From 1971 to 1988 Clint Eastwood played San Francisco cop Harry Callahan five times, starting with the movie that gave its name to the series: “Dirty Harry.” Eastwood’s character received the nickname because he takes on “every dirty job that comes along” -- whether that’s talking down a suicidal jumper from a ledge, delivering a ransom, or going after a serial killer.
My favorite Old Testament hero is Dirty Daniel. We can call him that because three times in the first five chapters of his book he speaks truth to one of Babylonia’s dictatorial monarchs, when no one else wants to or can. In Chapter 2 King Nebuchadnezzar threatens to kill all his advisers, but Daniel boldly goes to him. In Chapter 4 Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar to expect seven years of insanity. In Chapter 5 Daniel, by then an old man, tells King Belshazzar, “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end.”
Daniel’s book tells us nothing about his political strategies and tactics. He apparently doesn’t expect much from pagan kings, but he’s honest with them. Daniel is also diligent: After being appalled by a vision in Chapter 8, he still “rose and went about the king’s business.” He displays a straightforward career plan: As an angel tells him, “from the first day you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God.” He doesn’t give up: The angel closes Daniel’s book by saying: “Go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.”
Let’s contrast Daniel’s discernment with James Fenimore Cooper’s unrealistic portrayal of Indians, which Mark Twain eviscerated in an essay still read in some English classes, “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses.” Twain described a typical Cooper scene in which a 16-foot-wide boat is scraping down a 20-foot-wide stream: It’s so close to the riverbanks that hostile Native Americans could step onto the vessel. Instead, they conceal themselves in the foliage of branches bent over the stream. One Indian watches the boat, traveling at about 1 mile per hour, as it passes under him. He waits, waits, waits, then drops...and misses his target.
Twain tells us the rest: “There still remained in the roost five Indians. The boat has passed under and is now out of their reach. Let me explain what the five did -- you would not be able to reason it out for yourself. No. 1 jumped for the boat, but fell in the water astern of it. Then No. 2 jumped for the boat, but fell in the water still farther astern of it. Then No. 3 jumped for the boat, and fell a good way astern of it. Then No. 4 jumped for the boat, and fell in the water away astern. Then even No. 5 made a jump for the boat -- for he was a Cooper Indian.”
Both the book of Daniel and Twain’s essay should be required reading for some Christian conservatives. Let’s look back at the past 40 years of desert wandering (although some thought we were in the Promised Land). As Jimmy Carter made his way toward the White House, newsmagazines called 1976 “the year of the evangelical.” Carter quickly betrayed evangelical hopes on issues like abortion. Ronald Reagan in the 1980s was a great president, but two-thirds of his Supreme Court appointments were mistakes that led to the abortion horror continuing.
The “Republican Revolution” in the 1990s was supposed to change politics. It didn’t. George W. Bush in the 2000s missed a great opportunity. Meanwhile, as WORLD’s story in the Aug. 20 issue shows, the foundation-financed cultural juggernaut of the left rolled on. If we believe that throwing money into elections will save us, we’re like Fenimore Cooper’s Indians. A better alternative: Dare to be a Dirty (and prayerful) Daniel.
The work of a Dirty Daniel will vary from institution to institution, but it will always involve taking on unpopular, self-sacrificing tasks others don’t want. Example: We need to keep standing up against abortion, regardless of what the Supreme Court says. Avoiding Fenimore Cooper evangelicalism means adjusting strategies when biblical truth gives us flexibility. Example: Nothing in the Bible says we must have big, multi-toilet bathrooms, so WORLD asked architects about the feasibility of different arrangements. See the Aug. 20 issue’s cover story.
Courage. Discernment. Prayer.