Bill Keller suggests: Let’s make this campaign about all the GOP candidates’ religious beliefs

This is the first post you’ll read here about Bill Keller’s New York Times op-ed, Asking Candidates Tougher Questions About Faith.  But it won’t be the last.  Our time is limited right now – John’s just now re-entering normal life after a long and well-earned vacation, and I’ve been in trial.  But we had to say something about Keller’s piece.

Hugh Hewitt summarizes:

Former editor of the New York Times Bill Keller is out with a piece that encourages his colleagues in the Manhattan-Beltway media elite to do their best to stoke the fires of religious intolerance by turning this presidential campaign into the occasion for an inquisition into all of the Republicans’ religious beliefs.

Hugh’s not exaggerating. These early Keller paragraphs will give you a sense of his direction:

[W]hen it comes to the religious beliefs of our would-be presidents, we are a little squeamish about probing too aggressively. Michele Bachmann was asked during the Iowa G.O.P. debate what she meant when she said the Bible obliged her to “be submissive” to her husband, and there was an audible wave of boos — for the question, not the answer. There is a sense, encouraged by the candidates, that what goes on between a candidate and his or her God is a sensitive, even privileged domain, except when it is useful for mobilizing the religious base and prying open their wallets.

This year’s Republican primary season offers us an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life — and to get over them. We have an unusually large number of candidates, including putative front-runners, who belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans.

He goes on to detail the areas of inquiry he proposes, including:

  • What Michele Bachmann meant when she said,  during the Iowa G.O.P. debate, that (in Keller’s language) “the Bible obliged her to ‘be submissive’ to her husband.”
  • That “Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons, a faith that many conservative Christians have been taught is a ‘cult’ and that many others think is just weird.”
  • That “Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are both affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity — and Rick Santorum comes out of the most conservative wing of Catholicism.”
  • “[Whether] a candidate places fealty to the Bible, the Book of Mormon (the text, not the Broadway musical) or some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this country.”
  • “[Whether] a candidate is going to be a Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed.”

There are more.  He also announced he has sent the Republican candidates “a little questionnaire (which you can find on The 6th Floor blog).”  The questions include:

  • Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that America is a “Christian nation” or a “Judeo-Christian nation?” and what does that mean in practice?
  • Would you have any hesitation about appointing a Muslim to the federal bench? What about an atheist?
  • What is your attitude toward the theory of evolution, and do you believe it should be taught in public schools?

He promises:  “We’ll be posting the campaigns’ answers — if any — on nytimes.com. And if they don’t answer, let’s keep on asking. Because these are matters too important to take on faith.”

So now we have an announced inquiry – or inquisition, using Hugh’s figure – by America’s “newspaper of record” into what one party’s candidates believe about God.  This is, in a word, outrageous.  It deserves to be met with full-throated condemnation from people of good will everywhere, no matter what their political views.  It needs to be exposed as un-American.

Watch this space.  We’ll be part of that effort.

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