At this point in my life, I certainly don’t expect to be looking up to artists, actors, musicians, or writers for deep philosophical insights into how the world works. Heck, I don’t even expect them to say something halfway smart about contemporary political issues. Just because it is a cliché, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t true that too many of America’s cultural mandarins are either reflexively left-wing/liberal or totally vacuous when it comes to their ability to think coherently about politics. That’s probably why so many conservatives cheer when someone smart in Hollywood or New York “comes out of the closet” and declares their conservative principles (see e.g. David Mamet).
On the other hand, I would argue that our appreciation of a good movie, song or novel should not be diminished by the foolish pronouncements of a particular director, composer or author. Which brings me to the point of this post: one of my favorite modern authors, and someone who has written smart essays taking on modern atheists’ faith in materialism, has revealed herself as one of the most brain-dead liberals you can imagine. Yes, Marilynne Robinson, brilliant author of Gilead and Home (her two most recent novels and the former the subject of a wonderful review by our own Lydia McGrew in The Christendom Review), is stark, raving loony when it comes to contemporary politics.
I was checking out The American
Conservative Liberal for blog material (they are always a reliable source of foolishness) and sure enough, this article about Ms. Robinson didn’t disappoint. Well, actually it did disappoint me to read someone of Robinson’s intellect and ability making the following stupid statements:
Yet Robinson grounds her liberalism in her Calvinist tradition. She responded by email to a question from TAC about the identification of American Christians with the right:
"Well, what is a Christian, after all? Can we say that most of us are defined by the belief that Jesus Christ made the most gracious gift of his life and death for our redemption? Then what does he deserve from us? He said we are to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek. Granted, these are difficult teachings. But does our most gracious Lord deserve to have his name associated with concealed weapons and stand-your-ground laws, things that fly in the face of his teaching and example? Does he say anywhere that we exist primarily to drive an economy and flourish in it? He says precisely the opposite. Surely we all know this. I suspect that the association of Christianity with positions that would not survive a glance at the Gospels or the Epistles is opportunistic, and that if the actual Christians raised these questions those whose real commitments are to money and hostility and potential violence would drop the pretense and walk away."
And these gems of ‘wisdom’:
In “Open Thy Hand Wide: Moses and the Origins of American Liberalism”—a lecture she delivered at the Princeton Theological Seminary—Robinson observes, “There is clearly a feeling abroad that God smiled on our beginnings, and that we should return to them if we can.” This would mean a return to the moral seriousness with which our ancestors undertook their duty to the poor and needy.
“Those among us who call themselves traditionalists, and who invoke things like ‘religion’ and ‘family’ in a spirit that makes those honest words feel mean and tainted, are usually loyal first of all to a tooth-and-nail competitiveness our history does not in fact enshrine,” she writes in The Death of Adam. Later essays in When I Was a Child continue her attack on these purported traditionalists.
As Robinson writes in When I Was a Child, Jesus does not say, “I was hungry and you fed me, though not in such a way as to interfere with free-market principles.”
Asked about “compassionate conservatism” and whether a Christian can fulfill the duties of love while being skeptical of government redistribution, she tells TAC:
"Skepticism is appropriate in all cases, especially where money is involved. There should always be checks and balances. We all know of non-government charities whose CEO’s have done very well for themselves. As Christians, we must be concerned with outcomes—are the hungry fed, are the naked clothed, are the sick visited. The more strategies that are brought to bear on the problem—which current policy or lack there of has made a pressing problem—the greater the likelihood that it will be dealt with as Christ, who identifies himself unambiguously with those in need, tells us it must be. There is no analogy to be drawn between a beleaguered community governed, in effect, by a hostile and alien occupation and a modern society that can indeed govern itself and care for its own as it chooses. If we were indeed a Christian country I think we would be making other choices than many self-proclaimed Christians are trying to impose on us now. No talk of compassion impresses me when the tone of all reference to those who are struggling is hostile and judgmental. And of course anyone can be open-handed. But, as an American, I want to be able to help an American child in Detroit, an American family in Alaska, because they are as much my own as my dear Iowans. The national government is without question the most efficient means for this kind of ‘redistribution,’ a word that distracts from the deeper fact that one naturally wishes to share one’s blessings with one’s own."
It’s little wonder conservatives are drawn to the liberal Robinson, when she not only writes beautifully but does so with a thoughtful Christianity that transcends our current political divisions and economic ideologies.
Well, actually, Mr. Long (the author of this piece for TAC), it is cause for quite a bit of wonder why any conservative worth the name would take anything Robinson has to say about politics, public policy and/or governing America with the common good in mind seriously. To address each of these ridiculous statement in order, I’ll simply note the following: there is a long and serious moral tradition in Christianity that suggests Christians are not called to be pacifists and therefore laws that help them defend themselves from aggressors (i.e. concealed-carry and stand-your-ground) are not only just but moral from the standpoint of Christian ethics. No conservative defender of markets and market economies suggest that buying and selling goods and services are our “primary” reason for existence on this good Earth. Thanks for the straw-man Marilynne! On the other hand, there is both Biblical support (see Matthew 25, the Parable of the Talents) and again, Christian tradition that suggests the common good is served when people can find something to do to work (see e.g. Rerum Novarum), which is in turn aided greatly by flourishing market economies.
For years liberals like Robinson took “moral seriousness” for our “duty to the poor and needy” to mean simply to take as much money as possible from those who were successful in America and give it to those who were not, never stopping to ask whether or not this redistribution was just, was helping, was promoting dependency, was “morally serious” when it came to issues of charity (how can you promote charity by forcing people to give?), family formation (why should women get married if the State will support their bastard children), etc.
Of course, using a phrase like “bastard children” would probably draw Robinson’s opprobrium, given that she doesn’t like a “tone” that might actually judge someone’s less than moral behavior! And then in closing, her desire to help everyone in every state across the fruited plain, reminds me of a modern-day Mrs. Jellyby (who was the character in Bleak House that wanted to help the poor children in Africa while her own family suffered from neglect) – how does Robinson have the first clue about what to do to help people in Alaska or Detroit or even in a town across the State of Iowa from where she lives? She should look first at home, then maybe around the county, and I suppose then she can set her political sights on the State of Iowa as a whole. Then, if she is really called to do mission work, sign up with a church and hit the road. As I said earlier, none of this diminishes her work in my mind, but it is a good reminder that the “artist” and their “work” and two distinct phenomenon that need to be taken on their own terms and evaluated accordingly.