The October issue of The Atlantic offers another rich meal of religion references, especially in Joshua Green's "Roy and His Rock," an 8,200-word essay on Judge Roy Moore and his traveling granite monument of the Ten Commandments. The Atlantic's website limits access to the full article, but I'll quote some favorite passages here. Beginning with the headline, Green's article treats the monument as having its own personality. The device works well, especially in a passage like this:
As running mates go, the Rock is ideal. It is always on message. It is an indefatigable campaigner. It boasts a national following. And it is a terrific fundraiser. Since Moore left office it has been the force behind his political life.
Typically, an image of the Rock is beamed onto a giant screen before Moore takes the stage. Most of his speeches, and even his idle conversations, obsessively return to it. He has even copyrighted the monument. Today the Rock plays a role weirdly analogous to that of a retired Kentucky Derby winner gone to stud: with Moore's blessing, it is being cloned for a Baptist group in Atlanta.
Green depicts Moore as a man who loves a good fight, and compares him to George Wallace. One of his more effective turns is to cite a poem by Moore, which uses the sort of doggerel you're likely to see in God & Country emails:
"And we face another war
Fought not upon some distant shore,
Nor against a foe that you can see,
But one as ruthless as can be.
It will take your life and your children too,
And say there's nothing you can do.
It will make you think that wrong is right,
Is but a sign to stand and fight.
And though we face the wrath of Hell,
Against those gates we shall prevail.
In homes in schools across our land,
It's time for Christians to take a stand,
And when our work on this earth is done,
And the battle is over and the victory is won,
When through all the earth His praise will ring,
And all the heavenly angels sing,
It will be enough just to see His son,
And hear him say 'My child, well done.
'You've kept my faith so strong and true,
'I knew that I could count on you.'"
Green reports that Moore shows a lasting interest in politics, including a possible run in Alabama's next gubernatorial election. At least we can be relieved that Moore will not stake his future on writing more poetry.
In the issue's cover story, Joshua Wolf Shenk shows how Abraham Lincoln's lifelong struggle with depression made him into a great president.
Near the end of the essay, Shenk cites evangelical historian Mark Noll of Wheaton College:
Lincoln's clarity came in part from his uncertainty. It is hard to overestimate just how unusual this was, and how risky and unpopular his views often were. Most religious thinkers of the time, the historian of religion Mark Noll explains, not only assumed God's favor but assumed that they could read his will.
"How was it," Noll asks, "that this man who never joined a church and who read only a little theology could, on occasion, give expression to profound theological interpretations of the War between the States?" Viewing Lincoln through the lens of his melancholy, we see one cogent explanation: he was always inclined to look at the full truth of a situation, assessing both what could be known and what remained in doubt. When faced with uncertainty he had the patience, endurance, and vigor to stay in that place of tension, and the courage to be alone.
Moving from the sublime to the hysterical, we have French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy reacting to publisher William Kristol of The Weekly Standard. Kristol had published an article by Matt Labash about the Clinton Presidential Center's grand opening, and he failed to agree with Lévy that the article was "crammed with the vilest gossip about the private life of the former president." And suddenly we're staring down the gaping maw of religious extremism:
I sense that Kristol is annoyed when I mention it.
I sense that he thinks a European can't accept this mingling of politics with such trash, so he plays it down.
Don't jump to the conclusion that I believe in it, he seems to be saying. That's just the deal, you understand -- supporting a crusade for moral values is just the price we have to pay for a foreign policy that we can defend as a whole.
Suppose it is.
Let's agree that his annoyance isn't feigned.
In that case the whole question lies right there, and in my mind it's almost worse.
When you uphold one goal of a given faction, do you have to uphold all its goals?
Because you're in agreement about Iraq, do you have to force yourself to agree with the death penalty, creationism, the Christian Coalition and its pestilential practices?
When I have dinner with someone in a restaurant, do I have to order all the courses on the menu?
It takes a special kind of ignorance to perceive Matt Labash and William Kristol as water boys for the Religious Right. Next time he's staring at a menu, Lévy also ought to consult the wine list.