More reflections on Rick Warren

Not a reason to reconsider your admiration for Obama. And it may have some benefits. But it’s a deep insult, and those of us who are insulted ought to make our displeasure heard.

1. I’m with those who think this isn’t all that important. Yeah, Rick Warren no doubt thinks I’m going to Hell because I don’t believe that three equals one. F*ck him, and the horse he rode in on. His side lost, my side won. Who cares what that loser thinks?

2. And I’m all in favor of making a big fuss about it, both on principle and as a show of strength. My attitude toward Obama about this is that of the Devil welcoming a new inmate to Hell in a great New Yorker cartoon: “Of course you’re not a bad person. But you made some bad choices.” I don’t think this signals that we (the Obama base) are going to get screwed on policy decisions. (Appointing an openly gay Secretary of the Navy, for example, would be a good way to reassure us on that point.) But we got screwed this time, and we ought to howl about it. If anything, that increases the value of the gift that Obama is giving to Warren: “See, I took a bullet for you.”

3. It’s not just a big diss to gays and women and a diplomatic insult to Iraq, it’s also a big diss to all of mainstream Protestantism. I hope some of the leaders of the big denominations in whose “death” Warren rejoices and whose beliefs he called “Marxism in Christian clothing” will make themselves heard.

4. I’m agnostic as to whether Warren deliberately set Obama up at Saddleback. But note what he didn’t do: after Obama’s remark started to draw fire, he didn’t point out that yes, God has rank even on the President of the United States, and it’s good to have a candidate who understands that. (I don’t think the initial remark was tone-deaf, just over-subtle; I read it as saying, “Only God knows when life begins, and I’m not God.”) And Warren let McCain off the hook for cheating on the “cone of silence.” So he’s earned precisely nothing, in my book.

5. But it’s possible that Warren is weak enough to be corruptible by flattery. What this may help buy (in addition to whatever solace it gives the Palinites) is Warren’s silence, or at least quiescence, when Obama does pro-gay and pro-choice stuff, starting with the repeal of DADT.

Footnote Yes, I understand that the notion that Jews are going to Hell is more or less part of Gospel Christianity; if it were possible to be saved by the Law alone, then why was the Savior sent to the Jews, rather than to the goyim? So while I’m grateful to those Christian theologians who have tried to interpret around this problem, I can’t fault the logic of those who find themselves unable to do so.

But let’s be clear on what this belief means. It’s not just a belief that non-Christians will spend eternity in torment. It’s a belief that we will spend eternity in torment because a just, wise, and loving God thinks that’s where we belong. And as a belief of those whose daily prayer is “Thy will be done,” it means giving a full assent to that judgment. Rick Warren wants me to spend eternity in torment, unless I agree to drink his brand of snake oil.

So what do I think a Christian should do? There are three options:

1. Reinterpret Christianity to get rid of Hell for infidels (or, better, to get rid of Hell entirely). Hard to do either for a sola scriptura Protestant or a faithful Catholic.

2. Accept the doctrine and try to understand it as good. (You can’t be a faithful Christian and think that God wants something bad to happen.)

3. Decide that, despite all the wonderful things about Christianity – parables, Byrd motets, brotherhood of man, stained glass, Martin Luther King, Jr. – it’s morally rotten at the core, and walk away from it.

[That’s what I did with Orthodox Judaism when I read the Book of Joshua just after my Bar Mitzvah and noticed I was asked to believe in a God who ordered genocide. That genocide was wrong I was sure of. Since I wasn’t going to change that belief, and since that belief was inconsistent with Orthodoxy, consistency meant that Orthodoxy had to go. I know some very smart Orthodox folks who manage to believe that (1) genocide is bad; (2) the Tanakh is a reliable source of information; and (3) the God it tells us to worship is good, just, and merciful; obviously, they’re smarter than I am, because I can’t reconcile those three statements.]

Yes, these are three ugly options, if your religion is based on the Bible. And I’ll understand if you choose option #2. But don’t ask me not to take it personally. Everyone agrees that telling someone to “Go to Hell” is an insult. How can the same wish be less of an insult when it’s expressed seriously and calmly rather than in a fit of anger?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com