Morning Report, October 1st: The Lost Generation, Church Shootings, Hollywood Defends Itself, Hollywood Defends Polanski, Publishing Barbie, and Death by Live Mic
One Christian’s perspective on the day’s news:
1. LOST GERMANS. I enjoyed this report (“A Lost Generation”) at Christianity Today on the condition of Christendom in what used to be known as East Germany. Amidst the ashes of a formerly religious nation, some are recovering the spark of the missionary impulse that spread outward from Jerusalem 2000 years ago. One passage was particularly interesting:
To many East Germans, the social gospel preached from many Protestant pulpits [after the fall of the Berlin Wall] sounded very much like a successor to Nazi and Soviet propaganda, Siemon-Netto said. It failed to draw people.
Today, Herbst estimates that more than 70 percent of East Germans—compared with 30 percent of West Germans—know virtually nothing about Christianity.
The phrase “social gospel” refers to those forms of Christian preaching that focus on the need to serve the poor, and in particular to combat systemic evils and oppressions. When the social gospel movement flourished was at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, when the effects of industrialization were keenly felt in ghettos and depressions, in racism, classism and sexism. Even today in the most prestigious universities in the United States and Europe, the social gospel is the only gospel thought capable of intellectual defense. Other gospels are routinely dismissed as mythological, imperialistic, oppressive. Yet churches that focus solely on the social gospel rarely seem to flourish.
Why is this? Why would the social gospel, preached in East Germany after the wall fell, fail to draw a crowd? I have a few ideas. First, because people know, deep down, that the teaching and the movement of Christ was more than a political ideology, more than a program for social transformation. Second, because social justice ministries become elaborate exercises in vanity and self-congratulation when they are not accompanied by genuine inward transformation, the kind of transformation that no political program can convey. And third, because the uniqueness of the Christian message is found in the claim that God became flesh in Jesus Christ, and that the fullness of God’s truth and love are conveyed to humankind in Christ alone. In the social gospel, the crucifixion of Christ becomes an act of identification with the outcasts and the poor, and the resurrection becomes meaningless, a metaphor for our transcendence over injustice. Salvation and the promise of eternal life, as these are traditionally understood, are lost.
If we need saving and eternal life, then no program of ethical and political action will ultimately satisfy. The best churches are those that hold together the call to follow Christ into newness of life with the call to imitate Christ in service to the world.
2. BULLETS AND BIBLES. A surge in church shootings. To be sure, there’s no reason for paranoia. Christian churches are still safe places. There is, however, an undercurrent today of animosity toward people whose faith is of a ‘conservative’ stripe. There is animosity within churches, unfortunately, as shown recently in the recordings of a pastor from Phoenix ranting about how he hoped that Obama would die and go to hell. Yet there is also animosity against churches, especially if those churches and their congregants stand in the way of progressive progress. Don’t believe me? Find an article on Sarah Palin at a liberal site, or an article on James Inhofe’s recent statement in regard to climate change that “God’s still up there,” and read the comments.
The media has spent a great deal of time fretting over conservative animosity toward the liberals who are shaping our country today. I don’t disagree with that concern. But will the media also worry about the animosity against religious conservatives?
3. Hollywood celebrities, almost uniformly, have spoken up in defense of Roman Polanski. (Hot Air asks how this compares to their response to Elia Kazan, who testified on communist infiltration of Hollywood, 47 years before he was honored at the Oscars). Harvey Weinstein, responding to criticism of Hollywood for its defense of Roman Polanski, stated that “Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion. We were the people who did the fundraising telethon for the victims of 9/11. We were there for the victims of Katrina and any world catastrophe.”
Wow. This is a really striking thing to say, for a number of reasons. First is simply the pride in saying that Hollywood (the essence of which is Harvey Weinstein) has “the best moral compass.” A person like Harvey probably grows weary of hearing from those who disapprove morally of his films. He probably grows weary of hearing that the heartland has a better sense of values. So, as the ranks of Hollywood celebrities go shoulder to shoulder in defense of a man who drugged and raped a thirteen-year-old girl, he lashes out that Hollywood as “the best moral compass.”
What exactly is that moral compass? It’s compassionate. That’s the second point: Weinstein reduces morality to compassion. Gone are any notion of principles, of self-restraint, of doing what is simply right. That seems pretty typical, doesn’t it? Hollywood, and in particular Weinstein films, is quite happy to throw off any notion of immorality in language, sex, drugs, alcohol and the like, not to mention inward matters such as pride, greed, and lust. The important thing — or, rather, the only thing — is to have compassion.
Notice that Harvey does not say love. Love sacrifices itself in order to do what is right for the beloved. Compassion simply feels the pain of others. Has Harvey sacrificed himself for the victims of 9/11 — really sacrificed, given until it hurt? Has he given up his own comfort, his wealth, his career, his privilege, for the sake of the needy? No. When most people think of morality, they think of persevering in doing what is right when all the pressure is to do the opposite; they think of constraining one’s impulses for the sake of another; they think of throwing oneself in front of a bus to save a person’s life; they think of bringing a homeless person home to have a warm place to stay. Harvey Weinstein thinks of…telethons. Telethons are good things, and I’m sure that Weinstein has given more money to the poor than I have. But unless one gives of oneself, deeply, painfully, then giving one’s money in things like telethons, or giving one’s time in benefit concerts becomes an exercise in self-justification, salving the guilty conscience and buying oneself another year to live morality-free.
4. DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE. Speaking of Roman Polanski, let’s deal with a few of the objections we’re hearing (apart from silly claims by filmmakers themselves that film festivals are de facto international territories):
First, so much time has passed. Yes, it has passed because Polanski has lived as a fugitive from the law; you do not receive credit for a long time eluding the law. Should we really establish a system where those who flee the law long enough get to avoid punishment?
Second, he’s suffered enough already. It’s true that Polanski had a very difficult life prior to the rape, but he has lived in extraordinary wealth and privilege ever since. Besides, we do not excuse a child-abuser simply because he was abused as a child, or a murdered because his parents died in the Holocaust. Unless he lost his sanity, he must be held accountable for his actions, and there is no sign that he’s lost his sanity.
Third, the victim wants the case dropped. The victim wants the case dismissed because she’s tired of having the sordid details of what happened to her brought up again and again in the news for her and for her family to read about. Who is responsible for this? Ultimately, Roman Polanski is responsible. If he had manned up and faced the final sentencing and gone to jail, the victim would not have had this problem. Not only did Roman Polanski betray the trust of a 13-year-old and violate her, but he betrayed her a second time when he denied her the justice of seeing him duly punished.
Fourth, the state of California has spent a lot of money on this, and it’s not necessary. And who is responsible for the amount of money that California has spent? Roman Polanski. If he had attended his sentencing and gone to prison, so much money would not have had to be spent. Not only should he receive whatever is his due, but he should pay the feds and California back for all the costs he has given them.
Fifth, the mother pushed her daughter on him (see Applebaum, Anne), making her essentially responsible for what happened. The mother saw what appeared to be an extraordinary opportunity for her daughter. That does not make her responsible for Samantha’s rape. Only one person is responsible for the rape, and that is Roman Polanski.
Sixth, this was not a case of “rape-rape.” I understand what Whoopi Goldberg was trying to say: that he pleaded down to unlawful sexual intercourse, and never admitted to outright raping her. So we should focus not on what is alleged but on what is confessed. The testimony of the victim is pretty damning, however, and I’ve seen no suggestion that the victim lied. Regardless, Polanski drugged and had sex with a 13-year-old girl. Even if she did give consent, she was too young to give consent, and she was drugged. If there was any miscarriage of justice, it was in the agreement to plead down to unlawful sexual intercourse, basically letting a celebrity get away lightly for a terrible crime.
Seventh, there was a miscarriage of justice. This is alleged but not yet clear. A judge may have consulted with a prosecutor (not involved with the case) who helped to convince him not to accept the terms agreed to between the parties. The prosecutor now says he did no such thing. In any case, a judge has it in his discretion to impose a harsher sentence. And if Polanski was mistreated by the judge, then let him return now and prove his case.
If this had been a priest, would Hollywood be defending him, even if the rape had happened years ago? As one priest observes, “Entertainment, not religion, is the new opiate of the people and we don’t want our supply disturbed.”
Thankfully, many even on the Left, outside of Hollywood, are calling a spade a spade. I’ve enjoyed some of Polanski’s movies. But he deserves to be punished for what he did. The elite (as David Paul Kuhn writes) are not above the law.
5. WAY OVER YON-DER. Michael Yon has done extraordinary work reporting from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Here is his clarifying take on the current stage of the conflict in Afghanistan. The Obama administration continues to wrestle with what to do. Pray wisdom for them.
6. PALIN UNBOUND. Extraordinary demand for Sarah Palin’s book; 48 days before it goes on sale and it’s already topping Dan Brown’s latest nonsense.
7. PELOSI UNPLUGGED. It is difficult not to see just a little hypocrisy here.
8. DEATH BY LIVE MIC. I have this strange fascination with what politicians say into live mics. Previously we had the married Republican in California talking about his sexual escapades with another woman. Now we have a Democrat deputy Governor from Kentucky talking about the Governor. Lifts the curtain, doesn’t it?
9. GRAYSON’S RHETORIC. Congressman Alan Grayson is making a name for himself by using rhetoric that makes Joe Wilson seem like a statesman. Responsible rhetoric is sorely needed on both sides of the aisle.
10. THE CULTIVATION OF A TERRORIST. Time tells us the story of Najibullah Zazi, the man now accused of plotting to explode WMD within the US.
11. OBAMA’S AFGHANISTAN GAMBIT. David Frum gives voice to my suspicions in his article today. I never thought Obama was really eager to fight in Afghanistan, but found it a helpful rhetorical move in the midst of the 2008 campaign. In other words, Obama wanted to show that he was not weak on defense, so he advocated “the good war,” the one that was more clearly connected with the 9/11 attack. After he won the election, he inherited his own rhetoric and all that it bound him to. Probably he thought that he could raise the number of troops there and we would quickly see a turnaround. It has not happened so quickly, however. So what course will Obama take? Having given so much rhetoric about how Afghanistan was the true fight worth fighting, after posturing so much as the one who was not dovish but was hawkish on the right war, can he now turn his back and withdraw? It seems incredibly unlikely, at least to me, that Obama will send 40K more troops, or even 20K. I don’t know the right decision. But I know I will be impressed with Obama’s courage if he decides to send 20K or more.
Whatever else Bush got wrong (and there was much), he got the Surge right — and there were very, very few who thought he was doing the right thing at the time. It took substantial political courage. I will be similarly impressed with Obama, if not moreso, if he chooses to grant McChrystal’s request.
12. TODAY’S MANY-SIDES. Too many interesting articles out there today to pick just two. So I’m going to list some articles from both sides of the political spectrum that I find worth reading today:
George Will (conservative columnist) writes “On Climate, Bad News Will Resume.”
E. J. Dionne (liberal columnist” on why “The Public Option Only Looks Dead.”
Gordon Chang (conservative analyst) on “Sixty Years of Chinese Communism.”
Robert Barro and Charles Redlick (economists) on how “Stimulus Spending Does Not Work.”
Joe Klein (liberal opinion-meister) on “Ahmadinejad: Iran’s Man of Mystery.”