Skip to comments.Keyes: 'The victory is for God'
Posted on 08/22/2004 6:15:20 PM PDT by EternalVigilance
First impressions can be misleading.
Two weeks ago, a wild-eyed Alan Keyes stood in front of news cameras in a hot, crowded Arlington Heights banquet hall sweating profusely, yelling and shaking his fist as he enthusiastically accepted the Republican nomination to run for U.S. Senate in Illinois.
"I will promise you a battle like this nation has never seen," Keyes shouted with the passion of a preacher talking about spiritual combat with the forces of evil, thrusting his fist heavenward for emphasis. "The battle is for us, but I have confidence because the victory IS FOR GOD!"
A few days after he delivered the fiery speech that was replayed time and again on television newscasts across the nation, a decidedly different Alan Keyes is seated behind the desk of a spartan office in what was until recently the Jack Ryan for Senate headquarters on North Clinton in Chicago.
On this particular afternoon, the 54-year-old Maryland conservative, political pundit and two-time presidential hopeful is about to spend more than an hour, one-on-one with a reporter, in an interview about his personal faith.
He's in tie and shirtsleeves, leaning back casually in his chair. Two small, gold charms -- a crucifix and twin Ten Commandment tablets -- that usually dangle from a long gold chain are tucked into his breast pocket, the chain pulled across his chest at an angle giving him just the faintest air of a bishop.
"The boss and the rules," he'll quip later as he pulls the charms out of his pocket and allows them to fall on top of his silk tie.
Whether his mood is irascible or reflective, Keyes, a lifelong Roman Catholic, wears his faith on his sleeve as well as around his neck.
When asked to describe himself spiritually, Keyes is reasoned, sincerely thoughtful and significantly more reserved than that man behind the lectern on TV.
"Well, in the fullest sense, I describe myself as a Christian," he says. "I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, came amongst men in order to redeem us from original sin and to offer us a way to his father, which he offered us in his words and examples and exposed to us the truth: that God loves us as individuals and knows our weaknesses because Christ has experienced them.
"And therefore, with really infinite understanding and mercy, is ready to welcome us into his home if we are willing to turn around and accept his grace," he says.
How does he define what a Christian is?
"One of the essential characteristics of Christianity is that it is about faith. Christ often says, 'Your faith has saved you,' to people. And that means that your willingness to acknowledge in truth the authority of God and the mercy of God in the person of Jesus Christ, is the route to salvation," he says, without hesitation.
"We are transformed by our knowledge of Christ, and that's why there is going to be a manifestation in us of that change, which shows itself in the different way we start to relate to people."
Born in a New York military hospital in 1950 while his father was serving in Korea, Keyes describes himself as an "Army brat." Along with his sister and three brothers, he was raised on military bases across the United States, and, for a time, in Italy.
His parents, Alison and Gerthina, both now deceased, were converts to Roman Catholicism.
Keyes says his first concept of what God is like is inextricably bound to Catholicism.
"My earliest idea that I remember was Jesus Christ, he was my idea of what God was like," he says. "When you grow up Catholic, I remember being encouraged to think of Jesus as your friend. Just a friend, like the friends you had on the playground, or in school. And I can remember that that was a part of my developing thought life when I was a child, having conversations with Jesus in my head, as if he were one of my playmates. . . . He was a child, just like me."
And now what does he think God is like?
"He's grown up," Keyes, who is married with three children, says, busting out in a belly laugh. "He's grown up. And I hope, I've grown up a bit. But I think that depth of it hasn't changed. We go through 'times.' We advance, we retreat, we struggle, we wrestle."
Keyes insists his faith has remained fairly constant throughout his life, though there were times when he says he felt more distant from his faith than he does today.
"I think the Bible is right [when] it says that you raise up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it," Keyes says, paraphrasing a passage from the 22nd chapter of the Biblical book of Proverbs. "That obviously implies -- doesn't it? -- a kind of gap. There's something in youth that somehow implies that people do depart from it a little bit. But if you raise them in the way they should go, then the roots take over again. And one returns."
When he was a doctoral student in the late 1970s at Harvard working on his dissertation about constitutional theory, Keyes says, he struggled a bit spiritually.
"When you're a graduate student, you go through your ups and downs and sometimes you hit really great lows. Some people, as a result of that, give up and they never reach their degree," he recalls. "At a moment of crisis for me -- I'll never forget -- I was feeling just that low, sort of thinking, 'I've been working at it and I'm never going to finish and it's just hopeless.'
"I called my mom, and that conversation, in which she really did nothing but listen to me and remind me that I'd gotten through different things in my life through faith -- sparked an experience I still remember," he says, his voice breaking with emotion. "And it transformed my sense of what my faith meant to me."
He received his Ph.D. in government from Harvard in 1979. He also earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard in 1972.
Keyes describes a mild crisis of faith that had grown alongside his intellectual pursuits.
"In American academics, it's difficult to be a person of faith. There's a certain kind of patronizing, a sense of, 'Oh, you'll grow out of it,' " he says.
"So you begin to push your faith into the background, and maybe not really want to show it and so forth and so on. You start to doubt whether or not you are being intellectually honest if you are relying on premises of faith."
It's a conundrum Keyes seems to have resolved with a vengeance.
The word became flesh
Keyes would never make himself out to be some sort of Biblical scholar, but when it comes to Scripture, he knows what he's talking about.
He reads Greek -- he travels with a laptop loaded with Bible software, including a copy of the Septuagint, the Greek version of Hebrew Scriptures -- and can wax eloquent at length about the etymology of certain words and how they correspond to theological principles.
"I try to read or think about some element of the Bible every day," he says, leaning back in his office chair, and propping his feet up on the desk.
When asked what portion of the Bible he most enjoys reading, he says, without hesitation, "Genesis."
"I often tell people that my greatest problem in the Bible is that in any serious way I've never been able to get past Genesis," he says, chuckling. "Now, I have read the whole Bible and I read other books, but what I mean is the book that I keep going back to over and over again is Genesis.
"For the longest time, I was really going back over and over again, thinking and writing about, the creation myths, because it seemed to me that there's an enormous depth of kind of philosophical implication," he says.
In addition to his Biblical studies, Keyes is a philosophy buff.
"People will think this is strange I suppose, but . . . there are books like Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and Hegel's Logic and things like that, and every once in a while I get hit by this mood and I have to wrestle with these books that are very abstract and that are kind of philosophy in the viewless realms where you are really dealing with concepts that have no corresponding material images or anything to go along with it," he says, excitedly. "You just have to go with pure concepts to think about things. And I think, in the sense of that kind of philosophical thinking, meditation and reasoning, Genesis is an enormously powerful experience."
This launches Keyes into a 20-minute discussion of what he describes as his latest "breakthrough" in examining a portion of Biblical text.
Specifically, the candidate says for four or five months he had been reading, re-reading and picking apart several dozen verses from the 4th, 5th and 6th chapters of Genesis, beginning with one of those "begat" passages.
So and so, son of so and so, begat so and so, father of so and so, who begat.. ..
These particular begat passages start with a descendant of Cain, the son of Adam and Eve who murders his brother Abel, and end with Noah -- the fellow with the ark.
With an almost childlike enthusiasm, Keyes recounts how he traced the lineage of Noah and the descendants of Cain, examined the ancient roots of certain words, and learned, according to his interpretation, that God's covenant with Noah after the flood included the institution of capital punishment for the first time.
"It's fascinating, don't you think?" Keyes asks, smiling broadly, when he's concluded an exegesis of the text that, at least in its methodology, would give any seminary professor or preacher a serious run for his money.
A boundless sorrow
Keyes could be a preacher, a Biblical scholar, or professional apologist for Christ. But instead, he's chosen to enter the secular political realm.
Why choose a field that can so often obfuscate faith?
It's a question, apparently, that moves Keyes to tears.
His eyes turn red, he stops talking for several minutes, stares at the ceiling, drums his fingers on the desk, and apologizes for his loss of composure.
After several attempts to begin speaking, only to have his voice crack with emotion, Keyes tries again to explain what he's feeling.
"I'm sorry, I'm getting a grip," he says, eyes red with tears. "When I was young, I encountered a problem, I guess. A challenge. And I guess it was an encounter that disillusioned me, yes, in the literal sense. And that was my first encounter with the reality -- intellectually and emotionally . . ." he pauses again, his voice trailing off for a few moments. " . . . Of what the slave experience meant to my ancestors. And I think I've been working that out ever since.''
When pressed to explain just what this "encounter" was, Keyes reveals that it was, in fact, an intellectual incident.
When he was about 15, he read Lerone Bennett's book Before the Mayflower: A History of the Negro in America, 1619-1964. And it broke his heart, he says.
"It's sorrow," he says, explaining why 40 years later he's still so emotional about something he read as a teenager. "It's not a sorrow for yourself, it's not a sorrow for individuals, it's a sorrow for the reality of our kind of sad experience . . . of life without God."
And it's that sorrow and outrage that in part has led him into politics, Keyes says.
"It's a problem of justice and to understand it and resolve it somehow is not an intellectual exercise. You have to meet the challenge of it in your own time and life. And at some level, that's what politics remains at its heart, in America," he explains.
"It's impossible to be a Christian and really live out your relationship with God apart from life and action," he says. "And that action requires that you kind of be aware of and sensitive to how in fact the injustice that was involved in slavery is like one of those difficult plants where you cut off what appears on the surface but the root is still there. And it springs up again in another place, in what seems like another form, but it is the same evil. It's the same root."
So, what did he mean, exactly, back at that podium in Arlington Heights, when he exclaimed that "the victory is for God"?
Was he saying God is on his side -- the side of the righteous -- and not on that of his Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, a man who professes the same Christian faith?
"Well, professing is the operative word," Keyes says, in a moment of snarkiness conspicuously absent from the rest of the interview.
"I thought it was pretty clear. Maybe it wasn't," he says, reflecting on his acceptance speech a few days earlier. "What I meant by it was the victory is in God's hands for his will and decision. That's why I couldn't promise it to people. I might lose. I don't know. None of us knows.
"The notion that you can stand there and say, 'Rah! We're gonna win!' I know you're supposed to do that, but I find it very difficult to say stuff that I know, even if it's rhetorical, is not true," he says.
Keyes is puzzled by the idea that some people would be afraid of the notion of "God on our side."
"I rather want people to think God is on their side, because that means they know he's watching them, and that his rules still apply to what they do," he says, smiling. "I hope that's the result."
"I often tell people that my greatest problem in the Bible is that in any serious way I've never been able to get past Genesis. Now, I have read the whole Bible and I read other books, but what I mean is the book I keep going back to over and over again is Genesis."
I would like to add, if I had a choice between the Moslim 13th century, or the Christian 2nd centry, I would choose the former every time.
One of the greatest Americans living today! Godspeed Alan win or lose, because you already won the grand prize, eternal physical life through Christ's salvation.
He is just awesome.
I really hope he wins because it would be very significant and good for the country, not just Illinois.
The people that have a hard time with him, I think, just have a problem with someone who is so brilliant, and brutally honest.
It certainly seems so, does it not? It's like the Leftists who, after 9-11, could not WAIT to once again begin talking about health care, "jobs", the environment, etc, and just forget all that icky war stuff.
It can be insidious...there have been so-called "conservatives" on this very site who have claimed, Left-style, that due to abortion and gay marriage, America DESERVED 9-11 and all that followed.
BTW, you have FReepmail.
Spoken like a true Keyes supporter.
Post #2. Interesting...and more and more of these have been appearing lately.
Keyes only loves those that love him.
Even then, it is a condescending love.
Aaawww. Us Christian wierdos aren't that bad. We love our families, help our neighbors, work hard, obey the laws....You know, that kind of stuff.
I guess we could suck out some baby brains or have sex with some goats if it would make you feel better about us, but we choose not to do so. Sorry.
So I guess when Keyes loses we can say that God was defeated? Incredible.
At least Keyes is consistant in his self-righteousness.
Why not look past his faith that bothers you and simply look at his political positions? Like the political positions or don't. But in this country, free expression of faith is valued. You don't have to agree with him. That's the wonderful thing about it. I'm turned off by other people's atheism, but I would vote for an atheist I agreed with politically.
Nope, he'll blame the GOP for not supporting him.
Nope, he'll blame the GOP for not supporting him.
Oh so, Keyes needed the GOP to deliver his "victory for God". How unfortunate.
I am proud of Keyes. He is a remarkable man who is simply brilliant. I encourage you to read more interviews as well as things he has written and I think you will find him to be inspiring.
I am not a Christian. I am a Conservative and I generally don't like the Religious Right and the candidates they support. Keyes relies on reason more than scripture when debating issues.
"Well, professing is the operative word," Keyes says, in a moment of snarkiness..
Now Keyes is the judge of who is or isn't a genuine Christian.
Perhaps after he loses this election he will allow us mortals to witness his ascention to heaven.
No doubt God is on your side too. Right?
To bad the facts aren't. Keyes said his victory was "for God".
That's what I was responding to.
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