Sunday, August 19, 2012

Todd Akin's Patriotic Pro-Life Argument

Noreen McCann pointing to Akin's 'commitment to defending American values' underlines and illustrates my point that the problem here is not Akin, but people like Marvin Olasky and their superficial nationalist brand of 'conservatism'. Todd Akin's comments today instantly became trending on the web, as Reid Epstein put it:
'Watching the Todd Akin quote cascade across the web is like standing on Illinois cornfield as thunderstorms roll in from the west.'

Todd Akin claims he heard from some scientist that a woman likely won't get pregnant if 'legitimately' raped. Excellent report in the NYT by John Eligon shows that Todd Akin's comments backfired:
'Mr. Akin quickly backtracked from his taped comments, saying he “misspoke.” and that he recognizes that abortion, particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue.'
Akin's absolutist pro-life position is clear, but his argument is counter productive as we can conclude from a hastely released statement by the Romney campaign:
'Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement, a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.'
Dennis Hopper could have explained to Todd Akin, as he did to Christopher Walken in this famous scene in the movie True Romance, why the 'natural abortion' argument won't work.

But I would like to focus on a more fundamental aspect of Todd Akin's brand of Christian politics in the US. In the interview today Todd Akin uses a heroic fireman who saved a handicapped from the WTC after the 9/11 attacks and a soldier who saved an Iraqi while serving to explain his pro-life views. Notice how, while Todd Akin's pro-life views are obviously aimed at the 'Evangelical vote', all three arguments are non-religious. After his backtracking we can take the first argument of the table. The two remaining arguments are an attempt to seduce the voter with a patriotic dream of the heroic American. Something J. Gresham Machen denounced in letters to his mother during the first world war :
"Princeton is a hot-bed of patriotic enthusiasm and military ardor, which makes me feel like a man without a country."
The tendency to pander using patriotic arguments is illustrative of the crowd following pied piper Marvin Olasky.  The use of non-religious arguments is illustrative of a broader problem among Evangelicals. The “new apologists”—D’Souza chief among them—is arguing that Christians cannot change the culture by condemning it from the outside, wrote Andrew Marantz  about the evangelical King's College in the basement of the Empire State Building.  Desillusion about Jerry Falwell and Oral Roberts failed attempt to 'shield students from the corrupting influence of modern culture', King's college is now instead turning to 'an elitist mission, which says that culture is formed from the top down', as King's College President Dinesh D’Souza, claimed in the article.

Todd Akin and D’Souza are merely symptoms of the unwillingness among Christian Republicans to learn from Abraham Kuyper and his peculiar use of sphere sovereignty. Kuyper did not choose between an elitists or a populist approach, instead he chose to emphasize his status as outcast in society, in academics and in the church.  His antithetical definition of sphere sovereignty functioned as crowbar in Dutch society.

Let's hope the conference on neo-calvinism in Paris next week will be an opportunity to explore the differences between Abraham Kuyper's approach and this (American) 'nationalist-elitist approach'. I suspect the Christian right will continue their deliberate attempt to ignore Abraham Kuyper. Instead they will prefer a more moderate version of 'sphere sovereignty' which was created by Herman Dooyeweerd decades later when Abraham Kuyper's free university and political party were allready firmly established in Dutch society. Many evangelicals today, in the US and Europe, would like to compliment the Dooyeweerdian version of 'sphere sovereignty' with the Roman Catholic 'subsidiarity'. A strategy that aims to unite Dooyeweerdian and catholic social thought into a 'compassionate conservative' approach. A good example here on the website of Dutch evangelical political party ChristenUnie. This offcourse takes the dynamite out of the meaning of sphere sovereignty as Kuyper defined it at the founding of the Free University in 1880.

Oliver Buswell, one of the founders of covenant seminary in St Louis, was a staunch opponent of Dooyeweerd's ideas. A fact people like Marvin Olasky (and maybe Todd Akin, who studied at covenant seminary) would love to forget or ignore.

Those attending the conference in Paris on neo-calvinism would do well to read this recent Christian Science Monitor article on evangelicals in France. And carefully read the sermon French pastor Vincent Bru (of the reformed church EREI) held in Sénégal: 'the strong and the weak or a view on Africa and the west' (in french). Some (American) hero showing compassion to the poor certainly isn't what neo-calvinism is about.

Egbert Brink, recently appointed Professor of Old Testament at the reformed theological university in Kampen (the Netherlands) says in a recent interview:
'This year a free university, similar to the ideas of Kuyper, starts in the north of Cameroon, focused on french speaking Africa'
Compassionate conservatism and Dooyeweerd's disciples can offcourse choose to ignore reality and facts (often for supposed strategic reasons to forge an alliance with roman catholics). But let me ask you, Todd Akin, as I close, were the many foreign students you studied with at covenant seminary somehow less heroic?


Reggie said...

You're absolutely right, this is the very best scene in True Romance. I can't think of the movie, without thinking of this scene.

Oh and Akin is clearly a bit of a dullard.

Vincent Harris said...

Akin clearly wasn't supposed to make it to the finals. Kind of funny to watch how he walks like an elephant through the Republican porcelain cupboard as we say in Dutch.