A Long Drink From The Well Of Theocracy

It’s been over twenty-four hours since I wrote about Newt Gingrich, so I’ll complete my trilogy of observations about his insurgency here. I’d be less interested in Gingrich if it didn’t look for all the world like he’s about to win the South Carolina primary. South Carolina voters, at least, seem to like what he’s selling. And the political goods hawked in Gingrich’s shop, if not exactly theocracy, are a flavor of republican democracy that’s been flavored by it. I offer evidence below, from the man’s own words, which I propose demonstrates why he ought not be President — Christianity is more important to him than the American value of religious tolerance.

As is well known, Newt Gingrich was raised Lutheran, became a Southern Baptist when he was in graduate school, and in 2009, converted to Roman Catholicism, thus adopting the faith of his third and current wife. He states that he was moved to join the RCC in part by a visit to the United States by Pope Benedict XVI. Which is a perfectly fine sort of personal spiritual journey, one with which I have no particular quarrel. If believes himself reconciled with his God for his personal sins, well, that’s between him and God. American Catholics commonly divorce and remarry while still unblinkingly professing their faith, so while intellectually it doesn’t seem possible to reconcile Gingrich’s personal life with his avowed faith, it’s also prosaic that such a tension exists. But it’s not the candidate’s personal spiritual journey that concerns me, it’s the spiritual journey he’d attempt to lead the country.

A page of Gingrich’s campaign website is devoted to explicating his platform plank of “Protecting Life and Religious Liberty and Standing Up To Activist Judges,” thus combining three primary sources of seething social conservative resentment of political life into a single political brush stroke. A review of this tells me that his opposition to Obamacare and hostility to judicial independence are informed and motivated by his personal religious faith. The degree to which he’s willing to assault judicial independence exceeds the point of being willing to defy the law itself, suggesting to me that if President Gingrich’s religiously-informed values tell him that something in the current Federal healthcare laws are immoral, he’s willing to break those laws, too.

Gingrich debuted his renewed high public profile by grandstanding against Cordoba House, the “ground zero mosque.” He wrote in July of 2010:

Apologists for radical Islamist hypocrisy are trying to argue that we have to allow the construction of this mosque in order to prove America’s commitment to religious liberty. They say this despite the fact that there are already over 100 mosques in New York City.

In fact, they’re partially correct—this is a test of our commitment to religious liberty. It is a test to see if we have the resolve to face down an ideology that aims to destroy religious liberty in America, and every other freedom we hold dear.

But despite the nonsense-on-its-face equation of the use of government authority to prevent construction of a house of worship with religious liberty, Gingrich pressed on, sensing that by playing on fear of Muslims, he could quickly regain a political profile he’d not enjoyed since his time as Speaker of the House of Representatives. So he pressed on, urging that construction of the mosque and community center be prohibited until and unless Saudi Arabia permitted the building of Christian churches and Jewish synagogues. There is no evidence that the sovereign nation of Saudi Arabia had anything to do with Cordoba House, although of course Gingrich’s Islamophobic grandstanding about CH’s unwillingness to disclose the sources of its funding in the face of no legal obligation to do so, raises that possibility. Interestingly, he has taken down that statement from his political website; a search of the campaign website for the phrase “Cordoba House” produces no hits. But the statement is easy enough to find, and its clarion call to action rings shrill a year and a half after he first made it:

We have not been able to rebuild the World Trade Center in nine years. Now we are being told a 13 story, $100 million megamosque will be built within a year overlooking the site of the most devastating surprise attack in American history.
Finally where is the money coming from? The people behind the Cordoba House refuse to reveal all their funding sources.
America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization. Sadly, too many of our elites are the willing apologists for those who would destroy them if they could.
No mosque.
No self deception.
No surrender.
The time to take a stand is now – at this site on this issue.

But the internet remembers, for instance, his likening of the sponsors of the mosque to Nazis (along with similar likenings of President Obama) or remarks he made in June of 2010 when he proposeda federal law which says no court anywhere in the United States under any circumstance is allowed to consider shari’a as a replacement for American law”* to the American Enterprise Institute in an effort to forestall a “stealh jihad” advanced through the use of “political, cultural, societal, religious, [and] intellectual tools.” Which is funny, because he seems to be perfectly willing to use “political, cultural, societal, religious, [and] intellectual tools” to promote religions he likes. Including, for instance, films produced by his own company.

An enthusiastic counter-insurgent in the non-existent war against Christmas, Gingrich has argued passionately to reinstate the right of Federal employees to wish other people Merry Christmas (never mind that they were always able to do so):

This is actually weird . . . I’ve been investigating this for the last three days. I am told that this is actually a 20- or 30-year-old law, which I have to say I find strange, and I would advocate repealing the law. Apparently if the president sends out Christmas cards, they are paid for the Democratic or Republican National Committees because no federal official at any level is currently allowed to say ‘Merry Christmas.’ And the idea, I think, is that the government should be neutral. … I’m going to go back and find out how was this law written, when was it passed. We’ve had this whole — in my mind — very destructive attitude in the last 50 years that we have to drive religion out of public life.

Now, I cited to PolitiFact above, a site which is not above criticism itself. I think “Pants on Fire” was too strong a rating for this in light of PolitiFact’s own investigation (it found that Congress’ internal rules prohibit sending holiday cards of any sort with the no-cost “franking” privilege, which would include Christmas cards to constituents). But “false” seems right.

“Lacking the remotest shred of credibility” would be the reaction of a rational individual to Gingrich’s contention that the same impulse that leads one to advocate same-sex marriage is also at the root of the nation’s current economic problems:

You have to recognize that free enterprise is based on free people and … free people are based on faith … . The very basis of our belief and freedom is that we believe we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights. The very source of our strength is that we believe these are truths – not theories, not ideologies, not gimmicks, not political consultants, powerpoints – truths, and so there’s a core absolute overlap between free enterprise, freedom and freedom of faith. And if you don’t have freedom of faith in the end you’re not going to have free enterprise because there’s no moral force that defends and protects you.

Maybe if I were a person of faith, that would make more sense to me. But I also wouldn’t want to insult my friends and colleagues who do have faith, because that ought not to make a lot of sense to them, either. Neither should the former Speaker’s contention that secularism – as manifested by taking prayer out of the schools – is at the root of every problem facing our society today: “A country that has been now since 1963 relentlessly in the courts driving God out of public life shouldn’t be surprised at all the problems we have, because we’ve in fact attempted to create a secular country, which I think is frankly a nightmare.” I cannot construct a chain of logic that leads from a finding that the First Amendment does not permit mandatory school prayers in public schools (remember, voluntary prayer is still allowed) to America being mired in a no-win war in Afghanistan, in debt up to the point we’ve had to soberly talk about defaulting on debt service payments, and in fact pretty much whatever other problem we face as a society. Again, this must somehow make sense to Gingrich. I believe I’ve found his best attempt to construct a logical linkage, and it’s not code – it’s just a collection of buzzwords strung together nearly at random.

Nevertheless, this puts me in the same boat as Muslims, Gingrich’s perspective: because I oppose “religion in the public square,” my intent is to destroy all that is good about America. This was not the first time he’d indicated that prayer was an integral part of politics: I pray before virtually every speech and virtually every major decision,” the former Speaker said this New Year’s Eve.

In March of 2011, Gingrich spoke at an evangelical megachurch in San Antonio, Texas, and hinted darkly, if incoherently, at the grave danger that I and people like me pose to this nation:

I have two grandchildren — Maggie is 11, Robert is 9 … I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they’re my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.

Translation: won’t someone please think of the children? Query, Mr. Speaker: if the U.S. becomes a “secular atheist country,” then how could it be simultaneously “dominated by radical Islamists”? Don’t radical Islamists want to impose Sharia law? Your presumably Christian grandchildren would at least be entitled to second-class dhimmi status in an Islamified United States; an atheist like me would be completely S.O.L. in a nation “dominated by radical Islamists.” But the idea that the United States will, over the next fifty years or so, become massively secular is difficult to hold seriously. The United States is the most religious industrialized country in the world, and the cultural roots of religion here are deep, protected by the highest and most fundamental law of the land, and effectively, religion is permanently embedded in our society. The idea that by 2068 the U.S. would be even as secular as today’s continental Europe is hard to envision.

When asked about personal faith and governing in Las Vegas a few months ago, Gingrich said that someone like me could not be trusted with high office:

Well, I think if the question is, does faith matter? Absolutely. How can you have a country which is founded on truths which begins we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights? How can you have the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 which says religion, morality and knowledge being important, education matters. That’s the order: religion, morality and knowledge. Now, I happen to think that none of us should rush in judgment of others in the way in which they approach God. And I think that all of us up here I believe would agree. (APPLAUSE) But I think all of us would also agree that there’s a very central part of your faith in how you approach public life. And I, frankly, would be really worried if somebody assured me that nothing in their faith would affect their judgments, because then I’d wonder, where’s your judgment — how can you have judgment if you have no faith? And how can I trust you with power if you don’t pray? (APPLAUSE) Who you pray to, how you pray, how you come close to God is between you and God. But the notion that you’re endowed by your creator sets a certain boundary on what we mean by America.

Excuse me if I have a bit of trouble being objective about a man who indicates that my own attitude towards matters of faith and the supernatural, deeply and sincerely considered, disqualifies me from a position of leadership in the government of this country. It’s, well, kind of insulting.

This means that not only must you believe that you have a Creator, you must also believe in the right creator. No one else is privileged to participate in American civic life, because no one else can be trusted to have the morals and ethics to do so without crippling our communal ethics. It should come as no surprise that I urge voters to refrain from doing anything that could potentially put a man such as this in the Oval Office. To Mr. Gingrich directly, I say, if you really feel this strongly about religion, you should seek a position in the lay ministry of your new church, not in Washington.

* Subsequently, a similar law at the state level was found to violate the U.S. Constitution.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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