Remember When Religion Wasn’t Supposed to be Public Policy?

50 years ago, one of the major concerns some of the electorate had was whether the candidate’s religion would impact his decision making, so much so, the candidate addressed it.

“I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters — and the Church does not speak for me.”[33] Kennedy questioned rhetorically whether one-quarter of Americans were relegated to second-class citizenship just because they were Catholic, and once stated that, “No one asked me my religion [serving the Navy] in the South Pacific.

Back then, it was apparently a big no-no for a candidate to let their religious beliefs (or directions from their religious leaders) determine public policy.   It wasn’t that officials weren’t religious, but the idea was that your religion was supposed to be your own business, not the public’s.     That’s changed, and these days in some parts of the country you can’t turn around without seeing a politician waving a Bible and screaming about how they have been “saved!”

I was reminded of this  at the beginning of the year when reading a news story about the new governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley making this statement:

”I was elected as a Republican candidate. But once I became governor … I became the governor of all the people. I intend to live up to that. I am color blind,” Bentley said in a short speech given about an hour after he took the oath of office as governor.

Then Bentley, who for years has been a deacon at First Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, gave what sounded like an altar call.

“There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit,” Bentley said. ”But if you have been adopted in God’s family like I have, and like you have if you’re a Christian and if you’re saved, and the Holy Spirit lives within you just like the Holy Spirit lives within me, then you know what that makes? It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister.”

Which then had to be “explained” by the governor’s office.  It’s one of those increasingly common things you see, and has been going on since the growth of the Religious Right over the past 30 years.     That’s why you see so much proselytizing from various politicians on the Right.  It’s no longer “Oh, look, they’re going to church on Sunday” routine, it’s often a full-fledged revival meeting,

That’s right. YOU are the government! You are God’s minister to punish evil and reward good conduct. But, too many Christians have refused the figurative “sword” or the power that in this great country, this little experiment in democracy as a republic, is supposed to be held by YOU.

along with an insistence on defining “Christian” as their particular sect of Christianity.

Phillips explains that he was formerly a member of the church, but he left because it’s “the first Church of Karl Marx,” and “little more than the “religious” arm of socialism.”

The definition used is “I disagree with this church’s stance, therefore they aren’t Christian!”   It’s not just local officials, or an occasional member of Congress that’s doing this.  It’s become a “litmus test” on the part of the Republican Party.  Just look at the recent presidential candidates’ debate in Iowa:

The Republican candidates tried to outdo each other in their level of piety. Ms Bachmann told the audience that “My view of the world is a biblical worldview” while Mr Cain said “the political correctness police” had made devout people reluctant to express their faith.

Funny how that reluctance hasn’t stopped them from touting it all over the place, even as a justification for advocating attempts to  insert their religious beliefs into the law.   This is why we have efforts to insert “creation science” (an oxymoron if ever there was one) into the curriculum going on in school districts around the country, attempts to legislate people’s private lives, and  lots of statements about this is a “Christian country.”   Never mind that a reading of history shows that the Founding Fathers had a very, very different view of that.  What makes me say that?  The US Constitution,  Article 6:  “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States,” along with the 1’st Amendment, and a number of other writings to explain it.  It wasn’t because of their personal beliefs, it was due very much to their knowledge of history.  Religion and the State were the causative factors of a huge numbers of wars, along with some of the more egregious persecutions in history – even then.    Today, we have a number of other examples of what happens when there is a “state religion” or when religious leaders are the government, and it’s not a particularly pretty picture.

Personally, I wish that the protestations of how “religious” they are weren’t such a major portion of the Republican candidates.  I really don’t care that “God told you to run.”  If God did, the deity has a particularly nasty sense of humor, since all the candidates who claimed that are having … tribulations.  More correctly,  spiraling down in flames as ineptness, arrogance,  and revelations of infidelity  work their way.    I wish we could return to time when we didn’t expect – or even really want – a politician’s religion to be “relevant.”   I’d even be happier if they actually practiced it, particularly this instruction:  “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “Remember When Religion Wasn’t Supposed to be Public Policy?

  1. overseasgranny

    It has crossed my mind to have a “contest” for republicans as to exactly which church/denomination should be the patron church for the country. If we did this contest right, the republicans would either destroy each other, or be kept busy for a century fighting it out, and we could quietly get on with governing the country.

    • Actually, I think that they already are busily doing just that. 🙄 A solid percentage of the dislike of Romney is because he’s …. Mormon, you know. 😯

  2. I am in agreement with you. I get tired of all the back and forth over any candidate’s religious beliefs – or lack of them. I also get tired of the whining these very people do when the result of their self-praising is the media asking, or pontificating, about their religion. All of a sudden the person is being unfairly picked on! My advice, shush up on the issue.

    I am a religious man, but my relationship with God is between God and me – not the rest of the world!

    • Or, they complain when someone points out that their actions aren’t quite matching up with their professed religious beliefs.

      My attitude has always been that if I want to hear someone preaching, I will go to church. If I want to hear what policies are planned for the country, I’ll go to a political debate. I’d rather not think I walked into a revival meeting instead of a political debate, or try to combine the two.

  3. It’s been about 15 years since we lived in the South but when we first got there I was shocked when local candidates out canvassing told you first off which church they attended.

    My first, in my head response, was : “Who figging cares about your church. What will you do for your constituents?” I did learn and it was not often pretty.

    NO religion has any place in our politics and it really is about time we got real aggressive with this caca! I would really like to see all churches and religious groups pay some share of taxes for a change. They have gotten a free ride for way to long. They want to be political, then let them pay to play!

    • I think my reaction would be “Fine. What, pray tell, does that have to do with getting the roads fixed, the schools running, and attracting business to the area?” It must be a regional thing, because I don’t ever recall hearing a politician (even the Republicans) run that line out in local/state offices. Mostly, because the issues most people really care about when it comes to government turn out to have nothing to do with religious beliefs or lack thereof.

  4. Thanks for Matthew 6, Norbrook. I often remind some on the Right that Jesus did not approve of public displays of religion, but it makes no difference to them. They continue to insist that politicians publicly display their Christianity and demonize those like PBO who refuse to do so. As you have documented, in spite of what they say/believe, the Founders specifically prohibited the use of religion as a qualification for a political position. IMO, if one is secure in one’s beliefs no constant reinforcement is needed. I also wonder how many others these adherents to public displays of Christianity will be able to convert if they continue to alienate them with their religious authoritarianism.

  5. Space Chief

    Thomas Jefferson noted that religion neither picked his pocket nor broke his leg. He also thought that America would be so over religion by now…

    When religious ignorance trumps science, gets in the way of medical research and all the other ugly things it has tried to impose on American society, it more than breaks legs and picks pockets. It destroys lives and leaves those who in Paine’s words, “would be said to perish, rather than to die”

    • I don’t know if he thought it’d be over religion, but Jefferson did have some very strong opinions about churches and the state.

      In 1779 he proposed “The Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom,” which was adopted in 1786. Its goal was complete separation of church and state; it declared the opinions of men to be beyond the jurisdiction of the civil magistrate. He asserted that the mind is not subject to coercion, that civil rights have no dependence on religious opinions, and that the opinions of men are not the concern of civil government. This became one of the American charters of freedom. This elevated declaration of the freedom of the mind was hailed in Europe as “an example of legislative wisdom and liberality never before known.”[22]

      From 1784 to 1786, Jefferson and James Madison worked together to oppose Patrick Henry’s attempts to assess general taxes in Virginia to support churches. Instead, in 1786, the Virginia General Assembly passed Jefferson’s Bill for Religious Freedom, which he had first submitted in 1779

      • Space Chief

        It is with some fascination that one who studies the more private writings of Jefferson finds that as he drew closer to his death, Jefferson increasingly distanced himself from any belief in a supernatural being and expressing a hope to see its continued declined to near nothing within our society. In just a few years he went from the generally perceived view of himself as a Unitarian, “there is not a young man now living in the US who will not die an Unitarian.” (1822) to finally, in a letter to Adams in the year of his death, “It is not to be understood that I am with him [Jesus] in all his doctrines. I am a Materialist.”, which of course precludes the existence of a supernatural being. Jefferson seemed confident that science and reason would eventually win the day.

        It was Jefferson’s desire for America to shake off its cling to phantasm and he thought surely those who would follow him would gain an ever clearer view and sense of freedom to declare it so. Of course, we know now that persistence of clergy and the effects of immigration soon dashed any hope of that. As he concluded his life, waves of German and Dutch immigrants were establishing ever greater colonies of their respective religious beliefs – predominantly Lutheran and Catholic with a healthy dose of the Amish and Mennonite sects of the day in the more western and less settled parts of Pennsylvania and throughout Ohio.

        Though he was well aware of his castigation, as it was, by some in certain pockets of the population for what they rightly perceived to be a disdain for religion in general – and especially of priestcraft – he still tried to keep his personal views more privately to himself than his contemporary, Paine. Paine of course, made himself infamous (which is primarily why he is so tragically uncelebrated today) with the publication of ‘The Age of Reason’. Never was he shy though about absolute separation from law and state the, ‘depravity’ of clergy.

        This is not definitive proof of course, of my assertion above – I was rather limited in time when I posted to be more articulate. There’s a reason why the Texas textbook re-write of two years ago sought to much diminish TJ’s influence on early American doctrine. It can only be concluded that – if he could do away without force – all of religion – he quite readily would.

        • Well, I think you’re reading more into it than you should. Being a materialist does not necessarily preclude belief in a deity. Which is why the scholars say he’s a deist – that it, he believed there was a God, but not necessarily in religion.

          • Just a little tid bit. Our UU church always gave a celebration for all graduating high school seniors and each was given a copy of the “Jefferson Bible.” It’s very interesting reading.

            It is also necessary to say that UU’s preach no dogma and welcome all, both believers and nonbelievers.

  6. Ironically, while JFK’s Catholicism was seen as a liability, John Kerry’s supposed liability was that he wasn’t considered Catholic enough, i.e. his stance on abortion.

    • Yes, because it became a “litmus test” with various conservative groups. Right now one of the “liabilities” Romney and Huntsman face is that they’re Mormon. Now, I can come up with a lot of reasons I’m against them, but their religion has nothing to do with why.

  7. Now as to where one’s religious beliefs are a benefit is like the restraint it brings upon me not to use a baseball bat on the empty headed idiocy from a couple of conservatives I’ve been having an immigration debate with!

    If I hear them say just one more time that building the fence first is their idea of compromise, I am going to scream! 🙄

    • Well, there’s that version of the Serenity Prayer, where you pray for the wisdom to hide the bodies …. 😛 👿

      I understand you, after all, I debate birthers. 🙄