Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Nominees at Saddleback

"If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being."

- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

First things first: While I did not write about his passing, Solzhenitsyn has whispered quietly, in the background of my mind, for many years now. I respect his voice, as one respects the prophetic voice that one finds in the exile, and I also greatly respect his artistry. May he rest in peace and may his memory be eternal.

Now for the potstirring.

Obama and McCain both answered questions from Pastor Rick Warren yesterday at Pastor Warren's church, Saddleback, in California. I found the informal forum last night interesting. It surprised me how well McCain fared with Evangelicals and conservatives - his storytelling worked. Amidst the ensuing hubbub, however, are a couple of points and or questions I'd like to throw out there into the inane ether of the blogosphere.

I liked hearing, and the audience certainly liked hearing, McCain say that he was pro-life and that his presidency would be pro-life. I liked hearing him say that life begins at conception. But what bugs me about McCain, and what I find disingenuous - at best - is that he also supports embryonic stem cell research. I would like to hear him explain himself on that point.

That doesn't mean Senator Obama comes out bright and shiny like a new penny. Some people, including some professional analysts, think Obama was vague in his answers to some of the questions. Now I didn't think he was. I always find Obama thoughtful and intelligent, and he seemed so to me last night. He is also responding to questions the answers of which (his answers) will float with that audience about as well as a lead balloon. It's like talking evolution at Ken Ham's dinner table. It takes some guts. Then again, as I've said before, I like Obama - he comes across easy and reasonable to me. But he didn't say anything new or shocking last night. That doesn't mean I liked his answers concerning those questions. That doesn't mean on those questions I thought his answers better than McCain's.

What disturbed me last night, because it was new, was the question about evil. Pastor Warren asked something along the following lines: Do you believe evil exists? And, if so, what should be done about it? I liked Obama's answer okay in that it covered a variety of evils - with the potential of evil even in our country. McCain, on the other hand, answered from the stump, which I found particularly disturbing. When asked about evil, do you go into a tirade about destroying al Qaeda and bin Laden? Chasing bin Laden to the gates of hell? Which brought to mind the Solzhenitsyn quote. Here it is again:

"If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being."

I understand these men are running for the presidency. They're not theologians or philosophers. I understand that they equivocate as they deem necessary. They're more concerned with their talking points than with real questions. I don't want it justified or need it explained to me. But evil is far more cunning than Senator McCain gives it credit. And such a simplistic and vehement answer to such a terrible question unnerves me.


Bloggin' Robin said...

I didn't see the debate, but VERY MUCH AGREE WITH THE QUOTE! Expereincing some of the "evil that has cut throught the hearts" here. So sad! Very honest quote!

paul said...

Since you're stirring...does anything about the thoughtful & intelligently explained positions Obama holds unnerve you?

Scott Lyons said...

Yes, it completely unnerves me the way he talks about unborn (and sometimes born) babies.

paul said...

But Obama does used a concerned tone, whereas McCain can come off downright strident.

Scott Lyons said...

Paul, I don't have a problem with someone saying that he's pro-life and saying that he believes that life begins at conception. I applaud those beliefs. Nevertheless, I think it's disingenuous coming from McCain - not because of his stridency, but because he also supports embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). Of course, Obama still comes off as the worse of the two evils on this issue - regardless of his "thoughtful and intelligently explained position." There's no argument here. (My point in the post was simply to say that his answer concerning abortion didn't come as a surprise to me - I'd heard it before.) But it would be nice to see someone call out McCain on this glaring inconsistency rather than continue to say, as Huckabee did last night, that this ticket is pro-life. While some disagree, I don't think supporting ESCR is particularly pro-life.

I do respect and applaud Palin's pro-life stand.

Now it is true that I don't see concern in people who don't show it in their speech or writing. I don't see grace there. (Though I'm too quick to judge here - there are personality and style differences certainly.) That's also not to say that a complete ass cannot use a concerned tone when he deems it prudent. He can. But to be both strident and compassionate is a tough sell for me.

I'm also a big fan of the underdog. I don't like hearing loathing out of the mouths of conservatives for Senator Obama any more than I like hearing the insane push back against Governor Palin's selection by liberals.

I don't like easy disregard for people. We don't live in a sphere of ideas, we live in a community of people. So in a debate the argument must be kept at the level of ideas rather than slide into a string of ad hominem attacks. We can discard ideas reasonably as wrong or evil or simply inadequate; we cannot dispose of people in the same way.

paul said...

ESCR destroys innocent life, just as abortion and should be identified for what it is and abolished. McCain has compromised his pro-life position on that account, simple as that. Maybe it's the populist in him, who knows; hopefully Palin can be an influence to McCain there.

I would also agree that loathing is uncharitable and uncivil, no matter the source. Yet I don't follow how Obama is an underdog, nor am I getting what example you're referencing in your final comments (although I would agree with the statements themselves).

Scott Lyons said...

Well, Obama may not be an underdog now. I suppose what I mean is that I hear so many terrible comments made about him that are simply ridiculous - anti-Christ-type garbage, Messiah or Moloch. It's fundamentalist gracelessness (and I say that stridently). I would talk about the man far less if I didn't read or hear that kind of speech about him every day. Fundamentalist Catholics may be the worse on this front because the Catholic Church has such an unflinching position on abortion, but I'm sure they don't have much on the typical fundamentalist Protestant. The "you're going to hell if you vote for Obama" rhetoric makes me laugh and cry, if you know what I'm saying. And if you haven't heard it, count yourself lucky.

(And remember, this is me talking from a position - a view of abortion - identical to yours. There is a right way to point the way. More light, less heat. It involves being the way, showing it quietly, helping the teenage mother before and after having an abortion, it involves doing as Gov Palin has done by walking on the stage with a downs baby.)

The Messiah stuff I understand and I don't understand - both parties play on this theme. For instance, from the Republican platform I've heard campaign rhetoric (more than rhetoric for many) such as, "America is the hope of the earth." That's just stupid. We are not. Jesus is. But the same kind of rhetoric from Obama, equally stupid, gets him labeled as a self-perceived Messiah.

It is good to be a good communicator. It is good to be a charismatic leader. It is good to make people feel hope again. Those are all good things. Substance needs to follow of course. But this is what Reagan did - he inspired us. He gave us hope. His, and forgive my blasphemy, governance wasn't spectacular in that he created some kind of utopia here in America. He did some good things for the country and some stupid things. Obama does what Reagan did. He makes desperate people feel hope again, feel good about the possiblities of America.

As far as the "string of ad hominem attacks" - that's convention stuff there. Trash talk before the game. I just hope the trash talk ends and a genuine examination of ideas follows. But here's to being an idiot. : )

paul said...

You're not being an idiot, just hoping against hope. I'm not so optimistic about the trash talk.

Now Obama is no doubt skilled in the art of public speaking, like Reagan; but whether Obama has what it takes (and I think it takes a whole lot more than skillful oratory) to bring a worthwhile vision into being (similar to what Reagan did, i.e. playing the leading role in winning the cold war) at this point is a huge unknown.

I think it takes considerable faith in Obama to believe he will reach Reaganesque levels of accomplishments based on his public record of accomplishments to date. Not that it can't be done. There's just little proof thus far, notwithstanding the ability to cast a vision.

Scott Lyons said...

Agreed, Paul. And I don't mean to say that he will accomplish what Reagan was able to accomplish or even have a place in history as Reagan did - certainly never with conservatives.

It would be a good moment to live through, if he did.

He does spark hope and inspiration the way Reagan was able to do. For me he does. And, in spite of the countering rhetoric, I'm not so sure that's an intangible.