Bad Irreligion

Daniel Silliman, in his post “Beyond theodicy, in the days after Sandy Hook,” tries to remind us that people of faith generally responded to the Sandy Hook killings in other ways than by turning the victims into messages from a vengeful God. After collecting statements from Christians other than Mike Huckabee and Bryan Fischer, Silliman offers his own faith-inspired perspective:

Still, the only place to start, the only acceptably human place to start, with any theological response [to] dead children, has to be in mourning. Has to be in solidarity with the suffering. Unlike those who rush to God’s defense, and in doing make claims for the divine rationality of such irrationality, the Godly sense of such violence, most of the ministers wrestling with how to respond to the sort of overwhelming despair that comes with such tragedies did try to start with empathy, whether that was enough or not.

As for the aforementioned Huckabee and Fischer, Silliman links one article each, but my attention was drawn to the one on Huckabee, in part because he is a much more mainstream figure. I think the piece, by Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon, is the kind of thing that’s just about exactly, or anyway symmetrically, as bad for the liberal left as crank theodicy is for the socially conservative right.

Under the headline “Huckabee blames gays for Newtown massacre,” Williams echoes other left-liberal critics in hurling accusations that are not justified by anything Huckabee actually has said, but mainly, it seems, by where and how he said it, and perhaps by a standing suspicion based on what he represents as a social conservative media figure on Fox News. The justification for the headline appears to be a single sentence from a long monologue that Huckabee also posted on his website, and that was originally spoken in response to a prior round of criticism. Appearing among a series of statements about what “we” have done that, in Huckabee’s view, helps to explain the background for events like the Sandy Hook atrocities, the sentence reads as follows: “We diminish and even hold in contempt the natural family of a father and mother creating and then responsibly raising the next generation and then express dismay that kids feel no real connection to their families or even the concept of a family.”

Huckabee nowhere mentions “gays,” either in the above statement or anywhere else, and he has already stated his belief that to blame the Sandy Hook killings or any isolated event on particular social or religious failings would be “ludicrous and simplistic.” He is instead trying to support a criticizable but in itself rather innocuous claim about the “shift” from a “God-centered culture to a self-centered culture,” but for Williams the sentence apparently counts as a classic dog-whistle. She proceeds to several paragraphs on Huckabee’s “grotesque and hateful… appalling smear,” and finally poses a a more general question: “[I]f he’s even remotely correct that we’ve all been so great at ordering God out of American life, what in hell do we have to do to successfully exile Mike Huckabee as well?”

I suppose I may be faulted for being too naively forgiving toward Huckabee, but I find Williams’ attack on him to be both excessive and un-serious. It may also miss a chance to turn his actually expressed sentiments against his politics, something I’d find a lot more interesting than pretending he said all of the crudely awful things a polemicist with a column to fill up might wish he’d said.


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5 comments on “Bad Irreligion

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  1. Please, Please, Please tell me why Evanglicals don’t walk the talk? I have read so much hatred spweed forth from people who claim to be Christian that it is giving that term a bad name. What has happened to the two Golden rules: Love thy neighbor as thyself and Love the Lord, thy God with all thy heart. How can such diatribes be spoken and written by people who believe in Christ? Why do they draw near to God with their mouths but their hearts are far from him?? Please tell me why any Christian would not support a man with integrity, morals, love of country, etc. such as Mitt Romney? Please explain it to me as you would a child because I am sincerely asking and the answer should be pretty simple right?

    • I’m a little confused by the comment, Ayoo. Does your larger point have to do with Romney, or does that statement about Romney have a typo. I had actually thought you were going to lead up to Obama?

      I’m not good at speaking to adults as though they are children. Many of the children I’ve known have liked being taken seriously, especially the toddlers. I’m also not sure to whom you’re attributing the “diatribe” – Fischer? Huckabee? Williams? No group as large as American evangelicals is monolithic. I know evangelical Obama supporters, for example, and they may be put off by the ridicule, suspicion, and outright hatred directed at figures like Huckabee, about whom they may have their own reservations. It’s clear from a lot of commentary and dialogue that I observe that many self-styled seculars don’t understand the first thing about many Christians. When some political Christian figure makes some statement on an issue, like gun control, whose content you might think many leftists and liberals would agree with – for instance that gun violence reflects larger problems in society, i.e., is in some large part a social problem – instead they get a chorus of accusations, often decorated with truly childish assertions regarding religion or belief in God, Sunday school smart-alecky can-God-make-a-rock-he-can’t-pick-up? level stuff put forward as though it’s sophisticated, and as though religious people have never in their lives experienced a doubt, heard a criticism, or thought over a thought.

  2. Well it’s in bad faith, to read Huckabee that way, but then it’s in keeping with calls to declare the NRA and the Tea Party, terrorist organizations,

  3. The real rejoinder, and I’m treading a little theological, and not theodical, is from John 10;10, the thief, (and you know who he is) comes only to steal, kill and destroy, (God is not involved in this matter)

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