This campaign is knee-deep in religion, and it’s only going to get worse. I’d thought that the limits of professed public piety had already been achieved during the Republican CNN/YouTube debate when some squirrelly looking guy held up a Bible and asked, “Do you believe every word of this book?” — and not one candidate dared reply: None of your damn business.
Instead, Giuliani, Romney and Huckabee bent a knee and tried appeasement with various interpretations of scriptural literalism. The right answer, the only answer, is that the very question is offensive. The Constitution prohibits any religious test for office. And while that proscribes only government action, the law is also meant to be a teacher.
Krauthammer saves special mention for Romney. This is because The Speech was far and away the most reasonable utterance by a candidate in the subject to date, but the point Krauthammer makes refers to my biggest and only serious “wince point” in the whole Speech:
Romney has been faulted for not throwing at least one bone of acknowledgment to nonbelievers in his big religion speech last week. But he couldn’t, because the theme of the speech was that there was something special about having your values drawn from religious faith.
Krauthammer is right here, but the question is, what is a Republican candidate to do? Krauthammer is making the case that the candidates are to lead, not follow, on this issue, but they also have to get elected. As the rush to Huck has shown there are a lot of votes in the religion label. George Will said a couple of weeks ago as the Huckaboom exploded onto the national stage:
If Huckabee succeeds in derailing Romney’s campaign by raising a religious test for presidential eligibility, that will be clarifying: In one particular, America was more enlightened a century ago.
I think Will is being proven right; in such a less-enlightened environment, it is leadership to attempt to move the country back in the right direction, even if that is a baby-step and not all the way into the proper perspective. Krauthammer concludes:
But apparently not in the campaign of 2008. It’s two centuries since the passage of the First Amendment and our presidential candidates still cannot distinguish establishment from free exercise.
I think that is not a completely unfair statement, but I also think it is far more true of the Republican voter than it is of Romney, certainly, and probably most of the other candidates, with the possible exception of Huckabee.
Leadership is a tricky thing. One must create a sufficient connection with those he is attempting to lead for them to want to follow. If you run too far ahead they will simply wander off.
I am far more concerned about the rank-and-file Republicans that are insisting on this discussion. I do not think they are a majority, but they do win the volume contest and more important, they win the press attention contest because the press wants this religious stuff front and center. It makes good copy.
Moreover, in the end, as we of religion battle this out, the voices of secularism, which you can hear in background of Krauthammer’s piece, sound more and more reasonable. In the end religion will lose unless it can learn to play the game by the firmly established rules. It is not enough in America to argue on the lines, “God said it, I believe it, and that is that.”
What makes Americans unique is that we do not hold government as the agency of God, even the generic, non-descript God of the political, or civic, religion. Our government is an agency of men, actually it is an agency of law established by men. Recall the invocation of the Almighty in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights [emphasis added - as if you didn't know that] . . . .
The way things work in this nation is that God acts through man. This means the role of religion is to change people, who then change law which then changes government. If I, as a person who has been changed by God, want to change law, then under the rules of our nation, I have to convince people, regardless of whether God has changed them or not, that that such a change is good for them. A mere claim of Divine authority is insufficient.
The religious voice has gotten lazy in this country. We are numerous enough that we can make the party with which we are most closely affiliated come to us. But we are not numerous enough to win the big prize. We have got to play by the rules or we will lose.
Tocqueville warned of the “Tyranny of the Majority.” If we play this game by labels and brands, and by flavors of religion, we come dangerously close to giving reality to his fears. Frankly, it is in response to those fears that our society secularized as much as it has.
One final thought: Playing politics by politics rules is not inherently an “un-Christian” thing to do. Many people fear this. Politics is religiously, and value neutral. Losing is not irreligious nor un-Christian in this context, it is simply losing. We have a choice to make when confronted with a political loss. Take our ball, declare moral victory, go home and watch the nation rot, or figure out how to win according to the rules.
The movie “Amazing Grace” is very instructive on this front. William Wilberforce gave up at one point because he lost so much. But he played by the rules and in the end, God won.
Lowell’s post-script: I agree fully with John. I also agree that the 2008 candidates must respond in some way to the electorate’s wishes. Romney would certainly rather be talking to the voters about his policy vision for the nation than about his belief in Christ, but we have right now a GOP electorate (and a cheerleading MSM) that insists on religious expressions by the Republican candidates. Many of my friends among politically conservative Christianity have not been helpful in this regard. In his responses to these pressures, especially The Speech, Romney has shown leadership. I don’t think the others, particularly Huckabee, have. K-LO certainly does not think so.
I also liked Krauthammer’s comments on the significance of the Constitution’s Article VI:
The Constitution prohibits any religious test for office. And while that proscribes only government action, the law is also meant to be a teacher.
In the same way that civil rights laws established not just the legal but also the moral norm that one simply does not discriminate on the basis of race — changing the practice of one generation and the consciousness of the next — so the constitutional injunction against religious tests is meant to make citizens understand that such tests are profoundly un-American.
Occasionally, readers here complain that we confuse Article VI’s prohibition on religious tests by the government with restraints on how people may vote. We know the difference. One of our goals on this blog is to use Article VI as the teacher Krauthammer describes.