A cheer for Jeb Bush

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Jeb Bush speaking at CPAC in 2015, by Gage Skidmore

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Jeb Bush speaking at CPAC in 2015, by Gage Skidmore

Jeb Bush speaking at CPAC in 2015, by Gage Skidmore

Jeb Bush speaking at CPAC in 2015, by Gage Skidmore

Jeb Bush gave a good commencement speech at Liberty University over the weekend — not that anyone liked it much. The degree recipients and their families sat on their hands through most of his applause lines, and among liberal commentators he got just a bit of grudging recognition for steering clear of same-sex marriage.

Bush’s non-boilerplate theme was Christian commitment in today’s world, but most of what he had to say was a far cry from the kind of witness Liberty is known for. The lines that fell flat included:

The faith that you brought here, the faith that matured here, doesn’t give every answer to every question.

Whatever the need, the affliction, or the injustice, there is no more powerful or liberating influence on this earth than the Christian conscience in action.

Outside these seven thousand acres of shared conviction, it’s a depressing fact that when some people think of Christianity and of Judeo-Christian values, they think of something static, narrow, and outdated. We can take this as unfair criticism, as it typically is, or we can take it as further challenge to show in our lives the most dynamic, inclusive, and joyful message that ever came into the world.

Offhand, I cannot think of any more subversive moral idea ever loosed on the world than “the last shall be first, and the first last.”

Likewise, is it really just some time-worn, pre-modern idea that God’s favor is upon the gentle, the kind, and the poor in spirit?

For all who would serve the poor and homeless, you set the standard with your belief that everyone matters, and everyone has the right to rise.

Men and women of your generation are striving to be protectors of creation, instead of just users, good shepherds instead of just hirelings – and that moral vision can make all the difference.

Fighting injustice, helping the least among us, joy, inclusivity, loving your enemies, environmentalism — maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise, coming from an Episcopalian-turned-Catholic in the era of Pope Francis. Actually, Bush mentioned both Francises, saint and pope, and there was no applause for them either.

To be sure, he did get around to throwing some red meat — well, more like medium rare — to the crowd: on “choosing life,” defending the Jews and the Constitution’s “first freedom,” attacking federal authorities in general and “the present administration” in particular for ignoring religious conscience. But then he sounded a lot like President Obama in standing against the culture-war divisions that Liberty’s founder, Jerry Falwell, did so much to create:

In my experience, at least, you generally find the same good instincts, fair-mindedness, and easygoing spirit among Americans of every type – including, of course, the many who belong to no church at all. That’s a lot to work with, if the aim is to accept differences instead of exploiting them, and get on with life in this free country.

Consider Mike Huckabee, who visited Liberty in January to talk about the divide between “Bubbaville” and “Bubbleville,”and says that we’re “moving rapidly toward the criminalization of Christianity.” Or Ted Cruz, who in March stirred the passions of a Liberty audience with lines like: “Today, roughly half of born again Christians aren’t voting. They’re staying home. Imagine instead millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values.”

Bush visited liberty to deliver a very different message. It’s too bad no one beyond those seven thousand acres of shared conviction registered it.

  • samuel Johnston

    Hi Mark,
    My nominee for worst religious idea ever is that “all other gods but mine are false”. The Romans often declared Jews and Christians as atheists because they proclaimed this view and acted on it from time to time.
    The knowledge that we all share (unless we deny it), is that the “truth” is forever beyond human capability. Faith, does not alter this unless it fits us with blinders and bigotry.

  • Betty Clermont

    Jeb is following the wildly successful Pope Frances. Say really nice stuff which will appeal to the majority (Bush clearly has his eyes on a national campaign) so that most will ignore what the GOP does just like everyone ignores what the pope does (i.e. appoints men with the most horrific background in sex abuse and supporting the 1%).

  • samuel Johnston

    Hi Betty,
    You remark reminds me of “the fallacy of democracy is the assumption that people will act in their own interest.”
    Too many examples to list, but voting for fluff and not substance, must be near the top. Just look a Greece.

  • Jack

    Leave it to a lefty writer to call “choosing life” and “defending the Jews” a tactic of “red meat” rather than gentleness.

    How utterly inane.

  • Jack

    Samuel, the obvious problem with your critique is that it is a logical impossibility for all or even most religions to be true — for the simple reason that they contradict one another on key points.

    So either none are true, few are true, or one is true.

    Any of these three possibilities is closer to whatever the truth is than the silly idea that they’re all true.

  • Larry

    But not nearly as inane as employing ad hominem on someone you label a “lefty”.

  • Jack

    Philip….er….Larry, it’s good you’re learning new phrases like “ad hominem,” and I don’t wish to diminish your giddy enthusiasm during the learning process, but you need to apply it properly and not just slap it on anything that moves. Identifying someone politically is not ad hominem. Read the sentence without the politically identifying word (“lefty”) and the point still stands.

  • Jack

    The big question is whether Mr. Silk will eventually follow apparently thin-skinned colleagues like Jonathan Merritt and wall himself off from reader feedback.

    My guess is no, but we’ll see.

  • tz

    its always one sided with you. I will be impressed when you praise someone who provides a witness that YOU are not comfortable with. Liberals are constantly attacking any form of Christianity that does comply with their narrow list of privileged concerns as insular and bigoted. But to invoke the head lib “What are YOU bitter about and what do YOU cling?” Its amazing that the one group claims to be the most self critical and open minded …considers themselves beyond reproach. perhaps if they spent some time scrutinizing themselves they might find they they are the bigots in the room.

  • Stone

    SJ’s post is typical of a new web meme that implicitly glorifies ancient Rome. I see galloping hypocrisy in these Romans, plus those glorifying them today, criticizing Jews/Christians for disallowing other faiths, while Romans do the same despicable thing in consigning Christians to the arenas? Why this growing urge to whitewash Romans, when both Romans and crusaders are each as bad in their own ways?

    My father published on medieval history and was an atheist: So I learned how politics/religion can be a noxious mix. To pretend Rome is immune violates historiography, a serious discipline requiring scholarly rigor and strict honesty. Sick partisan hagiography of a brutal force like the Romans is of a piece with book-burning and the kind of “photo-shopping” dictators of every stripe routinely practice.

    JB’s Chesterton quote also compels me to say that, while some faiths start as tribal, Buddha’s, Confucius’s, and Jesus’s start as highly ethical, later subverted by tribal habits.

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