Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Humbler than thou

Today’s Washington Post offers a flattering portrait of former Missouri Senator John Danforth, who has spoken out against the religious right and on behalf of religious moderation.

In Danforth’s view, the religious conservatives are the dividers. He and his fellow moderates could get along with everyone:

[M]oderate Christians see ourselves, literally, as moderators. Far from claiming to possess God’s truth, we claim only to be imperfect seekers of the truth. We reject the notion that religion should present a series of wedge issues useful at election time for energizing a political base. We believe it is God’s work to practice humility, to wear tolerance on our sleeves, to reach out to those with whom we disagree, and to overcome the meanness we see in today’s politics.


For us, religion should be inclusive, and it should seek to bridge the differences that separate people. We do not exclude from worship those whose opinions differ from ours. Following a Lord who sat at the table with tax collectors and sinners, we welcome to the Lord’s table all who would come. Following a Lord who cited love of God and love of neighbor as encompassing all the commandments, we reject a political agenda that displaces that love.

This embrace of broad-thinking and toleration comes pretty close to saying that those who have other views--those who, for example, restrict the Lord’s Supper to those who have made a profession of faith in a particular denomination--aren’t genuinely following God’s word. Those who don’t share Danforth’s vision of humility and all-embracing love, and the practical consequences drawn from it, must be arrogant and un-loving.

It’s also easier to be tolerant if you can call yourself pro-life, but not see what all the fuss is about when it comes to stem cell research:

It is not evident to many of us that cells in a petri dish are equivalent to identifiable people suffering from terrible diseases. I am and have always been pro-life. But the only explanation for legislators comparing cells in a petri dish to babies in the womb is the extension of religious doctrine into statutory law.
Messing with the building blocks of life--playing God, so to speak--is no big deal. Only a crabbed, purely and narrowly religious person, moved by pride, not humility, and without a shred of compassion, could hold a view contrary to Danforth’s.

It’s also easier to be tolerant if you say that you favor traditional marriage, but argue that you can think of no reason other than a mean desire to humiliate people to enshrine that opinion in the Constitution.

Perhaps the best explanation of Danforth’s position comes from
another WaPo profile, this one on the occasion of Ronald Reagan’s funeral:

If he sticks to his usual form today, Danforth, who declined to be interviewed for this article, will mention God once or twice near the end of his homily. But he can be counted on not to cause a stir by freelancing an impolitic mention of Jesus, as Franklin Graham did at George W. Bush’s inauguration. He will likely perfectly embody Washington National Cathedral’s other role, not as an Episcopal chapel but as the closest thing we have to a national church, a place where faith is present but muted, as on the dollar bill or in the Pledge of Allegiance.


"Jack will deliver a little homily," says Alex Netchvolodoff, his former chief of staff and close friend. "It’s not deep theology. He knows that funerals are for the living; they are gatherings of people to celebrate a life, that they should be upbeat, full of hope."


Official Washington likes its religion beige, interfaith, tastefully alluded to rather than shouted from a mountaintop. Danforth will oblige: "He won’t step on any toes," says Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. "People who don’t have any religious sensibilities will feel comfortable with him."

Now read that last sentence again. All are welcome at John Danforth’s table, except those he perceives as intolerant.

It is of course true that there are folks on the religious right who are smug and self-righteous, just as there are on the secular right, the religious left, and the secular left. There also seem to be some in the religious center.

Discussions - 6 Comments

The only thing emptier than the pews in the modern Episcopal church is the theology. The buildings and endowments those heretics stole from those of us who actually believe in what the old church of England taught are lovely though. Brings to mind, I dunno, whited sepulchers...

I guess I’m one of those intolerant conservatives because I believe in Jesus.

John 14:6 - Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

"This embrace of broad-thinking and toleration comes pretty close to saying that those who have other views--those who, for example, restrict the Lord’s Supper to those who have made a profession of faith in a particular denomination--aren’t genuinely following God’s word."

Good grief, Joe! all through this blog, Democrats are described as nearly extinct because they cannot, or have not articulated a monotonous, unanimous party line. They are divided, they got no vision, they don’t stand for something, and so will fall for anything.....

So, here is an affirmative statement about tolerance and open-mindedness, and you reply with this?? How can anyone please you? If Danforth agreed with you, then he could be accused of capitulation. If he attacks you, then he can be accused of being shrill and nasty. So, he professes tolerance, and you accuse him of engaging in a WWJD rivalry!

Why not just attack Jesus, Himself for acting Holier than thou?

Why not just attack Jesus, Himself for acting Holier than thou?

I guess I would have said the only person who would confuse Jesus with John Danforth is John Danfort....

Today, anyone who seeks to draw lines, maintain important distinctions, and point out deleterious, but clearly evident consequences of certain activities, is going to be branded narrow-minded, intolerant, smug and self-righteous.

The situation recalls to my mind a quote from G.K. Chesterton, who quipped that the modern man is educated about many things, and after all of his education, he can only conclude that he is unsure about anything. It’s a loose paraphrase, but captures the gist. Firm conclusions, especially about age-old problems and issues, are apt to be caricatured. But ultimately, caricature, irony, sarcasm, in lieu of engaging on the substance, instead of taking on the strength of an opponent’s argument, only demonstrates unseriousness, and intellectual weakness. Danforth is saying far more about himself, than his opponents.

Galileo put it like this:

Long experience has taught me this about that status of mankind with regard to matters requiring thought: the less people know and understand about them, the more positively they attempt to argue concerning them, while on the other hand to know and understand a multitude of things renders men cautious in passing judgment upon anything new.

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