i know what you're thinking

Over on this thread I’m disagreeing with Steve Sailer’s evident skepticism about Barack Obama’s claim to be a Christian. Steve doesn’t think there’s any “evidence” that Obama’s a Christian. My response is, in effect, that there’s never any evidence of religious sincerity for those who choose the path of skepticism.

It’s easy to come up with a story explaining why this person or that person is falsely professing religious belief; and, because we don’t have any (human or mechanical) mind-readers at hand, such skepticism can never be either refuted or confirmed. I’ve been around this highly annoying block way too many times. I have politically conservative Christian friends who are certain that Bill and Hillary Clinton have never been Christians but have been faking it all these years for political leverage; I have politically liberal friends who say exactly the same thing about George Bush. Maybe they’re all right; maybe they’re all wrong. How the hell would I know?

(Of course, this phenomenon is not confined to religious matters. Last week, one of the more generally thoughtful bloggers I know of, Tim Burke, wrote a post in which he denounced David Brooks’s “calculatedly dishonest approach to commentary.” When I asked him why he wrote “dishonest” rather than, say, “inconsistent,” he replied that while “some people are inconsistent in ways that strike me as sincere or unknowing,” Brooks is “inconsistent on purpose, instrumentally, as a manipulator.” But how the hell would Tim know?)

Rebecca West once wrote, “There’s no such thing as an unmixed motive.” Human personalities are complex. Few of us are utterly unscrupulous; few of us are utterly sincere. And, again, none of us can read minds. So please, let’s just drop the motive-mongering and focus on the issues. If our opponents in the public sphere are inconsistent or incoherent, it’s their inconsistency and incoherence that matter, not their supposed reasons for being so. Especially since it’s not likely that we, their critics, are any more morally pure.