DA VINCI CODE DA SCHMINCI CODE
Forget about the movie, which opens today. We have more important stuff to worry about, says Pat Robertson. In cast you missed this news this week, Robertson says God told him the U.S. is in for it, uh, weather-wise. I'm going to let you make up your own punchline to this today. I'm Robertsoned out. I even sort of regret using an item about Robertson on the same page as an item about great theologians, but that's the way it breaks some days.
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LEARNING FROM GREAT THEOLOGIANS
In it, he suggested that we can learn how to improve our approach to foreign policy by listening to one of the great theologians of the 20th Century, Reinhold Niebuhr (pictured here), as well as one of the great 20th Century American statesmen, George F. Kennan, architect of the containment policy.
Niebuhr and Kennan, he wrote, "described America's cold-war struggle differently from their conservative counterparts: as a struggle not merely for democracy but for economic opportunity as well, in the belief that the former required the latter to survive.
"Even more important, they described America itself differently. Americans may fight evil, they argued, but that does not make us inherently good. And paradoxically, that very recognition makes national greatness possible. Knowing that we, too, can be corrupted by power, we seek the constraints that empires refuse. And knowing that democracy is something we pursue rather than something we embody, we advance it not merely by exhorting others but by battling the evil in ourselves. The irony of American exceptionalism is that by acknowledging our common fallibility, we inspire the world."
What struck me especially about this is that it's exactly the same argument I made in several pieces published both on 9/11 (in a special edition of The Kansas City Star) and after the terrorist attacks of that day. I suggested that it was crucial to remember our core values as we seek justice against the fanatics who murdered so many people, and our core values include the idea that although we can and should fight for good and against evil, we ourselves are never purely good and our enemies are rarely purely evil. (I wish we had done better with that than we have.)
I certainly had read Kennan when I was in college and was familiar with some of Niebuhr's notions, but it came as a surprise to me reading this recent Times magazine piece that I had internalized their arguments well enough to articulate something like them in the hour and 15 minutes or so that, because of tight deadlines, I was given on 9/11 to write our lead commentary piece for that special edition we published.
So pay attention to the theologians you read. You may find yourself mouthing their positions.
To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here. (My column tomorrow will talk about the role of meditation in various religions. And it will be found in the newly redesigned Faith section to be printed on our new presses. Take a look.)
P.S.: Oh, my. A Democratic candidate for attorney general in Alabama is a Holocaust denier, a national Jewish newspaper reports. What can these people be thinking? If you want to be part of a serious discussion of the Shoah, or Holocaust, and contemporary Jewish-Christian relations, I'll be co-teaching a weeklong seminar on the subject in August with a rabbi. I invite you to take a look at the course description and to come join us at beautiful Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico. We'll have a chance that week to learn each other's story and even to have some fun. If you're Christian, bring a Jewish friend. If you're Jewish, bring a Christian friend. If you're an adherent of another religion, come and join the conversation.