What's the Matter With Krauthammer?

By Nicholas G. Hahn III

The very public collapse of the Affordable Care Act has made for some unexpected punditry.

FOX News's Megyn Kelly recently asked Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Charles Krauthammer, "What does the President do now?"

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"I would recommend prayer," Krauthammer replied with a hint of jest.

Krauthammer's suggestion, even if it was made with tongue-in-cheek, is surprising. Upon the release of his book, Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics, Krauthammer told Bret Baier that "When it comes to interior life, it's not something that's very interesting to me."

This, too, is suprising when you consider why Krauthammer is wheelchair-bound. When Charles Krauthammer's head struck the bottom of a Harvard campus swimming pool in the summer of 1972, he was immediately paralyzed. There he was, lying frozen underwater, "There was no panic. There was no great emotion. I didn't see a light. My life did not flash before me" -- in a word, nothing.

Krauthammer's swimming partner eventually realized the young medical student wasn't playing, and pulled him to safety.

Still, Charles Krauthammer professes to be "not much of a believer" and a "skeptic." He recently told Dennis Prager that "to feel more, you have to have a kind of faith experience," one he swears he hasn't had. Krauthammer even writes in the introduction to Things That Matter, "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 bow to the sovereignty of politics."

What happens when you have no religion? You think the transcendent plays second fiddle to politics. Krauthammer should know that it's the other way around.

Krauthammer's father put Charles and his brother through a "rigorous Jewish education," attended synagogue regularly, and even "had a rabbi come to the house three nights a week," he revealed to The Jerusalem Post in 2009. Krauthammer "learned about prayer" then, but not for the reason you might think. "My brother and I would pray very hard for snow so he wouldn't be able to come on Saturday night and we could watch hockey night in Canada."

This is not to say that Krauthammer is an atheist. When Prager asked if he is one, Krauthammer took the opportunity to ridicule the atheistic notion that the universe was created ex nihilo: "I believe atheism is the least plausible of all theologies." Krauthammer follows the "kind of theology that [Thomas] Jefferson and Albert Einstein had, which is a recognition of the mystery of the universe and that it is impenetrable," but remains "skeptical of the notion of some interventionist being in human history." Ultimately, Krauthammer echoes the Jewish philosopher Maimonides, "You can only say what God is not."

But according to a recent Pew survey, most Jews in America aren't able to do as much. Alexei Sivertsev is an associate professor of Religious Studies at DePaul University in Chicago who recently told me that Krauthammer seems to be representative of the trend of "a growing emphasis on cultural and ethnic aspects of Jewishness and a diminishing emphasis on the religious aspect."

Sivertsev doesn't hesitate to mention "There's a very fine line between culture and religion," and Judaism can be constructed in many different ways.

Krauthammer would agree. "Judaism does not insist on theology. Judaism is a religion of good works, not of belief. You don't have to have a belief to be saved," he told C-SPAN's Brian Lamb in 2005.

For a man who once claimed Maimonides was a "big influence," Krauthammer may have missed something. "There were periods in Jewish history where correct beliefs were emphasized as much as correct practice," Sivertsev said. "Maimonides was famous for emphasizing the articles of Jewish faith."

Then again, if Charles Krauthammer couldn't find faith at the bottom of that Harvard pool, believers can only pray he'll come around.

Nicholas G. Hahn III is the editor of RealClearReligion. Follow him on Twitter @NGHahn3.

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