Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Piety, hypocrisy, and politics

We have been for some months in the midst of the part circus, part boxing match, part popularity contest that we here in the US call the “2012 presidential election.”   Recently, the top candidates from both sides of the aisle have been trampling each other to claim primacy in being Jesus’ bestest best friend ever, and to establish that although their own faiths are the result of years of prayer, careful consideration, and rational thought, their rivals’ faiths are degenerate superstitions that will at the very least result in laws being passed requiring the daily sacrifice of fluffy bunnies on the altar of Ba’al.

The latest include the efforts by Mitt Romney to appear like a regular ol' Christian, which were ostensibly intended both to placate the Religious Right and to calm down the Agnostic Left, convincing both simultaneously that Mitt is all about Christian Family Values but won’t attempt to recreate the United States based upon the ideals of Brigham Young.  It has been compared to JFK’s speech that was targeted at the Protestant Establishment to encourage them to believe (and apparently it was successful) that Washington wasn’t going to get transformed into Vatican West.

And despite the Rush to Faith by the candidates, all of them are also taking great pains to establish that they won’t try to impose their religious views on the public at large or use them as a basis for legislature.  My immediate question on hearing this was, “how can they not?”

Rick Perry, despite his disingenuous dodging of the issue, is a young-earth creationist.  He is also an Evangelical who was the prime mover behind a statewide "Day of Prayer" in Texas.  Put yourself in his shoes; as president, how could he possibly avoid using his opinions to frame policy?  If you honestly, truly, and sincerely believed that the earth is 7,000 years old, that destruction of a fertilized egg is murder because it already has an immortal soul, and that homosexuality is an abomination in god’s eyes, how could that not influence your policymaking?  Michele Bachmann, at least, is up front about her Dominionist views, bringing up god in political speeches with amazing frequency.  Witness this direct quote, from a 2004 rally in which she was exhorting a Minnesota crowd to vote for a same-sex marriage ban amendment:
Listeners should rejoice right now, because there are believers all across your listening area that are praying now. And I would say that if you can’t attend the rally, you can pray. And God calls us to fall on our faces and our knees and cry out to Him and confess our sins. And I would just ask your listeners to do that now. Cry out to a Holy God. He wants to hear us, He will hear us if we will confess our sins and cry out to Him. Our children are worth it and obedience to God demands it.
While I (obviously) disagree with her views, maybe she's less hypocritical than the rest of them -- at least she's clear about what she believes, and unafraid to admit it in front of a crowd.  (You have to wonder if that's also why even the conservatives have been distancing themselves from her lately.)

Putting candidates in the position of having to assure potential voters that they won’t use their faith to steer their decisions is basically encouraging them to be out-and-out hypocrites.   I can respect Romney’s stance at least from the standpoint of appreciating his commitment not to try to convert the whole populace of the US to Mormonism, but when he says, “No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith, for if he becomes president he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths," he is really voicing a pious impossibility.

The checks-and-balances in the government are there to keep one person, or one branch of government, from placing an indelible stamp on the course the country is taking, but there is no way that the president’s faith (or lack thereof) will not influence legislation, despite his or her voiced commitment to keep religion out of politics.   We must all be on our guard, listen and read closely what the candidates say, and in the end, caveat emptor.

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