This blogger doesn't believe in miracles (unlike several Dumbo/Teabagger presidential candidates), but something happened to the code for this blog at the beginning of the week and the left-side navigation menu returned to the original position of the header and footer sections. So in the spirit of magical thinking, Bill Keller the outgoing editor of the NY Fishwrap has taken aim at the faith of today's leading Dumbos/Teabaggers. If this is (fair & balanced) consideraton of the pursuit of folly, so be it.
[x YouTube/Natasha1255 Channel]
What A Fool Believes (McDonald & Logggins, 1979)
By The Doobie Brothers
[x NY Fishwrap 'Zine]
Asking Candidates Tougher Questions About Faith
By Bill Keller
Tag Cloud of the following article
If a candidate for president said he believed that space aliens dwell among us, would that affect your willingness to vote for him? Personally, I might not disqualify him out of hand; one out of three Americans believe we have had Visitors and, hey, who knows? But I would certainly want to ask a few questions. Like, where does he get his information? Does he talk to the aliens? Do they have an economic plan?
Yet when it comes to the religious beliefs of our would-be presidents, we are a little squeamish about probing too aggressively. Michele Bachmann was asked during the Iowa GOP debate what she meant when she said the Bible obliged her to “be submissive” to her husband, and there was an audible wave of boos — for the question, not the answer. There is a sense, encouraged by the candidates, that what goes on between a candidate and his or her God is a sensitive, even privileged domain, except when it is useful for mobilizing the religious base and prying open their wallets.
This year’s Republican primary season offers us an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life — and to get over them. We have an unusually large number of candidates, including putative front-runners, who belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons, a faith that many conservative Christians have been taught is a “cult” and that many others think is just weird. (Huntsman says he is not “overly religious.”) Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are both affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity — and Rick Santorum comes out of the most conservative wing of Catholicism — which has raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction.
I honestly don’t care if Mitt Romney wears Mormon undergarments beneath his Gap skinny jeans, or if he believes that the stories of ancient American prophets were engraved on gold tablets and buried in upstate New York, or that Mormonism’s founding prophet practiced polygamy (which was disavowed by the church in 1890). Every faith has its baggage, and every faith holds beliefs that will seem bizarre to outsiders. I grew up believing that a priest could turn a bread wafer into the actual flesh of Christ.
But I do want to know if a candidate places fealty to the Bible, the Book of Mormon (the text, not the Broadway musical) or some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this country. It matters to me whether a president respects serious science and verifiable history — in short, belongs to what an official in a previous administration once scornfully described as “the reality-based community.” I do care if religious doctrine becomes an excuse to exclude my fellow citizens from the rights and protections our country promises.
And I care a lot if a candidate is going to be a Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed.
So this season I’m paying closer attention to what the candidates say about their faith and what they have said in the past that they may have decided to play down in the quest for mainstream respectability.
From Ryan Lizza’s enlightening profile in The New Yorker, I learned that Michele Bachmann’s influences include spiritual and political mentors who preach the literal “inerrancy” of the Bible, who warn Christians to be suspicious of ideas that come from non-Christians, who believe homosexuality is an “abomination,” who portray the pre-Civil War South as a pretty nice place for slaves and who advocate “Dominionism,” the view that Christians and only Christians should preside over earthly institutions.
From reporting in The Texas Observer and The Texas Monthly, I learned about the Dominionist supporters of Rick Perry, including a number of evangelists to whom Perry gave leading roles in his huge public prayer service, called the Response, early this month.
Neither Bachmann nor Perry has, as far as I know, pledged allegiance to the Dominionists. Possibly they overlooked those passages in the books and sermons of their spiritual comrades. My informed Texan friends tell me Perry’s relationship with the religious fringe is pragmatic, that it is more likely he is riding the movement than it is riding him. But as we have seen with the Tea Party (another political movement Perry hopped aboard in its early days), the support of a constituent group doesn’t come without strings.
In any case, let’s ask. In the last presidential campaign, Candidate Obama was pressed to distance himself from his pastor, who carried racial bitterness to extremes, and Candidate McCain was forced to reject the endorsement of a preacher who offended Catholics and Jews. I don’t see why Perry and Bachmann should be exempt from similar questioning.
Asking candidates, respectfully, about their faith should not be an excuse for bigotry or paranoia. I still remember, as a Catholic boy, being mystified and hurt by the speculation about John Kennedy’s Catholicism — whether he would be taking orders from the Vatican. (Kennedy addressed the issue of his faith and mostly neutralized it, as Romney tried to do in a 2007 speech that emphasized his common ground with mainstream Christian denominations.) And of course issues of faith should not distract attention from issues of economics and war. But it is worth knowing whether a candidate has a mind open to intelligence that does not fit neatly into his preconceptions.
To get things rolling, I sent the aforementioned candidates a little questionnaire (which you can find on The 6th Floor blog). Here’s a sample:
• Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that America is a “Christian nation” or a “Judeo-Christian nation?” and what does that mean in practice?
• Would you have any hesitation about appointing a Muslim to the federal bench? What about an atheist?
• What is your attitude toward the theory of evolution, and do you believe it should be taught in public schools?
I also asked specific questions of the candidates. I wanted Governor Perry to explain his relationship with David Barton, the founder of the WallBuilders evangelical movement, who preaches that America should have a government “firmly rooted in biblical principles” and that the Bible offers explicit guidance on public policy — for example, tax policy. Since Barton endorsed Perry in the past, it would be interesting to know whether the governor disagrees with him.
And what about John Hagee, the Texas evangelist who described Catholicism as a “godless theology of hate” and declared that the Holocaust was part of God’s plan to drive the Jews to Palestine? In the 2008 campaign, John McCain disavowed Hagee’s endorsement. This time around, the preacher has reportedly decided to bestow his blessing on Perry’s campaign. I wonder if it will be accepted.
My note to Representative Bachmann asked about the documentary produced last year by a group now known as Truth in Action Ministries, in which she espoused the idea that all money for social welfare should come from charity, not government taxation. Is that a goal she would pursue as president?
And I’m curious if she stands by her recommendation of that biography of Robert E. Lee by J. Steven Wilkins, who contends the Civil War was a clash between a Christian South and a godless North. Wilkins writes that in the South, contrary to the notion that slaves were victims, there was a “unity and companionship that existed between the races” because they shared a common faith.
We’ll be posting the campaigns’ answers — if any — on nytimes.com. And if they don’t answer, let’s keep on asking. Because these are matters too important to take on faith. Ω
[Bill Keller is the executive editor of The New York Times. Beginning September 19, he will write a column for the Op-Ed page of The Times and contribute longer reports to the magazine. The California-born Keller received a BA from Pomona College 1970.]
Copyright © 2011 The New York Times Comapany
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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at sapper.blogspot.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.
Copyright © 2011 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves