Thursday, December 13, 2007

Romney, Huckabee, religion, politics and voting

When do the religious beliefs of a political candidate matter?

Or to be more specific:
1.) At what point do those beliefs become fodder for other candidates?
2.) At what point should those beliefs matter to voters?

In the past week, there has been much analysis and some gnashing of teeth about Romney's "Kennedy-like" speech on his religious beliefs and its connection to politics, Huckabee's awkward comments on Mormonism, and a common (misguided) understanding of "separation of church and state".

My answers to the questions above:
1.) Rarely if ever. Candidates should speak to the implications of those beliefs-- through particular policy positions. At best, it's bad form.
2.) Quite a bit-- although the extent to which this should occur falls along a spectrum.

Three thoughts here:
-If religious beliefs explicitly connect to policy positions, then the underlying religious beliefs are quite relevant. For example, people were concerned (improperly, I think) that the theology and eschatology of Reagan and Bush would influence policy toward Israel and nuclear war.

-One's policy positions are connected to one's values-- overtly religious or subtly religious, pseudo-religious, or otherwise. So, to say that one can ignore religious beliefs is at least somewhat incoherent.

-At some level, it matters in that religious beliefs can connect to general competence. For example, what if a candidate was a Scientologist? Or what if they have strange super-natural beliefs about horoscopes or the "luckiness" of the number 13? I would find it difficult, with good reason, to vote for someone like that!

4 Comments:

At December 13, 2007 at 1:47 PM , Blogger Doug said...

From my personal perspective, laden as it is with various cultural prejudices, I understand why triskadekaphobia or scientology would raise flags where run-of-the-mill Christianity would not. But, from a purely rational perspective, why should this be?

Is fear of the number 13 inherently more peculiar than a belief in the salutary effects of weekly consumption of bread and wine which has been magically transformed into the meat and blood of a divine human being?

 
At December 13, 2007 at 2:06 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

I'd say yes. Interestingly, the one is probably as prevalent as the other.

Of course, I wouldn't compare the "rationality" of Scientology or "superstitions" to the various truth claims of orthodox Christianity-- but that's a longer and different matter.

But to your point, I agree that many people don't draw such distinctions-- and are quite willing to judge politicians on their religious beliefs. (As Huckabee's snafu indicates, I think it's quite different for politicians to verbalize such judgments.) For example, many people would not vote for-- and are even allergic to-- practicing evangelical politicians for their religious faith/beliefs/practices.

One key difference (and one that hearkens to Romney v. Huckabee) is that the trans-substantiation of the bread and wine is one of many interpretations within orthodox Christianity about the elements of communion/Lord's Supper.

By analogy, perhaps it would be akin to someone who believes 13 is unlucky taking (political) issue with someone who believes 7 is lucky.

 
At December 22, 2007 at 7:16 PM , Blogger Shamgar said...

If I'm following your intended analogy correctly I don't think that fits at all.

Mormonism is radically different from Christianity, and is far closer to scientology than it is Christianity. I mean really. God is an exalted man that lives on a planet that circles a star named kolob? God has a body of flesh, and in the flesh literally impregnated a mortal woman whose offspring was Jesus. One of many of his 'wives', and one of many of his children, another of which is lucifer? And that's only the beginning.

Frankly, I'm glad Mike asked the questions, I just wish he'd stuck to his guns. These are not doctrines unknown in the church, especially to a man like Mitt who has a close relative that is a General Authority.

Look at the responses that have come out of it from Mitt and the church itself. To an evangelical who is uneducated in the Mormon faith it seems almost orthodox with the exception of their statement that God has a physical body.

However, to one familiar with their faith, they are statements of purposeful deception. They use words that sound familiar to us but to a Mormon have radically different meanings. Evangelicals then nod and smile and swallow it and everyone's happy right? Except it quite clearly goes to Mitt's character.

Note that this is the church which teaches that all other Christian churches are "entirely destitute of all authority from God; and any person who recieves baptism or the Lord's supper from their hands will highly offend God, for he looks upon them as the most corrupt people." and "the great apostate church as the anti-christ...This great antichrist...is the church of the devil."

Given the way Mitt opted to cover over these things (and so many others) as if Mormonism was in any way just another church demonstrates his open willingness to deceive - especially for his own gain. I do think that is particularly relevant to a presidential candidacy and the only way to bring that out is to challenge him on the doctrine and teaching of the Mormon church.

 
At December 25, 2007 at 10:45 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Shamgar, to be clearer, you'd need to distinguish between Mormons and Mormon doctrine. Many Mormons have completely orthodox beliefs on the essentials of the Christian faith. According to Barna's research, a self-professing Mormon is as likely as a self-professing Catholic-- and twice as likely as a self-professing Episcopalian-- to hold to those essentials.

 

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