Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Tragedy of Christian Compassion

"wise as serpents" - Matthew 10:16

Mike Huckabee is offering himself as a superior candidate for the office of President. He is doing this partly, and perhaps mostly, on the basis of his Christian faith and Christian character. His decisions, unlike those of his competitors, will be guided by compassion, as they were when he was the governor of Arkansas.

Of course, there is much to say for compassion. Before he wrote his book on compassionate conservatism, Marvin Olasky wrote The Tragedy of American Compassion on the way well-intentioned, but ill-informed and thus misdirected compassion has brought us into the spiraling dependency of our present inefficient and ineffective entitlement mess. Compassion is not a sufficient moral guide. It is a passion, a feeling. As such, it needs to be tutored, informed and wisely directed.

Gov. Huckabee appears to have heapin' helpin's of compassion, but is somewhat deficient in wisdom. Consider the following.

  • Under pressure from then governor Huckabee, the Arkansas parole board released rapist Wayne Dumond from prison on condition that he leave the state. Shortly thereafter he raped and killed a Missouri woman. Read about it here (Arkansas Times) and here (National Review). Dumond's vigilante castration just after his arrest in 1985 as well as his Christian profession of faith appears to have influenced the governor's heart.

  • As governor of Arkansas, he supported extending state taxpayer-funded college scholarships and in-state college tuition rates to the children of illegal aliens, i.e. students graduating from Arkansas high schools who are in the country illegally. His rationale for this is that we should not "penalize the children for the crime of the parents." But there is only so much money available for state college education, and every dollar that goes to an illegal alien, regardless of how well he or she performed in high school, is a dollar that is denied to a legal resident. That compassion is idiosyncratic, not intelligent, and thus not godly for Christian leader.
The more we get to know this man, the more examples of “the tragedy of Christian compassion”* come to light.

President Jimmy Carter was a man with a good heart who believed that good intentions were sufficient for good public policy. Niccolo Machiavelli was not a Christian, nor particularly compassionate, but he offers a wise critique of blindly sentimental Christian ethics.

A prince, therefore, so as to keep his subjects united and faithful, should not care about the infamy of cruelty, because with very few examples he will be more merciful than those who for the sake of too much mercy allow disorders to continue, from which come killings or robberies… (The Prince, chapter 17; Mansfield translation).

Of course, Machiavelli advocated making these judgments with no regard to justice apart from the appearance of it. But Christian statesmanship requires more than just a good heart. It requires a good mind: a good understanding of justice and righteousness, and a prudent judgment as to how to bring as much good as possible out of generally bad situations.

Candidate Huckabee would perhaps make a good pastor. But he lacks characteristics that are essential for wise and effective political leadership.
*I am indebted to my colleague, David Tubbs, for coining this phrase. Of course, he was playing on the title of Dr. Olasky's influential book.


Afayemarie said...

Thank you for posting this, I Loved it! It reflects my sentiments about Huckabee precisely, and it's always comforting to know that not every single evangelical is jumping on the Huckabee's irresistible religion bandwagon. Though I truly believe Huckabee's heart is in the right place, when pondering qualifications of our Commander-in-chief, there are other crucial factors to consider than religious zeal in the pulpit.

David C. Innes said...

You will recall de Tocqueville's word in Democracy in America (II.2.17): "I feel so impressed by the almost inevitable dangers to which beliefs are exposed when their interpreters are mixed up in public affairs, and I am so convicned that one must at any price maintain Christianity within the bosom of the new democracies, that I would prefer to lock up the priests in the sanctuary than to allow them to leave it."