Generous Orthodoxy  

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

David Brooks supports a biblical anthropology

Republicans and other political conservatives generally tend to divide up the human race into categories-- good and evil, deserving and undeserving. There are exceptions to that, of course. The most notable one in a while showed up in David Brooks' column yesterday (Brooks is often described as "the liberals' favorite conservative"). His column has been widely emailed, probably because of the nice things Brooks says about Barack Obama. But that is not the reason for its appearance in "Tips" today.

First Brooks says that Hillary has been a much better Senator than Obama. But, he goes on,

they are running for president, and the presidency requires a different set of qualities. Presidents are buffeted by sycophancy, criticism and betrayal. They must improvise amid a thousand fluid crises. They’re isolated and also exposed, puffed up on the outside and hollowed out within. With the presidency, character and self-knowledge matter more than even experience. There are reasons to think that, among Democrats, Obama is better prepared for this madness.

Brooks goes on at some length to explain why.

Obama is an inner-directed man in a profession filled with insecure outer-directed ones....I’ve been poring over press clippings from Obama’s past, looking for inconsistencies and flip-flops. There are virtually none....He has a core, and was able to maintain his equipoise, for example, even as his campaign stagnated through the summer and fall.

Moreover, he has a worldview that precedes political positions. Some Americans (Republican or Democrat) believe that the country’s future can only be shaped through a remorseless civil war between the children of light and the children of darkness....

But Obama does not ratchet up hostilities; he restrains them. He does not lash out at perceived enemies, but is aloof from them. In the course of this struggle to discover who he is, Obama clearly learned from the strain of pessimistic optimism that stretches back from Martin Luther King Jr. to Abraham Lincoln. This is a worldview that detests anger as a motivating force, that distrusts easy dichotomies between the parties of good and evil, believing instead that the crucial dichotomy runs between the good and bad within each individual.

This is an amazing insight coming from a political columnist. This perception lies at the heart of the Christian view of humanity. We are all equally undeserving before God; "there but for the grace of God go I." Those who seek to know the mind of Christ will work at understanding those who seem alien to us. The Christian view of man requires humility and a capacity to observe others as God sees them in Christ, not as we would like to see them--neither as saints nor as sinners, but a "mingled yarn" of both (Shakespeare).

Brooks concludes:

...In her outstanding New Yorker [magazine] profile, Larissa MacFarquhar notes that Obama does not perceive politics as a series of battles but as a series of systemic problems to be addressed. He pursues liberal ends in gradualist, temperamentally conservative ways.

...The presidency is a bacterium. It finds the open wounds in the people who hold it. It infects them, and the resulting scandals infect the presidency and the country. The person with the fewest wounds usually does best in the White House, and is best for the country.

Isn't that remarkable?