Wednesday, March 19, 2008

About Obama's $20,000 Contribution

I find myself surprised and discouraged by one aspect of the conservative attack on Obama.

I'm not surprised or discouraged by the that they think Obama should disown Rev. Wright unless Wright himself disowns and apologizes for his profoundly false and unjust* rhetoric. All that is appropriate.

No, what gets me down is that they refer to Obama's gift of $20,000 to Wright's church as being particularly indicative of Obama's support of Wright and of his rhetoric.

Twenty thousand dollars? A mere twenty thousand dollars? Is...surprising? Is indicative of wholehearted support? Shows Obama to be joined at the hip to this execrable clergyman?

Folks, we're talking about the donations of a Christian layperson to his church, here.

The normative (I do not say normal, because I'm well aware many fall short) practice in Christendom regarding church contributions is something called tithing. For those of you who sleep in on Sundays, it means you give ten percent of your pre-tax income to your local church, to assist it both in (a.) its operation costs, and (b.) in funding its own ministries to the needy in your local community and in the world.

Now, before anyone with theology degrees starts to hammer me with explanations why God does not require ten percent and how that's a mis-reading of Scripture, let me preempt that discussion by saying I'm aware of all that. It doesn't change the fact that ten percent is (a.) reasonably common among the faithful; (b.) a measure of a person's trust in God and awareness of God's sovereignty -- including ownership -- over all there is; (c.) is considered a low-ball figure for people who are particularly wealthy, as Americans in general and the Obamas in particular unquestionably are.

C. S. Lewis wrote that, when it comes to giving to church and charity, he felt the only "safe" approach was to give more than he felt willing to give, more than he thought he could afford without discomfort. Another, similar, approach is stated this way: "The responsibility of the believer is to keep his church operating and to provide for the poor, and to do so generously, even up to the point -- though not past the point -- where he himself thereby would become unnecessarily dependent on others."

A few paragraphs ago I used the phrase "a mere twenty thousand dollars." Sure enough, $20K isn't "merely" anything for me. But my income is, uh, rather less than that of Obama and his wife, which has tended to hover at well over $750,000 per year for a long time.

If Obama and his wife made only $200,000 in a year, then a $20,000 gift to his church would be ten percent: One year's normal gift. Of course, the word "normal" in that sentence should be read: "normal for folks who aren't particularly blessed with high incomes." Since the Obamas would unquestionably be considered high-earners even if they were only (!) making $200,000, a tithe of $20,000 would probably be considered a bit stingy by common Christian standards.

And for a man whose household income sometimes tops $1 million, a $20,000 check is, well, extremely underwhelming as a sign of fervent support. It is, in fact, a sign of a lukewarm, rather than firm, attachment to Wright and his church.

All of the above assumes, of course, that Obama does not regard tithing as merely his religious duty owed directly to God, rather than a way of expressing how he feels about each Sunday's sermon. If that is the way Obama thinks about his contributions, why then, the whole discussion of the number "twenty thousand" is completely irrelevant to Obama's approval or disapproval of Wright.

So when I've seen some commentary from conservatives referencing this amount, I've been surprised and discouraged. Why should they regard this amount as so unusual, unless...unless they themselves are unfamiliar with trusting God with their financial needs, and giving generously to church and charity? Is the problem that they think of their church contributions as just a way to "tip" the pastor for a good sermon? Is the problem that they, some of them with six-figure incomes, contribute to their churches by dropping a fiver in the plate every once in a while when they feel like it, and can't contemplate why anyone would do more?

I've noticed, on occasion, some of those same conservative authors referencing C. S. Lewis in such a way as to suggest they thought highly of the man, even considered him something of an example. Well, Lewis sometimes gave half of his income away in various charities. That is the Christian perspective on such deeds.

Excited exclamations over Obama's $20,000 gift?! Pah. Someone isn't thinking straight.

* Note that my choice of adjectives for Wright's rhetoric was "false and unjust" not "divisive" or "hateful" or "racially inflammatory" or other such formulations. Such formulations may accurately describe Wright's rhetoric; however, sometimes things must be said, because they are truths which need facing, despite their sounding hateful or divisive or even racially inflammatory. So those adjectives themselves are not definite arguments for Wright keeping his forked tongue behind his teeth. But Wright's words, in relevant part, were false and unjust, and saying them represents an evil act by Wright on that basis alone.

The Absolute Best Quote re: Obama's Speech About Wright

A reader e-mailed Jonah Goldberg with the following statement:

"Obama - I smoked Pastor Wright's sermons, but I didn't inhale them."

Sheer perfection.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Left Parses Pastor Wright

So: Here is Andrew Sullivan's defense of Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright:

The utter craziness of the Frederick Douglass comparison (Pastor Wright's speechifying is apparently to be regarded as an updated version, and therefore equally valid) astounds me.

To "damn" something or someone has a very specific meaning in Christianity. "God damn X" means: May X be utterly destroyed in the fires of hell. It is the type of thing that one says about sin, about institutionalized evil. You can't, in fact, wish anything worse on anyone or anything.

It is never the type of thing that one says about a sinner -- who ought to be loved, and for whose redemption we hope, despite the damnation of his sin.

"America" is a word also having meaning. America is her ideals -- including some that are only honored in the breach -- and her people -- even those who don't espouse her ideals.

Frederick Douglass would, I am certain, be aware of the distinction. He would likely call "damnation" on slavery, on segregation, on racism. All that is appropriate. But to call "damnation" on her people, generally? On her ideals, generally? On, in short, America?

This, if we are to take his words as meaningful, is what Wright has said: Freedom of Speech: Send it to hell! A Congress instead of a King: Send it to hell! Defense of the Liberty of Europe: Send it to hell! George Washington: Send him to hell! Thomas Jefferson: Send him to hell! Abraham Lincoln: Send him to hell! Thurgood Marhsall: Send him to hell! Rosa Parks: Send her to hell!

Frederick Douglass was a class act. Frederick Douglass would have been deeply ashamed of himself to say, would have considered it psychopathic to say, even in the era of slavery, let alone segregation, the particular curse against America that Wright has said, today, when those things are long gone.

"No, no, no," says the left: "You're parsing Wright's words as if you thought they all, individually, had meanings you could look up in the Oxford English Dictionary. That's not the way that black preachers talk. They're more emotional. They aren't a bunch of over-parsed Anglican bishops. When you listen to a black preacher you're supposed to absorb emotion, not meaning."

Oh, I see. So the reason some leftists are okay with this statement is not because they believe or agree with its actual content, but because they think it has no actual content.

In short, the attitude of the elite left toward the blacks who slavishly elect them is, as it has always been: "Aw, let 'em rail. Blacks haven't got the sophistication to actually mean anything by it, and their ardor is entertaining, as long as it favors us in the next election."

The elite and "softly bigoted" left views Wright the way they always viewed Sharpton and Jackson: That it's just a black preacher getting uppity, and whaddaya expect?