Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Christian in Obama's Court

Pundits have a hard life these days. Especially conservative pundits. While maintaining a hard line against the policies of Barack Obama, they must continue to express faith in the American public, who elected said president.
Conservative politicians must walk an even higher rope over a deeper pit. While criticizing the effect, they must be cautious not to alienate the cause. They must gain the favor of at least a certain portion of those who actually approve of President Obama's job performance.
Gallup puts Obama's 100-day approval rating at 65%. This is deemed "notable in that nearly all major demographic categories of Americans are pleased with his job performance, as evidenced by approval ratings above the majority level."
FOX fixes him at 62%. A Bloomberg poll has him at 68%.
Considering Obama garnered 52.9% of the popular vote, this means that anywhere from 10 to 16% of the folks that cast their vote for someone else didn't really mean it, or at least are being extremely credulous and forgiving, taking into consideration that, if anything, Obama has governed from a point far left of where he campaigned.
To avoid outright double-talk, in appealing to the public, the commentators and congressmen and women have come up with a party line.
The slogan struck upon by conservative pundits and pols is any number of variations on the following: The American people do not like Obama's policies, they just like Obama.
This strikes me at an odd angle. These polls are called "approval ratings", correct? The pollsters are not asking us if we think he has a cute smile or nice pecs, they are asking us if we "approve."
Now, if say half of those 6o something percent say they approve of Obama just because they think he is a nice guy, then, in addition to the other 30 some odd percent of people who do actually approve of his performance, we now have a 30% demographic that could be labeled "people who don't understand what the word 'approval' means", which is a statistic almost as frightening as the number of people who voted for him in the first place.
To be fair, considering the rock on one hand and the hard place on the other, this party line may be the only option. for pols and pundits. It's hard to win votes or enlarge audiences making speeches about how stupid everyone is. Unless you're Michael Savage, who enjoys an audience about half the size of Limbaugh.
Do you remember a blip in the ill-fated campaign of John McCain? (For that matter, do you remember John McCain?)
An advisor and supporter, one former Senator Phil Gramm made the statement that we were in a "mental recession", and that we had become "sort of a nation of whiners."
The truth contained in this statement (note I say, "truth contained in". I don't claim the statement to be 100% accurate) stung. How badly it stung can be illustrated in the fact that no one has ever heard from Gramm subsequent to those remarks, and he is, in fact, missing and presumed dead, or somewhere in Pakistan with OBL.
But I don't have a listening audience or a voter public, so I feel safe in pointing out what I see.
The American people do not, as a rule, take firm ideological positions on anything. The overwhelming majority vote on charisma, and what they think of as "competence." In other words, if the guy can get things done, as inexplicable as it seems, they don't really seem to care what things he is getting done.
So, in returning to this self-contradictory party line, where does that leave a Christian?
You got a better idea?, you may growl.
Maybe pull that money you are donating to whatever political cause you think will change the world and fund a crisis pregnancy center with it.
When you start getting riled about Obama's destructive agenda, pray for someone, starting with Obama.
Think more about converting an acquaintance to Christianity than converting them to conservatism.
The one will eventually follow the other.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

You Can't Teach a Sneetch

The First Church of Evangelicalism, now bearing a list of grievances on it's own front door, now knows what it is to be the establishment, and what it is like to bear the brunt of accusations such as hypocrisy, materialism and superficiality.
And, history being as repetitive as it is, the new Augustinian monks who nailed the updated theses on said door will soon find themselves in the same position.
For some years there has existed a polemic element in the evangelical movement. These at least have the favor of being called original. Eventually they demanded enough attention to be labeled, and post-evangelicalism became the new evangelicalism.
Various elements of the Christian music industry, frustrated pastors and astute seminary graduates began pointing out the emperor's immodesty.
Such independence could not last. The idea took a name, and began to suffer from organizational fatigue.
There is a perfect parallel in the world of rock music. In the early '90's, a rock band from Seattle called Nirvana fronted a new movement in rock music given the euphemism "grunge" rock. This in itself is ironic enough; the frustration with the "establishment" of rock, originally rock n'roll, the ultimate expression of individuality. "Grunge" became synonymous with "alternative" rock, and quickly gained a solid fan base. Sometime after the turn of the century, the worm turned again. The rebel image was fast losing its edge. Alternative accumulated such a raft of artists and such a burgeoning fan base that it was becoming, heaven forbid, commercialized and even successful. What was a rugged individualist rock fan to do? Thankfully, a new upstart birthed in the '90's emerged to become the new alternative. Indie rock, shortened from independent, stormed the college radio stations, and the "outsiders" could breathe easy again.
But there is another storm brewing. More and more and more indie rock bands. Not good, if you are one of those untold billions of music fans who love to refer to their music tastes as "eclectic."
I have heard this word invoked so many times by so many people that I am beginning to suspect fabrication. If everybody's tastes are eclectic, then who is buying all these mainstream pop albums?
At any rate, this should serve to illustrate something terribly absurd and irresistibly recurring.
More people than not like to think of themselves as the "anti-establishment." But, of course, when the percentage of the population who like to think of themselves as such rises above 49%, this becomes a problem.
In 1961, a prescient doctor wrote a parable that sticks in my mind when this concept of new newness arises.
It seems there are these unidentified creatures who live on a beach. Some of these creatures have a green star on their bellies. Some don't. The no-stars want a star. Those with "stars on thars" have more fun, like blondes. Along comes a capitalistic entrepreneur with the unlikely name of McBean. He has a machine which can duplicate the sought after stars quite nicely. The no-stars line up with their money and soon, the original stars are grumping around because they are not so special anymore. McBean, who begins to sound like some forward thinking advertising exec, invents another machine which removes stars, and markets it to the original stars. Soon, no-star becomes the new star, and so on and so forth. This continues until the stars and the no-stars, as if anyone could tell the difference any more, are flat broke and McBean leaves town a wealthy man.
The name of the book, btw, is The Sneetches, and the author went by the pen name, Dr. Seuss.
Post-evangelicals have already placed an undue burden on reform efforts by giving themselves a name.
The instant you form a "movement", your cause begins to stagger under the weight of the human element. After "movement", "organization" is just round the corner, and the wheels of reform grind slower and slower until you become an institution, hopelessly grounded by the trappings of power and politics.