Monday, October 25, 2004

Where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? These are the questions first asked in the Book of Job and pondered in Dr. Harold Bloom's letter to the WSJ's editors last week (October 22). Here's the link (for Subscribers).

Dr. Bloom is (unsuprisingly) skeptical of wisdom from non-secular sources; and thus questions the vailidity and prudence of President Bush's overt religiousity, implicitly endorsing Senator Kerry's secular Catholicism.

He first seems to be echoing Bill Clinton's DNC convention speech, again questioning President Bush's wisdom. This time, though suggesting that Mr. Bush's own religious fervency is the cause of his lack of prudence and skepticism.


It seems to me that Mr. Kerry's secularism has been demonstrated as simply a lack of foundation to any sense of calling, saying whatever is needed to whomever might be listening in order to secure their vote; and not to some higher purpose, but to a higher office. Conversely, Mr. Bush's religious beliefs provide him a sense of grounding, a calling. He doesn't seem to forget that the most powerful man on earth is still a far cry from an all-powerful God.

To suggest that one's worldview need be more secular in order to be more valid in the public arena is naive and narrow-minded. Knowing that an elected official operates out of principal rather than whim (e.g. opinion polls) is the mark of a leader. The fact that religiosity influences those principals does not make them less prudent or skeptical.

Further, the most amusing, but telling line from his letter is, "Many among us fear, realistically or not, that a second term for George W. Bush will help bring about the commencement of an American theocracy, an eventual tyranny of the twice-born."

His slight at the "twice-born" notwithstanding, his letter is not of theology, but of a fear of the influence of religion (or more precisely Evangelical Christian theology) in the public arena.

Dr. Bloom must have lost his sense of American history while serving at an "elitist university," as he describes Yale. Whether you agree with Christian theological tenets or not, such beliefs influenced the current structure of our representative government. More succinctly, our modern government was fashioned after a Presbyterian form of government, which is essentially representative: power is ceded from the people to representatives at all levels; accountablity is fostered via the division of power and the system of checks and balances. If a theocracy is what Dr. Bloom fears, it would have occured long ago.

But our Forefathers left England to escape the dictation of religious beliefs onto the populous. Thus, our Founders created what is now widely and liberally interpreted as the separation of church and state. Our freedom from religion is not a freedom of religion.

Religious and non-religious (i.e. secular) men and women have influenced and shaped our society throughout the ages, and we are better for it. Dr. Bloom's fear seems more of the paranoia persuasion than one based on plurality of thought and ideas.

(Special thanks to Paul Stokes for allowing me to post.)

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