OPINION & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Faith talk on the campaign trail

Is religion a threat to democracy?

It’s a presidential campaign like no other. The candidates have been falling all over each other in their rush to declare the depth and sincerity of their religious faith. The pundits have been just as eager to raise questions that seem obvious and important: Should we let religious beliefs influence the making of law and public policy? If so, in what way and to what extent? Those questions, however, assume that candidates bring the subject of faith into the political arena largely to justify — or turn up the heat under — their policy positions. In fact, faith talk often has little to do with candidates’ stands on the issues. There’s something else going on here.

Look at the TV ad that brought Mike Huckabee out of obscurity in Iowa, the one that identified him as a “Christian Leader” who proclaims: “Faith doesn’t just influence me. It really defines me.” That ad did indeed mention a couple of actual political issues — the usual suspects, abortion and gay marriage — but only in passing. Then Huckabee followed up with a red sweater-themed Christmas ad that actively encouraged voters to ignore the issues. We’re all tired of politics, the kindly pastor indicated. Let’s just drop all the policy stuff and talk about Christmas — and Christ.

Ads like his aren’t meant to argue policy. They aim to create an image — in this case, of a good Christian with a steady moral compass who sticks to his principles. At a deeper level, faith-talk ads work hard to turn the candidate — whatever candidate — into a bulwark of solidity, a symbol of certainty; their goal is to offer assurance that the basic rules for living remain fixed, objective truths, as true as religion. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — In his introduction to Ira Chernus’ piece, Tom Engelhardt writes:

… the “change” candidates of 2008, wielding the “C” word for an audience “fired up” for… well, you know what, so just shout it out… must themselves swear that they are “consistent” in their positions, that, in short, they do not change. The one thing these candidates of change can’t go out in public and say is something like: “Well, that was 2002, but in the intervening years, I’ve done a lot of thinking, had new experiences, grown, matured… changed, and so has my position on [you fill in the issue].”

This makes me think of a line from Gandhi: “My aim is not to be consistent with my previous statements on a given question, but to be consistent with truth as it may present itself to me at a given moment.”

To say otherwise is to say: My understanding of the world is impervious to the effect of experience. What I thought yesterday, I will think tomorrow. I am incapable of having a fresh thought. My brain has stopped working. I want to become the next president.

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