Senator Salazar and "the Antichrist"

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Senator Salazar and "the Antichrist"

by Ari Armstrong, April 30, 2005

Salazar Misfires: On the Similitudes Between Cannons and Mouths

On the evening of April 28, the same day the Rocky Mountain News put the word "Antichrist" on its front cover in huge type, quoting Colorado's United States Senator Ken Salazar, I read a passage from Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver that might have saved Salazar, had he read it a couple days earlier.

Stephenson's book concerns the great discoveries of science in the 17th century. Thus, it also discusses (at some length) the political and religious conditions of the period. The main character, Daniel Waterhouse, is the son of a "Barker" Puritan who dies in the London fire of 1666 -- the very year both father and son took to be the year of the Apocalypse. Daniel surrenders that notion when 1667 rolls around, and he must then figure out how to make a name for himself as a Natural Philosopher when surrounded by the likes of Isaac Newton, Robert Hooke, and Gottfried Leibniz. At one point in the story Waterhouse is about to make a comment, but a friend interrupts him. The topic of conversation concerns cannons that had been destroyed because packed with the wrong gunpowder. The friend says (on page 324),

"Silence. Silence! And in silence ponder the similitudes between cannons and mouths. The simpleton beholds a cannon and phant'sies it an infallible destroyer of foes. But the veteran artilleryman knows that sometimes, when a cannon speaks, it bursts. Especially when it has been loaded in haste. When this occurs, Daniel, the foe is untouched. He may sense a distant gaseous exhalation, not puissant enough to ruffle his persiwig. The eager gunner, and all his comrades, are blown to bits. Ponder it, Daniel. And for once in your life, show a trace of discretion."

Sage advice for us all.

So how did Salazar misfire his mouth? I'm pulling the quotes from Mike Littwin's April 28 column for the News. When discussing James Dobson and Focus on the Family on television, Salazar said, "From my point of view, they are the Antichrist of the world."

Why did he say that? Littwin reviews, "Those in the political arm of Dobson's group attacked him in newspaper and radio ads. They said Salazar was aligned with anti-Christian forces. They scolded Democrats for threatening to filibuster the most conservative of the Bush judicial nominees..." In his April 29 column for the same paper, Mike Rosen points to another reason Salazar might have been feeling annoyed: "But the picketing of his wife's Dairy Queen restaurant by members of the Faith Bible Chapel who carried signs reading, 'Salazar is anti-Christian' and 'Salazar mocks God' is absurd."

So Focus on the Family fired the first volley. But Salazar loaded his cannon in haste, and he is paying for it.

Here's how Salazar, uh, apologized: "After being relentlessly attacked in telephone calls, e-mails, newspapers and radio stations all across Colorado, having my faith questioned, and having my wife's business picketed... I spoke about Jim Dobson and his efforts and used the term 'the Antichrist.' I regret having used that term. I meant to say this approach was un-Christian, meaning self-serving and selfish."

Blasphemy! Focus on the Family, "selfish?" Objectivists across Colorado are stunned and hurt. Focus on the Family, a group devoted to Christian altruism, cannot justly be called selfish. Salazar has tarnished the meaning of that word. In her introduction to The Virtue of Selfishness, Ayn Rand writes, "To redeem both man and morality, it is the concept of 'selfishness' that one has to redeem... Since 'selfishness' is 'concern with one's own interests,' the Objectivist ethics uses that concept in its exact and purest sense. It is not a concept that one can surrender to man's enemies, nor to the unthinking misconceptions, distortions, prejudices and fears of the ignorant and the irrational. The attack on 'selfishness' is an attack on man's self-esteem; to surrender one, is to surrender the other."

Stephenson reviews some of the historical relationships between politics and religion. The fight between Catholics and Protestants across Europe was long and bloody. Many modern Americans take for granted the peaceful resolution of religious differences. Yet restricting religious battles to words is no easy matter, and it rests on a broad cultural acceptance of governing according to individual rights, not religion. Here's how Stephenson describes John Wilkins: "Cryptographer. Science fiction author. Founder, first chairman, and first secretary of the Royal Society [of Natural Philosophers]... Friend of Nonconformists, Supporter of Freedom of Conscience." Wilkins was a chaplain who envisioned a government that kept out of religion. It is this sort of idea that prevents religious violence -- and that must be constantly renewed.

It is perhaps ironic that Salazar, a Catholic, is seen in this dispute as the "liberal" and a friend of secularism, against the "religious right." That is not the side Catholics have always been presumed to have taken. Stephenson describes a transitory thought that Waterhouse has just before meeting with James, the Catholic son of Henrietta Maria, concerning the "struggle between the Whore of Babylon, a.k.a. the Roman Catholic Church, and Free Trade, Freedom of Conscience, Limited Government, and diverse other good Anglo-Saxon Virtues..." (page 629-30). (Waterhouse later makes nice with James.)

Yet the side that (superficially) favors freedom of conscience is often the side that's not in political power. For example, Protestants who believe evolution is false argue creationism should be given an equal hearing. Yet who believes that, if such Protestants started writing the text books, they would fight as hard to give evolution equal hearing? Waterhouse's friend explains: "When these Dissidents, as they are called, say, 'Down with the Pope!' it is music to the ears of the Anglicans, whose church is founded on hostility to all things Romish. When they say, 'Down with forced Uniformity, let Freedom of Conscience prevail,' it gladdens the hearts of the Papists, who cannot practice their faith under that Act of Uniformity... And so at different times both... factions phant'sy the Dissidents as allies. But when the Dissidents question the idea of an Established Church... why then it seems to the leaders of both factions that these Dissident madmen are lighting fuzes on powder-kegs..." (page 296).

Thankfully, the "dissidents" fared well in the United States and across Europe, which is why religious disputes explode only rhetorically, for the most part.

Unfortunately, a fourth faction has, since the time of Marx, largely displaced that group favoring "Free Trade, Freedom of Conscience, Limited Government," and the like. This fourth faction has made a new religion of political power itself. And thus Colorado's Democrats, who have cast out the liberals from their midst, are currently trying to force private institutions to offer advice they believe is against their religious foundations. The Democrats are also trying to force private individuals to hire people whom they believe (however crazily) to be living in sin. These politicians are trying to ban the smoking of the drug nicotine in private establishments. Once in a while politicians from both parties will defend rights, but usually they promote more state power over the lives of citizens.

What about this "freedom of conscience?" What about property rights? What about the rights of business owners to set the policies for their businesses? What about free trade? Truly liberal policies have barely a hearing in today's legislature. They are rarely mentioned by the presses, and defended only pusillanimously and selectively by a handful of legislators. A remnant of independents, Objectivists, free thinkers, and (occassionally) libertarians carry on the "dissident" tradition.

Accusations traded by a Catholic U.S. Senator and a major Protestant organization about who is the least Christian make for rousing entertainment, like a grand fireworks display. But in the contest to see which dominant modern political group, the religious right or the socialist left, can destroy liberty the fastest, both sides are waging a spirited campaign. And one that isn't amusing, at all.

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