Righties Dance on Elizabeth Edwards' Grave -- And Use My Reporting to Do It
In certain corners of the right-wing world, an odd definition of Christian charity prevails: if you don't believe as its denizens do, your death is an occasion for their judgmental disdain. Apparently, they don't trust their own justice-meting God to do the job.
Elizabeth Edwards, who died yesterday, has not yet been buried, but that hasn't stopped some from attacking her for being true to her personal theology even to the very end: a theology that does not include the concept of Christian salvation. They're using a column I wrote three years ago to make their case in a most uncharitable manner.
Essentially the argument made by Donald Douglas of the right-wing blog American Power ("Keeping an eye on the communist-left so you don't have to") is that Edwards was a bitter nihlist. Why? Because she failed to mention Douglas's big, bad God in her farewell Facebook message. Douglas's post might have disappeared into the abyss of mean, stupid things said by internet cranks -- until the august Christianity Today, representing the respectable, serious side of the religious right -- picked it up. And that's just nasty. Or bitter. Or nihlistic.
Complicated people are always fascinating and sometimes maddening, and Elizabeth Edwards was surely both. But there's no denying that she was a woman of singular courage, not simply for how she faced her illness, but for violating Thomas Jefferson's advice to public figures: keep your most heartfelt religious views to yourself.
Like Edwards, Jefferson was a Deist -- someone who believes in a supreme being, but not in a God who intervenes in the affairs of humans. So, while I was no fan of her husband, when Elizabeth Edwards spelled out her beliefs for a roomful of bloggers, my respect for her soared. In fact, I was stunned by the courage she displayed at the annual BlogHer conference. Here's what I wrote for The American Prospect Online:
Asked by Beth Corbin of Americans United for Separation of Church and State to explain how her faith beliefs inform her politics, Elizabeth Edwards gave an extraordinarily radical answer: She doesn't believe in salvation, at least not in the standard Christian understanding of it, and she said as much:I have, I think, somewhat of an odd version of God. I do not have an intervening God. I don't think I can pray to him -- or her -- to cure me of cancer.After the words "or her," Mrs. Edwards gave a little laugh, indicating she knew she had waded into water perhaps a bit deeper than the audience had anticipated. Then she continued:I appreciate other people's prayers for that [a cure for her cancer], but I believe that we are given a set of guidelines, and that we are obligated to live our lives with a view to those guidelines. And I don't that believe we should live our lives that way for some promise of eternal life, but because that's what's right. We should do those things because that's what's right.Wow, I thought. That sounds awfully like, "Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try..."
Elizabeth Edwards will be remembered for many things, but probably not for what may prove to be the most important one: opening the door for political figures whose spiritual beliefs do not conform to the dictates of traditional Christianity or Judaism. It will be a while before an actual candidate, which Elizabeth Edwards was not, can take that risk, but by setting the standard for spiritual authenticity, she did her country a great service.
FYI, here's Elizabeth Edwards's final Facebook post, via National Journal:
You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces -- my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope. These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined. The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And, yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It’s called being human. But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful. It isn't possible to put into words the love and gratitude I feel to everyone who has and continues to support and inspire me every day. To you I simply say: you know.