August 21, 2008

If the "cross in the dirt" story were true, wouldn't a good Christian have "witnessed" to it early on?

In this Bloggingheads clip, Bob Wright and I refer to different aspects of Christianity (and talk about this Andrew Sullivan post). (At the end, I ask who's more religious, McCain or Obama, and propose a bet that might shock you.)



Watching this now and comparing Bob's take on Christianity to mine, I have a theory about why McCain shifted from not talking about the cross to talking about it.

McCain was initially an Episcopalian, and only fairly recently identified himself as a Baptist. My Christian upbringing was Episcopalian, and Bob Wright was raised as a Southern Baptist. Bob thought of Christianity as something to witness at every opportunity, and I thought Jesus's admonition to keep one's religion private (which comes in Matthew 6, just before he gives the words for the Lord's Prayer):
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Could it be that McCain, as an Episcopalian, thought more like I did, and then later, after becoming a Baptist, saw the matter more the way Bob did?

ADDED: I tweak the eminently tweakable Episcopalians:

47 comments:

Bob said...

Remember, too, that the cross incident showed the human side of a Vietnamese guard, and McCain probably wasn't inclined to give credit or speak kindly of Vietnamese guards in the period right after his release. Were I him, I would have cursed those guards with every breath.

Ron said...

I think every person whose been divorced has either said or had said to them, "I know you better than you do." It's the divorced persons 'secret handshake.'

Josh Schroeder said...

I don't doubt McCain's story, but I find it a little funny that he drew a cross in the ground instead of an icthus (fish). That's the Christian symbol best known for being drawn in the sand.

Paddy O. said...

I also think of Saving Private Ryan, in the scene where by the blown up church where their sharing stories in order to find how to have hope in the chaos.

Someone asks about his wife, and Hanks character says, "That one is for me."

Real and emotional trauma, and real and emotional hope touch a part of ourselves that we don't want to share. It's the deepest part of us.

I've grown up in those Baptist circles to know good evangelists are basically like good salesman and good politicians. They seem to give a whole lot more than they are. There is a lot hidden and people who go through tremendous trauma tend to become different kinds of evangelists, no longer the showy, tell supposedly everything sorts.

The Corner is posting some comments how people back in the early 70s heard that story, fellow POWs, with whom McCain could be vulnerable without giving anything of himself away--because they understood.

Now, all this time later, there is an openness to talk. Again, going back to WWII it was extremely common for veteran, or holocaust survivors, to never, ever talk about their experiences. Trauma doesn't want to be talked about until the horror has dissipated, which might be never.

AlphaLiberal said...

Well, we don't really have it on good authority McCain is a Baptist, do we? Why (votes?) and when did that happen?

The answer to the question in the title of the post is "yes," especially for something as powerful as this story would be.

And he'd be speaking to another person's faith, not his own, so it wouldn't conflict with the Episcopalian modesty Ann points to.

It is very unlikely the story actually occurred. It's a political invention.

AlphaLiberal said...

And, I don't think we can measure the faith of one person versus another. Really, that's a judgment best left to God.

Though I will point out Barack Obama could have written his own ticket after law school, being the President of the Harvard Law Review and all. He chose to serve the poor.

And that's to his credit as a person of faith.

Alan said...

Could it be that McCain, as an Episcopalian, thought more like I did, and then later, after becoming a Baptist, saw the matter more the way Bob did?

IMO, someone finds a denomination which matches his or her personal faith the closest. Not the other way around. Maybe I'm wrong but I don't see one's spirituality change from one Christian denomination to another. But maybe from one religion to another.

It could be McCain held the moment dear and spiritually personal all these years until finally he felt a spiritual need to reveal it during a Presidential campaign.

Windbag said...

If we have to have an atheist President, I'd rather listen to Christopher Hitchens; he's much more entertaining and honest.

Paddy O. said...

That's the Christian symbol best known for being drawn in the sand.

Well, sure if this was 200 and we were living in Carthage or Athens.

The cross is by far the more immediate Christian symbol.

Paddy O. said...

Oh, and just because evangelism is popular in some traditions doesn't mean that the great, great majority of Christians engage in it. I've worked in Baptist churches. There are always a core group of people who are out there doing the classic evangelism. Then there is the other great many who don't have those kinds of interests, so if they do evangelize at all it's quite relational. Baptists are a lot more like Episcopalians for the most part--its the fringes and zealous among both denominations that bring out the distinctions.

This is precisely why evangelism training, and techniques, etc. are such a booming business. Even the Baptists have to be convinced to go out and do some of it.

The Drill SGT said...

In his heart McCain is an Episcopalian, with a New England resistance to talking about religion.

Further that was the military culture that he was raised in. Officers did NOT talk about politics or Religion. You went to either the Jewish service, the Catholic one or the vanilla protestant service and didn't talk about it afterward.

He says Baptist now because:

A. Cindy's family is Baptist. and we all know wives are the driving factor in family church attendance
B. been going to the Baptists for a long time
C. It's politically good now to be Baptist, but I bet that's not why she selected that church. Unlike Obama's choice

gophermomeh said...

Oh, those "eminently tweakable Episcopalians." I know from which you speak, as I have the same background, but unfortunately, I can't hear what your saying (no sound on the blogginghead imbed).

garage mahal said...

I thought it was incredibly stupid to parse this story?

Oh that's right only Althouse can, and if it's meant to explain the story to the benefit of McCain.

Outis said...

Althouse: I tweak the eminently tweakable Episcopalians.

I tweaked an Episcopalian once. I couldn't help it, she had a really firm and inviting ... uh ... opinion.

Ann Althouse said...

Technical problems again? My local expert advises restarting your computer. If that doesn't work, email me and I will refer you to him.

madawaskan said...

Bob Wright: I think Andrew's a special case-He's not just a blogger trying to attack McCain -he's an actual Christian...

Wow-so Bob and Andrew are the new purveyors of WHO is an actual Christian-and if you don't take every chance to witness then you are telling a falsehood when you -do.

What the hell kind of logic is that?

BTW-This whole damn argument could be for naught because the anchor of CNN immediatey after the Saddleback Forum-John King-claimed that HE HAD HEARD THE STORY-

OFTEN.

Triangle Man said...

Ann, Bloggingheads audio works in Internet Explorer for me, but not in Firefox.

Ann Althouse said...

It works for me in Safari and Firefox...

I'm talking to my technical people. One suggestion is:

"Whenever I change the volume level on the bhtv player (and other flash players on the web), that sound level becomes the default for all other diavlogs, until I change it again. Could it be that the commenters set it on mute at one point, and don't realize that they have to unmute it?"

Note that there is a volume control at the bottom of the framed embed. Is that set to zero?

mcallen3 said...

McCain is a Goldwater Republican. As anyone from AZ can tell you, Goldwater Republicans hate the Religious Right. McCain knows he needs to be nice for the time being, but that has certainly not been his mindset over the years. In fact, until just the last few months he took pains to distance himself from anything obviously Christian.

As to the similarities between the The Gulag Archipelago and McCain's story, I don't see why it would not be possible, even likely, for Christian/Commie guard to have been familiar with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. He was an underground celebrity in the Communist world in the 1968-73 time frame when McCain was imprisoned. It does not seem like a stretch to think that a guard might intentionally imitate Solzhenitsyn's story.

Christy said...

Synchronicity. As I was listening to this segment, two Jehovah Witnesses arrived at my door. I wonder what that means?

I was raised Southern Baptist and I'm of the pray-in-a-closet mindset.

I most disdain those who think their way to grace is the one and only path. Nay, disdain is too weak a word. I despise such. So if McCain, or Obama, don't witness as I think Christians should, then they are inauthentic? Nope, not buying it.

Doesn't matter, really. I agree that neither candidates are traditional believers.

reader_iam said...

"Discover North Phoenix Baptist Church"

gophermomeh said...

Thank you - IE works much better.

That was my first reaction to McCain’s church switch. He needs the evangelicals. Big time. What better way to prove himself, I guess.

The only thing I’d disagree with is the Episcopal’s leftiness. That’s not my experience, at all, but maybe that’s because the Episcopal church I grew up in was in Elm Grove, WI. I have always put these folks under the fiscal and social conservative wing of the repubs. Stiflingly conservative and formal and spiritually lacking. Yikes. I didn’t jump all the way to Unitarian, just to UCC.

Blue Moon said...

Christy:

Perhaps you did not mean your statement literally, but I wish more felt like you. Kind of beat-down by the elaborate prayers you hear out loud these days. Reminds me of the verses in Matthew 6:

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

gophermomeh said...

Not parading your religion? – but now is the time to show his religion – to the evangelicals. It’s a show. It’s not modesty. It helps him now.

Yes, he's a Goldwater republican and not of especially deep religous convictions.

Blue Moon said...

Guess I should have read the whole post since our host already quoted the verses - sorry

reader_iam said...

Ann tweaks on leftiness. gophermomeh sees conservatism.

Ding! Ding! Ding!

It's an "and," not an "or."

Episcopalianism (and Anglicanism) is one of the hardest to peg in a sentence, precisely because you have hugely different threads and groups of people in the tent.

Heck, if you belong to a congregation such as mine, you get that pretty much on a daily basis in the same building. You could say it's pretty much a ground-zero metaphor for the battling tides in ECUSA and the Anglican Communion, though, somehow, we're sticking it out together, neither breaking away nor morphing into Unitarianism. I am perpetually amazed.

Sure gets lively, I can tell you that. Don't let all that liturgical worship (what some people call sterile) fool you.

(Not to mention that, depending on the individual congregation, there can be a fair amount of diversity in services.)

Paddy O. said...

"Don't let all that liturgical worship (what some people call sterile) fool you."

In college, I went to a charismatic Episcopal church for a little while. There was a liturgy, but it was spiced up with all kinds of pretty exciting activities, singing, and such.

Denominations today pretty much don't tell you anything. They're all mixed up. People tend to go where they like the pastor and the people, with the forced distinctions falling out of style starting a few decades ago. Even within a church staff there will be a pretty wide range of distinctions that would have otherwise insisted on separate denominations.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Reader: This article mentions McCain was the chaplain of the POWs at the Hanoi Hilton. Orson Swindle told in another interview that McCain was selected in part because he had memorized the Book of Common Prayer pretty well after all those years at Episcopal High School.

Take a look at the first sermon McCain delivered about rendering unto Caeser.

LutherM said...

ANN;
You could well be correct - it makes sense.

Just a note on interpretation; I doubt that you would refer to an EZ-READ version of Hamlet.

From someone who has a respect for the values of classic literature, WHY don't you use the King James Version ?
Matthew 6
1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:

4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

reader_iam said...

Paddy wrote: Even within a church staff there will be a pretty wide range of distinctions that would have otherwise insisted on separate denominations.

Amen!

reader_iam said...

lutherm: If you are Episcopalian, I'll bet you're still lamenting the move away from the 1928 BCP, in favor of the 1979 prayer book. ; )

Just a bit of Episcopal humor, folks, a tweak, if you will.

vbspurs said...

Ann, you were once a part of the Frozen Chosen??

(Not my words. I heard that phrase from Bill Clinton during Coretta Scott King's FUNERAL...)

BTW, I'm interested in why McCain became a Baptist, aren't you? I have "Faith of My Fathers" but don't recall him mentioning it.

Anyone have a reference?

Well, I'm off to workout, and BTW, I apologise for the off-hand comments today. I realised that posting when one is in a hurry, makes the quality of the commentary suffer. I have to wake up earlier to post on Althouse.

Cheers,
Victoria

The Drill SGT said...

BTW, I'm interested in why McCain became a Baptist, aren't you? I have "Faith of My Fathers" but don't recall him mentioning it.

Anyone have a reference?


Duh, he married a Baptist

class-factotum said...

McCain told that story years ago on NPR. It was around Christmas and it was at least three years ago (while I was still employed and listening to NPR on my way to work). I can't find it on the NPR website, but I remember hearing it before.

LutherM said...

Regarding the Book of Common Prayer, 1928 version:
the passage, "We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us, " DOES resonate more with me than the later Episcopalian alternative.

But my favorite passages are not from that denomination. For small talk, just a couple:
"Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe .Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me, Amen!"

Which, as an American, I compare and contrast with

“We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”
Thomas Jefferson to William Roscoe, 1820. ME 15:303

reader_iam said...

Althouse bets that both are atheists.

Let's say that's true: Fellow commenters, would it bother you? And given that this would mean--as Althouse points out--that they were posing as a necessity in the current political environment, would the posing bother you more with relation to one candidate than another?

reader_iam said...

"I believe it all, and I don't believe any of it. It's all politician blather." (Althouse in this segment.)

Marvelous!

reader_iam said...

Obviously, Ann & others, I'm now in a context in which I have downloaded the podcast and can listen to it in its entirety (through the living room sound system, while cleaning, not unusually).

I like the Wright/Althouse match-ups, and I'm especially enjoying this one, btw & fwiw.

jeff said...

"It is very unlikely the story actually occurred. It's a political invention"

Why, exactly?

Was McCain a POW for 5 years? Check
Was he the acting chaplain for the other POWs? Check.
Would this information be known by the guards? Check.
Is it possible that a guard could be a Christian? Check.
Would the guard be in danger revealing himself to the other guards? Check.
Did one of his fellow POWs verify hearing this story circa 1970 from McCain? Check

So because you dont like his politics you feel comfortable calling two POWs liars. Ok then.

Kirby Olson said...

Evenin Vietnam today Christians are regularly killed. So for a guard even today to verify that he did this could place his whole extended family in danger.

Many Vietnamese Christians are forced to assume a position of prayer and then their ankles are broken.

It's a tradition, from McCain's time right up until today.

It's because communists love freedom.

Revenant said...

IMO, someone finds a denomination which matches his or her personal faith the closest. Not the other way around. Maybe I'm wrong but I don't see one's spirituality change from one Christian denomination to another.

For most people, denomination is chosen either by birth (you attend your parents' church) or by marriage (you start attending your spouse's church). Relatively few people actually hunt for the denomination that most precisely fits their spiritual needs.

McCain was raised Episcopalian, married a Baptist, started attending her church, and gradually shifted from identifying as an Episcopalian who just *attended* a Baptist service, to an actual Baptist. That seems like a normal American thing to do, to me.

Beth said...

Could it be that McCain, as an Episcopalian, thought more like I did, and then later, after becoming a Baptist, saw the matter more the way Bob did?

Could it be that McCain, as an Episcopalian, thought more like you did, and then later, after becoming a Republican presidential candidate not entirely warmed to by the religious right, saw the matter more strategically than he had before?

Beth said...

Cindy's family is Baptist. and we all know wives are the driving factor in family church attendance

Baptists who make their money off beer? There was a time that would have set heads spinning. I'm happy those times have passed, but it still surprises me.

Golem said...

This sounds like a case of believing what you want to believe.

Bob Wright and Andrew Sullivan don't believe the story because they don't want to believe it.

Revenant said...

Baptists who make their money off beer? There was a time that would have set heads spinning.

I'm pretty sure that not all Baptist churches are anti-alcohol. Is McCain's church part of the SBC?

reader_iam said...

Rev, you can Google that for yourself way before a lamb can shake its tail two times. So why ask random people commenting on a blog, any blog, and even this one? Presumably you'd verify for yourself, anyway. (Right?)

So why not just go straight to the chase when it comes to basic info, easily obtained using basic skills?

reader_iam said...

Which is why I won't supply that answer, which, frankly, I think you should know anyway, given how closely you have been following politics and this election, and how much you comment, and how pointedly, and with such confidence of understanding all the different elements and nuances.

(Shorter: For God's sake, man, look it up for yourself, in private! Why display your underwear in that way?)