Monday, September 15, 2008

Sarah Palin on God's Plan

Charlie Gibson Interview of Sarah Palin
(Image from The Mark Levin Show)

Recently, much of the media has been all over Sarah Palin concerning her remarks to Charlie Gibson about God's will. I haven't watched the Gibson interview, but I've looked at the entire transcript on a website called The Mark Levin Show:
GIBSON: You said recently, in your old church, "Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God." Are we fighting a holy war?

PALIN: You know, I don’t know if that was my exact quote.

GIBSON: Exact words.
I often hear evangelicals claiming God's will for just about everything, but they usually make a distinction between God's perfect will and God's permissive will. This gets us into some very abstruse and difficult theology concerning divine foreknowledge and human freedom, but roughly speaking, these two distinguish between what God wills and what God permits. The words 'quoted' by Gibson would imply that Palin believes that America's role in the Iraq War is God's perfect will.

But Palin responds in a way that recasts what Gibson 'quoted':
PALIN: But the reference there is a repeat of Abraham Lincoln’s words when he said -- first, he suggested never presume to know what God's will is, and I would never presume to know God's will or to speak God’s words.

But what Abraham Lincoln had said, and that's a repeat in my comments, was let us not pray that God is on our side in a war or any other time, but let us pray that we are on God's side.

That's what that comment was all about, Charlie. And I do believe, though, that this war against extreme Islamic terrorists is the right thing. It's an unfortunate thing, because war is hell and I hate war, and, Charlie, today is the day that I send my first born, my son, my teenage son overseas with his Stryker brigade, 4,000 other wonderful American men and women, to fight for our country, for democracy, for our freedoms.

Charlie, those are freedoms that too many of us just take for granted. I hate war and I want to see war ended. We end war when we see victory, and we do see victory in sight in Iraq.
I'm no Lincoln expert, but I've previously read Lincoln's words on God's will, and Palin's recasting of what Gibson 'quoted' as her own words would suggest that like Lincoln, she was not claiming to know God's perfect will. I suppose that we ought to refresh our memories on exactly what Lincoln said, and one can find a lot of Lincoln 'quotes' online, but the internet is not the most trustworthy forum, so let's be careful.

Bruce Ledewitz of the blog Hallowed Secularism, professor of law at Duquesne University School of Law and author of a couple of books on religion and politics (American Religious Democracy: Coming to Terms with the End of Secular Politics and Hallowed Secularism: Theory, Belief, and Practice), would seem to know what he's talking about, and he quotes Lincoln as saying:
Let us not pray that God is on our side in a war or any other time, but let us pray that we are on God's side.
Is that what Palin meant? Gibson was doubtful:
GIBSON: I take your point about Lincoln’s words, but you went on and said, "There is a plan and it is God's plan."

PALIN: I believe that there is a plan for this world and that plan for this world is for good. I believe that there is great hope and great potential for every country to be able to live and be protected with inalienable rights that I believe are God-given, Charlie, and I believe that those are the rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That, in my world view, is a grand -- the grand plan.
Here Palin's remarks veer somewhat off from the main point and into American 'civil religion' -- as Robert Bellah called it -- for they unwittingly delve into Thomas Jefferson's theological views, which differed from Lincoln's. Palin would have done better at this point to recall her actual words, for these place her views in a different context, as I learned from an unexpected source, AntiWar.Blog, in an entry titled "'Palin: Pray That' Our Leaders Are Sending Our Troops to Iraq 'On a Task From God,'" which quotes Palin referring to her son's imminent deployment in Iraq:
"He's going to be deployed in September to Iraq. Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right also for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God, that's what we have to make sure we are praying for, that there is a plan and that it is God's plan."
The blog entry helpfully provides a video, and this quote above comes from about 6 minutes into the video. I've listened to the quoted words (slightly correcting the quote as given), and Palin's remarks show that Gibson misinterpreted her meaning. Here's her point:
"Pray . . . that our leaders, our national leaders are sending . . . [our military men and women] out on a task that is from God."
Moreover, she clarifies her point:
"[T]hat's what we have to make sure we are praying for, that there is a plan and that it is God's plan."
In short, she's saying that her church should pray to make sure that the United States has a plan and that America's plan in Iraq is consistent with God's plan. That sounds enough like Lincoln's point to confirm Palin's insistence that she was simply echoing Lincoln.

Gibson avers that he has quoted Palin's exact words: "Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God." Technically speaking, those aren't her exact words, but more significantly, the 'quote' is so wrenched from its context that it has her stating the opposite of what she actually said -- and the same misinterpretation occurs with Gibson's other 'quote' from Palin, namely, that "There is a plan and it is God's plan."

In short, Palin didn't say that the US plan in Iraq is clearly God's plan; she said that her church should pray that the US plan be God's plan.

Gibson -- perhaps too intent on coming up with a 'gotcha' quote -- did a sloppy job as a journalist.

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At 11:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gibson is a journalist. Journalists have their own biases. Unless they are Conservative journalists in which case they are always fair and balanced.

Mrs Palin is politician.

Politicians come in two primary forms.

Conservative politicians speak the truth, and hope they are conforming to God's Will. (The indicted or jailed ones are not part of the equation. The ones who tap on airport bathroom stalls retire.)

Liberal politicians are simply nutcases. Nutcases belong in jail.

Mrs Palin is a Conservative politician who has never been indicted. I rather doubt she has ever even heard of either "K" Street or Jack Abramoff. Much less Charles Keating.


At 12:09 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, I hate to generalize, but I have the impression that many liberals see conservatives as selfish and stupid and therefore unworthy of serious analysis.

Governor Palin's views deserve serious scrutiny, as do Obama's, but most of what I see from the liberal side are crude attacks.

Anyway, I appreciate your humor.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I admit to some borrowing from waka's "Party Lines." Not whole cloth mind, just a bit of gist.


At 1:07 PM, Blogger Hathor said...

I take her seriously, I wish she had herself.

She is playing her hyper-femininity (I am not a feminist, but don't pick on me because I'm a working mom), supermom, religious beliefs and honorary male status(knows how to shoot) to substitute for knowledge and accomplishment. There is nothing that I glean from her that indicates she would be able to step up to the task of president. If her ticket wins, she has a greater probability becoming president than any VP has in the last 30 years.

I do not say this as being under the spell of the Obama campaign or because I might be considered a liberal, there are plenty of accomplished women Republicans. I don't know how they feel, but I think it pretty much like being slapped in the face, to see a token woman pushed ahead of them.
This reminds me of when Ronald Reagan named a radio preacher as the Civil Rights Commissioner. I thought to myself is that the only black person he knows.

I know this is not fair and part is my gut speaking, but if there is going to be a woman president, even Republican, I don't want to cringe every time she out in public. She is not Angela Merkel.

At 1:18 PM, Blogger John B said...

It is a good example of how splintered the discourse is in America. As a secular young man, I would have had absolutely no idea how to interpret her "God's will" statement without your explanation.

At 1:33 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Suddenly, a lot of comments . . . of which only John B's have shown up as email notices.

JK, I haven't seen the Waka post.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:40 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hathor, I agree with much of what you say. Governor Palin has not yet ventured out to swim alone in deep waters.

She seems intelligent and confident, but if she ends up as president by some stroke of good or bad luck, she'd better have some really good advisors because I can't see her mastering foreign policy quickly. No one can.

I have some of the same concerns on that about Senator Obama, but he seems to have more familiarity with the world.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:42 PM, Blogger Hathor said...

Report it to Blogger:)??

At 1:44 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John B, I'd want to know more about how Palin thinks that she'd recognize God's will. I'd also be concerned about her eschatological views -- I noticed that her minister in the video mentioned "the last days," a coded expression for the end times, when Armageddon draws night.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:45 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hathor, perhaps I should. I should also check manually to see if any comments have been posted to other recent blog entries.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Provided you can find the time, you really would enjoy it. And I know you would then see precisely how much my "borrowings" and humor skewed.

The one thing you mention that worries me too, "...but if she ends up as president by some stroke of good or bad luck, she'd better have some really good advisors..."

I would only hope any that she might find will not have come from the recent ranks. Nor any who speak in tongues.

Well now that I think of it, perhaps the former are the latter.


At 7:23 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

If they speak in tongues, there had better be an excellent interpreter.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

May 9th, 2003-"Major combat operations in Iraq are at an end."

USS Abraham Lincoln, off the California coast.

Wanted-Interpreters: Apply Now!


At 8:44 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

When Prophecies Fail. . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:50 PM, Anonymous Andrew said...


I haven't been following this particualar debate at all, but I would like to make a point about the Lincoln quote.

This is the first time I have heard the Lincoln quote, but I must say, it seems right on to me.

Too often, in my opinion, it is tempting to make our plans and then pray that god is on our side and will help us turn our goals into reality. Instead, in my view, we should pray, both at an individual level and at a national level, for god's guidance in the direction we follow. We should also pray that god leads us according to his plan, and for a heart that is willing to be lead by him.

This is something I struggle with to a large degree personally.

At 9:12 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Andrew, was your comment for JK or for me? Either way, thanks for visiting and posting your thoughts.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:06 AM, Blogger John B said...

You're right, in that her religious values are probably pretty important.

But, how does she communicate them to people like me, who are almost entirely unfamiliar with any mainstream Christian philosophy? Palin probably knows more about Islam than I do about her branch of Christianity.

So how does she communicate that? Is she even remotely interested in communicating to me? Or is the onus on me if I want to be informed?

At the very least, I need an independent panel of informed judges to review her statement and render a judgment of "crazy" or "not crazy". Some sort of seal of approval.

Anyways, thanks for your interpretation.

At 6:16 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John B, a lot of evangelicals don't even realize how their remarks sound to those outside of evangelicalism, but you could probably just read Palin's exact words in this case and be able to see what she meant . . . more or less.

In other cases, interpreting an evangelical might prove difficult -- such as in the blog entry after this one -- and remain problematic even after interpretation.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Governor Palin did very well in the interview with Mr. Gibson.
Charles Krauthammer wrote an article {C 208, The Washington Post Writers Group}, reprinted in The Baxter Bulletin, September 15, 2008.
In it he quoted from the New York Times, "Ms. Palin most visibly stumbled when she was asked by Mr. Gibson if she agreed with the Bush doctrine. Ms. Palin did not seem to know what he was talking about. Mr. Gibson, sounding like an impatient teacher, informed her that it meant the right of 'anticipatory self-defense."
Here are excerpts from his article:

Informed her? Rubbish.
The Times got it wrong. and Charlie Gibson got it wrong.
There is no single meaning of the Bush doctrine. In fact, there have been four distinct meanings, each one succeeding another over the eight years of this administration--and the one charlie Gibson cited is not the one in common usage today.

He then elaborates on the four meanings, and concludes:

Presidential doctrines are inherently malleable and difficult to define. The only fixed "doctrines" in American history are the Monroe and the Truman doctrines, which came out of single presidential statements during administrations where there were few conflicting foreign policy crosscurrents.
Such is not the case with the Bush doctrine.
Yes, Palin didn't know what it is. But neither does Gibson. And at least she didn't pretend to know--while he looked down his nose and over his glasses with weary disdain, "sounding like an impatient teacher," as the Times noted. In doing so, he captured perfectly the establishment snobbery and intellectual condescension that has characterized the chattering classes' reaction to the phenom who presumes to play on their stage.

Governor Palin has one supporter in print, anyway.


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