pageok
pageok
pageok
Voting, Religion, and Public Officials:

Further to Chief Conspirator Eugene's post below on religion and public officials, I tried my best to answer that question in an article on Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee during the primary in the Weekly Standard (this link directly to the magazine; easier than the SSRN link below). The first part is snark - Andrew Sullivan called it political essay of the year, which I appreciated despite my general lack of enthusiasm for the Daily Dish - but the last part is a pretty serious attempt to address Eugene's question. At risk of tooting my own horn (more than usual), I think it is one of the better things I've written in the last few years - meaning by that the answer to the question I gave in the second half of the piece. It touched some kind of chord at the time, because besides Andrew Sullivan, I got appreciative notes from Aryeh Neier and a conservative pastor who told me that he was surprised to see in a secular magazine of any kind a literal imprecation - and not, so far as he could tell, meant merely ironically. As he said, was your editor at the WS aware that in its pages you called down the wrath of heaven? Literally? Well, yes, my editor was perfectly aware of it - that's why he didn't cut anything out of the 6,000 words. But note that the angriest and most frequent email reactions came from Evangelicals deeply offended that I would cite not just to Isaiah but to the parallel passage in the Book of Mormon; that, apparently, was too close to desecration. The last half of the article goes directly to Eugene's question, in the form of a debate between Mitt Romney and his famous religion speech (which I accuse of conservative multiculti relativism), Huckabee, and Christopher Hitchens. Mormons, Muslims, and Multiculturalism. Abstract from SSRN:

This essay (6,000 words), which appeared in the Weekly Standard ostensibly as a comment on Mitt Romney's religion speech of December 2007, contains something to offend nearly everyone. It bluntly attacks presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and his evangelical followers for their demand for a Christian president, and calls them religious bigots.

The essay also rejects, however, a central claim of Romney's religion speech, that all religious doctrines are beyond criticism or political argument - asserting that Romney, in the attempt to insulate himself from any questions of religion, has endorsed what might be called conservative multiculturalism and moral relativism. The essay argues that this is a disastrous move not just for American conservatives, but for American politics more generally, and urges that liberal toleration has to be understood not as a form of relativism putting religious doctrine beyond scrutiny but instead as a liberal suspension of public judgment on matters that one might well believe one entitled to judge in private. In effect, if the question is what parts of a candidate's religious beliefs are properly subject to public political scrutiny, Huckabee and his evangelical followers say all-in; Romney says, all-out. Neither of those can be considered the answer of liberal toleration. The essay then proposes, in its second half, three rough rules of thumb for determining whether a proposition of religion believed by a candidate for public office ought to be considered fairly open for political discussion.

An enormously important reason why it matters that a liberal democracy get these answers right, the essay concludes, is that it matters today, in the world as it stands today, to be able to ask these questions of Islam, and of Muslim candidates. The answers to important questions - relations of church and state, apostasy, free expression, the status of women and gays, etc. - cannot simply be set aside. Either voters will not trust Muslim candidates and will simply refuse to elect them, because they are not allowed, under rules of multicultural political correctness (including Romney's conservative multiculturalism), to ask these questions - or we can put these questions properly on the table, while at the same time having liberal grounds for ignoring questions of doctrine having no substantial bearing on public policy. The former will save everyone's delicate feelings; only the latter, however, will provide the path for full participation in a democratic political community. (This essay is an unabashed, unapologetic jeremiad and it angered many readers when it first appeared.)

(Sample of the snark below the fold ... this essay dated from 2007; many of the characters have shifted position since then. Update: Reflecting on a couple of the comments, yeah, I should actually display some of the more serious argument, which I am putting first below the fold although it makes for a long below-the-fold. But let me also add that although I describe it (accurately) as snark, the nastiness serves a genuine and in my view legitimate affective purpose, which is to ridicule without apology both Romney's transparent attempt to put any questions about his religion behind a political wall, and a surprising (to me at least) number of Evangelicals' view that Romney's religion alone was a disqualifier for the presidency - as many of them no doubt continue to think today and to which I continue to say, further to the burden of the article ... God smite them.)

(show)

Jaldhar:
9.19.2009 1:26am
Alice Aforethought (mail):
So let me get this straight:

You are saying we shouldn't fall in with those corporatist Mormons or believe those phony baloney Evangelists, but instead worship the true disciple of Saul Alinsky?

Do I win yet?
9.19.2009 1:58am
Dove:
The vegetarian should not instruct the man at the barbecue, and the lapsed Mormon should tread lightly describing the many colors of live religion. The snark is not the good part of this essay, so a poor advertisement. It betrays the perspective of an outsider, and the descriptions will not ring true for--or make friends of--the criticized.

But if you can hack through all that, the meaty bits are quite good. I judge them to be this bit:

Romney said—correctly as a matter of deep liberalism—that for him to give representations as to the content of his faith would make him a representative of that faith, rather than of the people, who are of many faiths. To do so would be to head down the path of communalism, a political space defined not by a religiously neutral public sphere but by a division accepted as reasonably legitimate consisting of groups—religious, ethnic, whatever—that have claims on behalf of their immutably identified members.


. . . and this bit:

First, for something to be "in," there does have to be a connection to governance, politics, and the public sphere. This is the most traditional form of American religious toleration in politics. A Buddhist's belief in reincarnation ought to be neither here nor there; a Mormon's conception of the Savior likewise; and a Jew's refusal to regard Jesus as Lord likewise. But what about things that are "in"? Religious doctrines of sanctity of life, for example, touching issues of public law and policy such as abortion, stem cells, or capital punishment must surely be on the table. But in what sense?

The publicly reasoned parts of these issues are not the problem; the problem is what to say about religious values that a candidate cannot expect his or her constituents necessarily to share, but which some or all voters might think relevant to public office. To what extent can one inquire of a candidate's religious doctrines? If the candidate puts it on the table as religious doctrine, then fair game, certainly. But what if it is not introduced by the candidate as something that is no longer private? In the first place, it seems to me, we should presume that even where the belief at issue is a religious one, deriving from a religious doctrine which is part of a faith, the locus of questioning should be on the person and not on the faith as such. It should presume to be about the personal convictions of the candidate as an individual, rather than corporate inquiries, so to speak, about the faith itself. This preserves at least provisionally the liberal separation of public and private, but it emphatically does not deprive the public of the chance to explore what a candidate's private convictions are insofar as they relate to public issues but arise from private judgments. Even if one disagrees with a candidate's position and is prepared to vote against a person on that basis, liberalism counsels in favor of doing so on the basis of the candidate's personal convictions, rather than communal affiliation, even where the personal conviction arises from religion. A candidate may correctly refuse to speak for the faith, while still being properly pressed to answer about his or her personal convictions that might, or might not, arise from such faith.


Emphasis mine -- the bold statement seems to me to capture the idea well.

I find the position quite attractive. Certainly voters will judge candidates based on whatever criteria they consider important, and that's as it should be. But it seems to me right to examine a candidate's personal convictions and policies rather than his group identity. Perhaps many folks would be similarly persuaded.

It would be more reliable, anyway. Members of any religion (or non-religion) may still draw very different conclusions from their beliefs, and embrace very different convictions. In fact, they generally do. To reduce Mormons or Evangelicals or Atheists or Catholics to a monolithic mass is evidence in itself that one does not know them.
9.19.2009 2:21am
Ricardo (mail):
The vegetarian should not instruct the man at the barbecue, and the lapsed Mormon should tread lightly describing the many colors of live religion. The snark is not the good part of this essay, so a poor advertisement. It betrays the perspective of an outsider, and the descriptions will not ring true for--or make friends of--the criticized.

So someone who has been a member of a religion for many years but ultimately rejected it is in no place to criticize that religion since he is an outsider. Does similar thinking suggest non-academics should not criticize what goes on in universities, non-government employees should not criticize what goes on in government or non-Greenpeace members should not criticize what goes on in Greenpeace?

Similar thoughts to those expressed by Prof. Anderson were on my mind when I was browsing a bookstore and saw a new book by Pat Robertson -- on how to invest your money smartly during the current financial crisis.

So many religious leaders are also successful businessmen with extraordinary sales and marketing acumen: you would almost think there is a connection there, wouldn't you?
9.19.2009 4:24am
kdonovan:
I also found the tone of the first part of the essay to be off-putting, but thought the second part had a worthwhile way of looking at how to think about a candidate's (or other public person's) religious beliefs in a pluralistic society.
9.19.2009 4:52am
Cornet of Horse:
"So many religious leaders are also successful businessmen with extraordinary sales and marketing acumen: you would almost think there is a connection there, wouldn't you?"

This guy nails it, I think.

See also.
9.19.2009 6:06am
Cornet of Horse:
The first part of the essay certainly captures the conventional wisdom among the Mainline Protestants on the question of why they have lost so much of their membership to the evangelical megachurches, and it of course contains more than a grain of truth. I've never heard it put so succinctly or powerfully, and it should be required reading in evangelical circles across the land. No better place than one's enemies to look for the best criticism.

The thing is, I'm not that entirely cynical about my fellow citizens as to believe that you've told the whole story about the rise of the evangelicals, or the fall of the mainline. The evangelical movement, as any other movement, is not a monolith, and for every palace of fakery, there may be several churches full of those who have fled the mainline abandonment of much that made them mainline in the first place. Unfortunately, your depiction of evangelicals (and those, much less skillfully crafted, like it) makes it all the harder for those of us still within the mainline to achieve an honest reckoning of our own shortcomings.

Not that this will keep you up at night, nor should it, but it may suggest that not all the pushback that you receive is unwarranted. Likewise, as yesterday's evangelicals become today's soft-left institutionalists, as they have always done, you're likely to start to hear some more sympathetic depictions of the movement itself from some unlikely quarters. Perhaps best to get a head start on your criticisms from that angle.
9.19.2009 6:57am
NorthernDave (mail):
Part of the problem is that the kind of Classical Liberal Democracy that Kenneth is supporting (and I think he would be in line with Woodrow Wilson) is not where the Liberal parties of Today are at.

The Democratic Party mavens are much closer to Karl Marx (with his emphasis on Godlessness and Godless behaviour) than to Wilson....

Nothing new, the Roman Empire wrestled (mostly unsuccessfully) with these issues....
9.19.2009 7:40am
TruePath (mail) (www):
I think you fall into two significant fallacies in your essay.

The first is your apparent conclusion that because you feel there are defensible arguments from mystical experience for some kinds of religious faith it follows that a certain range of religious belief should be (partially?) off the table.

I mean ultimately religious beliefs make claims about the external world and the evidence either is sufficient to justify believing those claims are true or it isn't. Of course it could be such a close call that a wide range of positions are within the range of reasonable conclusions. That's a fine position but it's not taking religion off the table. Rather it's insisting that people evaluate religious belief in the way you believe correctly represents the information if conveys.

But I'd actually go a step beyond this and claim that it's inconsistent to both think that people of a variety of faiths are all making reasonable judgments from the available evidence while having more than weak, highly uncertain faith in your own religious creed. I mean either there is strong evidence that your own religion is the true one and those people who follow other major world religions are demonstrating bad judgement by failing to appreciate it or there isn't strong evidence favoring your religion so you can't rationally put much more confidence in christianity than islam/judaism/hinduism. I mean if two engineers with conflicting views both claimed to be 90% sure they were correct we wouldn't hesitate to conclude one of them was guilty of faulty reasoning so why should religion be any different.

---

Where I do agree with you is that in the current religious/political climate it's important to have a social norm of not making elections heavily about religious belief. If for no other reason than the fact that merely considering the issue seems to impair the judgement of many voters.

Where I think you made your second mistake is in implicitly (maybe I'm wrong) assuming that just because it's better if the society at large thinks they shouldn't consider religious belief it follows that it's bad for every individual to do so.

I mean I think the appalling level of economic literacy in the general public means it would be better if we had a norm of not voting on economic arguments (giant sucking sound). However, while that would be a good norm to have it obviously doesn't entail that it would be bad for economists to base their vote on economic arguments.
9.19.2009 8:34am
TruePath (mail) (www):
Ohh, I should add that while I disagree on those points I found the essay much better than most discussions of the topic.
9.19.2009 8:55am
Pro Natura (mail):
"discipline, perseverance, responsibility, leadership, self-reliance, teamwork, humility, and the beginnings of wisdom"
I just wanted to say thanks a lot, Professor Anderson. We could now have a president with these qualities and a well-earned understanding of and appreciation for both business and government. Instead we're stuck with three more very long years of the exact opposite.
9.19.2009 8:57am
martinned (mail) (www):

I just wanted to say thanks a lot, Professor Anderson. We could now have a president with these qualities and a well-earned understanding of and appreciation for both business and government. Instead we're stuck with three more very long years of the exact opposite.

I was actually wondering how bad the comments about the death of Irving Kristol could have been. Surely, I thought, most VC commenters can manage a minimum of civility when commenting about the death of a great thinker. But this comment shows how it is apparently impossible for many Americans/VC commenters to view anything even remotely political from a reasonable, non-partisan perspective.
9.19.2009 9:02am
TruePath (mail) (www):
A better way to put where I disagree with you is that I take the role of religion in politics to be much like the role that a woman's weight/breast size/figure or a man's wealth and social status play in our decision to date or not date them. It's important for people's self-esteem (most women aren't models and most men aren't rich), marital happiness, and societal improvement that we emphasize other features like character or humor. However, it doesn't follow that it's wrong for people of both genders to let brute attractiveness influence their choice of who to date.

Similarly we shouldn't publicly dwell on the role of religion in our decisions but that doesn't which of the mainstream religions the candidate follows shouldn't influence our decision.
9.19.2009 9:09am
Grant Gould (mail):
Prof Anderson --

I think TruePath has the meat of it. When you say that all religious views without policy implications should be off the table, you are including religious views that call into question the rationality or sanity of the candidate. I know that's a sort spot for Mormons, but I don't think it can be avoided. While a person's beliefs concerning abortion impact only one area of public policy, a person's belief in, say, the infallibility of scripture calls into question that person's judgment on every matter that will ever arise.

I think also that you are ignoring one of the more potent arguments that the secular left has here, which is the complete incoherence of the line-drawing exercise between religion and not-religion. You seem happy to say that belief in astrology is on the table, while belief in Ahura-Mazda is not. But there is no basis shy of exactly the religious communalism you reject to distinguish the one from the other.

The conventional argument used on the left and the right to distinguish religion from non-religion is that there is a sufficiently big and homogeneous group of Ahura-Mazda worshipers who illiberally expect their children to follow their same beliefs, therefore they must be a religion and get special treatment vis-a-vis public reason. But this is nothing short of saying that religion is a special case away and apart from the enlightenment order, one in which behaving illiberally is rewarded with special privileges from the liberal order. You can't define what is and what is not a religion without engaging in exactly the sort of multiculturalist reward-people-for-being-illiberal that you decry.
9.19.2009 9:25am
Cornet of Horse:
martinned,

"I was actually wondering how bad the comments about the death of Irving Kristol could have been. Surely, I thought, most VC commenters can manage a minimum of civility when commenting about the death of a great thinker. But this comment shows how it is apparently impossible for many Americans/VC commenters to view anything even remotely political from a reasonable, non-partisan perspective."

Good point. Check out Kristol's inaugural article with The Public Interest, where he argues that the journal should be affirmatively non-ideological, or at least suitably wary of ideological arguments.
9.19.2009 9:39am
lk (mail):
Gould,

Are you questioning the sanity/rationality of Mormons?
9.19.2009 9:49am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
In a sense the American Founding, Art. VI, Cl. 3, and then the subsequent men who became Presidents could be viewed as a big trend away from the Mike Huckabees and their demand for a "Christian" President. Mike Huckabee types did exist back then and in large numbers; that's why the "heterodox" key Founders had to keep their heterodoxy on the downlow and belong to orthodox Churches for cover.

I did a post here about these Mike Huckabee types who argue Mormons aren't "Christians," and noted if Mormons can't pass the "Christian" test neither could (likely) any of the first half dozen Presidents or so.

I did another post that Andrew Sullivan linked to about a similar topic; many good evangelical scholars understand this dynamic and note the first real "Christian" President might have been Andrew Jackson.
9.19.2009 9:51am
Cornet of Horse:
TruePath and Gould,

The most compelling evidence for religion has ever been, and continues to be, character. Sure, there are always some number of people that continue in the traditions of their parents out of habit (and rebel against it principally out of a desire to rebel), rather than a clear-headed consideration of the merits; but no religion makes new converts unless it can demonstrate, say, great courage in the face of death than that of the average non-believer. For other examples look to the various great awakenings in our history and what it was that drew people to a life of faith.

For me its as simple as comparing the lives of believers I have known with non-believers. And, sure, TruePath, I believe that there are particulars in that faith that are determinative and superior (given my experience set) to the alternatives, but I also have the epistemological humility to recognize that I am not the ultimate arbiter of such questions, and that those who come to different conclusions may do so out of their own experiences, not inferior capacity for reason, and, particularly, they are no less human for doing so.

As our political judgments often turn on similar criteria, I'm not as sanguine as KA that the two can be so easily disentwined, which doesn't mean that attempting to do so would be any less valuable, especially if it leads us to compelling critiques of presents practice such as the one KA makes.
9.19.2009 9:52am
Cornet of Horse:
TruePath,

"However, it doesn't follow that it's wrong for people of both genders to let brute attractiveness influence their choice of who to date."

Sure, it's not wrong, but is it right enough? Some people will say "sure!", others choose differently. It's the latter, and why they so choose, that interest me, and what I speak of when I refer to "character".
9.19.2009 10:07am
A.:

TruePath,

"However, it doesn't follow that it's wrong for people of both genders to let brute attractiveness influence their choice of who to date."

Sure, it's not wrong, but is it right enough? Some people will say "sure!", others choose differently. It's the latter, and why they so choose, that interest me, and what I speak of when I refer to "character".


Character is dating ugly people? You can have it!
9.19.2009 10:09am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
I think there are a few issues that should be discussed.

The first is the question of group identity vs personal conviction. I am of the opinion that group identity may be a marker for personal conviction and political agendas even though it is not dispositive on that matter.

I think it is thus right to ask people hard questions regarding political views. I think asking a Muslim questions about separation of church and state, and so forth is a valid way to probe legitimate concerns regarding fitness for public office. (Of course the problem is not limited to Muslims--- see George H. W. Bush's statement about atheists not being full citizens.)

But ultimately we are voting for an individual not his religious sect, and not his pastor.
9.19.2009 12:15pm
Cornet of Horse:
einverfr,

"see George H. W. Bush's statement about atheists not being full citizens"

Perhaps a link might help us see it better. Here's one to some dissenting views in the comments.
9.19.2009 1:07pm
Bryan Gividen (mail):
I agree for the most part with Kenneth Anderson's analysis (though as a practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I find some of his analysis excessively prodding - towards Mormons and Evangelicals. Still, I guess such a tone is important in an article which seeks to objectively evaluate the "irrationalities" of religions.)

Some of the objections on this page about an individual's rationality given their belief in certain subjects seems to miss the point. An individual can have a belief - which they recognize as scientifically weak or unsupported - while still acting rationally on society's behalf. For instance, reincarnation or belief in an essentially lost American civilization will have no affect on taxes or self-defense. However, if an individual is wholly irrational, his behavior outside of his religious beliefs will indicate such. Jim Jones apocalyptic preaching in conjunction with his relocation to a "safe haven" (as well as drawing people to come with him) would be cause to evaluate all of his religious beliefs since it is apparent his beliefs caused actions on others.

However, if you look through both Huckabees and Romney's record, I cannot see how either has produced "irrational" behavior. Romney's beliefs that alcohol should be abstained from has not caused him to take a public prohibition stance. Huckabee has not pushed for Creationism-only teaching.
9.19.2009 1:07pm
martinned (mail) (www):

Huckabee has not pushed for Creationism-only teaching.

That's the benchmark for irrationality? "Creationism-only"?

BTW, why should the American people not be a little reluctant to trust someone with such policy areas as global warming who thinks the world is going to end within a few decades?
9.19.2009 1:13pm
Bryan Gividen (mail):

That's the benchmark for irrationality?


Obviously those are given as examples as opposed to standards. The point is, one's personal belief in something widely believed to be irrational does not necessitate he make public policy reflecting that belief. Where it actually does, then fine, judge him on that. But I do not believe anyone has actually demonstrated how these candidates policies have been substantially influenced by their personal religious values. Quite the opposite, as KA points out, Romney tended to play politician much more than he did Mormon. (See his abortion history.)
9.19.2009 1:18pm
Andy Rozell (mail):


If a President's primary duty is to uphold the Constitution, then I think that in the case of a candidate who professes a religion, it's important to know how well he lives up to that religion's teachings. A person who doesn't uphold God's will as he understands it is unlikely to uphold a human institution like the Constitution.

I never gave any consideration to voting for Mr.Huckabee because a I think man who says he was called to preach the Gospel and then left it to seek political office is untrustworthy.

I originally thought Romney might be an attractive candidate. From what little I think I know about Mormon doctrine, Mormons are not Christians in the way I understand the word. Nonentheless, Mr. Romney's father served the country honorably and there's no reason another Mormon couldn't.

My problem with Mr. Romney had a lot to do with not being sure he was obedient to what his faith teaches. Like I said, if he's not going to obey God's law (as he understands it) why would I think he'd obey any other law?

I'm a Christian. However, I'd a lot rather have an observant and obedient Jew as president than some guy who only remembers he's a Christian when he wants me to vote for him.

This is a long way to say that I think there's a reason to inquire into a candidate's religious faith and behavior. Not necessarily because of the truth or falsity of the beliefs, but to determine whether the candidate has enough humility and personal restraint to be trusted with power.
9.19.2009 1:25pm
Cornet of Horse:
A,

"Character is dating ugly people? You can have it!"

Not just dating them, marrying them!

From no less an authority than Ben Franklin:

"When Women cease to be handsome, they study to be good. To maintain their Influence over Men, they supply the Diminution of Beauty by an Augmentation of Utility."

But of course that's not what I suggested. I merely noted that some are aware of the instinctual pull toward the breast/wallet-augmented and are dissatisfied with allowing that to be the only criteria, while others choose to remain happily oblivious. The question of why is an interesting one.
9.19.2009 1:28pm
martinned (mail) (www):

A person who doesn't uphold God's will as he understands it is unlikely to uphold a human institution like the Constitution.

Have you considered the possibility that the two might conflict?
9.19.2009 1:29pm
Andy Rozell (mail):
I have.
9.19.2009 1:32pm
martinned (mail) (www):

I have.

Good to know...
9.19.2009 1:34pm
geokstr (mail):

einhverfr:
...see George H. W. Bush's statement about atheists not being full citizens.

I find it difficult to believe that a politician with the credentials and experience of Bush Sr (whom I did not particularly care for), in the year before he would be running for president, with the full knowledge that anything he said would be made public immediately, held an impromptu "news conference" at the (then) busiest airport in the world with what appears to be precisely one "journalist" in attendance (who appears to be an atheist activist) and say something that appallingly stupid. He might just as well have told him that atheists should be considered 3/5 of a citizen so he could get the race card thrown at him too just in time for the campaign.

I've seen this claim made before so I googled "bush atheists" and the only thing I get is lots of critics of Bush quoting that same journalist. What kind of "press conference" for a figure of Bush Sr's status has one journalist at it?

Robert Sherman appears to be the only "witness" to this. He has no recording or taping of the statement, so we have only his word to go on. He claims that a response to him from the White House counsel Boyden Grey "proves" that Bush Sr said exactly what Mr Sherman reported, but all it says is that Bush believes that atheism should be neither supported nor encouraged. (Atheists say the same thing about religionists, don't they?) That's not even close to saying that Bush says they aren't patriots or shouldn't be considered citizens.
Rob Sherman Advocacy

Mr Sherman also appears to be a travel agent, a concert promoter, and a shipping company, in addition to being a serial filer of lawsuits on behalf of atheism.

Unless you can point me to some conclusive evidence that this "statement" by Bush was not misconstrued or even totally misquoted by an extreme partisan and tireless self-promoter who happens to be the only witness, I'll have to put that one in the file called "Liberal Fantasies and Myths Promoted Regularly as Gospel", along with the one about Palin being a Young Earth creationist (and about 75,000 other tall tales.)
9.19.2009 1:51pm
Grant Gould (mail):
lk --

Nope; by trivial counterexample I know many rational and sane Mormons (and ex-Mormons), even though that their views have often held up as crazy in political contests. I was saying that religious beliefs are in some cases grounds for questioning the sanity and rationality of believers. I don't think anything in Mormonism quite rises to that threshhold, but I also don't think that, per Prof. Andersom, that it should be "off the table" for democratic citizens to consider the question.

To put it another way -- it would be very much on-the-table to doubt a politician's soundness for office because the politician believes that his housecat is God. Prof. Anderson would have it be off-the-table to doubt a politician's soundness for office because the politician believes that Jesus is God. For the line-drawing exercise between the two to be anything other than arbitrary, it is going to have to point to the large, self-perpetuating group that believes the latter, and the lack of such believing the former. But once you admit that large, self-perpetuating belief-centered groups should get special consideration in political discourse, you have committed yourself to exactly the communitarianism that Prof. Anderson is at pains to disavow in his essay.

The essay, pleasantly snarky though it may be, does not articulate a coherent rule for what beliefs it is on-the-table to consider kooky. Whether or not a particular religious belief is kooky is a separate (and, in a democracy, a necessarily individual) question, and one which cannot be dismissed as off-the-table.
9.19.2009 2:08pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
So. I am a Norse Pagan. Suppose I run for President.

I think it is perfectly reasonable to ask me what my stance on traditional Viking family values are and how that would affect my performance in that office. It is even worth while to ask me what I see traditional Viking family values to be.

However, just saying "I won't vote for a pagan/mormon/creationist/etc." seems to me to miss the point.
9.19.2009 2:31pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Grant Gould:


To put it another way -- it would be very much on-the-table to doubt a politician's soundness for office because the politician believes that his housecat is God. Prof. Anderson would have it be off-the-table to doubt a politician's soundness for office because the politician believes that Jesus is God. For the line-drawing exercise between the two to be anything other than arbitrary, it is going to have to point to the large, self-perpetuating group that believes the latter, and the lack of such believing the former.


A lot of that comes down to a question that one could never vote for a neopagan of any streak if it is sufficient to be a member of a smaller, non-mainstream religion.

I think it is always better to talk issues than religion in a political context.
9.19.2009 2:33pm
troll_dc2 (mail):
I do not think that questions as to what a Mormon, Jewish, or athiestic office-seeker believes in terms of religion (or non-reigion) are very interesting because it is pretty clear that, apart from such issues as same-sex marriage and abortion (which can be asked about directly), the answers will not have much of an effect on the policy that the candidate will seek to carry out if elected.

The same cannot be said so easily about a Muslim candidate. For many Muslims, the religion is integrated with virtually all aspects of daily life. Moreover, from what I understand, there is not much dissent among believers as to what the religion stands for and how people should behave. In many parts of the world, such as here, politicians seek to import Sharia law into government law. Furthermore, Muslims tend to have strong views on matters that are of great interest to the public; those views are similar to those of members of the Religious Right. I submit that while it is not good to put Islam as a whole on trial during an election, we voters are entitled to know exactly what a Muslim candidate believes on all sorts of issues, and some of these issues would not arise if someone else were the candidate.

Would he support a law that would restrict or outlaw criticism of religion? Would he seek to allow Muslims to follow Sharia law even if it conflicted with civil law? Would he support ratification of treaties that could import the concept of deference to religion into American law?
9.19.2009 2:41pm
Mike McDougal:

Mary Magdalene Got Skinny for Jesus and You Can Too.

Is that out yet?
9.19.2009 3:24pm
yankee (mail):
Moreover, from what I understand, there is not much dissent among believers as to what the religion stands for and how people should behave.

"Not much dissent" among a group of 1.5 billion people? I don't know much about Islam, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
9.19.2009 3:32pm
Andy Rozell (mail):
Mary Magdalene Got Skinny for Jesus and You Can Too.


Is that out yet?


It's at Wal-Mart now.
9.19.2009 3:53pm
Teller:
For what it's worth, in just one class of 27 people, I've seen very different behaviors among students who identify as followers of Islam.
9.19.2009 3:59pm
Leo Marvin (mail):
einhverfr:

So. I am a Norse Pagan. Suppose I run for President.

If it means flaming funeral ships floating down the Potomic, you've got my vote. I doubt reading runes could have produced worse advice about invading Iraq than what we actually got.
9.19.2009 5:34pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Leo Mervin:

Sure, and choices between flaming funeral boats and burial MOUNDS.....

And of course traditional (Norse) family values: abortion rights would take the place of infanticide though, and no-fault divorce is pretty close to what the Norse allowed anyway (by either party-- technically all divorces were at-fault but the causes were often so petty that they could be used to trap the other into divorce, and were never seen as relevant to the settlement).

Make sure you worship Tiw (Old Norse Tyr) by voting on Tiw's Day ;-)
9.19.2009 5:52pm
Bot (www):
Both Mitt Romney and the Church of Jesus Christ(LDS) subscribe to First Century Christianity. They do not believe the man-made Fourth Century Creeds are what Jesus Christ intended for His Church. Early Christian books (excluded later by the Roman Church) corroborate that Jesus' views on the Godhead, Deification, Faith/Works, and Esoteric Ordinances are more in keeping with Mitt and the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS)'s theology than the Fourth Century Creeds:

http://MormonsAreChristian.blogspot.com
9.19.2009 8:25pm
Bot (www):
If eleven signers of the Declaration of Independence were non-trinitarian Christians, why would anyone be upset at Mitt Romney's non-trinitarian views?

Harper's Bible Dictionary entry on the Trinity says "the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the New Testament." Furthermore, 11 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were non-Trinitarian Christians http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2009/01/richard_price.php The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) views the Trinity as three separate divine beings , in accord with the earliest Greek New Testament manuscripts and the Founders.
9.19.2009 8:35pm
NorthernDave (mail):
So einhverhr, you are opposed to sitting with senseless apes are you! :-)

Here is an interesting attempt at an interesting cross-religious business opportunity (yes Virginia, Atheism is a Religion)...I'm not sure what the full implications are to the expansion of Gov't powers through the Commerce Clause is yet... :-)

interreligiousbusinessop
9.19.2009 9:21pm
Cornellian (mail):
and a surprising (to me at least) number of Evangelicals' view that Romney's religion alone was a disqualifier for the presidency

I don't find it at all surprising that a group that puts having the right values religious beliefs above all other criteria would reject Romney for having the wrong religious beliefs.
9.19.2009 9:53pm
Kenneth Anderson:
Cornellian: I don't think so in this case - the opinion surveys in which large percentages of Evangelicals rejected Romney on account of his religion had no problem with a Jewish practitioner - meaning here, not simply a Jew ethnically or culturally, but as a matter of religious practice and affiliation. That was fine. Mormonism was regarded as specifically offensive because it was either pagan, polytheistic, or heretical in the specific sense of spreading false doctrine in the name of the faith. It was not the case that they required a person of their religious beliefs. Mormonism was specifically out of bounds as a faith that actively led people astray because it claimed to be Christian but was actually something deceptive. Not just false, but deceptive.
9.19.2009 10:33pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Bot:

Thanks for the link.

Ken:

Your comment about "deception" is important. I often hear evangelicals interchange "Christian" with "Judeo-Christian" in terms of "foundations" in which they support. Many of these are the same folks whose support for Israel and the "Jewish people" has something to do with end times prophecy. Note, I'm not an "anti-zionist" (I tend to support Israel as well); I'm just making an observation. When I press them for "definitions," "Judeo-Christianity" usually means orthodox Christianity where Jews get to tag along for fun or for some *other* special reason.

I think this again relates to the Founding. From John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, they more likely defended their understanding of the "true religion" in which they supported under the auspices of "Christianity" and not some anti-Christian Deism (ala Thomas Paine). But their understanding of "Christianity" was unitarian, and tended to be naturalistic, rationalistic, and generic in its moralization of the Christian faith (i.e., if you were a good person and acted like Jesus -- the world's greatest moral teacher -- you were a "Christian" regardless of your views on original sin, Trinity, Atonement, etc.).

It wasn't exactly Mormonism; but the same "deception" issue was involved. By the time unitarians Richard Price and Joseph Priestley (whose influence on the "key Founders" cannot be emphasized enough) began to speak out, the "orthodox" critics responded with the same "this isn't Christianity, it's a false system that calls itself 'Christianity'" to them as they today do with the Mormons.

For that and a number of other reasons I think Mormons (and other "outsider" religious groups) should feel an affinity for the American Founding.
9.19.2009 11:07pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
NorthernDave:

That is really funny. Well, I suppose there is a sucker born every minute.

They are idiots. Every real Norseman knows if you want to take your pet with you when you go, you have the pet sacrificed at the funeral. ;-)
9.19.2009 11:26pm
ChrisTS (mail):
Leo Marvin and einhverfr:

I'm with you, but I want to be sure on 2 points:

1) We pagan women do not have to get thin for Tyr;
2) We won't use real animals' horns for the hats, right?
9.19.2009 11:44pm
ChrisTS (mail):
Jon Rowe:

As a lapsed Unitarian [no jokes, please], I should tell you that we prefer the capital letter. Makes us feel liek, you know, a recognized denomination. :-)
9.19.2009 11:46pm
ChrisTS (mail):

what Jesus Christ intended for His Church.... Jesus' views on the Godhead, Deification, Faith/Works, and Esoteric Ordinances


And here I thought the poor man was just trying to reform and revitalize his own religion. (I'm especially surprised to discover that he had developed views on Esoteric Ordinances.)
9.19.2009 11:49pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Chris,

I write with the lower case u for a very important reason. Many "unitarians" from the America's Founding era were NOT members of churches that called themselves "Unitarian" in an official denominational sense.

For instance, Thomas Jefferson, the militant unitarian he, never joined a "Unitarian" Church. John Adams, as well, was a "unitarian" since 1750 and claimed his church had a unitarian minister since that time.

However, his "Congregational Church," at that time (1750), was still formally affiliated with a trinitarian creed (and had many trinitarian church members; back then the unitarian preachers tended to keep the unitarian and trinitarian members together by simply refusing to discuss orthodox trinitarian doctrine).

I'm not sure of the exact date that Adams' Congregational Church officially became "Unitarian," but I think it was sometime in the early 19th Century (around the time when Harvard officially became Unitarian).

One thing that makes this (when "unitarianism" becomes "Unitarianism") hard to determine exactly is that U/unitarians are loath to recognize formalities as a matter of theological doctrine!

It's interesting to note, though, that J. Adams' Congregational Church had had a unitarian preacher since 1750, the date Adams claimed he had converted to unitarianism.
9.19.2009 11:58pm
Leo Marvin (mail):
Ken Anderson, I found the anti-LDS bigotry leveled at Romney some of the ugliest moments of the campaign. And by the way, though it relied on different objections than the right wing fundamentalists', my side (i.e., the left) had its own nasty contingent of LDS bashers.
9.20.2009 1:39am
Leo Marvin (mail):
Chris, suppressing the joke reflex is consuming so much of my processing power, I have to log off now.
9.20.2009 1:45am
Cornet of Horse:
Jon Rowe,

"Many of these are the same folks whose support for Israel and the "Jewish people" has something to do with end times prophecy. Note, I'm not an "anti-zionist" (I tend to support Israel as well); I'm just making an observation. When I press them for "definitions," "Judeo-Christianity" usually means orthodox Christianity where Jews get to tag along for fun or for some *other* special reason."

I'm thinking that reason is that Jesus was a Jew. Is that special enough?

I think you're reading too much into things. Think "My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter". These people have been encouraged to develop a personal relationship with Jesus, and one of the things that comes out on the second date is that he's a Jew.

Following in the footsteps of their mainline (Barthian) forebears, the evangelical pastors do not find this fact threatening, indeed it gives them an entree to take the Old Testament seriously, something that they, and the millions in their pews who have fled mainline soft Marcionism (the Old Testament god, you know, the "Father God" was angry and patriarchial and all sorts of bad stuff, whereas Jesus is a rebel hippie who isn't into Fathers at all and is cool with peace, love, and understanding and good things. Sort of Che without the guns.) are very anxious to do.

Do alot of these folks go on to swallow the Left Behind line? Yeah, it's sort of a cultural thing, and lots of people these days seek the safe harbor of membership in some supposed counter-culture or another, but we're talking about a big movement. More do not.
9.20.2009 8:37am
Cornet of Horse:
BTW, yes I'm Desiderius. I'm quarantined for a week with H1N1, and I can't figure out how to get logged in under my account, as I registered on my last post previously and have forgotten how I did so.
9.20.2009 8:38am
Cornet of Horse:
LM,

"Ken Anderson, I found the anti-LDS bigotry leveled at Romney some of the ugliest moments of the campaign. And by the way, though it relied on different objections than the right wing fundamentalists', my side (i.e., the left) had its own nasty contingent of LDS bashers."

Well, if you subscribe to the theory that religious belief is some sort of mental disorder/weakness, then the Book of Mormon is exhibit 1A of your case. On the other hand, if which commitment one makes is of utmost importance, and one has committed to the logos, well, Moroni wasn't the most logical chap either. There are explanations other than bigotry here that relate to how people make sense of their own lives.

As an empiricist, I've found the character of Mormons I've known to be among the most exemplary I've seen, so I'm inclined to start from there and reason from that basis.
9.20.2009 8:47am
Cornet of Horse:
There's a strong strain of Diamond Age-style neo-Victorianism in the best of the evangelical movement, so perhaps a liberal voice from that age can best capture what is going on:

See here.

This of course also relates to the thread on Jewish perceptions of evangelicals, and, I think, to the idea that evangelicals are "anti-intellectual", a phenomenon that Arnold notes as well, while placing it in a perhaps surprising context, especially to Jews.
9.20.2009 8:53am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
ChrisTS:

We won't use real animals' horns for the hats, right?


Real Vikings don't put horns on their helmets.....

They DRINK out of them.....
9.20.2009 11:40am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
CHrisTS:

We pagan women do not have to get thin for Tyr;


Sorry, I just don't get that one.

I am surprised nobody asked me what Traditional Viking Family Values were....

(Essentially access to abortion-- which takes the place of infanticide rights, no fault divorce-- which takes the place of formal fault but no penalty on entrapment by either party, and encouraging-- though not through state power-- children to seek advice and approval of parents from entering into a marriage.)
9.20.2009 11:45am
ChrisTS (mail):
einhvrfr:

I was referencing 'Mary Magdalene Got Thin for Jesus, and You Can Too.'
9.20.2009 12:46pm
Leo Marvin (mail):

BTW, yes I'm Desiderius.

That was obvious. Had I known about an hour ago that you outed yourself, I would have been less circumspect in another thread. Anyway, welcome back. I hope your pursuits have been more felicitous than many of the exchanges here lately.

LDS beliefs and Mitt Romney the candidate are both target rich for valid criticism. Nonetheless, I thought most of the campaign attacks on Romney for his religious beliefs, and attacks on the Church directly, smacked of bigotry. I share your observation about the character of the many Mormons I've known, but I'd like to think that didn't significantly bias my perception of what went on during the campaign.
9.20.2009 5:13pm
Todd Humphreys:
Ken Anderson,


There are very serious arguments, arguments I embrace, that preserve the possibility of religious belief on the basis of mystical experience.


Have you done any public writing where you flesh out your thinking on this score? I'd be an interested reader. In the end, I'm not sure what a retreat from gold plates to mysticism does to genuinely prevent "belief and worldly reason from meeting up to implode like matter and antimatter" besides making it harder for others to explose the logical scandals on our thinking. The scandals remain.
9.20.2009 9:30pm
Kenneth Anderson:
I don't write much about these questions of religious epistemology, however, and I realize this is cryptic, I am a student of Rogers Albritton and his approach to the problems of mystical knowledge. I realize that doesn't tell you much. However, the only stuff I've written about Mormonism besides this WS essay:

The Magi of the Great Salt Lake, an essay in the TLS a long time ago.

A Peculiar People, an essay in the LA Times Book Review about ten years ago.

Not sure either of those help much on the philosophical issues.
9.20.2009 9:42pm
Cornet of Horse:
Todd Humphreys,

"The scandals remain."

Interesting word choice. That one has a long history in Christian theology, often being (seemingly perversely) embraced in a very Zen sort of move.

Given our current scandal-obsessed polity, perhaps they have a point.

It remains to be seen whether post-modernist "webs of meaning" are any less scandalous. In theory or in practice.
9.20.2009 10:17pm
Cornet of Horse:
LM,

"Nonetheless, I thought most of the campaign attacks on Romney for his religious beliefs, and attacks on the Church directly, smacked of bigotry."

Well, campaign attacks tend to be lowest common denominator, thus wince-inducing, whatever the content. P.T. Barnum-world.

The thing I wonder is whether I could tell if it weren't bigotry. I mean, if there were a there there, would it still be bigotry? Was Francis Walsingham bigoted against Catholics, when they were, in fact, actively scheming to assassinate his Queen? Was the Know-Nothing fear of Catholicism likewise entirely baseless, when the Pope at the time was busy putting together his anti-democratic Syllabus of Errors and Catholics of the day not yet acquainted with the wonders of cafeterias?

Of course, Mormons aren't up to anything like that (though not a few residents of California these days might disagree), but is there no principled position at all that could take such things into account without falling under the accusation of bigotry?

Such a position would of course come from the Left these days, and while I think its wrong on the grounds of epistemology of belief, I don't think it proper grounds to on its own to disqualify the person arguing such a position on moral grounds (i.e. bigotry).

Likewise, if an evangelical comes to the studied conclusion than the acceptance of Mormon doctrine fatally conflicts, with, say, the finality of the scriptural witness, or on a more prosaic level, simple standards of credulity, and decides to vote against someone on that basis, I could say that the person is overstepping church/state separation norms (in the former case) or employing a too narrow epistemology (the latter), but again, I wouldn't have grounds for claiming bigotry.

As someone who uses the term not infrequently, I'll clarify my own usage. By bigotry, I refer to an ignorance (literally ignoring information) regarding a class/group of people (nearly always including the diversity within that class/group) perpetuated in order to boost the coherence/solidarity/esteem of one's own class/group, usually perceived as a counter-class to the object of the bigotry. Nothing unites like good old hate.

You know, like how I talk about the Codger Boom.

So I guess if an evangelical objects to Romney because he doesn't like polygamy, or if a Leftie is concerned that science teachers would be required to teach the Tablets of Moroni, those would both be ignorant (and thus bigoted), while other objections based on actual Mormon doctrine/practice would not be, even if I disagreed with them.
9.20.2009 10:58pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Cornet,

I've studied the ideas of political small l liberalism (that is classical notions of small liberty and equality to which most everyone agrees on at some minimal level) in detail and have studied all of these "threads" where they came from -- the classicals (Greco-Roman), the Christian, the Enlightenment, the Whig, etc.

I am aware of the Roman Catholic Church's history of illiberalism. However, I've also seen some very interesting scholarship that, ironically, tries to claim RC sources -- canon law, Thomism, dissident Roman Catholics, of the middle ages period with "rights oriented" liberalism.

Are you aware of any of this stuff? I'm still trying to digest it.
9.21.2009 9:01am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Jon Rowe:

I am aware of the Roman Catholic Church's history of illiberalism. However, I've also seen some very interesting scholarship that, ironically, tries to claim RC sources -- canon law, Thomism, dissident Roman Catholics, of the middle ages period with "rights oriented" liberalism.


Basically the late Middle Age/Renaissance religious humanists (up through Bruno, Agrippa, Paracelsus, Fludd, Dee and the like) laid the groundwork for the later secular humanists.

Yeah, I thought everyone took that for granted.
9.21.2009 12:59pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Actually the folks I am speaking about (Rodney Stark, Brian Tierney) argue for a pre-Renaissance Thomist-natural law groundwork. The way I understand the story (as Brian Tierney tells it) different factions within the Roman Catholic Church claimed "rights" against one another via the canon law.

Figures like Suarez and the "schoolmen" to whom Algernon Sydney invoked when he claimed rights against the British Crown (and lost his head for it). Most "liberal rights" scholars trace the concept back to Sydney and the "Whig" period. The question is whether it, in a meaningful sense, goes back even further.

I'm still evaluating the claim myself.
9.21.2009 1:22pm
Cornet of Horse:
Jon Rowe,

Yeah, pretty much what einverfr said, with the addition of Erasmus in that category, hence my preferred pseudonym (Desiderius), as I do my best to carry on in the very tradition you note (working within existing institutions using an ad fontes approach to get more liberal blood pumping in the veins. Liberals are good at founding new institutions, so the sources are a good place to find the liberal ideas and ways).

The noting of the strains of Catholic illiberalism was only for the purpose of illustration (ones I judged likely to be familiar to and received sympathetically by readers of a libertarian blog), not to characterize Catholicism itself. Indeed, if one attempts to read the Syllabus of Errors in light of today's overpowering corporatist state, there's not a little there to like from a liberal perspective.

It can be argued that a sort of Thomistic liberalism forms the ground for not only Opus Dei, but also the progressive Jesuits who oppose them, and it was certainly a driving force in Vatican II and the continuing liberalization (with Catholic, and, alas!, all too human, characteristics!) of the Catholic Church worldwide under Wojtyla and Ratzinger.

For something of a neo-scholastic liberal within the Reformed tradition, see Diogenes Allen.
9.21.2009 1:26pm
Cornet of Horse:
Rowe,

Both Allen and yourself have obviously delved deeper into the question than have I. Guess that is why you are scholars and I not. Whether the study of particular trees or the forest is likely to shed more light is an open one.
9.21.2009 1:31pm
Cato The Elder (mail) (www):
Ah, Desiderius! I'd wondered where you'd gone off to; it'd seemed you had disappeared for awhile. Nice to have you commenting again.
9.22.2009 1:32am
Cornet of Horse:
I'm only here until Wednesday, when my H1N1 quarantine runs out. I'm committed to not returning here full-time until I've found a wife, and, having a wife then, I doubt that time will be very full when it comes.

Thx for your kind words.
9.22.2009 5:01pm

Post as: [Register] [Log In]

Account:
Password:
Remember info?

If you have a comment about spelling, typos, or format errors, please e-mail the poster directly rather than posting a comment.

Comment Policy: We reserve the right to edit or delete comments, and in extreme cases to ban commenters, at our discretion. Comments must be relevant and civil (and, especially, free of name-calling). We think of comment threads like dinner parties at our homes. If you make the party unpleasant for us or for others, we'd rather you went elsewhere. We're happy to see a wide range of viewpoints, but we want all of them to be expressed as politely as possible.

We realize that such a comment policy can never be evenly enforced, because we can't possibly monitor every comment equally well. Hundreds of comments are posted every day here, and we don't read them all. Those we read, we read with different degrees of attention, and in different moods. We try to be fair, but we make no promises.

And remember, it's a big Internet. If you think we were mistaken in removing your post (or, in extreme cases, in removing you) -- or if you prefer a more free-for-all approach -- there are surely plenty of ways you can still get your views out.