Friday, October 12, 2007

Ann Coulter's teachable moment

Before I post on Ann Coulter's remarks on Jews and Christians, I want to point out a bit of personal history. My daughter-in-law, who I love dearly, is Jewish. When my grandson was born, she and my son briefly considered not raising him in any particular religious tradition so that he could choose one when he was older. I, of course, did not say anything but thought that was a mistake. Upon further review, they decided that he should be raised in the Jewish faith. I was greatly relieved by that. It is a far better choice for him. I congratulated them on their wisdom.

I don't say that to show that I am some paragon of tolerance, but to point out that, when it comes to people who I would, quite literally, die for, I think that being a practicing Jew is a very good thing and, like any good grandfather, I think my little Aidan is perfect.

I should also point out that, as is so often the case with Coulter, her flippant way of putting things seems (and maybe is) calculated to give offense. I can't imagine wanting to say what she said in the way that she said it. What I am about to say about the need for us to be willing to take other's ideas seriously and to be willing to listen to them even when we don't like them does presume that those ideas ought to be expressed with some regard for the sensitivity of the audience. I can't really blame people for being annoyed at the suggestion that they need to be "perfected." I also am aware that, when it comes to Jews, many Christians over many years have misunderstood and distorted the proper relation between their faith and Christianity and have expressed it through the evil of anti- semitism. We can't ignore that context even if we want to be funny.

So without letting her off the hook for all that, I want to break down what she said because I think at least some of the outrage about it reflects our inability to take religious ideas seriously and the way in which we think they ought to be circumscribed in public discourse. I am, of course, a little reluctant to use the remarks of a political entertainer as a vehicle to do so. I understand that there is something put on about the little dance that she and Deutsch did. She likes to provoke because it is money. He likes to put on the armor of offense and allow her to provoke because he is an entertainer too. But that's what gets attention nowdays and you work with what you have to.

Did Deutsch need to be so offended? Could she have expressed something of the concepts that she was driving at in a way that would be socially acceptable public discourse?

Ann said that she thinks everyone should be Christian. Is that, in and of itself, offensive? Christianity teaches that God made a unique and critically important revelation in Jesus Christ. Attending to that revelation, we say, is a very good thing. Why would we not want everyone to do it? Even if we believe (as mainstream Christianity also teaches) that non-Christians can be saved and have faith traditions that are important and valued, we also believe that others would benefit by acknowledging and trying to live into that revelation. (Although there is also a strain of thought in Christianity that, because of the unique covenant between God and the Jews, even those Jews who become Christians ought to remain Jews. Paul believed that. So in that sense if Coulter is saying - as Deutsch suggested - that Judaism ought to be thrown away, there may be a further theological problem.)

You are free to disagree and decline that invitation just as I can decline the invitation of others. I know, for example, that Muslims believe that we all should convert to Islam. The new breed of evangelical atheists who keep writing books think that we should all abandon belief in God. I think both groups are wrong, but they don't offend me and I don't assume that the statement of their views is hateful.

As far as the "perfected" part, that is, of course, overly simple and needlessly provocative. It also implies (although I don't think she meant) that Christians are more valued by God and I don't find that anywhere in my religion. But, of course, Christians believe that God's revelation in Christ was a fulfilment of a promise to the Jews and is a step forward in and even a completion of humanity's understanding of and relation to God, freeing us from the yoke of the law. Although to call that a "fast track" hardly does it justice, it certainly could be called a perfection - not of people - but of that relationship. (And is, if you believe inconsequential Christians like the Pope and lions of theology like Karl Barth, a perfection that benefits everyone.)

My point here is not to defend Ann Coulter. I don't really care about what anyone thinks of her and she seems quite able to take care of herself. I think that we should, out of common courtesy and in order to be taken seriously, phrase things in a way that communicates respect for others. My point is to say that people ought to be able to express what they believe and not have everyone go off in spasms of offense because they don't accept it. While I realize that how we say things is an important part of making that happen, I also think, again, that we should be slower to outrage.


Anonymous said...

Where did you get that Paul said that Jews should continue practicing Judiasm after accepting Christ? Paul was probably one of the strictest Jews (prior to conversion)one could be and didn't do that.

When the Jews were dispersed from there homeland, many Christians helped them and do to this day with there return. Your generalization that Christians have been anti-semetic is in itself the same. Christians fully understand that Jews that don't accept Christ will be judged by the law and those that do accept Him will be accepted through grace.

Some Christians also understand that Ann Coultor probably herself understands little of Christainity and uses it for political sport. At least she is cheering on the right side. Nevertheless, a quick study of our founding fathers will find that success of the goverment they set up highly depended on the principals of Christianity, so her statement ignorant or not is one that would be best for this nation.

Remember that Jews didn't start coming to this nation until the mid 1800's and other religions later than that. Christians accepted everyone in hopes that they would convert to Christianity, which many did. Why should we stop hoping that people would convert now?

Anonymous said...

Silly discussion, since she's no Christian.

I could say I'm blonde, but that wouldn't make it so.

(She's probably not a blonde, either.)

p.s. to anonymous: Jews were here a lot sooner than you think, since even the first one in Milwaukee was in the 1700s, at the least.

Wasn't it nice of him to "accept" the Christians coming here later? It was a mitzvah, ain'a?

So, thanks, but I'll hold my cheers for your "side," even though I'm a Christian, too -- but not on the "side" you're claiming for me. When you don't know your facts, your opinions are useless.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:58 -

I suppose the Pilgrims weren't Christians and that the English landing in Virginia (400 years ago this year) didn't dedicate this land to Christ. Maybe the 13 colonies really weren't Christian and there Constituions didn't require you to be so to serve in goverment.

Yep, you sure know your facts...

illusory tenant said...

[Ann Coulter's] no Christian. * * * I'm a Christian.

That's the Spirit.

jp said...


For heavens sake she’s a New Yorker.

Anonymous said...

Let me get this straight... we should be tolerant of perhaps the most intolerant "human" on the face of the earth?

john said...

Yes, we should even be tolerant of Frank Murtha.

john said...

"p.s. to anonymous: Jews were here a lot sooner than you think, since even the first one in Milwaukee was in the 1700s, at the least.

Wasn't it nice of him to "accept" the Christians coming here later? It was a mitzvah, ain'a?""

So are you saying that the JEWS started spreading diseases amongst the "native Americans" here first?

I love it when people try to one up each others religion, and call others intolerant.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 11:10 -- reread and you'll see that my comment on "accepting" followed a previous sentence that provided the context for my use of "here," i.e., Milwaukee. See it now?

You want to talk about the East, sure, we can do that. Yes, Puritans and Jamestown settlers were Christians. But do you know how soon Jews settled in the East? Do you? If you were nice, I'd tell you. . . .

But you do know, I hope, that they and the colonies were British then -- so are you Anglican and recognize the head of your church, too?

We had a revolution to change that -- to separate church from state. Catch up.

john said...

Anon 9:42.
We never had a revolution to separate church and state.

What country are you referring to?
Certainly not America.

Goodness Anon 9:42, certainly you aren't trying to justify and rationalize that the U.S.Revolution was fought to eradicate religion? You couldn't possibly be that stupid or dishonest. Are you liberal? No offense, but, if you are liberal, there might be goverment programs to cure you or your dysfunctional thoughts. You could get some money for "retraining".

Shecky Greene said...

John: Don't quit your day job.

Anonymous said...

I think the point Coulter and many others make is that the secular state we have now is far worse than the Christian principaled state we once had.

When considering the decline of morality of the nation since the early sixties and that the main concern of goverment (all branches) is now the fat salaries and pensions rather then public service, law, fairness and justice, we have a nation that is going the way of Rome.

It's time that good people resisted this continuation and if it takes Coulter and others to get it discussed, sobeit.

Anonymous said...

Ann Coulter is the anorexic Rosie O'Donnell of the right!

Anonymous said...


Dad29 said...

As most will be SHOCKED to see, St. Paul himself referred to Christianity as "the perfection" of Judaism.

You know, Old Testament/New Testament stuff. Actual quotes from real theologians.

See for the actual facts of the matter.

Dad29 said...

By the way...

I wouldn't have said what Coulter said in the first place. And since she said it (and is using Ephesians to justify it), she's STILL not phrasing it correctly.

Paul's Ephesians says that the New Covenant is "the perfection" of the Old Covenant--obviously, quite a bit different from the personalization Coulter used. IOW, she's close, but not quite spot-on.

She woulda been smarter if she had described the US as a "Judaeo-Christian" society, which phrasing is less contentious by far.

Anonymous said...

dad29 -

could you be more specific as to what chapter and versus she is using?

Dad29 said...

Correction: Hebrews.

The Oxford U. commentary on that epistle is found in this blogpost:

illusory tenant said...

The anonymous author of Hebrews says he (or she) received the Gospel from third parties, as opposed to St. Paul, who claimed he got it direct from Christ.

Ergo, the author of Hebrews is not the author of Ephesians.

Please adjust your theology accordingly.