Whenever I have the sense that God is speaking to me, I eat something and wait for the feeling to pass.
There was a time when Being President and Being God's Instrument to Reach a Broken World were, if not mutually exclusive – well, the job requirements were slightly different.
But I hear from Rick Perry that this is not the case.
As Perry says, God “doesn't require perfect people to execute his perfect plan.”
Scripture abounds in imperfect people. Perry even offered examples: "Moses was this hot-headed murderer who was afraid to speak in public. God used him to lead the Israelites. . . . David was an adulterer and a murderer. God said that he was a man after his own heart.”
Great vessels for God’s message? Absolutely.
But I wouldn't have voted for either of them for president.
At Liberty University, an evangelical institution founded by Jerry Falwell, Perry spoke of the role of faith in his life. He didn’t turn to God because he chose to, he said in words that couldn’t help being moving. He turned to God because he had nowhere else to go. And his faith turned his life around.
Beautiful. Poignant. He should go on the speaking circuit.
Why does this make him a viable candidate for president? Why is this not a Handy Sideline but a Critical Selling Point of the Perry 2012 campaign?
This speech makes Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural one look wishy-washy. Lincoln spoke with reference to faith in a time of deep crisis. Perry speaks with reference to faith as though this is his primary primary selling point.
“God uses broken people to reach a broken world,” Perry intoned. If anything, Perry’s imperfections are a positive boon, because the world we live in is deeply imperfect, and they will get on smashingly at parties.
I understand the distrust for Excessive, East-Coast, Elitist Intellectualism in politics. Intellectuals are people who read Proust for fun – which serves them right.
We don't like people to be too smart. They might put something over on us.
Based on our SAT scores, if we're not actually dumber than we used to be, we're certainly unsmarterer.
Our average critical reading skills have declined, causing dozens of us to mistake the Bible for a scientific text.
Why aren't we castigating ourselves? “My uncle once castigated himself in a terrible accident,” we say.
Maybe Perry is the candidate we need. Maybe it’s not that he’s actually dumb. Maybe he only wants to look dumb. It sets up a nice contrast with Barack Obama, who – say what you will about his actual intellectual capacity — never wants to look dumb.
And that might be a mistake. Auden said, "To the man in the street/Who I'm sorry to say/Is a keen observer of life/The word ‘intellectual’ suggests straight away/A man who's untrue to his wife.”
Auden may have been one, but he knew what he was talking about. Intellectual. Elite. Academic. All vaguely unsavory. It’s the last thing we need. The yearning for knowledge is as quaint and out of style as the yearning for casserole.
Why are we proud of our not-smartness?
Why do we blazon it on our chests in poorly spelled tattoos and bind it as a seal on our right hands?
We must keep our heads as empty as possible to prevent distortion when God speaks to us. The sense that you are a flawed instrument hearkening directly to words from the Most High? Traditionally, a trait reserved for prophets and psychopaths — or, these days, Republican presidential candidates.
Why doesn’t this bother us?
Once the faith of presidents was a subsidiary issue, not their primary qualification. Was George Washington a man of faith? He certainly clung to a notion of divine providence. Was he elected for being a man of faith? Absolutely not.
“God Told Me To Do It”? Sometimes you say that as you found a series of hospitals and foster dozens of children. Sometimes it’s what you mutter as you stagger out of your ex-girlfriend’s burning apartment into the custody of the officers of the law.
Guided by faith? Sure. Absolutely. We all are.
By faith alone? That’s a more dubious proposition.
“The truth is, politics and morality are inseparable. And as morality’s foundation is religion, religion and politics are necessarily related. We need religion as a guide. We need it because we are imperfect, and our government needs the church because only those humble enough to admit they’re sinners can bring to democracy the tolerance it requires in order to survive.”
Not Perry. Ronald Reagan.
Perry uses similar rhetoric about humility. “But then,” as Churchill once put it, “he has so much to be humble about.”
At a certain point it starts to turn into an end-run.
“I don't have any knowledge,” Perry seems to say, “not me personally. But this is actually a qualification, as it keeps my mind free to hear what God is whispering.”
If that doesn't disturb you, it should.