August 22, 2004


Keyes: ‘The victory is for God’ (CATHLEEN FALSANI, August 22, 2004, Chicago Sun-Times)

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. [...]

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." [...]

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."

Don't you hate when that wild-eyed conservative you hated from a distance turns out to be personable, thoughtful and compassionate?

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 22, 2004 10:20 AM

He does come over crazy, though, like a sunburnt Lyndon LaRouche

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 22, 2004 3:04 PM


People who settle on a set of principles and actually mean it are universally considered dangerous kooks. Occasionally saints, but always dangerous kooks.

Posted by: mike earl at August 22, 2004 8:07 PM


Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 24, 2004 1:55 PM
« WHAT.......?: | Main | SO MUCH FOR TOURISM: »