To me, there's no place for religion in politics.
Sure, virtually every politician in the United States who occupies a high office will be religious, because this is a highly religious country and voters are biased against atheists. But political decisions should be based on evidence, reasoning, values -- not blind faith in some supernatural force.
Bill Keller, Executive Editor of the New York Times, who is about to step down and become a full-time writer, wrote a great piece: Asking Candidates Tougher Questions About Faith. Which starts off...
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 G.O.P. 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.
Candidates try to have it both ways: they shamelessly use their religiosity to form a bond with like-minded voters, yet get offended when someone asks them probing questions about their beliefs.
Like, "How the hell can we expect that you'd make sound presidential decisions when you believe such ridiculous faith-based religious crap?" That's the sort of question I'd like to ask, but it likely would get me thrown out of a Bachmann campaign event.
Keller, though, is free to ask some excellent questions of the candidates in a companion piece, Tougher Questions for the Candidates. My favorite is:
3. (a) Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that America is a “Christian nation” or “Judeo-Christian nation?” (b) What does that mean in practice?
Americans get all freaked out when Muslim nations are led by someone who vows fealty to the teachings of the Koran. Yet voters applaud presidential candidates who pledge to bring the Bible back into the classroom and eliminate barriers between church and state.
How is it that an Islamic theocracy is bad, while a Christian theocracy is good? What distinguishes our political leaders from fundamentalist crazies in other nations if both believe in seriously strange stuff that has no connection to demonstrable reality?
On that note, Keller has a link to a 2004 story about the Bush administration's snide dismissal of "the reality-based community," of which I am a proud member. Browsing through the lengthy story, I came across this.
In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
Who besides guys like me are part of the reality-based community? Many of the other elected officials in Washington, it would seem. A group of Democratic and Republican members of Congress were called in to discuss Iraq sometime before the October 2002 vote authorizing Bush to move forward. A Republican senator recently told Time Magazine that the president walked in and said: ''Look, I want your vote. I'm not going to debate it with you.'' When one of the senators began to ask a question, Bush snapped, ''Look, I'm not going to debate it with you.''
There are plenty of domineering, blustering jerks who try to get their way through force, intimidation, tough talk, and stonewalling. Their jerkiosity isn't always faith-based. But often it is.
Religions can bring out the worst in people.
Especially in politicians who already are prone to delusions of grandiosity. it's dangerous when a national leader believes that he or she has a direct personal link to God's will, as this can lead them to pursue policies which have no good reasons behind them other than "I feel it in my gut." (Meaning, the brain's blind faith center.)
Reader comments on New York Times articles often are as thoughtful as the piece itself. Highlighted comments on Heller's piece were no exception. I liked this one from Roxanne M. in New Mexico.
In his autobiography, former French President Jacques Chirac described receiving a call from President Bush in the middle of the night on the eve of the Iraq war. Bush was musing about whether his actions in the Middle East might help to fulfill the divine plan by bringing about Armageddon. The voters have a right to know whether their president's policies are based on rational evidence and suppositions or on crazy religious wish-fulfillment.
Religious beliefs are just that--beliefs. We have no problem questioning a candidates beliefs about economics, social policy or international relations, and expecting him to be able to defend those beliefs on a rational basis. Religion, however, has enjoyed a privileged, off-limits status that may have been fine, back in the good old days when all candidates were conventionally religious, usually Episcopalian, and weren't trying to use their faith as a wedge issue. But when candidates seem to think there is a higher law than the Constitution they are sworn to uphold, it's relevant to know which parts of the Constitution would be at risk under their administration.