Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Is this a political debate or a revival meetin'?

Some excerpts from answers to questions (about evolution, and about Mitt Romney's Mormonism) in last night's GOP debate:
HUCKABEE: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth. To me, it's pretty simple. A person either believes that God created this process or believes that it was an accident and that it just happened all on its own.
[…]
But I believe that all of us in this room are the unique creations of a god who knows us and loves us, and who created us for his own purpose.

BROWNBACK: … I believe that we are created in the image of God for a particular purpose. And I believe that with all my heart… And I am fully convinced there's a god of the universe that loves us very much and was involved in the process.

ROMNEY: I believe in God, believe in the Bible, believe Jesus Christ is my savior. I believe that God created man in his image. I believe that the freedoms of man derive from inalienable rights that were given to us by God.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that few in America understand how jaw-droppingly, mind-bogglingly weird this kind of talk sounds in the rest of the world, coming in the middle of a political debate of candidates who want to be president of a country. (At least, outside the Islamic world; I expect that they line up to avow their faithfulness to Allah as well.)

I kept trying to imagine these questions and responses appearing in a Canadian leadership debate and was flummoxed. Even Stephen Harper, the self-declared fundamentalist Christian, only got as far as adding "God bless Canada" to the end of a couple of his first speeches as PM before public discomfort encouraged him to knock it off.

Frank McKenna, our former Premier (o how we miss him) and, following his premiership, Canadian Ambassador to the US for a while, said matter-of-factly in a speech recently that America is a theocracy.

I wonder if anyone's told the Americans yet. Mike P. says they know; but "since it's the way God wants it, we haven't objected".

ronnie

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9 Comments:

Blogger Sherwood Harrington said...

The rest of the world may find this "weird," ronniecat, but I don't.

What I find it to be is "terrifying."

9:14 p.m.  
Anonymous Dann said...

[Given a choice between writing a report or a comment to your entry......you win hands down.]

I wouldn't put too much emphasis on this sort of language and the idea that we are a theocracy is laughable. At least if you consider the number of strip clubs in the mid-west it is laughable.

The candidates were responding more to a cultural phenomenon than a religious one. Most American claim they are "Christian". At the same time, regular church attendance has been on the decline for decades. Less than half of all Americans attend church once a week or more.

One pivotal element of cultural Christianity was succinctly summarized by Mitt Romney; "I believe that the freedoms of man derive from inalienable rights that were given to us by God." We love our freedom. If that freedom were derived from mutual agreements between people, then those freedoms can be removed by some future agreement. Because they are ascribed to a Creator that is superior to our fellow human beings, they cannot be legitimately infringed by those same fellow human beings.

Another key aspect to their testifying is the nature of cultural change in the US over the last 50 years or so.

I know that Mike likes to pooh-pooh the idea that Christianity has been "under attack". Perhaps a more appropriate description would be "under pressure to take a less influential role in the public arena". Significant pressure.

The theoretic God...or theoretic lack thereof...has been used as a forensic tool to short circuit debate on various issues. Because certain public policies appeared to enjoy religious imprimatur, some that were opposed to such policies would attempt to undermine that imprimatur by claiming that science has declared that God doesn't exist. Of course, such arguments were not made in the straightforward manner described above but instead were made in a more roundabout fashion.

Such a devaluation of religious faith coupled with significant [and might I add sorely needed in many cases] changes to our culture left many with a feeling of insecurity as to their role in the changed society. Expressions of solidarity on the subject of religious faith offer some modest comfort to those people.

Of course, it would be foolish to deny that they were also playing to religious conservatives. To a certain extent they were.

Curiously, the Democrats weren't asked anything about their respective faith(s). So there isn't an opportunity for comparison and/or contrast. Mrs. Clinton has been seen speechifying in a variety of churches lately. Something that would be roundly condemned were a Republican in a similar habit.

Regards,
Dann

PS - Sherwood, is it terrifying when Democrats speak of faith in churches?

[now one more and then back to work]

10:48 p.m.  
Blogger Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Hmm...well, the Dems had their own forum last night, created to let them state their Christian values, put on by a faith-based organization (sojo.net). This sure looks to me like the pressure candidates feel is to get onto the Christian bandwagon. Any such pressure on Christianity to reduce its public role may really exist, but it seems to be failing.

Attacks on Christianity, and "pressure to take a less influential role in the public arena" seem like 2 radically different things to me. Attacking a belief system or way of life consists of trying to stop people from having that option. While pressuring it to pull back from the public arena is meant to stop it from doing the attacking - to stop it from eliminating alternatives to itself. Most liberals i know are fine with people living as conservative, submissive-women, Bible-thumpin' a life as they want.

12:44 a.m.  
Blogger Xtreme English said...

thanks for the good laugh, ronniecat.

the U.S. of A. is still bedeviled by puritans.

i agree with karl marx (or was it lenin?): "religion is the opium of the people."

dann....i agree that california has a huge influence on the rest of the country. it's where the old fogeys from the midwest go when they retire. they've got to stop electing ham republican actors!!

2:39 a.m.  
Blogger ronnie said...

Excellent commentary everyone. Dann, as usual I appreciate your thoughtful comments although I don't agree with all of them, being one of the ones who have, yes, "pooh-poohed" the "war on religion" meme. I think the fact that the leading 3 Democrats did a forum on nothing but faith, along with the emphasis on faith in the GOP forum, rather questions the religion in the US being "under attack".

There is a reason I didn't mention the Obama/Clinton/Edwards CNN special on faith - it's because that was a forum specifically on that topic. If the GOP had a similar forum (and they may), statements like the ones I quoted in my post would be unremarkable.

But even given that they were responding to specific questions about faith, the way they framed such deeply personal concepts in a general candidates' debate is still jarring to me. (I know Canadians tend to be more reserved emotionally and wear our emotions on our sleeves less than some other cultures, and that may be part of it.) Even if a Canadian politician were to say that they were Christian (as Stephen Harper and others have), the thought that he'd use phrases like "I believe Jesus Christ is my Personal Saviour" in a secular candidates' forum would just be not on here. In an interview on his faith, yes.

Anyway, as I say, it generated more response than I expected, and excellent discussion at that.

1:39 p.m.  
Blogger Brent McKee said...

I'm not convinced that the United States is a theocracy. I am however sure to the depths of my being that for a nominee to win the Republican nomination today he (or she) has to bow and scrape to the religious conservative element in the Republican Party. This sort of thing so infuriated Barry Goldwater that in 1992 he publicly came out in support of Bill Clinton and to vote for him in 1996. He didn't like the excessive influences that the conservative churches had on the Republican Party (his family was Jewish but his father had converted to the Episcopal - Anglican - Church). It is this alliance of the conservative religious (one could add Christian fundamentalist) element with the already socially conservative Republican Party that allowed George W. Bush to make "traditional family values" a campaign issue against John Kerry (a divorced Catholic who supports the right to choose).

There are a couple of reasons why people don't talk a lot about the Christian element in relationship to the Democratic Party. It tends to be far less overt with the Democrats, and it seems to have less control of the party. If I'm being honest with myself, I have to say that I can't see the Republicans nominating someone of John Kerry's faith for the presidency right now, let alone someone who is Jewish. I don't think that America is a theocracy but in one party at least there's a powerful element who are willing to make Christian beliefs a litmus test for nomination. I find that unsettling.

4:43 p.m.  
Blogger ronnie said...

One final comment -

Dann, I hope my answer to the question you put to Sherwood was evident from my earlier comment - I don't mind anyone talking about faith in debates on faith, and certainly not in churches. It was the context juxtaposed with the intensity of the claims to belief that surprised me. (Especially the "Jesus is my saviour" comment; although I realize Romney is a special case, as his enemies are trying to paint Mormonism as not Christian, and that's hurting him.)

Finally, I don't personally believe that America is a theocracy - yet. I do believe it currently has a de facto state religion, however. And others have posted more eloquently than I have the troubling implications of having a fundamentalist religious sect with that much power over the top levels of a nation's leadership.

Peace, out ;)

ronnie

8:34 p.m.  
Blogger Sherwood Harrington said...

If ... freedom were derived from mutual agreements between people, then those freedoms can be removed by some future agreement. Because they are ascribed to a Creator that is superior to our fellow human beings, they cannot be legitimately infringed by those same fellow human beings.

Human beings who fervently believe that their view of God is the One True Belief have proven repeatedly to be very willing to deprive their fellows of not only their freedom, but also their dignity and their lives. For true believers who fit that bill on either side of the current schism, just consider Oliver Cromwell and Mullah Omar. Same cloth, different print.

As for your question about Democrats and faith discussions in churches, Dann, others have addressed that better than I could.

9:55 p.m.  
Anonymous Dann said...

Hi Ronnie,

Just a couple quick ones to wrap up my end of this.

1. I agree with you regarding the supposed "war on Christianity". It ain't. Sorry if that wasn't clear.

2. I think it is a bit of a double standard to criticize one side for responding to a religious oriented question and then not criticize the other for participating in a religiously oriented debate. I don't have a problem with either side expressing their faith. I do have a problem with either side enshrining their faith in law.

3. I'm a bit concerned about suggestions that Christianity has brought nothing to the world but pain and woe. That would be as inaccurate as saying that Christianity has brought nothing but peace and goodness to the world.

Regards,
Dann

who desperately wishes that his Internet connection was up at home...

5:42 p.m.  

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