Friday, March 2, 2012

Christian realism

New York Times’ columnist David Brooks and his family recently hosted a Chinese foreign exchange student. The student gave him a tie as a gift. To his surprise, the tie was not manufactured in China but one that Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels had taken to China as a gift on a recent trip to promote trade. Apparently, the tie had been sold and then re-gifted. (David Brooks and Gail Collins, “David’s Awesome Tie Story,” New York Times, February 15, 2012,

Perhaps pessimism about eventual Chinese dominance is less warranted than many pundits think. Globalization creates interesting, unpredictable linkages. China, for example, may have more to lose from waging a war to gain world dominance than U.S. advocates of increased defense spending believe.

Collins and Brooks used the tie story as a springboard for Brooks’ to complain about the lack of big solutions that President Obama has proposed. I wonder if Brooks’ is wrong about wanting a politician – of whatever political party – whose agenda is one of major solutions to major problems.

Big solutions will require Congressional action in a way that is very unlikely to occur, given the Senate's deep divisions and rules that allow a minority to obstruct passage of most legislation.

Small steps in the right direction(s) are doable, and much better than nothing. Perhaps Obama has learned a constructive lesson from his first three years - pushing for major change (e.g., healthcare) is too costly, too polarizing, and unlikely to happen again. Healthcare may be the signature issue of his presidency.

As Christians, God calls us to live in the world of the possible guided by the desirable, i.e., the ideal that God envisions for the world. Utopianism is unrealistic. Similarly, realism unguided by Christian ideals is no longer Christian. Looking for small steps of the possible, incremental progress toward a better world, is perhaps the essence of Christian realism.

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