Sunday, 21 September 2008

Sarah Palin

So why should ‘Orthodox Monk’ get mixed up with politics and, above all, with the Republican candidate for Vice-President of the United States of America?

We avoid politics like the plague here but there are some issues of a spiritual nature in connection with Sarah Palin’s candidacy.

First of all, why is Sarah Palin important?

John McCain is 72 years old. He spent 5½ years in a POW camp in Vietnam. During the first two years he was tortured. He has four times had invasive skin cancer.

They say that he has a 17% actuarial chance of dying in his first 4 years in office as President of the United States. But those actuarial statistics are for the general population of 72 year-old Americans; they don’t take into account McCain’s special circumstances: his experience with cancer, his experience of being tortured—and above all the stress of the office of the presidency.

When the survivors of Auschwitz returned to Israel, as time went on it was noted that they were longer-lived than the actuarial tables would have led one to expect. They were called the ‘survivors’: they were the ones who had survived the death camp; they were the strong, the fit—the survivors. They didn’t die readily. They hung on and on.

However, this model does not apply to McCain. However nasty his treatment in Vietnam was—and we are not denying it—it was not at a level of abuse where, say, half the POW’s died on the spot. Most if not all of the American POW’s came home again.

But that means that a different dynamic comes into play. It is the case of having the **** beat out of you. It is the dynamic of someone who has suffered and thus lost years off his life. Hence, it may be that the actuarial tables, based as they are on the life expectancies of the general American population, are too generous to McCain as regards his own life expectancy.

Add to that the cancers. While McCain has allowed certain reporters, almost none of them medical doctors, to review his medical records for three hours without making photocopies, and is said to be in good health for someone of his age, with no sign of a recurrence of his cancers, surely the cancers cannot be ignored in assessing his life expectancy.

Finally there is the factor that McCain actually comes across as an old man. His famous gaffes suggest to us someone who is entering senility—someone who is starting to feel the intellectual consequences of age. We do not say this as a cheap shot. We really think that McCain’s gaffes are a sign of diminishing intellectual powers because of age.

Add to all this the fact that the Presidency of the United States is hardly a stress-free occupation. Whatever you do to have your subordinates shield you from sources of stress, whatever you do to make sure that you get enough sleep, whatever you do to satisfy your appetites, whatever your doctor does to make sure that your ticker keeps ticking and your brain keeps functioning more or less the way it should, you’re still not very far from the Situation Room with its electronic maps of the nuclear submarines prowling about ready to launch nuclear weapons on a moment’s notice against any and all enemies, with its direct voice and data links to the command centres in Colorado and elsewhere; you’re never very far from the courteous young man with the briefcase chained to his wrist with the codes to launch a nuclear war; you’re still not very far from the fact that someone might launch a terrorist attack on the United States one fine day after you’ve gone to bed thinking everything is okay for yet another day; you’re still receiving the President’s Daily Brief every morning from the Director of National Intelligence; you still have to figure out what to do about nuclear-armed Pakistan which is disintegrating and North Korea which is reneging on its agreement to dismantle its nuclear weapons program and—, and—; you still have the occasional war or revolution that didn’t go quite the way you had planned or expected; you still have to deal with foreign heads of state and Senators and Vice Presidents and political opponents and newspapermen—and all those damned TV cameras that watch your every move!

So it seems to us that in the circumstances it is not far-fetched to conceive the day that Sarah Palin is sworn in as President of the United States over the casket of John McCain.

So there will be a nice funeral. What then?

What prompted this post was the issue of Sarah Palin’s religious beliefs and how they might impinge on her possible presidency.

Now the conventional wisdom is that in politics one’s personal religious beliefs don’t matter because no one takes their religious beliefs seriously. On Sunday the President listens to a nice sermon on turning the other cheek and on Monday he gives instructions to the Director of Central Intelligence who to assassinate.

However, in Sarah Palin’s case, things are different. As far as we can make out, Sarah was originally Roman Catholic and baptized as such. She was then rebaptized at the age of ten in the Wasilla Assembly of God church. In other words, Sarah Palin is a born-again Pentecostalist. She really believes. She’s really committed. Some evidence of this can be seen in her early political career: she would like Creationism taught in schools; she really believes the earth is 5000 years old; she wanted a book presenting homosexuality in a positive light removed from the town library; she seems to think that the war in Iraq was ordained by God; she was prayed over by a Pentecostalist pastor from Africa before her election to the governorship of Alaska and attributed her election to that blessing or anointing.

We think that in this Governor Palin is far more a committed born-again Pentecostalist than George Bush ever was a committed born-again fundamentalist.

Now we, ‘Orthodox Monk’, might agree with some aspects of Sarah’s social positions but that is not the point. The point is how Sarah Palin’s religious beliefs are going to impinge on her management of public policy.

To begin with, let us look at something St Augustine said. St Augustine, from bitter experience, was against fornication. It’s wrong. It’s a sin. However, we understand him to have said, if the State closed all the brothels, then the world would go up in flames because of desire. In other words, private morality and public policy are not necessarily identical. Different criteria come into play in setting public policy: the wisdom of the wise ruler who believes in Christ is to administer the polity for which he has responsibility in such a way that his subjects have a good life, and, indeed, the possibility of coming to Christ and leading a Christian life. However, it is not the tradition of the Roman Catholic or Orthodox Churches to impose personal morality by state fiat. This is somewhat different in the case of Protestant denominations that come out of the Calvinist tradition (as the Pentecostalists do), where there is a strong tradition starting from Geneva and continuing with the American Puritans of imposing private morality on members of the public polity.

Now this is a very delicate area, where many serious issues of public policy arise.

But that is not really our point.

Our point is to understand how Sarah Palin’s private religious beliefs are going to impinge on her possible conduct of the presidency—and to understand this before she gets into a position to become President of the United States of America.

One area which has us very uneasy is this. Sarah clearly comes out of a Pentecostalist setting: praying in tongues, prophecies, anointings, healings, castings out of demons and the like. She clearly believes although she is not above hiding her beliefs. As far as we can make out, however, she also seems to be associated with a strand of Pentecostalism that has certain specific beliefs about the end-times. In other words, she seems to belong to the Rapturist school. Now we have never studied this strand of Pentecostalism; it is not something that has interested us. However, we understand that it envisages an end-time nuclear war. Moreover, we believe that Sarah Palin is on record as saying that she believes that Christ’s Second Coming will happen in her life-time—which, we gather, would imply that that nuclear war would occur in her life-time. Moreover, she seems to have connections to a strand of fundamentalism that envisages certain secular leaders specially anointed by God to carry out God’s will, a strand of fundamentalism that organizes itself in tight political cells and seeks political influence, and a strand of Pentecostalism that envisages that believers can make Christ genuinely present on earth.

Sarah Palin would have her finger on the red button. If she has these sorts of beliefs and associations, it behoves us to find out. Now. The issue is whether we might find ourselves in a position where as President of the United States she felt she had a duty to help things out with the evolution of the Second Coming by participating in a nuclear war—as someone specially anointed by God to be President for just that reason.

It might be argued that it doesn’t matter—Sarah is just the politics of resentment: class resentment, gender resentment, even race resentment. Her advisors would restrain her.

We’re not so sure. The President of the United States has real power. He can launch nuclear weapons. He can provoke wars; he can respond to attacks in one way or the other; he can provoke attacks so as to launch wars.

Never put someone unprepared in a position of authority and responsibility. You might find out that they take themselves seriously and intend to do what they understand to be their duty. And Sarah Palin is very ambitious. Unprepared. Self-confident.

Another aspect of Sarah which puzzles us, as it has on occasion with other fundamentalists, is her lack of candour and honesty both about her actions and about what she really believes. We will not rehearse the issues; they are easily available to anyone interested. We would just like to close with the following:

15. Beware of the false prophets who come to you in the clothing of sheep but are ferocious wolves within. 16. From their fruits you will know them. Or do people gather grapes from brambles or figs from thistles? 17. Thus every good tree produces good fruits but the rotten tree produces evil fruits. 18. The good tree is not able to produce evil fruits, neither the rotten tree to produce good fruits. 19. Every tree not producing good fruit is cut down and put into fire. 20. Therefore from their fruits you will know them. 21. Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens but he who does the will of my Father who is in the Heavens. 22. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and did we not cast out demons in your name and did we not do many signs in your name?’ 23. And then I will confess to them that ‘I never knew you; depart from me you who work iniquity.’ 24. Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and does them, I will compare him to the prudent man who constructed his house upon the rock. 25. And the rain came down and the rivers came and the winds blew and fell upon that house, and it did not fall for it was founded on the rock. 26. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be compared to the foolish man who constructed his house upon the sand. And the rain came down and the rivers came and the winds blew and struck against that house, and it fell, and its fall was great.

Matthew 7, 15 – 26.

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