"Christian Realism" -- even Christians ought to struggle with David Brook's latest invention. How delightful to juxtapose other-worldliness and practicality! But to really understand it, replace "Christian" with "love" and "Realism" with "War." Meaning, "I love war, but I wage it only out of love." It's almost a self-parodying confirmation of Nietzsche's critique of the human capacity for turning aggression into "love," with Christian love as his prime example:
In my view, Dante was grossly in error when, with an ingenuity meant to inspire terror, he set that inscription over the gateway into his hell: "Eternal love also created me." Over the gateway into the Christian paradise and its "eternal blessedness" it would, in any event, be more fitting to set the inscription "Eternal hate also created me" -- provided it's all right to set a truth over the gateway to a lie!
For what is the bliss of this paradise? . . . We might well have guessed that already, but it is better for it to be expressly described for us by an authority we cannot underestimate, Thomas Aquinas, the great teacher and saint: . "Beati in regno coelesti", he says, as gently as a lamb, "videbunt poenas damnatorum, ut beatitudo illis magis complaceat" ["In the kingdom of heaven the blessed will see the punishment of the damned, so that they will derive all the more pleasure from their heavenly bliss."]
For David Brooks, such reversals fit his standard recipe for praising the opposition: it's not enough merely to agree with a policy or like a speech; one must incorporate it into one's sanctimony. In this case, Brooks likes the pro-war speech Obama gave while accepting a Nobel Peace Prize. Therefore, it is an example of Obama's profound decency. Profound decency, in turn, means engaging in precisely the policies that liberals would thing of as inhumane by cloaking them in the garb of tough love, democracy-spreading war, etc. Further decompose such conservativism into its religious rationale: there is evil in the world, and it must be opposed. We must take Christian love to mean war, not peace!
Add to this the pleasure of one particular bit of aggression towards those Godless Europeans -- that of using a Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to justify war. But again, turn this hubris on its head and remind us that combating evil requires super-Obaman humility. And just as Obama imposed it on the Swedes, this humility can be imposed on entire countries -- in its institutional form, as Democracy -- at the point of a sword: Democracy is "the only system that fits humanity's noble yet sinful nature."
So you see, when we wage these wars we may not be forceably converting Muslims to Christianity, as Michelle Malkin would have us do; but it all comes to the same thing. Democracy just is an institutional expression of Christianity. Freedom-wars just are "Christian Realism" ... just are holy war.
Very nice essay. Nice to hear someone giving intelligent voice to the thoughts I’ve had for quite some time.
Luke Perez says
You’re right that Christians ought take issue with Mr. Brooks’s commentary. But your critique also misses the main point as to his error. Brooks conflates, or maybe even confuses liberal-internationalism with Christian realism. Christian realism, as Niebuhr explained, also calls for bearing witness of Christ in the public sphere. The president’s faith aside, his real commitment is to a secular project, the merits of which are for another discussion entirely. This humility that Brooks speaks of and you dissect isn’t Christian in nature, but seems to come from a world view that rejects American exceptionalism (again, part of the liberal-internationalist project). The Christian realism does not mean that we can take the call for love as permission for war, and claiming so only muddles the waters and makes clarity as to what is actually Christian realism more difficult.
Wes Alwan says
Thanks — much appreciated.
So what does it mean for us who live in the democracy which is just an institutional expression of Christianity? Especially if one rejects the premise of Christin morality? I suppose that makes those who reject synonymous with Obama humility, meaning hating the freedom of democracy in order to love the freedom.
-“I take away the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction.”
If one is to take this to one extreme it expresses an appreciation for humble and modest inaction, but apparently the quote is venerating action and ninja kicking humble and modest inaction in the nuts. A beautiful quote to stick in to the article.
I wonder how much the Christian realist approach is just his way of tackling a problem in the capacity of a world leader because it is an approach he is aware of and defaults to because it never seems to be a clear decision making issue. All those years listening to Rev, Wright must have offered a paradigmatic approach to “evil”, one Obama may or may not subscribe to but since the idea of inaction appears a non-option, Christian realism because more pragmatism then objective or idealist approach.
I don’t know, I can’t stand politics, ethics. or Christians so my views are difficult to articulate.
Uggh, no edit function. Because in paragraph 4 line 6 should be becomes, “Christian realism becomes more a pragmatism then objective or ideological approach.”
Nicely done, Wes…
I must admit I only made it halfway through Brooks’ article, though. There’s only so much of him I can stomach. But even with that little under my belt, I was stunned by how shallow his analysis is. I’m wondering, for instance, how the overthrow of Mossadeq (1953!) fit in to this charming history.
Applied Christian “realism” in two nutshells
Thus it ever was.
Onward Christian soldiers forever marching into deliberately created wars of imperial conquest, including the now time of 2010