Debating God's Harvard

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Sept. 18 2007 1:07 PM

Debating God's Harvard

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Dear David,

I just spent my day doing about a million small-time radio shows to help promote the book. A few of them ended with something like: "Thank you, Hanna, for helping spread the gospel of Jesus Christ in a nation that so badly needs it." Clearly, some people who interview authors read their books beforehand, and some don't. This is just one of the small indignities of a nationwide publicity tour. So, I thank you, David, for actually reading the book!

Hanna Rosin Hanna Rosin

Hanna Rosin is the founder of DoubleX and a writer for the Atlantic. She is also the author of The End of Men. Follow her on Twitter.

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I'll get straight to your main question: Do these kids understand that Jesus did not say, "Go forth and find me a decent Supreme Court justice who will support the Republican agenda"? As you well know, you are not the first Christian ex-politico to agonize over the question of how politics corrupts the faithful. In Blinded by Might, Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson wrote about how Christian leaders' heads swelled when they started getting invited to the Reagan White House. (When Thomas said something not vicious about Hillary Clinton to a reporter in the '90s, Jerry Falwell sent him a note saying: "Unforgivable compromise. Don't ever call me again.")

In my book, I wrote about some of the Patrick Henry kids campaigning for Jerry Kilgore, who ran against Tim Kaine for Virginia governor. Kaine is a Democrat, but he has a very convincing Christian testimony. On the campaign trail, he told the story of how a mission trip changed his life and made it impossible for him to support the death penalty. In a very pro-death-penalty state, this was a brave thing to do. I showed some of the kids interviews with Kaine in which he spoke in moving, sincere ways about his faith. When I asked if they would ever consider voting for him, they looked at me like I was asking if they would vote for Osama Bin Laden. It just would not penetrate that someone could be a Democrat and a good Christian.

This, you would say, is just further proof that politics is ruining them, and you're right. But I would not then draw the conclusion that they should just drop out. That whole cycle that evangelicals have followed for much of this century (Retreat. No! Storm the gates! Retreat. No! Storm the gates!) is just dysfunctional. It produces someone like James Dobson, who just about every six months barrels into Washington vowing to save it and then one month later leaves bitterly disappointed. He's done it for 30 years, and it doesn't work. It produces the worst of the home-school mentality, which teaches that you can go straight from your kitchen table to the White House and rescue America.

Engaging in politics has a moderating effect and makes you more sophisticated. If Christians don't drop out again, then here is my prediction for what will happen in the next election. Right now, candidates compete for the religious vote with their personal testimonies: Vote for me, because I found Jesus in 1974 when I was in the Amazon! etc. You write in your book about how moved you were by Bush's testimony about how he found Jesus and stopped drinking, and how that made you instinctively trust him. This time around, it will no longer be possible to buy them off with a story.

Given their dubious options in the upcoming Republican primary, they will have no choice but to select someone based on their position, not on their story. The bad part of that is—all those nice, sincere evangelicals working for Obama and Clinton and Edwards probably won't be able to win them over just by telling them their candidate is a nice, sincere Christian. (I only ever heard one Patrick Henry person say something remotely humane about Hillary Clinton, and it was more in the mode of perverse fascination than genuine admiration—"I'm just obsessed with her!") But it also means that they'll probably figure out that they won't be rescuing the nation tomorrow morning.

OK. Now prove me wrong.

Hanna

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