I am a big fan of Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Charles Krauthammer. In the past few years, like a shooting star, he has ascended the heights of American punditry to become one of the most respected commentators in the nation.
No wonder his latest book–Things That Matter–currently sits atop the New York Times best-seller list. It is a great read would make an excellent Christmas gift for any of your thinking friends and relatives.
However, after reading the book, it strikes me that although Charles Krauthammer may be among the most robust thinkers of our day, his book reveals a glaring weakness.
Charles Krauthammer has a missing source.
Dr. Krauthammer is a 63 year old physician/psychiatrist who launched a journalism career the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated in 1981. Then, he was left of center politically.
Now he is a staunch conservative.
In 1972, during his first year in medical school, he broke his neck in a diving accident and remains a paraplegic. Whenever you see him on television, he sits upright, almost regal, in a chair, not drawing attention to the fact that he has no feeling from the waist down.
The accident changed his life, but not his spirit. Determined to finish his studies on time, he asked his Harvard instructors to come to the hospital and project his lessons on the ceiling of the hospital room. Thus began years of learning to live without lower body movement.
Her still graduated with honors–on time–with his classmates.
Now forty years later, he has reached the pinnacle of political discourse by being a regular on the Fox News Channel and writing a weekly column for the Washington Post that is syndicated in over 400 newspapers.
How did Charles Krauthammer go from being a liberal (working on Walter Mondale’s presidential campaign) to being a clear-eyed conservative? His simple answer is: “I was young once.”
Meaning? He “grew up” over the years as he watched the Democratic Party go from being strong on national defense to making deals with dictators (e.g. the present mullahs in Iran.) Like Ronald Reagan’s conversion before him, be honestly states that “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. It left me.”
On domestic issues it was a different matter. “The Democratic Party remained true to itself. I changed. The origin of that evolution is simple: I’m open to empirical evidence. The results of the Great Society experiments started coming in and began showing that, for all its good intentions, the War on Poverty was causing irreparable damage to the very communities it was deisgned to help.”
Krauthammer says, “As I became convinced of the practical and theoretical errors of the social-democratic tendencies of my youth, it was but a short distance to a philosophy of restrained, free market governance that gave more space and place to the individual and civil society. In a full circle return, I found my eventual political home in a vision of limited government.”
Charles Krathammer became a foreign policy conservative because he recognized evil in the world which couldn’t be appeased. He became a fiscal conservative because socialism doesn’t work and free enterprise does.
Now to the book. Things That Matter is an updated collection of his best columns of the past thirty years. It’s a fast-paced read with each chapter sharing a distinct thought in usually 2-4 pages. There are three sections in the book
The opening section contains his most emotional writings on family, friends, manners, follies, space and earth, and his passions and pastimes which include baseball (he’s an avid and knowledgable fan of the Washington Nationals) as well as chess. (His column on Big Blue the computer beating the ‘human” world champion chess player is a riot.)
One of Charles’ greatest gifts is profound pithiness. In an article about bank robber Katharine Ann Power who killed a policeman and orphaned his children, then rationalized her actions, Krauthammer observes, “Allen Bloom once described a man who had just gotten out of prison, where he had undergone ‘therapy.’ He said he had found his identity and learned to like himself. A generation earlier he would have found God and learned to despise himself as a sinner.”
But no. The new, secular world is about self and changing the definition of sin. “Reflecting on the man who learned to like himself in prison, Bloom notes that in the life of this ex-con the problem lay with his sense of self, not with original sin or devils within him. We have here the peculiarly American way of digesting Continental despair. It is nihilism with a happy ending. Except for the orphans.”
I can’t do justice to his writing style in this snippet, but you get the point. In most of his columns, Krauthammer lays out the empirical or common sense understanding of truth and then drives it home with a verbal left jab–leaving you stunned and sobered..
“Except for the orphans.”
Krauthammer is primarily a political commentator who wanted to keep politics out of the book. He says that “this book was originally going to be a collection of my writings about everything except politics. Things beautiful, mysterious, profound, or just odd. Working title: There’s More to Life Than Politics.
Then he gives a powerful explanation as to why that changed. “But in the end, I couldn’t [leave out politics]. For a simple reason, the same reason I left psychiatry for journalism. While science, medicine, art, poetry, architecture, chess, space, sports, number theory and all things hard and beautiful promise purity, elegance, and sometimes even transcendence, they are fundamentally subordinate. In the end, they must they must bow to the sovereignty of politics.”
“Politics, the crooked timber of our communal lives, dominates everything, because, in the end, everything–high and low–lives and dies by politics. You can have the most advanced and efflorescent cultures. Get your politics wrong, however, and everything stands to be swept away.”
“This is not ancient history. This is Germany 1933. Politics is the moat, the walls, beyond which lie the barbarians. Fail to keep them at bay and everything burns.”
Read those lines again–and never again share a negative view of politics. It makes or breaks everything else–either promoting freedom or allowing tyranny.
Krauthammer’s final section is a compilation of his best writings on past history, the 80s, 90s, the Cold War, the Age of Terrorism and what is coming in the future. Three essays in this section are speeches he gave before national think-tanks. They’re worth the entire book. One is called the “Uni-Polar Moment,”a subject you’d better become familiar with. The others are “Democratic Realism” and “Decline is a Choice.”
There are quite a number of essays in the book on the Jews, the Holocaust, Middle East etc. Krauthammer is a Jew–so he knows his own people. Maybe that’s one reason he is so brilliant: by ethnicity, he is one of God’s chosen. On the humorous side, Bob Weiner says, “the reason God created Gentiles is that somebody needed to pay retail.”
(Read that again and you’ll get it!)
Here are a few more Krauthammer quotes:
- Social Security: “The average senior receives in Social Security about a third of what the average worker makes. This is one Ponzi scheme that can be saved. Social Security was not meant to provide two decades of green fees for baby boomers.”
- 20th century: “The uniqueness of the 20th century lies not in its science but in its politics. It invented the police state, the command economy, mass mobilization and mass propaganda, mechanized murder and routinized terror–a breathtaking catalog of totalitarian horror.”
- Left and right: “Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.”
- Voting: “I don’t really care what a public figure thinks. I care about what he does. Let God probe his inner heart. Tell me about his outer acts. Know them by what they do and judge them by their works.”
- Politics (again): “If we don’t get politics right, everything else risks extinction. Politics is soveriegn in human affairs. Everything ultimately rests upon it.”
- Border security: “When you build a wall to keep people in, that’s a prison. When you build a wall to keep people out, that’s an expression of sovereignty.”
- Jihad: “The greatest moral monster of our time is the suicide bomber. It is the ultimate perversion of the ‘good death’ done for the worst of motives–self creation through the annihilation of others.”
- Me Generation: “Its genius is to take the stigma out of self-love and turn it into virtue. Its beauty is to take health and hygiene, and make them a religion. In a political era demanding more public displays of piety and morality, liberals can now enthusiastically declare,’We got religion too!'”
- Atheism: “The declining faith in the supernatural has been accompanied by the rise of the monstrous totalitarian creeds of the 20th century. When people stop believing in God, it’s not that they believe in nothing; it is thereafter that they believe in anything.”
I agree with Dr. Krauthammer about 95% of the time. That’s despite the fact that I am a follower of Jesus and he is a non-practicing Jew.
But that brings me to his one missing source--which leapt out from the pages of Things That Matter. In a number of chapters on abortion, the origins of the earth, capital punishment and a few other issues, I put question marks or “No’s” in the margins of the book.
For example, he said he didn’t “oppose capital punishment,” but was against it. He remarked that “For some people, life begins at conception.” Also, he’s against creationism being taught in the schools and says that “The Bible is not about fact. It’s about values.” Again, we shouldn’t teach “biblical fables as science.” He also believes that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and postulates there is life on other planets (one column is entitled, “Are We Alone in the Universe?”)
A final example is a heart-wrenching treatise on the future of the Jewish nation, in which he believes Israel will either be annihilated or never return to their land again. “The Ten Tribes had melted away into history. Every other people so conquered and exiled in time disappeared. Only the Jews defied the norm. Twice. But never, I fear, again.”
On all these points I disagree. God is the author of just capital punishment. Life does begin at the moment of conception (Psalm 139). Creationism and macro-evolution are both faith-theories that should be debated. The Bible is about facts, not fables. The earth may not be billions of years old and there is no evidence of life anywhere but on planet Earth.
As for Israel? God is currently bringing the Jews back to their land where a great end time revival is coming where “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). The end is not at hand for the Jews. Their salvation is nigh.
So why does is the wise and thoughtful Charles Krauthammer either confused or simply wrong on these issues?
He has one missing source: The Bible. He apparently does read it or know it. It clearly answers all those questions and many more. Charles Krauthammer believes in God, but has not grounded that belief in the inerrancy of Scripture–our guide, compass, sourcebook on reality.
By honest seeking, looking at empirical evidence, and thoughtful brilliance, Dr. Krauthammer has arrived at the truth in many areas of his life. What is lacking in his journalism is the best source of wisdom–the Bible,
I learned the majority of the “things that matter” in my life from the pages of God’s Word. I hope Charles Krauthammer finds his missing source.