When Journalists (or op-ed writers) Get Biblical

Speaking of credentials for ministry, I am not sure it’s a positive development when any Tom, Maleek, or Kasheena can give speeches or write columns with the idea that they know what the Bible teaches. Bonnie Kristian (seriously) decided to challenge Mike Pompeo for a speech in which he referred to Iran’s hostility to Israel as a carry over from the way Persians regarded the Israelites in the book of Esther. In this contest, Kristian has some expertise on foreign policy and has written a book on “flexible” Christianity with a foreword by Gregory Boyd and endorsed by Jonathan Merritt (excuse the genetic fallacy). Meanwhile, Pompeo is a member of an Evangelical Presbyterian Church. He also operates under the hardship of being a member of the Trump administration.

Here is the point of contention: Pompeo doesn’t understand Esther.

The linchpin of Pompeo’s CUFI treatment of Iran was the scriptural book of Esther, which in his telling is evidence that Iran has for centuries been a hotbed of anti-Semitism. “That same twisted, intolerant doctrine that fuels persecution inside Iran has also led the ayatollah and his cronies to cry out, quote, ‘death to Israel’ for four decades now,” Pompeo said. “This is similar to a cry that came out of Iran — then called Persia — many, many years ago. The Book of Esther teaches us about this.”

No, it doesn’t. As Duke Divinity professor Lauren Winner has explained, Esther is rich in themes worth exploring: “There are a lot of lessons about how power works in this story,” challenging us to examine “our own displays of power in our own smaller empires, even if the empire is no bigger than … than our own heart.” And “Esther is also a story about exile,” Winner adds, “about being an exiled Jew, an exiled person of faith, and what it means to live in a place that is foreign, to live in a place where you are foreign, where you and your kinsman are aliens. Esther is a book about how to live with your community in a place that is indifferent to you or hostile to you.”

Kristian goes on to state that Esther is also a story about courage and she supplies a link to a piece by Rachel Held Evans.

Bottom line: Pompeo’s use of Esther is “inexcusably misleading.”

The editors at The Week actually know enough about the Bible to conclude that Kristian is on firm ground? Kristian herself appeals to a Duke Divinity School professor, with a terminal degree in religious history but who is also an Episcopal priest, and a parachurch blogger to be able to say with such certainty that Pompeo is wrong? Couldn’t a better point have been that the Secretary of State should simply use assessments of the middle East from the contemporary world rather than trotting out a part of Scripture that is likely to provoke Christians, Jews, and Muslims?

But if Kristian is going to enter the fray of the authoritative interpretation of Esther, at least let Christopher Guest have a stab:

Advertisements

Those Also Were the Days

Damon Linker remembers those crazies times under President Obama:

As Delmore Schwartz once joked, sometimes paranoids have real enemies, and the paranoid-in-chief occupying the Oval Office has some very real and very powerful enemies.

Anyone who denies this needs to go back and reread the most important (and unfairly maligned) magazine feature written last year: David Samuels’ 9,500-word New York Times Magazine profile of Obama administration senior staffer Ben Rhodes. Journalists hated the piece, but for reasons so self-serving that it’s hard to believe anyone took the objections seriously. (My colleague Noah Millman noted as much shortly after the essay appeared.)

Samuels portrays (and quotes) Rhodes as someone who views both reporters (“they literally know nothing”) and Washington’s foreign policy establishment (Rhodes calls it “The Blob”) with utter contempt. It’s that contempt that Rhodes uses to justify the propaganda shop he ran out of the Obama White House, subtly but significantly manipulating the story that the mainstream media told about the Iran nuclear deal by selectively and repeatedly leaking tiny bits of information to dozens of journalists who wove those bits of micro-spin into countless tweets and stories over the course of many months. The end result was a pro-Iran deal conventional wisdom — a pointillistic picture of reality composed entirely of colorful dots painted by Rhodes and his staff with the knowledge and support of the president.

While trying to get the Iran deal approved, Rhodes was in the position of needing to use journalists to defeat The Blob, which viewed with extreme skepticism (if not outright hostility) the Obama administration’s efforts to reach a nuclear accord with Tehran. But once Donald Trump won the presidency, old opponents found themselves firmly on the same side. Rhodes and his former boss, the bipartisan foreign policy establishment, and the nameless and faceless bureaucrats who staff the executive branch agencies and departments that make up the “intelligence community.” All of them were now united in standing against a president who had vowed to break far more radically from the established Washington consensus than Obama ever dreamed of doing.

What makes America great? Remembering sometime.

Thought Experiment

After reading Mustafa Akyol:

On this latter issue, however, President Rouhani Obama spoke recently in a tone very different from what Iranians Americans are used to hearing from their leaders. At a gathering with police commanders, he said, “Police do not have a duty to enforce Islam Christianity. No police officer can do something and say he did it because God commanded it or the prophet said Bible says so. It has nothing to do with the police.”

As an example, Rouhani Obama mentioned the imposition of daily prayer by the police. He said, “Can police interfere in this? Can he come into a bank and tell the bank’s president, ‘Close your doors, it’s noon and it’s the call to prayer.’ If someone is praying, can they go to him and say ‘Why did you pray fast?’ This has nothing to do with the police.”

As one could expect, these words raised objections from Iran’s the United States’ more conservative scholars, who believe that the state should be the agency of “commanding the right and forbidding the wrong.” This is an oft-repeated concept in the Quran Old Testament and it is the basis of all authoritarian Muslim theonomic institutions and attitudes. However, at least in our modern age, this authoritarianism in the name of religion does not nurture what it seeks to achieve, which is religiosity. Rather, it nurtures something quite distasteful from the Quranic biblical point of view: hypocrisy.

For if people pray because policemen come to their door and check them, then this means they will pray in fear not of God but of the police. They will worship not out of a genuine will to honor God but out of a social necessity.

This is why all “Islamic” states of our day and age attempts at Christendom nurture hypocritical societies, where many people behave as though they are pious when they are under the control of the authorities, but behave quite differently when they are free. The Islamic Christian goal, however, should be to raise individuals who are willingly to be pious when they are free, as they should always be.