Two comments about the excellent speaking event (I don’t know what to call it) at Rick Warren’s church:
First, as many bloggers have pointed out, Obama was wrong to say that the abortion rate hasn’t fallen on George W. Bush’s watch. [Link: here] But the commentaries I’ve read on this issue ignore a crucial point: the abortion rate also fell—and fell more—during Bill Clinton’s administration. [Link: here-- scroll down til you see the graph.] That fact matters: it suggests that Bush’s pro-life policies aren’t driving the abortion rate down, since that rate was falling when those policies weren’t in place. Large cultural forces are at work here, and conservatives of all people should not be optimistic about the government’s ability to steer those forces in its preferred direction.
The second comment concerns McCain’s answer to the question whether evil exists and, if so, whether we should ignore it, negotiate with it, contain it, or defeat it. McCain’s answer was simple and powerful: “Defeat it.” But that answer is also deeply troubling, and doesn’t seem particularly Christian. In a world corrupted by the Fall, the scope of evil is beyond any government’s capacity to “defeat.” I’m pretty sure that my religious forebears would have been appalled at the misplaced confidence—they would have called it “pride,” the heart of all sin in Christian terms—that answer suggests.
I would have thought that the answer that is most consistent with orthodox Christian doctrine might go like this: Yes, there is evil in the world, and lots of it. It should never be ignored, though we are all prone to ignore it in our own lives. As far as the government’s response to it, that depends on the circumstances. Some forms of evil can be crushed, and should be: Al Qaeda, the subject of the rest of McCain’s answer, is a good example. Sometimes negotiation is the right approach: the Soviet Union was, as Ronald Reagan said, “an evil empire”—and yet Reagan himself entered into negotiation with that regime. General Petraeus, whom McCain rightly extols, advocated co-opting or bribing Iraqi insurgents who could be bought off. Often containment is the best one can do: again, think of the Cold War, or think about the ways urban police forces deal with gang crime.
Am I wrong about this? (Easily possible.) The Saddleback congregation, like most evangelical congregations today I suspect, seemed perfectly comfortable with triumphalist rhetoric like McCain’s. Are there other evangelicals who worry about that kind of talk? It sure worries me.