An Obama supporter called Hannity yesterday to argue that Barack Obama, not John McCain, had the better answer to last week's Saddleback question about evil. Obama, you may recall, said that we must confront evil with humility because it is so easy to mistake the evil in ourselves for evil in someone else (it was Jesus, not Obama, who said, "Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye").
McCain said evil must be defeated and vowed to pursue Osama Bin Laden to the "gates of Hell." His only nod to Christianity was his apparent concession that the jurisdiction of the unitary executive stops at the gates and does not extend into Hell itself. Dick Cheney would dispute that.
His answer really had nothing to do with evil because you know what? I suspect that Osama Bin Laden firmly believes in the depths of his soul that he is obeying the will of Allah. And you know what else? I don't care what he thinks. I just want him stopped. And if it should turn out in the afterlife that he was right after all, and he is greeted with hosannahs in Heaven, then I will willingly take up quarters in Hell. I wouldn't want to belong in a Heaven that would have him as a member.
The caller said that McCain had it wrong because humans lack the power to defeat evil. Only God can do that. Although I was an amateur preacher in my younger years, I am no theologian. But I am pretty sure she was right about that. The battle against evil is like a baseball game that always has one more inning to play. No matter how far ahead or behind one side may get, nobody wins because the game never ends until God calls it.
That's not only theologically correct, it's also theologically necessary. If evil can be defeated, then so can good. And if good can be defeated here on this Earth, then that would mean the end of all hope.
Hannity, good Christian that he is, wasn't buying any of that. He said that evil can be defeated here and now and rattled off a list of examples: Hitler, Stalin, the hypothetical rapist next door whom Hannity so often invokes. But from a Christian perspective, he was almost certainly wrong. If you believe that the human soul is immortal, and that evil resides within it, then evil must also be eternal, until God decrees otherwise. So while Hitler isn't hurting anybody anymore, the evil in his soul is still there, basting away in the lower depths of Hell, waiting for payback.
Big deal. I'm not going to base my vote for president on which candidate has the better understanding of the Christian conception of good and evil. But what struck me was how unwilling Hannity was to acknowledge even the inconsequential possibility that on a matter of faith, a Democrat might have it right and a Republican might have it wrong. In Hannity's world, when it comes to politics, Christianity has to take a back seat.
That's a bit sad, and a little bit scary.
SIDE NOTE: On the interesting and important question of whether Hell should be capitalized, I accept the judgment of William Safire, who once argued, "Hell is a place, like Scranton."