David Brooks is really infuriating today:
On Sept. 22, 1862, Abraham Lincoln gathered his cabinet to tell them he was going to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. He said he had made a solemn vow to the Almighty that if God gave him victory at Antietam, Lincoln would issue the decree.
Lincoln's colleagues were stunned. They were not used to his basing policy on promises made to the Lord. They asked him to repeat what he'd just said. Lincoln conceded that "this might seem strange," but "God had decided the question in favor of the slaves."
I like to think about this episode when I hear militant secularists argue that faith should be kept out of politics.
Now, this is all really bothersome for the obvious reason that it's middle school argument style. The inevitable response is to say that Pope Urban II ordered the crusades because of religion also. In fact, I bet you could argue that the majority of major historical events are the result of someone either doing something horrible because God told them to or doing something really nice for the same reason.
But that's not what really bothers me. What really bothers me is how Brooks goes on to do a middle-of-the-road one-the-hand-on-the-other-hand kind of thing while surreptitiously stacking the deck against secularism:
Today, a lot of us are stuck in Lincoln's land. We reject the bland relativism of the militant secularists. We reject the smug ignorance of, say, a Robert Kuttner, who recently argued that the culture war is a contest between enlightened reason and dogmatic absolutism. But neither can we share the conviction of the orthodox believers, like the new pope, who find maximum freedom in obedience to eternal truth.
The "bland relativism of militant secularists"?! What the fuck does that mean? (And how the fuck can you be both bland and militant at the same time?) I would expect this kind of demogagery from, say, a Pat Robertson -- I would expect someone like him to advance the unthinking and irrational dogma that says that you have be an evangelical Christian to avoid moral relativism. But from the "honest conservative" David Brooks? It's pretty hard to stomach.
One lesson we can learn from Lincoln is that there is no one vocabulary we can use to settle great issues. There is the secular vocabulary and the sacred vocabulary. Whether the A.C.L.U. likes it or not, both are legitimate parts of the discussion.
Amazing, isn't it? I'm sure David can quote me oodles of ACLU official sayings "sacred vocabulary should be used when talking about great issues." But he just ran out of space or something. Damn those word counts!