Hobby horses and “callous theology”
posted at 11:58 am on December 21, 2012 by Ed Morrissey
Earlier this week, I wrote that the season of Advent has a lot to teach us all — but perhaps especially public figures — about humility and grace in the face of fallen human nature. That applies to those leaders in the faith arena that want to use tragedies to climb on hobby horses, too. Peter Wehner rebukes James Dobson for arguing that Newtown demonstrates that “we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God Almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us. I think that’s what’s going on”:
In the New Testament, suffering and death are more often evidence of obedience than disobedience to God. When the Lord told Ananias to go to Straight Street and place his hands on Saul (later Paul) to restore Saul’s sight, the Lord said to Ananias, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” The two most important figures in Christianity – Jesus and St. Paul – died violent deaths (according to Christian tradition, Paul was beheaded by the Romans). So the effort to create a cause-and-effect – in this case, turning your back on God leads to mass shootings and violent death – is itself theologically misguided.
The workings of God in the midst of tragedy cannot be reduced to a simplistic moral mathematics in which sin yields to disaster, in part because America is not a covenant community on the model of ancient Israel. The community of faith is found in every nation. Believers share the blessings and tragedies of their neighbors. Rather than declaring the suffering of their neighbors to be deserved, they should work and pray for the common good.
A second point: Earlier this year we learned from the FBI that violent crime rates in the U.S. are reaching historic lows. Since 1993, for example, the rate of violent victimization has dropped by more than 70 percent. Those findings undercut the Dobson thesis. If America has gotten less godly, why would God’s judgment (which Dobson believes manifests itself in violent crimes) be getting less, not more, severe? On the flip side, the number, rate, and ratio of abortions in America are lower today than in the past. So why would God lash out now, when the abortion rate is going down, rather than before, when it was going up? And how would Dobson explain why the murder rate was higher when same-sex marriage wasn’t even being discussed and more people believed in God? One can see how terribly confused Dobson’s argument is once it’s actually scrutinized.
Third, Mr. Dobson assumes he knows the mind of God and what most grieves, angers and moves His heart. But surely Dobson knows that Jesus mentions divorce more often than he mentions homosexuality (which Paul addresses but Jesus does not). So why is same-sex marriage on Dobson’s list but divorce is left off? And what about the other things that concern God – like indifference to the poor, not caring for the stranger and alien in our midst, a haughty spirit, and riches? When I listen to James Dobson and I read the gospel accounts, two jarringly different portraits emerge.
Is this a case of fallen human nature? Yes. But we’re part of that same fallen nature, too, and we can only dimly see the will of God. Like others on the political stage, Dobson seems to be grasping at this singular tragedy to demand acceptance of his long-held political agenda. Even though many of us agree in large part with his agenda, this is just as obnoxious as gun-control advocates leaping to push their anti-Second Amendment agenda and arguing that their policies would have prevented a madman from murdering children without having any of their facts straight.
That impulse is part of fallen human nature, too, and it would be churlish and arrogant to deny that we all have that impulse from time to time. Some events should prompt us to be more on guard against it, and Newtown is definitely one of them.