Washington Post’s dueling visions of religion in politics

August 15, 2007, 11:40 am | Posted by

Two columnists, two candidates, two visions of religion in the 2008 campaign.

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Richard Cohen bemoans the publicity of presidential candidates’ religions and commends Rudy Giuliani for telling reporters that his standing as a “good or not so good catholic” was between him and the priests. The column is called “Giuliani’s JFK Moment” and praises Kennedy’s 1960 campaign declaration that his Catholicism would not dictate his decisions. Cohen marvels that

Kennedy made two other points in that speech that bear repeating. The first was that “far more critical issues” faced the country than a presidential candidate’s religion. The same, of course, is true today. Just for starters, there’s an agonizing war in Iraq that needs to end in a fashion that will not turn a mistake into a debacle — for Iraq, for the region and for the security of Americans here in the United States.

But second, and to my mind just as important, Kennedy’s speech was an affirmation of rational thought — a promise to deal with the great issues of state in a secular manner. Nowhere in the speech did JFK renounce his Catholicism or say it didn’t matter to him. But he did make clear that as president he would make decisions in “accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest.” In other words, he would use his noodle.

Cohen implies that to think rationally and to consult one’s conscience are distinct from and even incompatible with using one’s faith as a moral compass. Personally, I’d like to know if a Catholic candidate accepted the Catholic stance on the war, and if a Southern Baptist accepted that church’s position. If they disagree, I’d like to know how they reconcile dissent and faith. That might be a pretty clear window into a candidate’s conscience and “how he would use his noodle.”

Contrast this with Post columnist Michael Gerson‘s understanding of the role of faith in political decision making (from an August 3 column):

American political leaders have generally not talked about soteriology — how the individual soul is saved. In Christian theology, these choices are fundamentally private, and government attempts to influence them are both doomed and tyrannical. American leaders have also wisely avoided the topic of eschatology — inherently speculative theories about the end or culmination of history.

But religious convictions on the topic of anthropology– the nature and value of men and women — have profoundly and positively influenced American history. Many of the greatest advances toward the protection of minority rights, from the abolition of slavery to the civil rights movement, came in part because people of faith pushed for them. And religious men and women made those efforts because they were convinced that all human beings — not just all believers — are created in God’s image.

The difference between Cohen’s simplistic, ahistoric vision of faith in the political arena and Gerson’s nuanced, historical understanding is obvious and fundamental. Every day I scour the political headlines while putting together Faith In Public Life’s daily news (click here to subscribe!), and from what I see, it’s clear that Gerson’s view is gaining traction as Cohen’s fades into the pages of history.

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Remembering how Rove treated Christians

August 14, 2007, 11:04 am | Posted by

Amidst all the analysis of Rove’s legacy, a few writers have remembered how Karl Rove manipulated American Christianity.

And at Street Prophets, the Rev. Deb Haffner riffs on his reason, that he’s “leaving for family.” She writes:

You know, that Karl Rove resigned yesterday to spend more time with his family…of course. Not because of continuing controversies around Valerie Plame, the dismissed US attorneys, the plummeting esteem of the administration, and so on, but because after 35 years working for Mr. Bush, he realized he had neglected his family and it was time to come home. Oh, and that he had to make up his mind by Labor Day. For resigning members of the Bush administration, family is like the “dog ate my homework” excuse.

Matthew Yglesias notes the Atlantic Monthly‘s, Joshua Green shows off his long-form skillz on how Rove wasn’t that smart after all, just willing to wangle the religious more than most in his party.

Salon’s Lou Dubose (h/t Dan) writes:

The “guns, God, and gays” campaigns that defined Texas politics and the politics of the South became the model for Republican Party campaigns across the country. It was Rove who was responsible for the whispering campaign that characterized Democratic Gov. Ann Richards, Bush’s opponent in the 1994 governor’s race, as a closet lesbian, in a successful attempt to peel away conservative Christian votes in East Texas.

Perhaps the most recent example of a successful social-issues campaign was in Ohio during the 2004 election, which provided critical electoral votes to secure George Bush’s second term. With Bush in peril of losing to John Kerry, the Republican National Committee looked to David Barton to go into Ohio and turn out the base. Barton is a former vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party and one of the founders of the WallBuilders, a Christian advocacy group working to restore God to His central position in American history, and in the history and social studies curricula of the nation’s public schools.

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Game not over: Left Behind returns in Iraq

August 13, 2007, 3:38 am | Posted by

You may remember the media attention created a couple of months ago by several progressive Christian groups who kicked up a ruckus when the rapture/fundamentalist folks behind Left Behind released their video game.

CrossWalk America’s The Rev. Eric Elnes writes: Just when you thought the Left Behind Games people had backed down – after negative publicity CrossWalk America helped create resulted in the firing of their senior VP and Left Behind Games stock plunging from $7.44 to $0.25 (and now at just over $.05/share), a new effort is underway to promote their horrific “convert or kill” theology.

The Nation‘s Max Blumenthal points out:

Actor Stephen Baldwin, the youngest member of the famous Baldwin brothers, is no longer playing Pauly Shore’s sidekick in comedy masterpieces like Biodome. He has a much more serious calling these days. Baldwin became a right-wing, born-again Christian after the 9/11 attacks, and now is the star of Operation Straight Up (OSU), an evangelical entertainment troupe that actively proselytizes among active-duty members of the US military. As an official arm of the Defense Department’s America Supports You program, OSU plans to mail copies of the controversial apocalyptic video game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces to soldiers serving in Iraq. OSU is also scheduled to embark on a “Military Crusade in Iraq” in the near future.

Of course, it’s perfect for Christian soldiers because it is “so young, so hip, so cool.” Jesus Christ, it’s like totally killer. . .

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ONE-derful news from New Hampshire

August 10, 2007, 2:38 pm | Posted by

The ONE Campaign just released some exciting polling numbers on the values of New Hampshire voters coming into the 2008 elections. The bottom line: Democrats and Republicans support candidates who make fighting poverty a priority.

The full polling memo can be found here.

Especially interesting is the values language that resonated with voters across the political spectrum:

Democrats and Republicans agree that America has a moral obligation as a compassionate nation to help the world’s poorest people through foreign assistance. More than nine in ten Democrats (93%) and 84% of Republicans agree that when millions of children around the world are dying from preventable diseases and hunger, we have a moral obligation to do what we can to help. Similarly, Democrats (90%) and Republicans (85%) agree that it is in keeping with the country’s values and our history of compassion to lead an effort to solve some of the most serious problems facing the world’s poorest people.

This is more evidence of a trend FPL has been tracking for some time: the “values voter” isn’t necessarily the anti-abortion anti-gay marriage activist we heard so much about in 2004, but someone who is concerned about “compassion issues” such as poverty.

Organizations like ONE Vote will be working hard to make sure these issues–and creative approaches to addressing them– take center stage in campaign 2008. Clearly, the citizens of New Hampshire are willing to speak out on this issue; lets all hope that the candidates listen.

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At Aspen, E.O. Wilson seeks common ground with evangelical pastors

August 9, 2007, 5:31 am | Posted by

American biologist (Myrmecology, a branch of entomology), researcher (sociobiology, biodiversity), theorist (consilience, biophilia), and naturalist (conservationism) E. O. Wilson shares a letter to a Christian pastor, an appeal for common cause on caring for creation.

Wilson is known for his career as a scientist, his advocacy for environmentalism, and his scientific humanist ideas concerned with religious, moral, and ethical matters. As of 2007, he was the Pellegrino Research Professor in Entomology for the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He is a Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism.

On Jul 8th, 2006, at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Wilson shared some progressive thoughts on saving creation. He calls this century, the century of the environment.

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