SHOULD A RELIGIOUS PERSON RUN FOR OFFICE?

All the American presidential candidates have been asked about their religion. In Iowa former Baptist pastor, Mike Huckabee, has overtaken former Mormon missionary, Mitt Romney. Romney thought his religion was so critical that he gave a speech about it last week. He said his Mormon faith would inform his life but not interfere with his policies. Whatever that means.

What is the relationship between religion and electoral politics? Michael Kinsley is a well-known and widely respected editor and television personality now writing for Time magazine.

Recently Kinsley wrote a highly provocative piece in which he argued, at least implicitly, that no person of sincere religious faith can be trusted to serve in public office, and certainly not in the presidency of the United States. Kinsey writes:

“The Roman Catholic Church holds that abortion is the deliberate killing of a human being. Catholic liberal politicians have said they personally accept the doctrine of their church but nevertheless believe in a woman’s right to choose. This is silly. There is no right to choose murder. Either these Catholic politicians are lying to their church, or they are lying to us.”

It might be noted here the Catholic Church also teaches that artificial contraception is a mortal sin. How would that bear on a Catholic politician’s view of certain social issues? Kinsey goes on:

“These days presidential candidates are required to wear their religion on their sleeve. God is a personal adviser and inspiration to all of them. They pray relentlessly. Or so they say. If that’s not true I want to know it. And if it’s true I want to know more about it. I want to know what God is telling them — just as I want to know what Karl Rove was telling them if they claimed him for an adviser. If religion is central to their lives and moral systems, then it cannot be the candidates’ ‘own private affair’. To evaluate them, we need to know in some detail the doctrines of their faith and the extent to which they accept these doctrines.

For example, any candidate who believes in the literal truth of the Old Testament, the New Testament. the Book of Mormon or the novels of Jane Austen, is probably too credulous to be president.”

Are you concerned that an elected official’s sincere religious beliefs could affect his public policy?

Are you concerned that an elected official’s sincere religious beliefs might not affect his public policy?

Would you agree that on an issue like abortion, a Catholic candidate for office is lying either to his Church or to the electorate?

17 Comments »

  1. 1
    jonolan Says:

    This is a well written and accurate article. Politicians cannot divorce themselves from their religious views when they tout the views for the public’s consumption.

    I have no idea though how the issue could be effectively resolved. Do we need to have atheists or agnostics as politicians, and only atheists or agnostics? I don’t see that working in the US.

  2. 2
    Joe Agnost Says:

    “no person of sincere religious faith can be trusted to serve in public office, and certainly not in the presidency of the United States.”

    I couldn’t agree more… but luckily there are VERY FEW (if ANY!) persons of “sincere religious faith”!! I’ve certainly never known one.

    “Are you concerned that an elected official’s sincere religious beliefs could affect his public policy?”

    Again – there aren’t any sincere religious people, let alone politicians! Does anyone think a politician would choose his church/god over votes? Not likely…

    “Are you concerned that an elected official’s sincere religious beliefs might not affect his public policy?”

    It better not affect his policy!!

    “Would you agree that on an issue like abortion, a Catholic candidate for office is lying either to his Church or to the electorate?”

    Absolutely… there is no question about it.

    I have a hard time with the question “SHOULD A RELIGIOUS PERSON RUN FOR OFFICE?” though.

    At first glance my thought is ‘of course – most of the population is religious so why shouldn’t one of THEM run for office’… but upon further reflection I find myself thinking ‘hell no!’.

    I am an atheist. I can’t bring myself to accept that a person who actually believes the FANTASTIC stories of their religion (regardless which religion) can run a country in 2007.

    Just look at Bush! He invaded Iraq and then said ‘god told him to’. He’s funded faith based initiatives involving sex education in public schools. He believes in creationism (which blows my mind)… And he runs the U.S.?? Well, as has been the case – he runs the U.S. into the ground!

  3. 3
    Tony Kondaks Says:

    Regarding the presidency and how his ability to appoint justices to the Supreme Court affects abortion law:
    Since Roe v. Wade became “law” 34 years ago, we’ve had 22 years of pro-life Republican presidents. Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, was in office for 4 of 12 years of Democrat presidents and he is even more pro-life than any of the Republican presidents. Of the current 9 justices sitting on the court, 7 have been appointed by Republican pro-life presidents. Yet none of the 40 million + babies aborted in the U.S. since Roe v. Wade have been denied the pleasure of being sucked out of their mothers’ wombs.
    I am sorry — and maybe I’m being hopelessly cynical here — but I have simply given up thinking that any discussion of who the president is going to be and what his stance on abortion is has ANY worthwhile impact on what’s going to actually happen to abortion law…

  4. 4
    Chimera Says:

    “What is the relationship between religion and electoral politics?”

    There must be no relationship at all. When anyone represents a collage of people, all from different cultures, religions, races, language groups, lifestyles, economic advantages, etc., he must represent them all fairly, without prejudice for or against any particular segment of his constituency. If he does not, or cannot, then he has no business being in such a position.

    Religious beliefs are personal, should remain private, and must have absolutely no bearing on the public official’s political job. If he feels that he cannot do a part of his job because of his personal feelings, then he needs to quit the entire job. Doing something only partially is doing it not at all. You cannot bail water only out of the part of the canoe in which you’re sitting.

    “‘These days presidential candidates are required to wear their religion on their sleeve.'”

    That should cease immediately. The very fact that they seem to be required to have a religion that they can wave around like a banner is offensive to those of us who advocate for the separation of church and state. And we are in the majority.

    I don’t care one way or another if a politician is devoutly religious, philosophically atheist, or disinterestedly agnostic, as long as he does his job for everyone, and not just the privileged few who belong to his particular brand of belief.

    And when there is a perceived conflict between a deeply-felt point of view for one religious group, and the opposite point of view for everyone else, then the decision must always be for the freedom of choice (and not necessarily the rule of the majority, either). In that way, Catholics who believe that contraception is a sin may freely choose not to indulge themselves in that sin. But likewise, they may not impose upon others who choose not to procreate themselves a baseball team before they’re thirty.

  5. 5
    Paul Costopoulos Says:

    Former king Beaudouin I of Belgium is the perfect example of a devout man who, while not renouncing his principles, did not allow them to stand in the way of his legislature. When Belgium’s parliament voted to legalize abortion, he arranged for a temporary abdication so as to allow a pro-choice regent to sign the Bill into law. Then he reassumed his royal duties.
    Everybody was happy, the Church was satisfied that he had been thrue to his faith and his People were very gratefull and admiring of him.
    It is too simple to paint everything in black and white. Living in society requires lots of compromises and many shades of grey.

  6. 6

    A Catholic, I don’t see religion as a private matter, but a communal response to a God who reveals. Being communal, however, does not mean that religion should adopt the coercive powers of the State to enforce its precepts, doctrines, and teachings (especially upon a pluralistic society).

    Sincerely religious people can, and I think should, seek office as public servants, but any policy they would implement upon the polis ought to be founded not on faith, but on reason. So should non-religious people enter the political arena. Bring the ideas to the table, and let’s have a hospitable debate.

    If a politician, religious or otherwise, wants to legislate on the matter of abortion, his or her basis for legislation should be the premises and conclusions of sound reason.

    There are also actions that can be proven immoral via reason and faith, but nevertheless shouldn’t be prohibited by the civil law. Thoughts and emotions are examples of these.

  7. 7
    John Says:

    “It is too simple to paint everything in black and white. Living in society requires lots of compromises and many shades of grey.”

    Paul, I once had a Director who said, “Though we like things to be black and white, we’re actually paid to manage the grey.” He was right.

  8. 8

    Jonolan:

    I don’t see that our governors should all be agnostics or atheists either.
    However, the problem still remains: how does a religious person remain faithful to their faith and also faithful to a pluralistic, secular state?

  9. 9
    jonolan Says:

    Neil,

    Simply put – they don’t, they can’t. Religious dogma prevents the religious people from accepting the limitations and mandates of public office. Therefor they will always try to further their religions agendas at the expense of the the framework of the government.

    I don’t think their gods would accept, “I wanted to do good, but the electorate didn’t want to.”

    American society has grown up and spread out enough that the tenets of no single faith can hold dominance across the electorate. How can a follower of one of a plurality of faiths do their job as a politician and the duties of a follower of a faith with?

  10. 10
    Chimera Says:

    Paul: That was an inspired move by King Beaudouin! And, while I can see it working in Europe, where almost everyone has long since become a philosophical grown-up, I can’t quite see it as working in North America. There are too many screamers-of-“faith” here who aver that not only must you be seen to practise your own faith, but you must force it upon others whenever possible.

    Kyle: This is where many people have a problem with the religions/faiths of other people — nobody wants to do it privately and keep it to himself. Everybody wants his own faith to be a communal faith, adhered to by everyone in the community, even over the objections of others in the community.

    And I have become extremely suspicious of the way you use the term “reason.” Not because of you, personally, but because of others who use the term in exactly the same way — but they then renege on the whole idea of debate and simply try to batter the door down with the idea of “why not be reasonable and do it my way?”

    And I don’t like for legislation to be decided on the basis of what someone thinks is “moral” or “immoral,” either. The whole concept of “sin” is so strange to most of the world that people pay almost no attention to it. Yet there are people who insist that our common laws are based on the biblical concept of avoiding or correcting “sin.”

    I have no problem with anyone who wants to live his own life in such a manner. If it makes him happy, then I say go for it. But I do have a problem when someone expects me to live my life in that way. To that I would say something extremely rude and scatalogical.

    “How does a religious person remain faithful to their faith and also faithful to a pluralistic, secular state?”

    By making it crystal clear to whatever heads of whatever religion that their religious interference in matters of government will be met with a demand for them to remove themselves and their religion forthwith from the country. Copy to all, return signatures required. No exceptions. No excuses. No appeal.

  11. 11

    Chimera:

    Well of course right reason is the same thing as my way of thinking. People who don’t see things my way are unreasonable. *GRIN*

    By reason, I mean the method of thought that relies on induction, deduction, self-evident principles, reflection on experience, etc., as opposed to relying on a deposit of faith given exclusively through a divine revelation. Science and philosophy are examples.

    That said, reason is not so clear cut in the sense that all reasonable people think the same way. There will always be debate and disagreement even among the most reasonable of people, and rightly so.

    BTW, on what basis should legislation be decided?

  12. 12
    Joe Agnost Says:

    “This is where many people have a problem with the religions/faiths of other people — nobody wants to do it privately and keep it to himself.”

    Of course not! As with any good business plan (and I really feel like religion is just a business – pure and simple) part of the ‘deal’ is that they convert as many people as possible thereby increasing the profit (money brought into the church).

    It’a hard to practice religion in private when your religion insists you convert your neighbours!

  13. 13
    Chimera Says:

    “BTW, on what basis should legislation be decided?”

    On the basis of what is necessary, I think. We have entirely too many laws. Some are redundant. Some are past prime. Some are obsolete. And some are just plain stupid. But it costs money to examine the law books and get rid of the ones we no longer use. If we stick to things that simply make sense, we would probably do much better.

    Laws that favor one group over another should always be examined thoroughly with a microscope before they are passed, and should be explained in minute detail so that when it comes to a dispute, the courts can not only make a decision based on the letter of the law, but also its spirit and intent. If this had been the case here and now, that stupid kafuffle over the horrifying possibility of veils in the voting booth would never have happened.

    Joe: You’re not too far off in thinking of religion as a business. And a pyramid scheme, at that! I can think of a couple that don’t follow that path, but for the most part, it seems to be a race to win over as many bodies with their loot as possible. Like choosing up sides for a metaphysical game of Red Rover.

  14. 14

    “On the basis of what is necessary, I think.”

    Necessary for what?

  15. 15
    Chimera Says:

    Necessary for the fairly smooth “operation” of “society” without unnecessarily imposing the values of one group upon another group. Laws that try to regulate morality as if everyone were alike are examples of that.

  16. 16

    What is the purpose of the “operation” of “society?

    And why should it run fairly smoothly?

  17. 17
    Alex Thomas Says:

    The question was: “Should a religious person run for office?” Yes. One’s religion should not disqualify one from seeking public office. Now, should a religious person seek to use his religion as a form of influence on others? NO! Catholics may be the “original” Christians (discounting the Coptics, et al) , but with their Crusades, their Inquisition and their undeniable corruption at points of history (Popes that have sons that become Pope…hmmm…do as I say, not as I do, ya think?) The Holy Roman and Apostolic Church has some “splainin’ to do”.
    We have the seen the results of theocracy. Like God in the Book of Job, such forms of government don’t come out looking any too good, eh?
    Church and state, each on their own, are capable of some mind-bending screwing up of peoples’ lives. Together? Talk about the ultimate cluster*bleep*.
    My name is Alex Thomas. Good night, and may your God go with you…


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