Recently I saw an interview with Hart on Fox News where he made some wise observations about how religion screws up the political process.
Listening to him speak, I recalled how unfortunate it was that Dukakis rather than Hart was the Democratic nominee for president in 1988. That photo of Donna Rice sitting on his lap sunk his campaign. Otherwise, this intelligent and articulate former Colorado senator might well have won.
Myself, I’ve argued that religious values have no place in politics. In the interview (a portion of which is transcribed below) Hart basically agrees, though obviously neither he nor I would say that religious people have no place in politics. He has written a short book, “God and Caesar in America: An Essay on Religion and Politics.”
Hart says that it’s fine to be both religious and political, so long as you’re able to remain politically flexible. In politics you have to offer up good reasons for why you hold a particular position; in religion you don’t. Unswerving absolutism generally is considered to be a religious virtue, but it is a political vice—cutting off all possibility of finding a middle ground.
Here’s another perspective on Hart’s views about religion and politics. And here’s an excerpt from the Fox News interview:
Interviewer: You write, “Organized religion that seeks to occupy political power loses its purity and purpose.” How so?
Hart: Well, politics is the art of compromise. I think we all know that. We have liberals and we have conservatives, and the way you govern the country is to get the two together somewhere in the mainstream middle. That’s part of the reason the government isn’t working very well these days because of people demanding their own agenda.
Religion is about absolutes. Right and wrong, good and evil, and so forth. If you try to impose absolutes on a system of democratic compromise, you simply grind the process to a halt. The religious right has taken over much of the Republican Party both in its domestic and foreign policies. And I think that’s part of the reason why it’s very difficult to govern the country these days.
Interviewer: Right. But you say “impose absolutes.” But let’s say you’re just influenced by your own personal religious beliefs and you are in a position of government. Is there anything wrong with that, using your faith to guide you?
Hart: No, no, no. In the essay I absolutely encourage people of faith, of all faiths, to get involved in politics. That’s not the issue. It’s when one wing of one religion, in this case fundamental Protestantism, inserts itself into the operations of one party, in this case the Republican party, and demands the right to select judges and approve appointees to office.
And domestic policies, for example using taxpayer dollars through so-called faith-based organizations or churches. Probably, almost certainly, a violation of the First Amendment. That’s the difference. As I say in the essay, my own evangelical Christian upbringing influenced my decisions very strongly and my values and principles. And they did throughout my life.
I think its ironic that that church, or my religious training, which caused me to become a progressive Democrat caused others to become conservative Republicans.