Greydanus isn’t just a great film critic, he’s also a thoughtful blogger. Case in point, “How should we speak of the dead?”, which uses the recent death of Andrew Breitbart as an opportunity to explore how we should talk about our ideological enemies when they shuffle off this mortal coil.
On one level, it seems to me that to take a man’s death as the occasion for attacking his shortcomings as we see them, however serious they may be, is not entirely unlike walking into a wedding reception and starting to complain loudly about the groom’s scofflaw ways or the bride’s shabby treatment of her family.
The fundamental point, I think, is that our first response to the news of death (or any calamity) befalling anyone be one of human solidarity rather than drawing lines and casting stones. This is not to say that there is no place for drawing lines or casting stones at all. Beyond that, it is a matter of human intuition, culture and understanding.
A thought experiment that may or may not be helpful. What if the news had been, not that our ideological enemy had died, but that he had been in a car crash and was now a quadriplegic? What if we heard that he had lost his children in a plane crash?
How would we respond to such news? As an occasion to comment on our differences with his theology and public stances? Or as an occasion for a moment of human (and Christian) solidarity?
Greydanus’ article reminds me of something I read a few years back on Crooks And Liars, a well-known liberal blog. When White House Press Secretary Tony Snow announced that his cancer had returned, the blog — who had been very critical of Snow in the past — put aside political differences for a moment. Nicole Belle wrote:
We give a lot of grief to Tony Snow (and not without cause), but as someone who had a cancer scare of my own, this is the last news any cancer patient wants to hear. And as we sent thoughts and prayers to Elizabeth Edwards, so too, should we send them to Tony Snow and his family, for what they are about to face. This isn’t about partisanship, this is about humanity.
In a move that surprised just about everyone, the old school right-wing Christian evangelist Pat Robertson recently announced support for marijuana legalization. He apparently has made passing comments in previous episodes of The 700 Club, but really “came out of the closet” this week on his show.
“I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol,” Mr. Robertson said in an interview on Wednesday. “I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.”
The comments add even more unclarity to this redefining of the GOP that is going on. We’ve already seen the future generations of the Religious Right vote become the Religious Independent vote, but now we’ve got Pat Robertson trying to sound like Ron Paul. As the race for the GOP nomination continues to be unclear, the Republican party seems more divided than ever before.
Here is an excerpt–one where Carter happens to quote our very own Alan Noble:
To clarify, the term boycott here refers to the act of refusing to use, buy, or deal with a business as an expression of protest or as a means of economic coercion. The concern, for Christians, should be with the coercion part. Simply refusing to participate in an economic transaction with an individual or company is not a boycott. Our choosing not to spend money on lottery tickets is a values-based economic decision, but it is not a form of coercion. As Alan Noble recently said, “Whether it is through votes or dollars, coercing someone to accept our position is nihilistic: it suggests that real change—change of heart and mind—is impossible, or unlikely, and so the safest bet is to make it profitable to adopt our beliefs.”
Forcing someone to adopt our beliefs—whether by violence or economic threat—is a questionable use of our economic power. “Nonviolent resistance,” Tinder writes in his book Political Thinking, “is a way of using power and is thoroughly political.” Tinder’s claim brings to mind the claim of the brilliant Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz: “War is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means.” Nonviolent resistance may sometimes be a legitimate political act. But by mixing in the coercive tactic of boycotts we may be turning away from righteousness toward an unjust form of economic warfare.