Two Tweets bugged me, just a little, on Sunday. I respected this special sabbath by not commenting on that day itself. But since I think it offers some insight to how both the left and right alienate me (and therefore help to define this blog), I offer them now. The first was from our governor:
Can you see, without my explaining, why these examples of typical attitudes on the left and right would put me off? If not, I’ll briefly explain…
The first is, simply put, an example of public prayer of the sort that was proscribed in Matthew chapter 6:
“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
Frankly, I have what some might regard as a conflicted view toward that passage, although I prefer to think of my position as “nuanced.” For instance, someone who doesn’t understand my view might say I should also be put off by my friend Warren Bolton when he writes such a column as his Passion Sunday reflection. Or they might wonder why I quietly return thanks before eating in public places. It’s because, in our cases, I see it as countercultural.
Jesus was speaking within the context of a culture that rewarded public piety. You advanced your position in society by praying on a street corner. In the United States of the 21st century, you’re asking to be regarded as a nut if you do that. Big difference. And if you’re a newspaperman, well… if you’re not, you probably don’t understand the degree to which that is NOT the way to get ahead in the world. (Of course, being a newspaperman, period, is no way to get ahead in the world, but I’m speaking of the times when Warren and I were coming up in the business, before the collapse.) So I always encouraged Warren to write columns like that, for the same reason I encouraged him and other board members to write columns, period (and to some extent why I started blogging) — so that readers would know the people behind the editorials. And that is definitely who Warren is.
But there are certain subsets of society where Pharisaic behavior is to your advantage. And that is the case among Nikki Haley’s political base. So I see something like that from her, and I think, “That’s exactly what Jesus was on about.”
Now, if she had done something WITH it — made some original observation or something, that somehow played off the liturgy — I wouldn’t have bridled at it. But what she said was so bumper-sticker, so unoriginal, so “Look at me; I’m a Christian,” that it saddened me to see it. (And yes, I know that judging other people’s expressions of faith doesn’t seem like something that puts me in too well with the Lord, either. But I thought there was some relevant commentary to be made here. I hope I’m right.)
Then there was the second Tweet, which is just a pointless little fling at religion (particularly the flavor to which I subscribe) that was SO gratuitous, and in its own way SO like what Nikki did, that it helped inspire this post. How, you ask, was it like what the gov did? Here’s how: This writer ALSO had nothing to say to the world except to declare, to a certain subset of it, “Look at me! I’m one of you!” In her case, it was, “I have generalized hostility to organized religion, and particular to those atavistic creatures, Catholic priests!” Or perhaps it was simply, “I am a thoroughly modern young woman!” to put it on its most basic level.
The thing that got me about it was that the object of her scorn in the dream wasn’t a particular person with a particular narrative that the reader might join her in condemning. No, he was merely “a priest,” making her dream diatribe a blanket condemnation of all priests — which was all that was needed to establish her credentials with the social subset she was appealing to.
Now, fact is, this one does have some extenuating features. For one thing, it includes self-deprecating humor, with the addendum about James Franco. That lightens up the whole tweet. (I mean, I assume it was self-deprecating. If I had a dream about James Franco, and told the world, I would certainly be holding myself up to ridicule.) And her bit about “the Brand” makes me slightly curious to hear more. Is she saying she cares about and wants to protect and/or improve The Brand, and how does she define that brand? Such a discussion might prove productive.
For that matter, I can defend the governor’s Tweet, too, as being innocuous, even positive. I certainly don’t disagree with anything she said. And I realize that criticizing her for it can be seen as nitpicking of a low order. I also realize that honest, praiseworthy expressions of faith can easily, and unfairly, be mistaken for cynical, self-serving public piety. There can be something wonderful and uplifting about pausing to say “Behold this beautiful day that the Lord has made,” and I’d hate to inhibit anyone from doing so. (And if Nikki had sent that Tweet back before she became the darling of the Tea Party and so nakedly, obviously ambitious, I might have retweeted it with an “Amen.”)
But as it is… I’m just sharing with you how I reacted to those two Tweets, which came within moments of each other — and soliciting your thoughts as well.