Saturday, June 14, 2008

Is God Running for President?

Nah, I'm not calling Barack Obama the Messiah, I ain't that drunk on the Kool Aid.

I'm talking about an article in the NY Times recently that discussed the role of God in today's political campaigns. Timothy Egan, the column's author, argues in here that the Almighty might as well be on the campaign trail given how often his name is referenced in stump speeches.

Egan, who has been a critic of religion in the past, notes that since 1980 it's almost become mandatory for politicians to talk about their faith constantly if they want to be taken seriously, and he posits that this new focus has not had a positive effect on our lives. Egan longs for the days of Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and JFK when a man's religion was his business and not something that was political currency.

Excuse me while I stop laughing.

It's ridiculous for Egan to pull out random quotes from these politicians and then pretend like there wasn't pressure in the past for politicians to toe the line when it came to religion. Come on, he expects us to believe that when the U.S. was a far more conservative nation and much less likely to deal kindly with those who failed to conform, a politician's relationship with God wasn't a big deal. He really thinks that if there was a rumor that Jefferson loved Satan and killed goats Old TJ wouldn't have had to jump out of Sally Hemmings' bed and deal with that?

Yeah right.

Look, I understand where Egan is coming from about the detriments to allowing religion, particularly Christianity, to govern American policy and I think he's correct that all these questions about politicians' faith are intrusive.

But, where he and I differ is that he thinks a candidate's comments about their faith tell voters nothing about what type of leader they will be, and I disagree. I think that voters should take faith, or lack thereof, into account, just like they should examine economic policy, national security policy and every other policy.

I'll be the first to acknowledge that it's difficult to get a true reading on anybody's relationship with God just by watching them speak. However, I think that if candidates' profess a belief in God, voters can then watch their actions, watch how they conduct themselves and get a feel for the honesty at that candidate's core.

More importantly, as a Christian, God and his tenets guide me in life and I must admit that I like the idea that the person making decisions about this country's future also turns to God and his word for some guidance. Now, that doesn't mean I align myself with conservative Christians and their agendas (I don't think most of those are from God), but it does mean that I would have a problem voting for a Scientologist. And I know Dubya claims that God helps him make decisions, but come on, do y'all still believe in Santa Claus?

Anyway, there is this mindset among many intelligent folks that a belief in traditional Christianity is incompatible with intelligence, which in turn makes them uneasy when it appears that politicians are traditional Christians. Egan never says so in his article, but it's pretty obvious that the reason he thinks it's a bad idea for religion and politics to mix is because he thinks folks who focus on religion might have a few screws loose.

(Also, Egan admits that Obama's focus on his faith might be a result of the smears leveled against him, particularly the Muslim lie. Egan then fails to offer a way for Obama to deal with those smears and still maintain Egan's proposed ban on talking about God.)

I don't think we should run America as theocracy, nor do I believe that Americans should be forced to live according to the tenets of Christianity. But, I do think that God does have a role in politics because God has a role in most people's lives. It makes sense for politicians to account for this.

God might not be running for President, but he probably deserves a cabinet position.


the uppity negro said...

This was definitely a thought provoking article and Tim Egan usually delivers well.

The problem I see it is WHO defines WHAT Christianity is in this country. It's fine for all of those who fall within mainstream Christianity, and for the record, clearly John Hagee and Pat Robertson fall within that category because both of them still have their pulpits and neither of their pulpits have come under full assault by the MSM.

I definitely against a theocracy in any form, democratic republic seems to be working just fine--at least in its purest form, which the US is not practicing as best it could. But the problem is that we operate in these soundbytes and like you said Big Man, we really don't know where any of these candidates stand.

But interestingly enough, do we really know where the person sitting next to us in the pew on Sunday morning really stand on "christian values"? Does the person sitting next to us agree 100% with what the preacher said this morning? Moreover, if they DON'T agree or DON'T have the same beliefs as you, would they dare say it out loud? I know I've kept my mouth shut on a LOT of my personal musings about who and what God is. Not necessarily because I think they're wrong, but lest I be deemed not a Christian by someone else, it's just not worth it.

I think talking about religion in this country is futile because it's open to interpretation by the listener. Clearly Rick Warren's definition of Christianity is differnt than that of John Hagee and both of theirs is different than that of Jeremiah Wright.

I guess because of the rampant anti-intellectualism in this country and the greater populace's failure to think critically for themselves would make me err on the side of saying that the most that needs to be stated is that "I'm Christian" and move the hell on and let them draw their own damn conclusion which was gonna happen anyways.

I mean, there were still voters on voting day who thought Obama was still a Muslim.

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

they just be trying to start stuff folk
and the illl informed fall for the okie doke

sorry bout leaving Outkast out - they should have been listed too

WNG said...

Here's what bothers me about the religion in politics thing (well, one of the things) and that is that we all assume Christianity when we talk about this. What about all the Jews in this country? Muslims? Buddhist? Hindus? And on and on and on... You used Scientology in your arguement and ok, to many people that's a joke, but what about all the other widely accepted and practiced faiths out there? We, as a country, still aren't at a place where our Jewish representatives can afford to be too publicly religious, never mind any other faith.
Personally, it makes me nervous when most candidates start talking about religion. They seem to use Christianity as a catch all for details they would rather not go in to. I would much rather have them tell me how they will deal with the issues that I care about and what they will do to make our country stronger. If their faith will help them through the days that is wonderful, for them. But I have a hard time with the idea that a Baptist is somehow better than a Buddhist in the White House.
When we start getting into the realm of religion we should be really, really careful because it's the easiest thing to fake and the easiest lie any pol will ever have to tell to get elected. It can also be twisted for practically any purpose a politcian needs. Just ask Pres Shrub.

Big Man said...

I used Christianity as an example, but I actually have no problem with most mainstream religions. That includes Buddishm, Hinduism, JWs, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, agnostics and atheists.

Now, I draw the line at certain cults or fringe religions, but that's a personal bias. I would honestly have to weigh a person's relgious beliefs against their actions and what I see as their qualifications for a job.

What bothered me about the article was the author was insinuating that Obama and McCain were using religion as a crutch to avoid discussing policy issues.

I just can't agree with that in regards to Obama. During the primary seasons he expounded at length on his policy beliefs and posted all of them on his website. The reason he had to devote so much time to religion was because of the rampant racism and xenophobia among White America which made him suspect because of his name and skin color. I didn't like that Egan ignored these contributing factors to make his argument. I also didn't like his attempts to glorify politicians of the past. My belief is that those politicians didn't have to discuss religion as much because everybody assumed that everybody believed the same thing.

Deacon Blue said...

What I find interesting is that while politicians so often have to announce their Christianity and their adherence to a belief in God and a set of faith beliefs...just about every place I have ever lived and worked has been filled with people who mostly will walk away from you faster than they would from a person with ulcerating explosive sores covering their body should you even consider talking about Jesus (who is the central distinguishing aspect of Christianity).

So, Christianity is the de-facto mainstream religion of the United States...yet it is also being systematically deconstructed and reviled by many of the people in this country. It's an intriguing dichotomy to me.

OG, The Original Glamazon said...

Yes, I have to say that I feel WNG on this and I totally get where you are coming from Big Man. The politics of old assumed a lot about the men who were running. America is just starting to understand that we don't all live in little white houses. Which I think that is kind of the point WNG is making when she talks about how we assume people are of Christian faith in this country.

Even in Christianity we assume we all do the basic things when some of us don’t, like celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. Anyway

That was a good article to post. I'm glad you shared it, but, I too, am like you I think you have to take those factors into account about Obama and his Christian flag waving I guess you would say. He has to PROVE to some he is Christian when it is assumed for every other candidate. You also have to take that how a man worships or doesn't worship no matter who he worships has to do with his basics tenants as a man, it’s part of his foundation.


WNG said...

I understand what everyone is saying and they are all great points. Deacon kind of pointed up the hypocrisy of it all right there. Let me say that I don't think that Obama has used religion as a crutch, but rather as a way of opening doors and starting conversations, which I applaud. Let me also say that it burns me up that he has to put out all these Muslim rumours - as if being a Muslim is some horrible thing, as if the act of being Muslim would make him sell the Constitution to buy a burqua.
The fact that so many people in this country could call themsleves Christians and still treat anyone who is different from them the way they do just infuriates me.
But I'm having one of those days anyway...time for some deep breathing and prayer...

MODI said...

Thoughful piece and discussion. ...If history -- from the founding fathers to George Bush -- has shown that religion can be used to justify horrible acts among mankind, I think that it is dangerous to weigh one's religion heavily. Thomas Paine was the only founding father who was vehemently against slavery and for women's rights in principle and practice and he was written out of the history books because of his views on the corrupting influence of religion during his times.

What I think is important is not what God one believes or does not believe in, but does the record of the candidate show that they have a history of doing "God's Work". We won't always know who the phonies are, but we can always look at someone's past record.

Big Man said...

Good point about God's work Modi. Very good point and one I wish I had made clearly in my post.

Imhotep said...

"God might not be running for President, but he probably deserves a cabinet position."

Big Man, I don't know.. I'm thinking God should go on the supreme court, if god is just.. If God is vengful (needing to smite someone) then I recommend sec. of defense.

Raving Black Lunatic