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January 12, 2005

the president's view

Don Herzog: January 12, 2005

This from today's Washington Times:

"I fully understand that the job of the president is and must always be protecting the great right of people to worship or not worship as they see fit," Mr. Bush said.  "That's what distinguishes us from the Taliban.  The greatest freedom we have or one of the greatest freedoms is the right to worship the way you see fit.
    "On the other hand, I don't see how you can be president at least from my perspective, how you can be president, without a relationship with the Lord," he said.

If the president was offering a private or personal reflection -- something like, "boy it sure helps to have a good marriage when you're in this stressful job," or "regular workouts are great," and no, I don't say either to demean his faith -- then I've no objections whatever.  But if he's proposing that we should think of religious faith as a crucial qualification for the position, say because we can't trust unbelievers or they can't seek divine guidance on vexing policy matters, then I sure do.  And what's tricky is that, despite Clinton's unctuous lament that "even presidents have private lives," it sure can be hard to tell the difference when the occupant of the Oval Office holds forth.

Then again, I don't see us electing any atheists or agnostics any time soon.

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Comments

Posted by: Stuart

All he said is that from HIS perspective he needs his relationship with the Lord. That's who he is, and from his perspective, he needs his religion to help him get through the day in a very stressful job. I don't read it as saying you need a deep religious feeling as a basic job qualfication for the presidency.

Posted by: Stuart | Jan 12, 2005 4:14:12 PM


Posted by: Stuart

Just to add one more piece to that comment: Bush is well-known not to be all that articulate. What I think you need to look at is whether he has shown signs of being intolerant of people with other (or no) religious views. I don't see signs he has been intolerant in that way. Given that, I think we need to read his infelicitous prose in that light.

Posted by: Stuart | Jan 12, 2005 4:16:36 PM


Posted by: Paul Shields

Don, I see nothing objectionable in this at all. It is clearly a personal reflection, set off against the forceful statement of his public role that preceded it. I guess I feel that one would have to be already extremely wary to find cause for concern in this statement. So your posting puzzles me . . .

Posted by: Paul Shields | Jan 12, 2005 4:29:23 PM


Posted by: JS

If Clinton had said, “I don’t know how you can be President without an appreciation of the great works of literature,” we would have thought it quaint, eccentric, at worst a tad snobbish. We would not have thought it an official criteria, akin to a legal requirement; just a personal preference on his part – as we all have – about what kind of people, in fact, make better presidents.

So, as a mere indicator, a proposed marker of what kind of person the President is or should be, why not use religion? It is still common in America, for whatever reason, to believe that God fearers may be more ethically disciplined, afraid to do wrong. Just as secular Americans prefer, all else being equal, a President who does NOT have a relationship with “the Lord,” which they associate with Puritanism and violations of privacy. These aren’t official criteria, just indicators we use. Bush was just expressing his own. In that light, is it threatening? If so, what’s the real reason?

Posted by: JS | Jan 12, 2005 4:54:10 PM


Posted by: Terrier

Moslems have told me before that their great golden age of the Sultanate tolerated religious diversity better than any kingdom in Europe at the time and they were probably right. So what leads some people now to suspect that Islam is intolerant? What leads them to believe that Christianity is tolerant? I always tell the clean-shaven Mormon boys that they stand as much chance of convincing me as I do of convincing them. They go away smiling. On the other hand, Baptists have acted like jerks on my doorstep. People are people. I'm not trying to generalize, and from what I read I would still have been beheaded during the Sultanate. At least I expect to keep my head around here.

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 12, 2005 4:55:11 PM


Posted by: rtr

I think religious faith has become a crucial qualification for all positions, or is at least becoming more so. Religious faith in multiculturalism and affirmative action are rquired for tenure at some universities. Religious faith in Roe vs. Wade is required to become a Supreme Court justice. Religious faith in Kant...religious faith in equality of outcome...religious faith in traditional marriage...religous faith in public education...religious faith in the legitimacy of democracy...religious faith in universities and the AMA is required to become a doctor...religious faith in the bar exam is required to become a practicing lawyer.

What's so hard to see a reporter asking of a presidential candidate, "do you believe in God?" as currently seeking to answer whether or not the candidate is qualified? By "the Lord" he certainly doesn't mean Allah, so I think Bush would maintain a muslim born in Dearborn, Michigan would not be qualified to be President just like the democrats and liberals would maintain that a conservative who thought Roe should be overturned would not be qualified to be a Supreme Court Justice. This is the end result of coercive democracy, of the invasion of the State into an ever greater level of personal behavior.

Posted by: rtr | Jan 12, 2005 4:58:56 PM


Posted by: Terrier

JS, "God fearers may be more ethically disciplined" <- ? Didn't God fearers bomb the World Trade Center? I wonder what can stop believers from acting immorally when they think that they are acting according to the will of their God. Since I'm an atheist, I just can't use that excuse for my actions. I have to be responsible for everything I do - maybe if we taught that to people in this society we wouldn't have the kind of divisions we have and libertarians and liberals could join together and implement the changes necessary for a more just society.

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 12, 2005 5:03:01 PM


Posted by: JS

Terrier, for what it’s worth, I said that some people (not me!) believe religion indicates ethical discipline. Just as your post suggests the opposite: you seem to believe atheism is more likely to yield ethical restraint, eg. World Trade Center bombers and the like. All this proves that a person’s religious beliefs really do seem to say a lot about them, which is why they make a really good criteria for electing a president, after all.

Anyway, I disagree with your empirical point. Although it’s true, some of the worst people on the planet were motivated by religion, the same also motivates some of the best people, to heights of self-sacrifice and devotion that would put us ordinary skeptics to shame. There are whole sects of people who, motivated by genuine fear of God (mixed perhaps with love of people) live in near-poverty, donating most of their earnings to charitable projects. I don’t think atheists make better people, or worse ones. A deeper, related question might be whether a person’s beliefs about the underlying nature of ethics affects their moral behavior: are realists – people who believe ethical values are true facts of the world – better people than relativists? A plausible case could be made that they are…

Posted by: JS | Jan 12, 2005 5:28:38 PM


Posted by: Literally Retarded

Terrier -

I was raised in a devout family, and I can tell you that all week at home and on Sunday at church we were always taught that God gave us free will. We were taught that each of us is responsible for his own actions. God was no excuse.

I'm sure that you have a line in the sand that, when crossed, would motivate you to pick up a gun. That line in the sand is part of your "beliefs," and I assume that the rather well-off and well-educated (and isn't that a little disturbing?) 9/11 bombers knew that they were killing innocent people, maybe even brother Muslims.

My own feeling is not that we need to teach ourselves to "implement the changes necessary for a more just society," just now. First, we have to teach Them to implement some rather more basic changes.

Posted by: Literally Retarded | Jan 12, 2005 5:29:40 PM


Posted by: Terrier

Literally Retarded, yeah, but be careful you're not ignoring the massive rosewood entertainment center stuck in your own eye!

JS, It always cracks me up when this kind of thing is mentioned. How often do we have an opportunity for great sacrifice? What if we all renounced the world and lived in caves, celibate, and hairy? Did Einstein or Freud do nothing for humanity? For that matter, what about Fred Astaire? If most of us could just drive home today without road rage that might actually save more people than all of MOther Teresa's sacrifice. I'm not saying those people are not admirable, but the guy that works hard and raises his children to be good people is also admirable. I would rather entrust my life to one person who took their own responsibility seriously than to a brigade of believers determined to sacrifice. Morality is always after the fact - our lives always happen before.

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 12, 2005 6:23:34 PM


Posted by: Jeremy Pierce

By "the Lord" he certainly doesn't mean Allah

Bush has repeatedly said that he believes Islam to worship the same God as Jews and Christians do. He usually says this in the context of saying thqat Islam is a good religion that often produces good works and not to indicate agreement with Islamic doctrine. As an evangelical, he doesn't believe Islam to be correct worship of God as outlined in the Bible, but he believes the word 'Allah' refers to God. So your statement is false. Bush does mean Allah, because he means God. Just as people might say lots of false things about Clark Kent (that he's a wimp, that he's an earthling, etc.), they're saying them about Superman and not knowing it. It's the same sort of thing with Bush's view of who the name 'Allah' refers to.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce | Jan 12, 2005 6:44:27 PM


Posted by: jwt

Whatever "faith" politicians may profess, no one reaches the White House without violating most or all of the fundamental ethical principles of whatever religion they claim to follow. There's no point in taking seriously the ramblings of hypocrites and liars.

Posted by: jwt | Jan 12, 2005 7:01:08 PM


Posted by: bakho

Mr Bush is an ideologue, not a pragmatist. Mr Bush goes with his "gut feeling" that is reinforced by his religious beliefs. This is one way to set policy. Choose a course that feels right and stick with it through thick or thin.

There are other ways to set policy such as relying on experts that understand the problems and have studied them most of their lives. Have the experts bring forward policy options and then make a reasoned decision. We know from Paul ONeill that this is not the way the Bush administration sets policy. Thus, it is not surprising that Mr Bush would seek divine guidance given his level of interaction with and understanding of the human guidanace available to a president.

Posted by: bakho | Jan 12, 2005 7:42:23 PM


Posted by: Dallas

FDR, praying publicly, on the eve of D-Day:

My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas -- whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them--help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.
Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.
Give us strength, too -- strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.
And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.
And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.
With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
Thy will be done, Almighty God.
Amen.

Posted by: Dallas | Jan 12, 2005 7:47:50 PM


Posted by: Josh

"Whatever 'faith' politicians may profess, no one reaches the White House without violating most or all of the fundamental ethical principles of whatever religion they claim to follow. There's no point in taking seriously the ramblings of hypocrites and liars."

That's a trite and simplistic view of the very different men who have held the office of the presidency. Besides being untrue, it adds nothing to the discussion.

Posted by: Josh | Jan 12, 2005 7:54:36 PM


Posted by: loyopp

While this kind of sacchrine religious talk makes my skin crawl, I don't see anything wrong with what he's saying, per se. This is a guy, if we are to believe him, who like many couldn't face a day without alcohol, let alone be president, unless he could turn to his religion for support. He can't see the world through the eyes of people who aren't just like him, so he can't see how anyone else would deal with his responsibilities, but voters do, and we can take his advice or not. That lack of imagination makes him inflexible and frankly dangerous, but I don't think the problem is his reliance on religious practice to perform his job. But, when he crosses the line and starts proselytizing, I have a big problem with that. It's hard to tell here.

What is certainly objectionable is the hijacking of all claims to an ethical foundation to policy by the President and his ilk. Especially when you consider the odious behavior of this administration. For example, I guess if I was the speechwriter, I would have taken that second paragraph in a different direction, such as "On the other hand, we must seek common ground. In some areas, we can work together with the Taliban -- the use of torture, for example, which we and the Taliban both support."

Posted by: loyopp | Jan 12, 2005 8:30:05 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

I suspect the quote is just Bush being Bush. I'm far from one of the "Bush is an evil idiot" crowd and think we tend to confuse eloquence with intelligence in our public figures (most of whom ain't all that bright no matter how silvered their tongues).

Indeed, I suspect one of the reasons Bush doesn't speak in public any more than he has to is because he's uncomfortable with and not very good at doing other than speaking his mind. Perhaps he, like all presidents, should be more aware of how difficult it is to keep the personal and the official separate when every president's word is analysed and debated, but I'd be very surprised if there was any hidden agenda there.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 12, 2005 8:31:40 PM


Posted by: rtr

You might be right Jeremy Pierce that "the Lord" is inclusive of "Allah" but I usually take "the Lord" as referring to Jesus Christ whom Islam regards as a prophet but not "the Lord".

Posted by: rtr | Jan 12, 2005 8:48:36 PM


Posted by: CDC

Some people excite easily. Mr Bush's statement was a variation on the old chesnut "There are no atheists in foxholes."

Sheesh.

Posted by: CDC | Jan 12, 2005 9:09:28 PM


Posted by: df

there's this guy. his name is god. he lives in the sky.

god had a son named jesus, by a virgin, named mary. [god doesn't need to have sex to have children, silly!]

jesus died for YOUR sins. what a guy. of course, what else would you expect from god's son. sheesh.

Unless you act as if you believe this(whether or not you actually believe it), you are not qualified to be the leader of the free world.

houston, we've got a really big problem.

Posted by: df | Jan 12, 2005 9:27:19 PM


Posted by: noah

I notice no comments on the lengthy prayer quoted by Dallas from the Left's hero, FDR. If truth is timeless then I find this puzzling. There has been no end of criticism of our nation's founders by the moralizers of today.

Posted by: noah | Jan 12, 2005 9:53:46 PM


Posted by: noah

This site is degenerating.

Posted by: noah | Jan 12, 2005 9:55:03 PM


Posted by: jwt

""Whatever 'faith' politicians may profess, no one reaches the White House without violating most or all of the fundamental ethical principles of whatever religion they claim to follow. There's no point in taking seriously the ramblings of hypocrites and liars.""

"That's a trite and simplistic view of the very different men who have held the office of the presidency. Besides being untrue, it adds nothing to the discussion."

No, it doesn't add to the discussion; it simply suggests that a discussion based on the assumption that the words of professional front men for interest groups can be taken seriously is pointless. A shocking thought I'm sure to those who devote their time to opinionating about the spiritual lives of gangsters.

Posted by: jwt | Jan 12, 2005 10:32:05 PM


Posted by: CDC

The part of Mr. Bush's statement that seems to be causing all the bed-wetting is, "..I don't see how you can be president at least from my perspective, how you can be president, without a relationship with the Lord,"

Where in that statement did he say that such a president would be unqualified? I understood him to say that he would be unable to bear such responsibility without the psychological support he gets from his beliefs.

The guy is in a pressure cooker that most of us can't imagine. Most people would fold, but he is holding up. If prayer helps him, then let him pray.

Posted by: CDC | Jan 12, 2005 10:45:52 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

I don’t know if truth is timeless, but our understanding of it is certainly time dependent. One isn’t forced to embrace moral relativism by merely noting that cultural mores do shift over time and that what once seemed perfectly normal to prevailing sentiments and sensibilities often offends future standards. People can always fuel their seemingly inexhaustible sense of righteous indignation by holding any number of “dead white men” up to the current yardstick and finding that they don’t measure up. Similarly, they can invoke the “wisdom of the past” whenever that suits their purposes. It’s a mug’s game, but history is forever being invoked or rewritten one way or the other to suit prevailing tastes.

None of that gainsays Noah’s observation on the absence of comment about FDR’s prayer, but I’ll stand for my opponents at least as far as noting that we’re all hypocrites about these sorts of things now and then, quoting whomever we please when it suits us, denigrating historical examples when that’s better grist for our mills.

Roman Catholics were still fair game for religious discrimination by mainstream Protestants in the 1940s and beyond, and FDR’s own anti-Semitism is probably no longer in serious dispute. But the nation was nonetheless overwhelmingly Christian (or Judeo-Christian, if you will) back then, and that’s relevant. Sure there were atheists, Asians with their own non-Christian beliefs and probably even a few Muslims and Hindus, too; but arguments to the effect that an explicitly Christian presidential prayer might be improper (let alone unconstitutional) would have been met with glazed stares of incomprehension then. Especially on the eve of D-Day knowing full well that American fatalities would be high the next day even if all went as well as it could.

I think it’s fine to ask whether a president today should publicly use specific sorts of religious language which would have been not only unexceptionable but expected a generation or more ago. The standards have changed. We do not, as a society, tolerate all sorts of language about minorities and women that wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow (at least among white men) fifty years ago. (Note that acknowledging that fact does not entail the conclusion that we are entirely right now and they were entirely wrong about every such generational difference, either.)

Having said that, I still think there’s nothing much to object to in Bush’s statement and that we’d all be better off if we were more thick-skinned about such matters.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jan 12, 2005 10:47:53 PM


Posted by: Clayton

Bush has repeatedly said that he believes Islam to worship the same God as Jews and Christians do. He usually says this in the context of saying that Islam is a good religion that often produces good works and not to indicate agreement with Islamic doctrine. As an evangelical, he doesn't believe Islam to be correct worship of God as outlined in the Bible, but he believes the word 'Allah' refers to God. So your statement is false. Bush does mean Allah, because he means God. Just as people might say lots of false things about Clark Kent (that he's a wimp, that he's an earthling, etc.), they're saying them about Superman and not knowing it. It's the same sort of thing with Bush's view of who the name 'Allah' refers to.

I hadn't realized that Bush had such sophisticated views about semantic reference and the semantic inertness of speaker-associated descriptions. I suppose this is no less reasonable than believing he's a wonderful human being. In all seriousness though, if this really was what he thinks, this is incredibly patronizing to Muslims.

Interesting fact from ektopos:

That same 1999 Gallup Poll revealed that a larger percentage of American citizens, 49 percent, would vote against an atheist on grounds of atheism alone than would vote against someone for any other reason. Even though this is the lowest comparative percentage of people who said they would vote against someone just for being a nonbeliever, in absolute numbers, it is still a higher percentage than is applicable to any other historically disfavored group

Posted by: Clayton | Jan 12, 2005 11:45:49 PM


Posted by: S. Weasel

Then again, I don't see us electing any atheists or agnostics any time soon.

Which would seem to be evidence that Bush's remarks are in line with the mainstream and the critics are not.

I would guess one reason atheists do poorly in the public arena is that they are often aggressive and obnoxious about their atheism. I should know; I am one.

Posted by: S. Weasel | Jan 13, 2005 8:59:58 AM


Posted by: bakho

Everyone knows that belonging to the right church is essential to putting a political career on the right track, especially in the red states. We have only had one Catholic President in our history. All the other presidents of the 20th Century were Protestants. Note the shift in religious affiliation from more mainstreet Protestantism in the early 20th Century to more evangelical Protestants in the late 20th Century. Jimmy Carter was the first "born again" and every president since has either been "born again" or nominally so (Reagan). Get a clue.

Most religious people in the US define morality in terms of religion. To most Americans the notion that morality can be independent from religion is completely foreign. To them, unchurched means lacking in moral convictions. Some educated elites learn from philosophy that morality can be independent of religion, but those folks are only a small minority.

Posted by: bakho | Jan 13, 2005 9:10:42 AM


Posted by: Dallas

From FDR's fourth inaugural address (Jan '45):

The Almighty God has blessed our land in many ways. He has given our people stout hearts and strong arms with which to strike mighty blows for freedom and truth. He has given our country a faith which has become the hope of all peoples in an anguished world.

So we pray to Him now for the vision to see our way clearly — to see the way that leads to a better life for ourselves and for all our fellow men — to the achievement of His will, to peace on earth.

So, I ask the question: What has changed in 60 years? If overt religiosity in the President was appropriate then, why shouldn't it be appropriate now? I see no sign anyone is being injured by it.

Posted by: Dallas | Jan 13, 2005 9:30:53 AM


Posted by: rtr

"I do not think I could myself, be brought to support a man for office, whom I knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at, religion."

--Abraham Lincoln

This probably remains true for a strong majority of the population.

Posted by: rtr | Jan 13, 2005 9:48:58 AM


Posted by: Terrier

FWIW, I am a liberal and an atheist and I do NOT condemn the President's remarks - I have many reasons to distrust and dislike the President but those remarks are not one. It does not bother me when any politician invokes the Almighty for help because most of them need all the help they can get. The only thing degenerating around here is my patience for insolent and bird-brained criticism.

Posted by: Terrier | Jan 13, 2005 9:49:51 AM


Posted by: sierra

Don Herzog says: "Then again, I don't see us electing any atheists or agnostics any time soon." I'm sure there have been plenty of both in the Oval Office. I think what you mean is self-proclaimed atheists or agnostics, who as S. Weasel pointed out have their own unique problem marketing themselves as candidates.

Posted by: sierra | Jan 13, 2005 10:14:04 AM


Posted by: Shag from Brookline

I am reminded of the WW II song "Praise the Lord, and Pass the Ammunition". So God works both with natural and unnatural disasters. What is difficult is determining His intent: vengeance, population control, displays of power, meanness, pleasure, dissatisfaction, love, hate, all of the above?

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | Jan 13, 2005 10:36:58 AM


Posted by: pedro

Since I've accused others (my apologies, Bret) of being paranoid about certain things, I'm going to have to be careful to disclaim that I don't believe that President Bush will actually do anything quite as drastic as some of his cheerleaders wish for. Yet, something is very wrong when a political party allows a substantial number of individuals like Gerald Allen to run for office. (I particularly enjoy the bit about toning down Shakespeare.)

Posted by: pedro | Jan 13, 2005 12:03:41 PM


Posted by: Steve

We have Gerald Allen, you have Teddy Kennedy. What can you do?

Steve

Posted by: Steve | Jan 13, 2005 12:17:20 PM


Posted by: AlanC9

Clayton, how else is a Christian supposed to view the beliefs of Muslims? It may be patronizing, but Bush can't very well say that their beliefs are just as valid as his own. The two systems simply aren't compatible in that way.

Posted by: AlanC9 | Jan 13, 2005 12:57:57 PM


Posted by: J. Smith

Knee-jerk liberal reactions like the ones in this post make the idea of this site being a place where the left can learn to communicate better to the right less and less believable. Can't you see that you are jumping on top of the man for nothing? Can't you see that jumping on top of the man for nothing makes conservatives feel defensive and distrustful of the left?

Don't mean to be harsh, I really want this web site to succeed. I'd love to be able to connect to my liberal friends again without avoiding politics like the plague.

Posted by: J. Smith | Jan 14, 2005 5:55:28 AM


Posted by: Paul Shields

I find the FDR prayer quoted by Dallas (and the subsequent silence) telling. But I also agree with DAR’s point that cultural mores change. The question seems to be whether cultural mores have changed so much that what was appropriate 60 years ago is now inappropriate.

I think that it is perhaps a little too strong to use the term “hypocrite” at this preliminary stage of introducing historical precedents and parallels. People will naturally tend to provide evidence that supports what they think. But this is not hypocritical unless it is done in bad faith, unless it is part of a continued attempt to distort or deny historical evidence in order to serve partisan ends. I certainly have no more reason to suppose that it is hypocritical to quote FDR than to suppose it is hypocritical to only mention examples of positive cultural change, eg., changes in the acceptable language about minorities and women, or in the discrimination of Protestants against Catholics.

Isn’t the real question whether we associate Christianity with a superstitious evil past, a past in which discrimination was institutionalized and religious bigotry commonplace, or whether we view Christianity as one of the forces which has allowed us to begin to escape this past? It seems to me that the historical record works both ways--showing Christianity both as a stimulus to enlightenment and tolerance, and as a justification for bigotry and hate.

As a conservative, I am embarassed by the sanctimonious fundamentalists who seem to be engaged mainly in the moral condemnation of those with whom they disagree. But I do not think it is wise to throw out the baby with the bathwater. What is promulgated in Christian churches across the country are basic values--things like loving your neighbor, being decent, caring for those who are less fortunate, etc.

The more rabid left-wing postings on this site exhibit a moralism and intolerance that is analogous to what I hear from the preachers on the extreme right. If liberals want to do better at the ballot box, maybe they should focus on finding ways to publicly disavow this moralism.

Posted by: Paul Shields | Jan 14, 2005 6:44:35 PM


Posted by: Cole

"So, I ask the question: What has changed in 60 years? If overt religiosity in the President was appropriate then, why shouldn't it be appropriate now? I see no sign anyone is being injured by it."

It may have been considered appropriate back then, but that's not to say that it really was appropriate back then.

In any case, the worry (I would guess) behind a zero-tolerance approach is that constant appeal to Christian or pseudo-Christian doctrine will lead people to misjudge or just ignore the issue of the proper scope of government power. A political culture that gets religion is one that might well forget the distinction between public and private matters. Oh, and moreover, the ideal of government neutrality is also apt to be misjudged or ignored. And I guess the notion that beliefs (especially beliefs about complicated matters like government policy) ought to be proportionate with the balance of evidence. That's the concern.

So, given the people involved with FDR's administration, I think any such worry is misplaced. The worry with FDR's administration was (if I'm not historically mistaken) hopeless wide-eyed pinkos. Of course, this was probably just as worrisome a worry (if not more so), but it does make matters like FDR's super-religious speech into something innocuous and even comical. The Bush administration is clearly different here. It's not full of Reds, it's full of evangelicals. So his super-religious speech constitutes stronger grounds for worry ("These people know that Christianity doesn't deserve any special privileges, right?", "They know that government shouldn't be out to save men's souls, right?", "They know that decisions regarding government policy should be informed by empirical evidence, and subject to revision, right?")

Posted by: Cole | Jan 15, 2005 1:12:07 PM


Posted by: Cole

To put the point another way, if FDR had made even a passing remark about the superstructure of a society being determined by the interests of the ruling class, then there would be strong grounds for concern.

Posted by: Cole | Jan 15, 2005 1:17:11 PM


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