Religion and Politics, Part 1 (uh-oh)
Original post made by Tom Cushing on Aug 17, 2011
America is a nation founded in major part by refugees to whom religious expression was important enough to risk the perils of an ocean voyage and brave the challenges of frontier life. Freedom of religion is enshrined in two clauses of the First Amendment, which promote both its free exercise and protect against the establishment of any particular belief system as a state religion. So it is unsurprising that religion continues to play a major role in American life, including politics.
With some trepidation, I'd like to consider with you three aspects of religion in politics, one each over the next three blog entries: first, religion and the candidate, then religion and domestic policies, and finally religion in a global diplomacy context. I'm guessing that the views of this readership vary across a broad spectrum and I'm also hoping they can be expressed here in a reasonable manner that befits the lofty topic (I would add "praying," too, but I suspect the Deity has better things to do).
My own awareness of religion-and-the-candidate dates from the 1960 presidential campaign (yeah, yeah you kids get off my lawn), in which JFK's Catholicism was a front-and-center issue. So deep was the concern that he took the initiative and entered a Lion's Den of Texas clergymen. In a masterful speech (written by Ted Sorensen, a Unitarian by faith), he declared " I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all groups and obligated to none; … and whose fulfillment of his presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation.
This is the kind of America I believe in, and this is the kind I fought for in the South Pacific, and the kind my brother died for in Europe. No one suggested then that we may have a 'divided loyalty…'"
JFK's point was that his religion would not interfere with his judgment of those policies he'd advocate as good for the general populace. Similarly, candidate Obama was whispered to be a secret Muslim, and also faced a worry in some quarters over caustic views espoused by the minister of his Chicago church. Did then-Senator Obama's attendance at that church suggest that he subscribed to his preacher's theology?
Current GOP candidates Romney and Huntsman are Mormons, and subject to similar suspicions a recent poll indicated that a quarter of Republicans would not vote for a member of the LDS church, on that basis. That's a big chunk of the party base that is apparently closed to their campaigns.
Those instances of candidates on the defensive vary dramatically from the approaches of other Presidential aspirants. Candidates Bachmann and Perry are playing offense with their evangelical religious beliefs they wear their faith on their sleeves. Governor Perry recently led a prayer service for America in a Houston football stadium (thus combining two defining elements of Texas life), and Representative Bachmann routinely declares to the faithful that her faith will inform her Presidency in fundamental ways.
Now, all candidates have values (let's assume), and those principles influence their policies. How important are those candidates' religions as markers of their policy preferences? Do you think their faith Really makes a difference at "crunch time?" Would you vote for, or against anyone primarily on the basis of his-or-her stated religion? Would it matter if that religion was Buddhist, or Muslim -- or Atheist? Are you comfortable with a candidate founding her/his campaign appeal significantly on Faith?
'Tis the presidential campaign season, already -- I invite your thoughts on these subjects.
on Aug 17, 2011 at 4:53 pm
Dear Tom and Editor,
News services and their polling groups have allowed a majority of USAmerican voters to celebrate the rejection of arrogant, authoritarian dogma that is the basis of the "Three Stooges'," as Perry, Palin and Bachmann, campaigns. Polling studies released in the last 10 days show that these religious candidates must illustrate separation of church and state to have credibility with a majority of voters. Further polling shows that the same candidates' linkage to the Tea Party make that association less popular than if they were atheists.
There are positive signs among a majority of voters that ignorant, arrogant dogma does not sell any candidate. So, why not step forward with in-depth journalism and simply tell this story as the reality of USAmerican voters' focus on our economy, jobs, and effective management of our global relationships.
DO TELL, please.
on Aug 17, 2011 at 5:05 pm
Even though Kennedy's religion was quite the source of contention during his campaign, he was one of the most beloved presidents in American history. When I compare that to speculation about President Obama's faith, I have to think that there is a larger good-religion vs. evil-religion argument brewing beneath the surface.
While I don't think a candidate's faith makes a lick of difference when it comes to their efficacy as a leader, I think it makes quite the difference during "crunch time." People tend to go with what they know, and if that means voting for someone who professes a similar faith to yours, that candidate has a leg up.
Interestingly, Sen. Joe Lieberman is currently promoting a book called "Gift of Rest," in which he touts the health and spiritual benefits of observing sabbath - for people of all religions. If I remember correctly, Lieberman's Jewish religion was significantly downplayed in the 2000 election. Would he have been more or less successful if he penned this text with religious overtones during the election?