Sunday, July 08, 2007

Talk radio

In the post below, I quoted Jesus, which prompted a commenter to accuse me of hypocrisy for quoting the founder of a religion I dislike. When I asked the commenter to cite evidence that I dislike Christianity, he replied, "You don't seem to like rightwing talk radio, which is full of Christian morality and teaching."

Even by blogging standards, that is a remarkably weak argument. But it raises a larger question: How much Christian morality and teaching can one find on right-wing talk radio? My response: not much.

I'm going to make a few broad generalizations here, so bear with me. Specific examples available upon request. While talk radio generally supports some Christian notions, such as chastity, it badly abuses others. Here's the moral stance I find on much right-wing talk radio:

1. Moral relativism. No conservative should be punished if any Democrat has ever committed an equally egregious act. If Bill Clinton pardons a political buddy, Scooter Libby must go free. If Giuliani has three marriages, Robert Byrd was in the Ku Klux Klan. If a Republican congressman makes untoward advances on a page, well, what about Chappaquiddick?

2. Hard-heartedness. Jesus commanded us to forgive one another. Byrd has apologized for decades for his KKK membership, but Sean Hannity, to cite an example, never misses a chance to label him "Robert 'KKK' Byrd." And what about Chappaquiddick?

3. Greed. When the rich man asked Jesus how to be saved, Jesus told him to go and sell all that he had and give it to the poor. That idea does not appear on talk radio. Even asking for a few tax dollars to help the poor is questionable in talk-radio world.

4. Afflicting the comfortless. Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter accused World Trade Center widows of enjoying the deaths of their husbands, a clearcut violation of the command to comfort widows and orphans. Oddly enough, she did it in a book whose thesis appears to be that God likes conservatives better than liberals. That went too far even for some talk-radio hosts, but Hannity defended her. After all, Chappaquiddick was worse.

5. Violence. As John Prine said, Jesus don't like killin', no matter what the reasons for. But talk radio leads the push for institutionalized violence of all sorts, from waging war to abusing prisoners. Would Jesus have attacked Iraq? Interesting question, but don't even try to argue on talk radio that he wouldn't have.

Should I go on? No, time to get back to work.


Anon. in Bozeman said...

"How much Christian morality and teaching can one find on right-wing talk radio?"

You can start with them defending the Ten Commandments. Whether they fail to follow those commandments themselves, or encourage others to break them, they do so at their own peril.

However, hypocrisy is not the issue. What is germane to this discussion is that you will rarely hear one of those people promoting abortion, homosexuality, pornography and other behavior declared sinful by Christian teaching, all of which behavior the left considers to be acceptable.

David said...

Abortion, homosexuality, pornography. Did Jesus ever say a word about any of those things?

Jay Stevens said...

Great post on The Mahablog essentially arguing that Americans aren't Christian, they just like and, in effect, project their beliefs onto Christ.

Of course, if you actually read the New Testament, you'll see verse after verse urging believers to "love their neighbor," eschew material wealth, and forgo Earthly vanities, like greed, patriotism, and ego. Or usury -- money-lending -- which would make all those credit cards

Abortion, pornography, et al. really have little to do with what Christ teaches, but allows folks to concentrate their righteous indignation on people who historically have not been able to fight back: women and gays.

And right-wing radio has nothing to do with religion -- even when it's talking about religion. It's all about politics.

Chuck Rightmire said...

Actually, from what little I've heard, they very seldom talk about any of those issues, including the 10 commandments. What they do is mention them and then attack people who support them, much as anonymous above has done, without talking about the issue itself. It's called name calling and it indicates the name-calling side has lost its argument.

Dave Rye said...

You have some valid points, David, but I think you're missing the major one.

A basic liberal assumption is that human nature is improvable, if we only can get the proper social and economic conditions as mandated by government. Conservatives contend (correctly, in my admittedly subjective opinion) that human nature will always be "fallen," regardless of improvements in technology or in the specifics of government policies.

Liberals therefore seek to "understand" behavior which is considered socially unacceptable to mainstream society as well as, judging from the Old Testament, to God Himself. Conservatives seek to protect themselves and society in general from behavior they consider aberrant, and which they believe originates from the fallen human condition. In fact, they would argue that human nature inevitably brings about such things as attempts at welfare fraud----that is, taking immoral and illegal advantage of the good intentions of others----and that people such as pornographers and abortion "providers" will always have a market because of their own greed and the fallenness of their customers.

In short, we conservatives believe that the primary function of government is to protect people from other people. Liberals believe that the primary function of government is to make our lives "better," whatever that might mean. (Generally it includes a redistribution of wealth, since it isn't "fair" for some people to be born smarter, wealthier, more gifted or more hard-working than others.)

The primary Christian belief is that Jesus came to earth, and took our collective place on the cross, to redeem humans from the fallenness which afflicts every one of us. Conservatives generally accept that premise, and liberals, I think, tend to reject it.

As for the teachings of Jesus on specific issues to which you referred, He is referring to the desired behavior of individuals, not to government policy. Being kind and generous to the poor, for example, is a wonderful thing for each of us to do voluntarily. (And, again given the fallen human condition, how long does it take before the recipients of such largesse start to consider getting it to be a "right?") But if doing so emanates from taxes, which we have no choice about paying, then it becomes coercive rather than voluntary, and therefore mandatory rather than virtuous.

I tend to interpret the "Render unto Caesar..." statement of Jesus as meaning "Those who get all worked up about the policies of human governments are ignoring what's REALLY important."

So despite your interesting counter-examples, in this nation Republicans have increasingly become the closest thing available to "the party of God," and the Democrats have increasingly become the spokespersons for a strictly secular point of view (literally a case of "the Devil is in the details").

Liberals, of course, delight in exposing the "hypocrisy" on those inevitable occasions when conservatives prove that the fallen human condition includes conservatives themselves.

David said...

Good points. Remember, though, that I am not talking about Republicans vs. Democrats. I'm talking about talk-radio hosts vs. Christianity. I think talk radio tends to present a warped version of conservative values for commercial purposes.

I also think that Jesus taught the liberal value that human nature is improvable. It sounds old hat now, but his idea that salvation can be obtained by anyone who lives a good life was revolutionary (as the Romans immediately understood). No longer was it necessary to be one of the chosen people to achieve earthly and eternal success.

Anonymous said...

Dave Rye, you have led with your chin. (1) convervatives contend that human nature will always be "fallen,". . . . Fair enough, but then why does the Republican party claim to be the party of "family values"? Since it, like any group or association of people, is made up of people (i.e. "fallens") one has a hard time understanding why the Republican "fallens" are more family value oriented "fallens" then any other group of "fallens."

(2) Since the Republicans like to identify themselves as conservatives and thus, according to you, want to protect "society in general from behavior they consider aberrant" then why didn't/don't the Republicans protect us from people like Cheney's daughter who is a lesbian, criminal "Duke" Cunningham, criminal Bob Ney, Tom Delay, adulterer Bob Livingston, adulterer Newt Gingrich, adulterer Burton (the former Indiana Senator with an illegitimate son), the former Fla rep who made advances toward pages (geez, my memory is failing he as to his name), convicted criminal "Scooter" Libby, adulterer Don Sherwood (who paid hush money to his mistress), and even those at the local level like Rep Scott Boggio who drinks and drives and Pat Davison who steals millions of dollars?

(3) You state that "we conservatives believe that the primary function of government is to protect people from other people." Then where is the Republican outrage over George's commutation of Libby's jail term? [I need to add here that the conservatives used to claim that they wanted to protect people from government, but I agree that has "gone out the window" with the passage of the Patriot Act, and Military Commissions Act--both of which have given government great leeway in infringing on our rights. Of course, they came in under a Republican adminstration, so the R's can't whine about those to laws. As an aside, any D who also voted for these laws also deserves to be soundly and roundly criticized.]

Chuck Rightmire said...

And, Dave, I'd like to add that people are not "fallen" nor are they "elevated." What they are is people with all the warts and roses that people carry around with them. There never was an Eden for the human race; we've always had to work hard and dicker and deal with each other and we are what we are. I'm not an idealist about the human race. Someone in a position of power once told me that the human race shouldn't put much emphasis on going into space until we solve all the problems on earth. That makes about as much sense as asking if we cook these eggs will the chicken make more? If we solve the current problems on earth, the solutions will create farther problems. We got rid of lords and ladies to create CEOs and Dick Cheneys. We solve health problems and now we have limited resources, particularly clean water, for the vast advance in population. We produced goods to give us a higher level of living and now we are facing a massive melt down in the frozen wastelands of the earth that will cause major disruptions in human life in the next century.

A true conservative says he wants to save the old things and look very carefully at changes. But that only holds as long as he can't make money on the changes. Now he has created a world in which changes are piled on changes in such a way that the world no longer resembles the world in which I was reared. It has changed so much, from becoming flat to becoming easier in some ways, that my grandparents couldn't recognize it. A man born in 1900 saw the horse and buggy go away and rode in jets to Hawaii and the East Coast. What has this meant to our values. As Barbara Tuchman wrote about the end of the 100 years war, we are facing the need to totally revamp our view of the world we live in. Some of the old values may remain, but many of them will have to give way to the world as it exists today and tomorrow. How will the conservatives react when we start planning babies, not by just when we have them but their sexes, athletic ability, intellectual and artistic abilities, etc., while they are in the womb. You will see it. I may not. But it is coming and will be here by 2100. How will you react. Will you think about it or will you knee-jerk react against the changes?

Anon. in Bozeman said...

"Abortion, homosexuality, pornography. Did Jesus ever say a word about any of those things?"

Interesting flip-flop there, David. Obviously, you are unaware that the sayings of Jesus Christ represent only a small part of the Bible. If you confine your understanding of Christianity only to the red letter portions of the New Testament, you will have only an incomplete understanding of Christianity.

I could cite you chapter and verse on what the Bible has to say about abortion, homosexuality, pornography and other sinful behavior, but perhaps you should read the Good Book for yourself, from beginning to end. That way, you really could set yourself up as an expert.

To the others here expounding on what Christians believe or do not believe: You need to stop dealing in gross generalities. There are over 1200 Christian sects, some of which are 2000 years old, others of which are only a few generations years old. Many of them hold certain religious beliefs in common, others do not.

David said...

Anon. in Bozeman,
Actually, I have read the book, from Genesis to Revelation. I used to preach from it every Sunday. But I have never claimed that I am an expert.

I don't doubt that you can make a biblical case against homosexuality. I can't recall that pornography is specifically mentioned, but I assume it would fall under the general rubric of living a pure and chaste life. I think the biblical argument against abortion is a bit of a stretch.

My point was not that you could find no scriptural support for those positions, my point was that they do not appear to have been among the things Jesus actually thought important enough to talk about while he was here.

Don't cherry-pick Bible verses to support a handful of political arguments while ignoring Jesus' fundamental message.

Another note to Dave Rye: You are right that when Jesus mentions helping the poor, he doesn't specifically call for government help, so one cannot assume that he favored a liberal welfare policy. But I interpret the scripture you cite, the one about rendering unto Caesar, to mean, "Just get it done. Don't worry about where the money comes from because it's all government money anyway."

Dave Rye said...

Good arguments, guys, except for anonymous (presumably NOT in Bozeman)whose major smart move was withholding his or her name, and who clearly only gave a cursory glance at my arguments before lapsing into the same tired old leftist talking points.

To him or her I would say, (1) Acknowledging one's shortcomings (i.e. fallenness) is the first step toward minimizing them (you can never eliminate them entirely), and (2) Is your own happiness or security in danger if Scooter Libby doesn't go to prison? Scooter is going to get nailed for most of what's left of his money in the forthcoming civil suit anyway.

Nowhere, David, did Jesus contend that, as you put it, "salvation can be obtained by anyone who lives a good life." In fact, the opposite is true. I think He quite clearly pointed out that, by God's standards, NO ONE lives "a good life." In Paul's words, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." All of us are, in essence, drowning and incapable of swimming to shore when it's so far away. Our only hope is to be rescued.

And, golly, "Render unto Caesar..." means "It's all government money anyway"? Not REAL money, extracted from taxpayers?

As usual, Chuck, our conclusions are different because our premises are different. I always do appreciate your honest liberalism and the civil way you express it, without resorting to calling me a Bible-thumping neanderthal or whatever. It is apparently axiomatic to you that certain values change depending on changing social or economic conditions. In short, moral relativism is to you a natural trait of human societies. I think that is indeed human history in a nutshell, but I really do believe that certain values, if they are not eternal, ought to be.

And I won't live to see the changes you foresee, either. We're both kind of old guys.

David said...

Point taken. No one is good enough to swim all the way to shore, but at least there is a chance that the effort will be rewarded.

And, yes, I really do read the Caesar passage that way. Other interpretations obviously are possible, but I hear it saying, "If Washington's picture is on it, and Washington wants it back, fine."

Chuck Rightmire said...

Dave: Thank you. And I might agree with you on values. I think murder, theft, and swinging my fist so it hits the other guy's nose are values that should be retained. I think family is important, although I don't define family as just the nuclear family since that is a relative newcomer in human existence. And I believe you are enough younger than me to see the changes. Double muscled babies are already seen as putting an end to drugs in the athletic fields. Some of them are already born. The rest of what I pointed out is around the corner, quicker I read in science mags, than most people expect. And I do think that those who get the most benefit from the society in which they live, those who draw the highest payments in that society, should have more responsibility than those who do not do as well; and that's something I believe in whether you measure doing well by high noble position, wealth, intellectual activity, art or high position in a church.

Anonymous said...

Dave Rye--one more Republican "fallen." I see that US Senator David Vitter, R from Louisiana, admitted to a very serious sin now that his phone no. shows up on the DC madam's phone records. More family values, i guess.

Dave Rye said...

Blame the name, not the philosophy. Just another David done in by his compulsive and uncontrollable sex drive. As we Davids say, "I have so much love to give."

There was the trouble the original David got into when he saw Bathsheba, and there was Koresh with his harem in Waco, and now Vitter. Those horny old derelicts, Rye and Crisp, will probably be next.

David said...

I should be so lucky.

Skanky said...

Lose that beard, and your luck will improve.

Anonymous said...

Anon in Bozone - my last shard of belief taken from my Catholic upbringing - they taught me that the Bible had nothing to say about abortion. Nothing. So from the point of view of the Church, they opted to err on the side of life. That's their position. It's not Bible-based. It's a human construct.

Your contention that being anti-abortion is pro-bible is wrong.

Anon. in Bozeman said...

Mark T:

That was a “shard of belief,” all right. Unless you are something past 60 or 65 years old, the Catholic Church where you learned that nonsense is corrupt. But Pope Benedict XVI is working to repair things.

The Bible speaks to raising human life to its highest form. It is therefore ipso facto against abortion, pornography, sodomy and any other activity that devalues human life.

Anonymous said...

That says absolutely nothing about abortion. Nothing. You're projecting your own beliefs on us through the Bible. You're using God as a sock puppet.

Stop it.

Lee Ryan said...

Oh for cryin' in a bucket! Are you trying to tell me that you've become so desensitized to common-sense morals that you no longer have a sense of right and wrong? Either there is a God who created us or we're freak accidents of pond scum. I choose to believe that God is the only reasonable conclusion and that we have a purpose.

With this in mind, do you really think that He would approve of young girls flopping their legs open like old suitcases and young boys taking advantage of those girls' need to be loved? And what about the irresponsibility of them getting rid of the evidence of their actions by getting a convenient abortion?

Do you have the stomach to look at the process of a partial birth abortion? Could you, yourself, even do something so gruesome to any living creature, let alone a child? If you could, then you belong in jail or you will be.

As far as homosexuality. I hate to use this stupid word, but it's just so appropriate - DUH! Two bolts don't connect and two nuts don't connect. It's pretty much a matter of "nuts and bolts".

Besides, Jesus didn't replace the Old Testament, He fulfilled it. Which means that it is not null and void.

And last of all, if you knew anything about the end results of pornography, you wouldn't defend it. However, we live in a selfish country of immeditate gratification. Just look at our economy - need I say more?