Thursday, October 13, 2005

Making Peace with our Christian Heritage: And, a bit on Miers

With the campaign on to sell Harriet Mier's conservative credentials, by appealing to her conversion to evangelicalism, I have been thinking alot about religion. Mind you, I think about the effect of evangelicalism on contemporary politics a lot, but I don't tend to think more generally about what cultural contribution religion, particularly Christianity, has made.

No, I am not going to say "pot-lucks" (although the latent Lutheran in me is tempted to). Nor am I going to say "fellowship," which while important, is something we can certainly find in other communities.

Christianity, I think, is to be credited with the whole concept of justice as fairness or equality. If you think about the brutal conditions in which humans lived for centuries, wherein survival was where most of our energies and resources were devoted, justice was nothing more than a matter of power and might.

Plato takes on this notion of justice in the first book of the Republic. St. Augustine then melds together Christianity with Platonism, and we inherit the natural law tradition. This tradition teaches us that there are transcendent (or for Kant, transcendental) ideals toward which we ought to aim. (Nietzsche, of course, considers this the downfall of everything great about the Greeks. He prefers the raw power of the flesh to the bad conscience of Christianity).

I wanted to remind myself of this important contribution of Christianity, if only to temper my growing distemper over the self-assertion of "Christians" in politics. I often don't like the narrow, Manichean Christian perspective being shoved down our throats. I don't appreciate the pro-Capitalist, anti-poor Christians much either. But, I do value the belief that justice is an ideal worth striving for and not merely the will of the stronger.

I have been hesitant to write an entry on Harriet Miers. I am not sure what I think of this nominee. Several smart bloggers have already written stuff such as Jill at Feministe and Scott at Lawyers, Guns and Money. I am not convinced that she is qualified for the job, and yet, I am also not convinced that she will be hostile to women in the way that the eminently qualified John Roberts threatens to be. I think that most thoughtful feminists can appreciate and make a place for women who have broken barriers for other women and who genuinely support the advancement of women (even if we might disagree on the moral permissibility of abortion).

While it should be clear to anyone who reads my blog that I wholeheartedly support the legalization of abortion, I am not a single issue feminist.

What I want to be able to do is make peace with the evangelicals that are emboldened and flamboyant in all corners of my life. I want to believe that some of what they strive for is justice, wherein we treat all with equal value and we strive for fairness in our social institutions. I fear that many evangelicals are power hungry and fanatical, in the ways that the Catholic crusaders were in their attempt to seize Jerusalem or christianize/kill the heretics.

It is possible, however, to believe that an evangelical Christian takes seriously the work of making the world better.

I don't know if Miers is that sort of gal. When I discussed this with my colleague, we both remarked on how the NYTimes' account of her conversion and her split with the more glitzy wing of her church are ambigious. Her desire to be a good servant and seek a quiet and thoughtful place of worship reflects something quite admirable in her character.

If you read the print version of that Times' article, you see this hauntingly beautiful portrait of her younger self, a woman who seems alive, inviting, curious, and open. Very little of that young woman seems to come through in her current self. She seems harder. Perhaps she became one of the many who seek out evangelicalism as a healing balm to a sense of disorientation. Perhaps her admiration of black-and-white-thinking, inflexible men (e.g. W) is a hint that she strives for more certainty and less exploration at this stage in her life. Perhaps an open and thoughtful quest for what a better world, a heaven on earth--what I think is a fundamental Christian quest -- has been eclipsed by a need for order and raw, brutal strength?

I just don't know.