Sunday, November 13, 2011

On God Telling You to Run for President
Three of the Republican presidential candidates now have 'fessed up to be just following orders from the Almighty: Michele "Batshit" Bachmann, Rick Perry (who apparently needs more specific instruction), and now Herman Cain.

My first thought about this was to admire God's sense of humor. What if they're all telling the truth? I imagined Him and His buddies sitting in the divine version of a man-cave (switch the pronouns if you'd like), pounding brews and cracking up over how He's jerking these dopes around. Granted, the Simpsons already did this in the one where Lisa is Joan of Arc, but if you're going to excise the full Simpsons oeuvre from the realm of dramatic consideration, you've got very little left.

I posted something to this effect on BackSheGoes, and someone responded with the fair-enough point that in the milieu of the Republican primary voter, this both bestows cred and serves as a signifier of humility, because it suggests a motivation other than ambition. In the cases of Perry and Cain, any indication of something other than unlimited self-regard is probably welcome. Then again, humility is usually connected to self-awareness, and Bachmann falls terribly short on that score: I wouldn't be surprised if she literally started flinging poop at one of these debates, and no doubt she'd assert that also was on celestial instruction.

Of course, the thought I've always had regarding most of these folks and their conversations with God is that it's uncanny how often He tells them what they want to hear. I figured George W. Bush's vision of the Almighty was as a smarter version of W. himself, presumably without the daddy issues. That they view themselves as worthy of being God's instrument on Earth also suggests to me something different than, and in fact more like opposed to, humility.

In my admittedly limited grappling with theology, I never totally grasped the doctrine of unconditional election, the idea that God saved some while condemning others. I never wanted to understand it, I think; it felt too much like a blank check, a cosmic cop-out. If you're certain you're saved, you have nothing at stake; by the theory, there's no limit to what evil you can do without consequences, at least not the ultimate, eternal consequence. The twist, I suppose, is that nobody can be certain. But given the very evident self-regard of the individuals we're discussing here, can there be any doubt where they'd place themselves? We know what these people have done: Bachmann's hysterical homophobia, Cain's alleged acts of sexual aggression, Perry's pay-for-play despoiling of the earth. If they're all in God's good books, it's all forgiven... in fact, it's all encouraged: it's all Part of the Plan.

I guess there is another, more sympathetic view one could take. By most accounts, Lincoln's faith evolved while he was in office. This is understandable, of course; the life-and-death decisions he made every day surely created a powerful psychological pressure to find larger meaning, and the thought that all the suffering and destruction and extinguishing of life might have no larger purpose or higher sanction must have been unbearable. He famously said: "My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side." The doubt suggested by that framing seems far more resonant with Christian humility as I understand it than the bleating of the Republican presidential candidates. But perhaps there's a similar, very human, very vulnerable, yearning for certainty buried in what seems so much like bluster. Who would want to act--let alone vote, much less run--against God?