Monday, November 16, 2020

Smarter Than a Box of Rocks

Among the many downticket races I didn't pay enough attention to was the one for North Carolina's Congressional District 11.  The seat was open because incumbent Mark Meadows had left to become Donald Trump's Chief of Staff, and Trump endorsed Lynda Bennett as the Republican nominee.  But Bennett was trounced in the primary by Madison Cawthorn, a 25-year-old with no political experience, who went on to defeat the Democratic challenger, a middle-aged military veteran who was also new to politics.  Judging by that article, Davis tried to run as a centrist, a good recipe for failure in a longtime Republican stronghold like the 11th District.

Cawthorn got a lot of attention: not only is he very young, he's wheelchair-bound due to an auto accident several years ago; he was homeschooled, dropped (or maybe flunked) out of college, has been accused of sexual aggressiveness, and as CNN delicately described him, "is a motivational speaker and filed to start a real estate investment company last year."  The company seems not to have gotten off the ground, perhaps because of Cawthorn's new political enterprise, and "motivational speaker" means that he witnesses to Jesus at evangelical churches around the state.  He also paid a "bucket list" visit in 2017 to the Eagle's Nest, Hitler's mountain chalet, referring to Hitler in a now-deleted Instagram post as "the Fuhrer" and as "supreme evil."

Now Cawthorn's in Washington for freshman Congressional orientation, and he granted an interview to Jewish Insider, missing few opportunities to put his foot in his mouth.

“It’s actually incredible,” Cawthorn said of orientation. “I’m a lover of history, so it’s incredible to be in a place where we had the vote to decide to have the Emancipation Proclamation, where we decided to go to World War II, where the civil rights battles were fought. I mean, it’s just, I got to spend about 30 minutes all by myself on the House floor yesterday — and just to be frank with you, I was in awe.”

He loves history, so of course he doesn't know that the Emancipation Proclamation was Abraham's executive order, not voted on by Congress.  He also reportedly said that James Madison signed the Declaration of Independence.  One presumable liberal lamented that Cawthorn had been "appointed" to Congress, which indicates that Cawthorn's not the only political illiterate around.  But he does at least know that the presidential election could go to the House of Representatives.  And he's already learning how to triangulate like a born politician: he has "expressed admiration [for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] despite taking issue with her policies.  'I’m looking forward to [talking to her], though, for sure,' he said. 'Disagree with just about everything she believes in, but I think that we need more people of conviction.'"

Cawthorn's clearly not the sharpest pencil in the box, and I wish NC-11 had someone better to represent it in Congress, but neither of his opponents was particularly good; and if we removed all the politically and historically ignorant pols from office, things would be interesting.  I recall, for example, a highly-placed elected official, a Constitutional scholar no less, who declared confidently and falsely that it would be unprecedented for the Supreme Court to overturn a law passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.  Nor have I noticed that liberals and progressives are much more knowledgeable overall about history and politics than conservatives and reactionaries.

What really set people off, though were Cawthorn's remarks about religion.  It's not surprising that a religious nut would seek to bring everyone he could into the body of Christ; in a pluralist society like this one, one simply has to learn to deal with missionaries.  (Not only Christian ones: in the past I've fended off Muslims and Hare Krishna peddlers.)  There's no need to indulge them, just tell them No and send them on their way.  I've noticed that a good many American liberals react to Christian missionaries the way that many heterosexual males react to homosexual passes: they don't seem to realize that they are allowed to turn down an offer, so they freak out.

Cawthorn's takes on Judaism and Islam are familiar to me; I've led a less sheltered life than many liberals.  He told the Insider "he had read through 'just about every single religious work there is,' including the Torah and the Quran."  I take this claim with plenty of salt, though many liberals don't know that the Torah is the first five books of the Christian Bible either.  He made some doubtful claims of having won over a couple of Muslims, and then:

Had he ever tried to convert any Jews to the Christian faith?

“I have,” he said with a laugh. “I have, unsuccessfully. I have switched a lot of, uh, you know, I guess, culturally Jewish people. But being a practicing Jew, like, people who are religious about it, they are very difficult. I’ve had a hard time connecting with them in that way.”

Cawthorn expressed a similar sentiment during a July 2019 sermon at a church in Highlands, North Carolina. “If you have Jewish blood running through your veins today,” he told the crowd, mulling on a chapter from the Gospel of Mark, “this might not mean as much to you, but for someone like me, who’s a gentile, this means a lot.”
This got him some mockery, but also some alarmist high dudgeon for the bit about "Jewish blood running through your veins."  As the philosopher Michael Neumann wrote a few years ago,

But here, immediately, we come up against the venerable shell-game of Jewish identity: “Look! We’re a religion! No! a race! No! a cultural entity! Sorry–a religion!” When we tire of this game, we get suckered into another: “anti-Zionism is antisemitism! ” quickly alternates with: “Don’t confuse Zionism with Judaism! How dare you, you antisemite!”
The notion of blood as a "racial" essence is too widespread, including in Israel, and certainly in the Tanakh and the New Testament, for me to get very worked up about this example.  Racial/ethnic discourse stinks to high heaven almost everywhere it turns up, not just among right-wing Republicans.

I was fascinated, though, by the panicky reactions many people had to the idea of being proselytized.  For  example, the BlueMAGA personality Charlotte Clymer.

I don't know who needs to hear this (@CawthornforNC), but you can be faithful to Christ without invalidating and shaming those of other faith traditions, notably Jewish and Muslim folks. It's profoundly insulting and dehumanizing. It's also NOT what Christ would do.
Invalidating, shaming, insulting and dehumanizing is absolutely what Christ would do.  He spent a lot of time attacking his fellow Jews, he insulted a gentile woman who approached him to heal her sick daughter, and he ordered his followers to go and make disciples of all nations, replacing their "faith traditions" with his teachings and commands.  It's arguable that you can't "be faithful to Christ" without attacking the beliefs of others. 

Or this person:

Many have the best intentions, but trying to convert people to another religion is mean.

Madison Cawthorn does NOT have the best intentions. His attempts are evil.

(Some religions, such as Buddhism, have NO RECRUITING policies, because recruiting is mean).

She's at least as ignorant as Cawthorn, or Clymer.  Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam are all missionary religions.  All three have made converts by persuasion and by force.  When I challenged her, she linked to an article in which the Dalai Lama spoke against attempts to convert, but he represents at most one stream of Buddhism.  He wouldn't exist if Tibetans hadn't been 'recruited' to Buddhism.  She added "Of course, there is a great deal of diversity in a Buddhism, so people enjoy different experiences, depending on the country or culture."  That "diversity" includes missionary activity, but it's clear she knows nothing about the history of Buddhism, let alone other proselytizing religions.

After JI inquired about Cawthorn’s thoughts on the separation of church and state, he said that many people have asked him if he will be able to divorce himself from his faith as a congressman. “That is the basis of all of my experience and everything I’ve learned, everything that I believe in, how I’ve formed all of my worldview,” he said of his religion. “I always think of that question as just so silly.”

“The Lord and the Bible and the value systems I’ve gotten through Judeo-Christian values,” he added, “it affects every single decision I make.”

I don't like this kind of talk either, but it doesn't bother liberals when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Joe Biden expresses similar views.  Nor do they mind it when AOC or other Democrats insult and invalidate the "faith traditions" of reactionary Christians; indeed, they regard it as mandatory and a badge of honor to do so.

Yes, Madison Cawthorn is profoundly ignorant, but not more so than his liberal-religious counterparts.  It would have been better for the country if a Democrat had beaten him, but Moe Davis didn't.  The JI interview is refreshingly free of hysteria; unfortunately, most of the liberal and progressive responses to it are not.  I'm not optimistic about the chances of lessening the polarization that everyone loves to deplore in American political life, and when I see Democrats loving their ragegasms I know that they can't be counted on to do anything about it.