Bill Keller of the NYT is having a tough week. The way some in the media are acting, it's as if he reported he saw a UFO. Instead, he came up with a list of questions to ask the Republican candidates about their religious faith. Some are shouting Keller's questions amount to a religious test for President, while others are plain making fun of him for daring to ask intelligent questions about the religions of Republican candidates who so loudly proclaim how Christian they are to the world. If any religious test is going on here, it is on the part of the RNC, who has embraced wholeheartedly the idea that if you wish to be considered to be a viable candidate for President, you must be a conservative Christian of some type. And, like Bill Keller, if we dare to ask questions about the candidates' faith, we too are anti-religion, intolerant liberal elite jackasses.
Wesley Pruden at the Washington Times has nothing good to say about Keller; the first epithet that strikes Pruden's readers is the dreaded word "liberal" if you dare to question.
We’re getting close to the beginning of the new presidential election cycle, so we must get back to Sunday school. The pundits are parsing religion again. Somebody has to pose the liberals’ religious test for public office.
Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, thinks the nation is in peril because several Republican candidates – and the incumbent president as well – are men and women of religious faith. Mr. Keller likens religious faith to claims “that space aliens dwell among us” and says presidential candidates should be put to a faith test to determine whether they’re fit to hold public office. A belief that extraterrestrial creatures have visited Earth doesn’t necessarily disqualify a candidate “out of hand,” he says, but a careful voter “would certainly want to ask a few questions.”
It’s not easy for liberals like Mr. Keller to live in a corrupt, rotten society like ours, where every four years right-thinking citizens who read the New York Times, vacation on Martha’s Vineyard and eat their organic peas have to take a primer on what the crazy church folk, with whom they’re doomed to share the planet, believe is important. This year it’s Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry who populate the worst nightmares of good and worthy folk. Four years ago it was President Obama and whether he shared the kooky racist beliefs of his Chicago pastor. He said he didn’t, and he gave a Christian testimony that would satisfy a fundamentalist test of faith.
Pruden, at least, attempts to be a reasonable conservative. He allows that anybody can ask presidents and presidential candidates any quesitons they like, and yes, he generously allows that even a Muslim could be POTUS if he/she were qualified for the office. Pruden's conservativism harks back to the style of William F. Buckley, Jr., (or, at least he'd like to think so), yet he does not address the fundamental problem with Republican politics–God talks to them, or through their spouses. Consider this quote by Michele Bachmann:
Why should I go and do something like that? But the Lord says, 'Be submissive wives; you are to be submissive to your husbands." -Rep. Michele Bachmann, recalling in a 2006 speech at a Megachurch in Minneapolis that pursuing tax law wasn't her choice, but she did so at the urging of her husband because she was certain God was speaking through him.
Then of course, was her proclamation that God wanted her to run for Congress:
Rick Perry also feels God speaks to him personally:
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas says that he is getting “more and more comfortable every day” with the idea of running for the Republican presidential nomination.
In an interview with The Des Moines Register this weekend, Mr. Perry used spiritual references to suggest that a presidential bid would be something that God wanted him to do.
“I’m not ready to tell you that I’m ready to announce that I’m in,” Mr. Perry told the newspaper. “But I’m getting more and more comfortable every day that this is what I’ve been called to do. This is what America needs.”
George W. Bush also felt God spoke to him, and if the media in general had been brave enough to delve more deeply into this God complex, not only would people have been educated about his faith, but might also have made a more informed decision electing a Republican candidate who believes God talks to him. Apparently the "God talks to me" virus has spread throughout the RNC. Note Michael Steele's conversation with God interestingly enough, testifying on the Christian Broadcasting Network. If the RNC doesn't want the image they are "God's Party," then they need to stop camera opportunities on Christian television.
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Despite the distaste for religion that Pruden suggests "liberals" have, the liberal Christian network is alive and well–just not in everybody's face like the RNC. Frank Lovato at the Democratic Underground wrote a thought provoking article in 2002 called "In Defense of the Christian Liberal," in which he notes:
The second thing that irritates me is the misuse of the Christian religion by many conservatives to justify their position in a political situation. It seems to be a planned conservative strategy to couch themselves as "godly" and "religious" as opposed to liberals who are "ungodly" or "non-religious." The Clinton impeachment debacle is a case in point.
Under his leadership the country was running great but his abilities were completely overshadowed by his "sins." Conservative congressmen and senators went after him as if his sexual transgressions were the most terrible of all crimes. But when their own conservative leadership was found out to also be guilty of the same things, it was passed off as no harm, no foul.
It was all right for them to sin because they were "godly" people who made a small mistake but even as Bill publicly confessed and asked for forgiveness, the conservatives pronounced that he was not truly repentant and because he was "ungodly" he must be punished for his sins. Even the FBI was so busy trying to get him to lie to them that they completely forgot the possibility that terrorists could be planning something much more devastating than a little hanky-panky in the White House.
A very personal reason why this use of Christianity by the conservatives annoys me so much is that I consider myself a Christian and I am also very politically liberal. I firmly believe a person who really tries to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ would be much more likely to be a political liberal rather than a conservative.
Despite all the religious trappings that conservatives are so prone to flaunt, most look down on their fellowman especially if he is poor or non-Christian and more so if he makes any demands upon their wealth or time. I like to call these people "Old Testament" Christians because they like to quote the Old Testament and never the words of Jesus Christ as related in the New Testament. I can very well see why they do this because the Old Testament is absolutely full of death, and revenge while Christ taught only life and peace. The various parables of Christ as related in the New Testament teach love and forgiveness and never revenge or war or judgment.
Christ taught us not to judge our fellowman but the Pharisees (the conservatives of their time) ignored him because they thought they had every right to judge others because they were perfect since they kept all the Jewish laws and the "sinners" did not. These present day Pharisees are not much different from the old ones and in their "righteousness," they quote the Old Testament because it justifies their lack of love or concern for their fellowman.
When asked by one of the Pharisees which was the most important of the commandments, Christ answered the most important was the first commandment concerning the love of God but then he likened it to the second about the love of fellow man. Why did he do that? Because Christ knew it is impossible for a person to love God and at the same time not love his fellow man. Conservatives camouflage this lack of love by insisting that their overriding concern is for having people take responsibility for themselves and their actions. Noble sounding but it also lets them off the hook for providing for the needs of others. In a word, conservatives tend to be just plain cheap.
Bill Keller himself says he has nothing against religion. He just doesn't want some religious crackpot getting into office and making their religion the law of the land, or have some candidate laud the Bible over the Constitution of the United States:
I honestly don’t care if Mitt Romney wears Mormon undergarments beneath his Gap skinny jeans, or if he believes that the stories of ancient American prophets were engraved on gold tablets and buried in upstate New York, or that Mormonism’s founding prophet practiced polygamy (which was disavowed by the church in 1890). Every faith has its baggage, and every faith holds beliefs that will seem bizarre to outsiders. I grew up believing that a priest could turn a bread wafer into the actual flesh of Christ.
But I do want to know if a candidate places fealty to the Bible, the Book of Mormon (the text, not the Broadway musical) or some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this country. It matters to me whether a president respects serious science and verifiable history — in short, belongs to what an official in a previous administration once scornfully described as “the reality-based community.” I do care if religious doctrine becomes an excuse to exclude my fellow citizens from the rights and protections our country promises.
And I care a lot if a candidate is going to be a Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed.
Jeff Jacoby, another reasonable sounding conservative who argues both sides rather well at the Boston Globe complained that Keller's questions amounted to an" anti-religious diatribe" and in a new twist, the Globe repeats the accusation that the "liberal elite" are afraid of a religious theocracy:
Liberal elites like Keller are haunted by the specter of right-wing theocracy. When they see Christian conservatives on the campaign trail, they envision inquisitions and witch hunts and the suppression of liberty. They dread the prospect of a president respecting any “authority higher than the Constitution,’’ and regard ardent religious faith as the equivalent of belief in space aliens. “I do care,’’ says Keller, “if religious doctrine becomes an excuse to exclude my fellow citizens from the rights and protections our country promises.’’
Of course religion can be abused and belief in God turned to evil purposes. Yet far from threatening “the rights and protections’’ of America’s people, religious faith has been among their greatest safeguards. Far from disavowing any book or authority “higher than the Constitution,’’ our presidents place their hand on a Bible and swear to uphold that Constitution – “so help me God.’’ We have had our religious villains. But vastly more influential have been the American champions of liberty and equality – from Adams to Lincoln to King – who appealed to God and the Judeo-Christian tradition for the rightness of their cause.
For good reason, the Constitution bans any religious test to hold public office in the United States. No one must be Christian to run for president. But neither should being Christian be treated as a presidential disqualification.
If that's true, then why are Republicans making such a big deal out of it? Why can't they keep their religion in their hearts, where it belongs? Why must they wax ever eloquently about how God speaks to them, or how often they pray? Even the Christ they claim to follow and talk to says:
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. Matthew 6:6
Oh how some of us wish all of the Republican candidates would simply shut the hell up about religion and talk about running the country and fixing the economy. There is a religious test for President, and it isn't Bill Keller who has set it up. It is the RNC who has embroiled this nation in a religious tug of war who has set up this religious test to ensure, one feels, that an atheist or someone of a minority religion would never get elected. That is what Christian dollars, what Christ calls "mammon" gets a political party–power, prestige, and God on their side. Yet Christ says one cannot serve both God and money.