Monday, December 17, 2012

Huckabee and the America that Never Existed


Mike Huckabee has been trying to explain his explanation for the Sandy Hook tragedy both in this video and in this very similar post on his website.

Huckabee claims it would be "ludicrous and simplistic" to claim a direct causal relation between removing prayer from school and mass murder. I am glad we agree at least on this point. But his explanation of a more indirect cultural influence seems riddled with holes and gaps. He claims:

"But the cause and effect we see in the dramatic changes of what our children are capable of is a part of a cultural shift from a God-centered culture to a self-centered culture...We dismiss the notion of natural law and the notion that there are moral absolutes and seemed amazed when some kids make it their own morality to kill innocent children." 

This is the point at which it seems to me that the whole discussion of the purported secularization of our society is totally disconnected from the tragedy at Sandy Hook. It seems to me that Huckabee imagines that this horrific event was caused by a young man who was simply too heavily influenced by a self-centered culture that dismisses moral absolutes. 

This person was sick, deeply sick, and it seems much more accurate to think that internal psychological forces played a much bigger role in this event than did the external influence of American culture in general. And, again, who in American society is really questioning the morality of slaughtering school children? There is a reason, after all, why we have all been crying. 

I don't think this young man thought it was ok to kill children because his culture failed to offer strong enough moral parameters. Huckabee seems to imagine this person was a moral relativist who would argue that while killing kids may be wrong for you, it is not wrong for me. As if any rational deliberations went into this horrific event in the first place. 

A bigger problem with his clarification about what he said is that the whole argument rests on the assumption that until up to about 50 years ago we were a pretty Godly nation. If Huckabee were an African-American, I doubt he would be making this argument. He writes nostalgically of the good ole days when kids just had good, clean fun:

"...we got in trouble at school for talking in class, chewing gum, pulling a girl’s pigtails, or slouching in our school desks. We took guns to school, to be sure, but they were in the gun racks of our trucks and we used them to hunt before and after school. It never occurred to us to use them to murder our teachers and fellow students. ...when we as a nation feared God, we didn’t fear that a 20 year old with a high powered rifle would gun down our children in their schoolrooms."

Ok, first off, for virtually every student in the American public school system, it still never occurs to them to murder their teachers and fellow students. It isn't as though "kids these days" think murder is the cool thing to do. We are talking about a very small number of tragically sick people, not a new social trend. 

But notice how distorted and narrow Huckabee's views of our society from his days in school are. When he was a student, African-Americans in his part of the country routinely had to worry about violence being perpetrated against them. 

Those were only the good ole days for some people. For many people, about 50 years ago was when we started even remotely becoming a society that could claim to believe in a God who created human beings equal. 

Huckabee claims that "when we as a nation feared God" we didn't have to worry about stuff like this happening. I honestly have no idea what historical period he could be referring to. Is it the time when we systematically killed Native Americans and ran them off their land? Or is it when we systematically enslaved African-Americans and believed they were less than human and backed that up with the Bible? Or was it more recently when we systematically denied women full and equal participation in church, education, the economy, and politics? 

Banning religious symbols from public spaces seems small potatoes to the ways in which we have systematically pushed God and God's values out of our lives in the past. 

I really don't think that God is in heaven on his cosmic throne worrying about being marginalized. I think God is much more concerned with the people we marginalize in his name.

As a fellow white male, I agree with Huckabee that "we" didn't have much to worry about back then. But "they" certainly did. 

There is no golden age to look back to. Let's stop talking as if there was. 

There is only a kingdom to look forward to. Let's keep working to make it come on earth as it is in heaven.


  1. Hi Heath,

    I've been having an exchange with Jerry Walls on just this point (he seems to think that there is something right about what the Huck is saying). Here's what I wrote on his FB page:

    "What I find puzzling in your comment, Jerry, is the implication (and please correct me if I'm wrong) that the history of the US, until fifty or so years ago, was more "godly" than we are now. But our history includes genocide, slavery, sexism, and massive racism--and while we paid lip service to Christian virtue (although there were a great many acts of individual Christian virtue). Although I find all such claims suspicious, let me say that I think, given Jesus attitudes toward the religious authorities of his day, the suggestion that he would think that the USA in 1775, 1850, or 1950 was more "Christian" than the America of today is highly dubious."

    To which he responded: "Well Tom, the opposition to racism, sexism, slavery etc was led by believers who made the case that these were inconsistent with biblical teaching. When you hold to traditional morality, you have hope of correcting inconsistencies in practice precisely by that morality. Our situation is that we have no such principles left or convincing ground of morality or ultimate motivation to be committed to it."

    To which I responded: " Jerry, absolutely, the Church has a lot to with our becoming better and more godly. And I agree that there is a lot of confusion out there about the foundations of morality, although I'm not so sure that there isn't some widespread agreement on many principles of morality...We are a less religious nation now, to be sure. But we mostly treat people better. Again, it seems to me that to think we were "better" when we paid lip service to Jesus and then murdered and oppressed great numbers of people, we would fall under Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisees. If to be more Christian is to more Christ-like, rather than religious, then I think we've actually made some serious strides."

    Which is all just to say, I agree with you!

    1. Thanks for this Tom. I saw Jerry Wall's post and I think your critical points are spot on and not very well addressed by his response. Two issues: First, there could be some debate about the historical matter of how much church leaders actually led the way in fighting racism, sexism, and slavery. I know that Christians have played a role in this in America, and an important one, but we have often followed the movement of broader culture rather than taking the lead.

      The second issue that I think Walls and Huckabee are not being clear enough on is that a more secular public square doesn't mean a more secular society as a whole. You can have (and I think should have) the former without the latter. Many people, for example, (myself included) think that schools should leave God out of science classes, but that parents/churches have a responsibility to teach our children our understanding of the bigger picture of why creation is and what it is for. I think they oversimplifying this issue by simply asserting we are pushing God out of our culture for simply trying to follow our constitutional principle to not establish a religion.

      Thanks again for writing!