Wednesday, April 07, 2004

There is an excellent interview available online at The Atlantic Monthly website. The interview is with Scott Turow, a lawyer and novelist who wrote Presumed Innocent, which was turned into a movie with Harrison Ford and some other people. Anyway, he’s written a book on the death penalty and how he went from being a death penalty “agnostic” to an opponent. He is a former federal prosecutor and served on a commission appointed by former Illinois governor George Ryan to examine the death penalty in that state. Shortly before his term ended, Governor Ryan commuted the death sentence of every death-row inmate in Illinois to a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

He makes a couple of very interesting points. Michigan and Illinois are apparently nearly identical in terms of size and population makeup. Illinois has the death penalty while Michigan does not. If it is true that the death penalty is a deterrent, logic would suggest that Illinois would have a lower murder rate. Guess what? That’s not true. Michigan’s is lower. Also, Texas, which executes more prisoners than any other state in the nation, has a murder rate higher than the national average. Is the death penalty a deterrent? The research would suggest otherwise.

Well, read the article yourself if you’re interested. It is very interesting to see how his perspective changed. It is also interesting because he’s not a crazy, bleeding-heart liberal. He is a former federal prosecutor, but has also provided pro-bono defenses to death row inmates. Interesting guy.

There is also an interesting commentary by Jack Beatty titled, “The Faith-Based Presidency.” It is a very, very harsh critique of George Bush and takes an even nastier turn that I’ll get to in a second. Here’s a snapshot of some of his comments:

“Or his [Bush’s] troubles with truth arise because he bases his thoughts on authority not reality.”

“A magnetic north of untruth, he's a stranger to the art of rational persuasion…”

“He doesn't explain his policies because he can't—and because they don't make sense.”


Now here is where he gets me.

"You can question Bush's veracity, his grip on reality, and the rationality of his policies, but not his faith. Turning to Jesus to escape from drinking was the turning point in his life. Sincerity, unreservedly giving your heart to Jesus, is the fulcrum of life-altering faith, say people who have experienced it. Reason, skepticism, critical thought, irony, argument—all threaten this sustaining emotional purity. You owe your life to a miracle, and it will go away if doubt creeps in.”

Beatty is basically saying that Christianity is incompatible with reason, skepticism, critical thought, irony and argument. Give me a break. The issue of how Bush’s faith affects his politics is probably legitimate. I think we can question the factual assumptions (or lack thereof) behind his policy and politics, but to label all Christians as irrational, unquestioning, emotional, and naïve is frankly pretty insulting. I think one of the problems with the left in this country is a lot of them invest absolutely no energy in understanding or even recognizing the heterogeneity of Christian thought and practice in America. Anyone who would paint all Christians with the same broad brush clearly knows almost nothing about Christianity and Christians.

Now, to be honest, I have to admit that I’ve run into some Christians in my life that fit Beatty’s description, or are pretty darn close. But I’ve met a whole lot more who are thoughtful, intelligent people and are powerful advocates for their faith. Some of these people are fairly conservative and/or evangelical Christians. I’m all for Bush-bashing, but to claim that Bush can’t explain his policies because they don’t make any sense when at the same time the author is making blanket, nonsensical criticisms is the height of hypocrisy.

This was going to be a short entry. Someday I need to learn to be concise.



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