How pious is your presidential candidate?
Once again, we have to do this loathsome exercise of discovery to determine just how pious ” or not ” our would-be presidents are.
Prodded with cues, we will hear about their church-going, their nightly prayer to Jesus, their long-time belief in this magical being or mysterious event that is the cornerstone of their religion. And, presumably, we will be led to infer something about said aspirant’s “moral fiber” by how they choose to interpret and follow the myths and characters from ancient books.
In the past, a presidential aspirant’s religious beliefs didn’t matter all that much. Thomas Jefferson, to use one example, was a deist, a quasi-Christian who didn’t believe in the divinity of Jesus. Madison and Monroe were also suspected deists who didn’t believe in supernatural beings ” although they were Episcopalians on the surface. There are whole books and sections of the Web devoted to presidents and their religion, all of which can only beg the question: Why?
The role of a president is that of a commander-in-chief of a nation, the main tenets of which include religious freedom and the separation of church and state. The U.S. president needs to know (or at least affect knowledge of) everything from military and economic matters to global geopolitics and the names of most members of Congress.
When faced with the “3 a.m. phone call” or tough decisions about trade or foreign policy, it’s hard to imagine how adherence to a set of myths (regardless of how true you believe them to be) is going to help. In assessing the qualifications of a president, I’m much more likely to pick the one who says the least about religion.
Once again, that’s tough to do this year. John McCain recently sought and embraced the endorsement of a nutbag named John Hagee. This anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic pastor can be seen in a great YouTube video going over an illustration of “the beast” (which I think represents something bad) as if it were a diagram of an atom. He believes Katrina destroyed New Orleans because of a gay-pride march, and that the Pope is the “anti-Christ.”
Barack Obama has been linked, albeit tenuously, to another nutbag anti-Semitic preacher, Louis Farrakhan. The candidate peppers his conversations with references to Jesus, recently invoking the Sermon on the Mount to suggest civil unions would be endorsed by the Christian prophet (evoking rage from the moral ministers on the right which, in turn, caused great mirth from gays and atheists). Hillary is perhaps the most vocal about her religion, rarely passing up a chance to invoke the name of Jesus to either slam Republicans or burnish her own moral credentials.
So, how much does this all matter to voters? Probably a fair amount for Bible Belters and members of the religious right. But if a recent Pew Center poll on religion is any indication, Americans are growing increasingly indifferent to religion ” especially to the particular brand practiced by their parents. One in four Americans between 18 and 29 reports being unaffiliated, and one in five men report no affiliation whatsoever. The atheist/agnostic count stands at only 4 percent, but my guess is it would be higher if all those unaffiliateds weren’t hedging their bets.
Those with naturalistic worldviews, who view the separation of church and state very seriously, have had a bad eight years under Bush. It’s terrifying to know we have a commander-in-chief who thinks events in the Middle East are shaped by biblical passages, or who sees nothing wrong in diverting federal funds to religious organizations of all sorts. One can only hope that the pious pronouncements we hear from McCain, Obama and Clinton right now will not rise to the fore during their presidency, and that the movement away from Big Religion by Americans will, in the future, further dilute the power of gods and myths in the executive branch.
There’s simply no place for it there.
Alex Miller is responsible for the editorial oversight of the Vail Daily, Eagle Valley Enterprise and Vail Trail. He can be reached at 748-2920, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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