Politics and faith: A troublesome marriage?

Should politicians be judged by their religious beliefs?

We need to scrutinize “the religious beliefs of our would-be presidents,” said Bill Keller in The New York Times. Several of the Republican presidential candidates “belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans,” yet we are too squeamish to press for details. Evangelical Christians Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, for example, have links to Dominionist preachers, who teach that only Christians should hold public office. Do the candidates believe that? I don’t know, but “let’s ask.” We can’t run the risk of our next president being a theocrat who puts the Bible ahead of the Constitution. We’re running that risk already, said Maggie Astor in the International Business Times. Judging by their “fire-and-brimstone rhetoric,” neither Bachmann nor Perry has much respect for the separation of church and state. “If voters believe in the principles on which America was founded,” they should shun both of these candidates.

We’ve heard this tiresome rant before, said Charlotte Allen in the Los Angeles Times. Every time a Christian conservative strives for the presidency, the “paranoid intelligentsia” warns of a looming theocracy in which “adulterers will be stoned, creationism taught in the schools, and gay people sent to orientation therapy.” If the U.S. didn’t turn into “Jesusland” under the presidencies of devoted Christians like Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, why would it under a President Perry or Bachmann? Liberal secularists like Keller aren’t really interested in genuine questions of faith, said Michael Medved in TheDailyBeast.com. They just want to “harrumph in supercilious indignation” over the “simpleminded rubes of the religious right.” Their mean-spirited attacks on religion miss the fact that 85 percent of Americans describe themselves as Christian, and don’t see a candidate’s faith as an issue. The GOP contenders should concentrate on issues that matter to ordinary voters—like the “appalling absence of jobs” under President Obama—and “refuse to take the religion-bashing bait.”

But it’s the candidates themselves who have turned the campaign into a “religious auction,” said Christopher Hitchens in Slate.com. While “crackpot” Bachmann has declared Hurricane Irene to be a message from God, current front-runner Perry has called prayer meetings, quoted Scripture at political rallies, and branded evolution an unproven theory. These “dog whistles to the congregation” may help the Texas governor win the nomination, said Kathleen Parker in The Washington Post, but not the presidency. Most Americans prefer their president to “keep his religion close,” and aren’t impressed when candidates peddle “the kind of literal-mindedness that leads straight to the dark ages.”

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So let’s keep the “fear of theocracy” in perspective, said Ross Douthat in The New York Times. Accusing Michele Bachmann of being a “budding Torquemada” just because she once met a Dominionist preacher is playing the same “paranoid six-degrees-of-separation game” as right-wingers who believe Obama is secretly controlled by his former Chicago preacher, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The reality is that zealous Republicans tend to ignore their religious constituents as soon as they take office. Bush, for example, dropped the gay marriage issue almost completely after using it to rally evangelical voters in 2004, and Perry was “listening to pharma­ceutical lobbyists, not religious conservatives,” when he mandated that Texas teenagers be vaccinated against sexually transmitted diseases. The Christian right’s “Manichean rhetoric, grandiose ambitions, [and] apocalyptic enthusiasms” are evidence not of its coming triumph, but of its “persistent disappointments.”

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