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Again with the exceptionalism

There’s a bit of a fuss, today, in Left Blogovia about Ann Coulter saying what seem to me to be perfectly straightforward things about her theological beliefs. She is a religious exceptionalist; she believes that things would be much better if everyone were Christian. Furthermore, she believes that the New Testament “perfects” the Old Testament, which, again, is a common and mainstream form of Christian Exceptionalism. To quote from a transcript over at E&P:

We believe the Old Testament. As you know from the Old Testament, God was constantly getting fed up with humans for not being able to, you know, live up to all the laws. What Christians believe -- this is just a statement of what the New Testament is -- is that that's why Christ came and died for our sins. Christians believe the Old Testament. You don't believe our testament.

Now, not all Christians are essentialists. There are those who believe that there is no way to the Father but through the Son, and there are those who believe that the Lord’s house has many mansions. And there are those who believe both, and work to reconcile them. So, please, Gentle Reader, do not assume that Christians are essentialists, nor assume that pluralist Christians are any less sincere and devout in their devotion to Scripture and the Divine than the essentialist ones. Matt Yglesias makes this mistake. There is deep theology involved on either side of the question.

A couple of years ago, on the 10th of January 2005, in fact, I wrote a note called Spitting on Madison, wherein I wrote: “The essential dividing line in American culture at the moment is the answer to this question: do you believe that all those outside of your church tradition are damned?” I still think this is true. I think that this divide is deep, and it’s fundamental, and it has a lot to do with our reactions to, just to pick a few, the invasion of Iraq, health care, climate change and the application of the rule of law to the Executive Branch. Again, I’m not claiming that every one of the people on my side of one is on my side of the others, or that all the people opposed to me on one are opposed to me on all. I am, however, claiming that there are a few millions of people who are opposed to me on all of those issues, and who are exceptionalists, and whose exceptionalism is deeply connected to their positions on those issues.

I keep wanting us to talk about these issues, as a society. How do we accommodate exceptionalism? Can we trust exceptionalists? We can’t trust Ann Coulter, obviously, in a variety of ways, but one of the essentials of democracy is that she gets to vote, and that’s a good thing. But ... without arguing the theology with her, can I argue policy with her?

And ... given that I am not a Christian, is it appropriate for me to argue theology with Christians at all? I mean, I think her interpretation of Paul’s attitudes (which is the line through which her quote travels) is wrong, and that the whole tradition she is drawing from is wrong. Wrong, I mean, not because she’s wrong to be a Christian, but wrong because it leans on a misunderstanding of Paul and of the Gospels. On the other hand, I don’t think of either Paul or the Gospels as Scripture. I can assume the Christian attitude, and attempt to argue it from that, but why would that pretense be appropriate? Why would any Christian exceptionalist allow herself to be persuaded by a non-Christian that one form of Christianity is better than another?

Well, and that’s all navel-gazing, in some ways. But I continue to think that it would be a good idea to ask the question of all our public figures: do you believe that all those outside of your church tradition are damned? And I’d like to have a survey of the general populace as well. And a breakdown by voting record, and by political party. Just for curiosity’s sake, and to get a map of the sea we’re navigating through. Ms. Coulter is far from alone.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


So, you talk about exceptionalism and essentialism as if they are the same thing. Are they the same thing? My modern religious theory is not so good with the jargon and the terms and the words and stuff.

As to that, I think damnation is a silly idea, but then I'm a crypto-Buddhist Discordian, so who cares what I think, anyway? I am SO going to Hell.


Oh, voting record: pretty much Democrat, except when I vote for Ralph Nader or someone extreme like that.


Oops. That's a typo, or rather a writing and editing error. I meant exceptionalist, but I typed essentialist, and then when I scanned it over, I read the word I expected to see, rather than the one I actually typed. Sorry about that.


On the topic, David S. Bernstein points out that Ms. Coulter’s idea of Heaven is something like New York during the Republican National Convention in 2004, all happy, all Christian, just like Mayor Bloomberg. Would somebody like to ask the current RNC chair Mike Duncan if the Minneapolis 2008 crowd will all be Christian? Or, even better, would someone like to ask the current candidates whether they thought Heaven would be a lot like RNC 2004? It makes as much sense as asking their favorite Bible verses, doesn’t it? I mean, I'd still rather ask my version, but the other seems to be the sort of thing that appeals to television journalists.


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