Article VI Blog

"Religion, Politics, the Presidency: Commentary by a Mormon, an Evangelical, and an Orthodox Christian"

United States Constitution — Article VI:

"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

  • Coming For Religion

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:28 am, July 31st 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    We have covered here before the Venture man and his ugly, nasty sign.  That story has now broken big – New York magazine.  The story is about a Ventura, California nutcase that erected an enormous neon sign in the build up to the election proclaiming Romney a racist because of his Mormon faith.  Post election local authorities have tried to force him to take it down.  It is, after all, one heck of a zoning violation.  The guy won’t do it and is now doing a little jail time.

    The story – nutcase violates zoning laws, ends up in jail due to eccentricity – is not uncommon.  It is usually fodder as a local feature and everybody gets to chortle a bit at the odd and colorful local strange guy.  But for such a story in a small California community to make news in a major New York outlet, well, that is extraordinary.  Why is it happening?  It cannot be a Romney angle really, he is done politically.

    Is it a Mormon thing?  Liberals, especially the same-sex marriage advocate arm thereof, bear a deep and abiding animus towards Mormons for their role in the passage of Prop 8.  So accusing a prominent Mormon of being racist is something liberals are going to latch onto – it seemingly helps make their point that opposition to same-sex marriage is robbing someone of a fundamental right.  I think there is something here – but even that, in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decisions does not seem like enough to drive this story onto the national stage.

    Of course there is the “freedom of speech” angle.  But that is long settled law when it comes to zoning issues and local neighborhood covenants.  That angle is usually reserved for the fellow-nutcase sections of the Internet.  That is certainly ot enough to drive this to this someplace like New York Magazine.

    Buried deep in the story is this goody:

    Showers, a surprisingly soft-spoken 60-year-old white Christian Republican…

    And there dear friends is the heart of the matter.  This is intrareligious conflict threatening to explode into “sectarian violence.”  Not to mention it paints religious people as unreasonable and bad neighbors.  That’s what this story is about – it is a chance to paint religious people of several strips as bad.  They quote Showers extensively in his accusations of racism inherent in Mormonism.  And while he, the Evangelical, does so he makes Evangelicals look bad too.  Why, it’s just like the Shi’a/Sunni conflicts in many Islamic nations.

    Any opportunity to paint religion as unreasonable and discriminatory and wrong is the order of the day in the mainstream media.  This unremarkable, ancient history, local story gives them an opportunity so we read about it in the pages of New York magazine.  Showers bona fides as a traditional Christian are not really established – no church affiliation is mentioned, no training, just an assertion.  But that makes little difference in a an age of dying denominations and “spiritual but not religious.”  The quality of the journalism is not the issue, religious intolerance is.

    It is going to get ugly for those of us of faith and we have got to get smart about how to respond.

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    “An Acceptable Prejudice?”

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 07:48 am, July 29th 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    This essay by Thomas C. Terry, an associate Professor of Journalism at Idaho State University.  According to his official bio, Dr. Terry is “the former editor, publisher, and owner of a small chain of weekly newspapers in western Illinois and is a past president of the Illinois Press Association.”  His piece tells a familiar story about prejudice, from a personal experience at an academic conference during the 2008 election cycle.  He notes:

    In 2009, The Daily Beast compiled a listing of the top 25 safest and 25 most dangerous college campuses in America, based on two-year per capita data from 9,000 campuses with at least 6,000 students. The two states with the highest proportion of Mormons did pretty well in the safest category: #5 was Idaho State University, Pocatello, where I work;  #13 was Utah State University, Logan, and #17 was Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. No Utah or Idaho schools were on the most dangerous list.

    And yet, nestled in the midst of all the good publicity, was this comment about BYU: “Joseph Smith’s golden plates would have been safe at Brigham Young.” Would the Daily Beast have said this: “The tablets of the Ten Commandments would have been safe at Brandeis University” or “at Notre Dame University?” Not very likely. But this sort of flippant and biased comment about Mormons is somehow socially acceptable. Responsible people don’t use “Indian giver” anymore (and we shouldn’t). But we Welch on deals and get away Scot-free. I have a sprinkling of Welsh and Scottish blood in me, and I don’t appreciate those comments.

    There is nothing surprising or new here, but Prof. Terry’s essay reminds us of the heavily-stacked deck that certain segments of American society face as they try to make their way in today’s political game.  Not only Mormons, but traditionally religious people generally are acceptable targets.  It’s a problem for the country.

    Think about it: If you are a religious person, how comfortable do you feel describing yourself as such in academic circles — or in any setting where politically liberal feeling predominates?  I personally don’t mind doing that at all, but I know many people justifiably feel pressure to keep quiet, lest they meet with condescension or awkward, embarrassed silence.

    How many movies or TV shows have you seen in which religion and religious figures are portrayed in a positive light?  Yes, there are a few exceptions, but South Park and The Simpsons are more the rule.

    With that, I’ll end on a positive note.  I recently watched “Higher Ground,” a very respectful movie not only about people of faith but also about skeptics.  It is a “small” movie that probably played only in art houses (I found it on a long plane ride). Vera Farmiga, a well-known actress, starred and directed.  Farmiga was raised in a strong Christian environment by her Ukrainian immigrant parents, but is now a skeptic.  If you think someone with such a background would necessarily create an anti-religious movie, watch “Higher Ground” and you will probably think again.

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    A Cause For Concern

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:33 am, July 26th 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Warning Signs – - -

    From Politico this morning:

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is ripping libertarians – including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)….

    [...]

    “This strain of libertarianism that’s going through parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought,” the New Jersey governor said on Thursday at a Republican governors forum in Aspen, Colo. “You can name any number of people and (Paul is) one of them.”

    Uh-oh, one of our party’s “heavyweights” decides to go after another by name in public.  Not a good sign.  The last thing our party needs right now is more internal strife.

    Then there is this from Kristen Rudolph at the Institute of Religion and Democracy:

    A new study by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Brookings Institution found that 20 percent of Americans are “religious progressives,” 28 percent are “religious conservatives,” and the majority (38 percent) describe themselves as “religious moderates” (15 percent are non-religious). The Huffington Post reported the story with the headline “Religious Progressives Predicted to Outnumber Conservatives, Survey Finds,” implying a dramatic shift in the religious/political landscape.

    Rudolph goes on to examine the study in details and tries to find a picture somewhat less bleak than initial indications, but she is only moderately successful.

    Perspective On Them…

    These two trends, a rise in “religious progressives” and a rise in libertarians go hand in hand.  And yes that means that while Christie’s comments were political unwise, they were philosophically quite good.  Leave it to Jim Geraghty, discussing something entirely unrelated, to tell us why:

    If you’re socially conservative, your values are likely shaped by a Judeo-Christian teaching that every person is created by God and thus deserving of respect, etc….

    [...]

    If you’re libertarian, one of your core tenets is the value of the individual and the need to protect the rights of the individual –….

    There you have it.  I would be fascinated to know how many “religious progressives” are libertarians?  Being a religious progressive or conservative is more about the social issues than economics, the size of government or foreign policy.  Libertarians are basically conservatives that have jettisoned the social issues.  That there would be a lot of cross current between these libertarians and religious progressives seems likely.  Both strains have problems when lined up against traditional Christianity, or even more heterodox forms of Christianity like Mormonism.

    If indeed a religious progressive is a person of faith with a differing stand on social issues like abortion and same sex marriage and, if Christian which most are, then they are Christians that have somehow divorced their theology from any practical application other than some sense of personal well-being or satisfaction.  Libertarians, as people who place individual freedom above most other concerns, relegate religion to the realm of personal expression and satisfaction.  In both cases religion is left out of the public square.

    And yet religion from its inception has been a means of ordering society.  Christianity’s uniqueness lies in that fact that it seeks to order the individual as a means to ordering society, but it remains about more than merely individual satisfaction.  In fact it teaches us explicitly that we are to “count others as more important than ourselves.”

    Religious progressives are likely to affiliate politically with Democrats.  Libertarians; however, are largely Republicans.  These means that from both sides of the aisle there is a significant movement towards relegating faith to the sidelines and reducing it to a matter purely of personal choice and satisfaction – that is to say total secularization.  This is what makes Christie’s comment so right on a philosophical level.

    While our nation is not explicitly Christian it is designed to operate well only when there are non-governmental forces at play designed to elevate the people.  By design if our nation is to be good, then the people must also be good.  Our government is not designed to order society, it is designed to give the people a means to order themselves.  But the desire for order and the shape of that order is elsewhere defined.  To this point in history Christianity has done a better job, albeit not a perfect one, than any other faith of providing both that desire and that shape.

    The way to resolve this dilemma is probably not to attempt to bombastically out yell the libertarians of our party as Chris Christie has done here.  But he is to be applauded for helping us to see the very serious issues inherent in the movement.  The brink that our nation stands upon is not defined so much politically as it is religiously and philosophically.  We stand on the brink of taking God off the altar and replacing Him with the individual.  Whether from the left or the right, to do so is to court chaos.  The result of such would simply be an endless and bloody battle between all of us about which individual should assume the altar.   We will all want to be there and there is not enough room for all of us.

    The resolution lies not in politics, but in church.  The question is will the church step up?

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    Irreligious Fervor

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:49 am, July 20th 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    Two article crossed my desk this morning that reminded me of just how much energy there is behind the forces that seek to eliminate religion from the public spaces.  One was Eric Metaxas answering, for about the billionth time, the charge that religion was absent from the founding.  The other was CNN dealing with responses to its “new” taxonomy of non-belief.  Why, I wonder, are people so energized to “kill” faith?

    Historically, religious persecution is at its zenith when it religion most threatens to radically change the social order.  The Romans killed Christians en masse until the empire itself was declared Christian.  It seems like when you cannot win in the arena of ideas, you simply quash your opponent with force.

    It seems different in America right now because faith is not the insurgent, but is rather being pushed from “the throne” by seemingly insurgent secular forces.  But one must ask why, in a free society, does the minority seem so energized to crush the majority?  Within the bounds of reason and social order, unbelievers have been amongst us, happily, since the founding.  Even if we assume (not necessarily a good assumption) the secular to be the majority now, why must it crush the minority? – Why can it not let the “religious minority” exist in the relative peace enjoyed by the “prior minority”?

    I do not have all the answers.  I do think it is symptomatic that we still hold the advantage in the arena of ideas.  I do think that, despite its ugliness, it is cause for hope.

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    If Only It Were This Simple

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:11 am, July 15th 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    World Net Daily in not a source we generally examine on this blog.  But I think we have to in this instance – it’s an article entitled, “Did Romney’s faith cost him 2012 election?“  The article is a “review” of a book.  The review is a “WND Exclusive” and one notes when one checks the Amazon listing of the book that WND is the publisher.  And now you have your first reason why WND is a generally ignored source ’round these parts.  The second reason is that is this “review” is accurate in its recounting of the narrative of the book, the book is a waste of money – you can read it all on this blog for free.

    The book looks almost exclusively at press coverage of the issue of Romney’s faith.  The was virtually none in the general election and in the primary, once Robert Jeffress did his thing, is was more or less a dead issue in the press as well.  Amazon reports the book at 250 pages.  I’m guessing there is some pretty large print involved.  Either that or they spend an enormous amount of time examine the stupid and highly repetitive coverage of Mormonism generally that ran in local papers across the nation through out the cycle.

    What little analysis is present in the “review” is about as unsophisticated as things can get.  It is a straightforward examination of religious bias and repeats the tired “Romney was not Mormon enough” canard.  Little is said, at least in the “review,” about 2008 and one cannot understand Romney’s handling of the issue in 2012 without a deep understanding of what transpired in 2008.  The book cites academics in a couple of instances, but it does not cite campaign insiders, political professionals, or anyone that was anything other than a distant observer.  Based on the “review” this book is just to simple.

    I’m certainly not going to read this book, nor will I suggest that any of our readers do.  And I am undoubtedly going to be accused of condemnation without understanding because I have not read the book.  But one must assume that a publisher-produced “review” of a book is accurate in its depiction of the book and based on this review I do have a comment to make.

    This strikes me as little more than an attempt to publish an apologia for Evangelical tepidness during 2012 and a Pilate-like washing of the hands with regard to Obama’s already highly discreditable second term.  If the thesis of the book is indeed, as the “review” suggests, that Romney’s faith issue was that “Romney was not Mormon enough,” I can conclude nothing but excuse making.  One must remember that in 2008 Romney was pilloried for his Mormon faith and was subjected to countless inquiries on the theology, and in some cases practice (think about the controversy surrounding some of the ordinances), of that faith when they had no bearing on the election at all.  Inquiries that should have been quickly disposed of ended up consuming the candidate and his team, keeping them from addressing the very important issues that nation faced and that Obama’s administration has deeply exacerbated.

    Let’s face it.  There is a deeply distrustful streak about Mormonism inside Evangelicalism.  That’s bias, plain and simple.  In 2008 Romney was pounded on about his religion endlessly, so he chose to deflect all such talk in 2012.  But that did not make the distrust go away, just the press coverage.  And now the biased, er distrustful, seeing what their distrust hath wrought, feel compelled somehow justify the fact that they found the enthusiasm to vote for conservative propositions, but not the conservative presidential candidate.  Their chosen justification is blame shifting.  They did not trust Romney because he did not talk about his faith enough?!  Please, had he done so they would not have trusted him because “Mormonism is weird.”  Such is the very definition of bias and bigotry.

    And now I think we can go back to safely ignoring World Net Daily.

    Lowell adds . . .

    Part of the problem with the book John is addressing is that Jerome Corsi is the author. All I really know about Corsi is his body of work, which includes 3.1 “Unfit for Command,” about John Kerry as 2004 candidate; “The Obama Nation;” “Black Gold Stranglehold;” “Atomic Iran,” and “Where’s the Birth Certificate?” From Wikipedia:

    According to Corsi, “A video clip widely circulated on the Internet shows a test that pulverized an F-4 fighter on impact with a hardened target, providing evidence to answer 9/11 skeptics who question why so little identifiable airplane debris remained after the hijacked American Airlines Boeing 757 hit the Pentagon.” Audio and a Youtube video were circulated, especially among those questioning Corsi’s credibility, of Corsi’s January 29, 2008 interview on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ radio show. In the interview Corsi discusses “the findings of Steven Jones, physicist and hero of the ’9/11 Truth’ movement who claims to have evidence that the World Trade Center towers collapsed due to explosives inside the building, not just the planes hitting them, during the attacks.” Corsi cites Jones’ findings of microscopic forensic evidence which seemingly negates the U.S. government hypothesis that the aircraft’s jet fuel fired heat, alone, was sufficiently hot enough to collapse the steel superstructure of the buildings.

    (Footnotes omitted.) No, Wikipedia is not a scholarly source. But you get the idea.

    By the way, I want non-Mormons to stop telling us that Romney was “not Mormon enough.” I’m not going to be telling John whether he is being sufficiently Presbyterian, or telling my Catholic friends whether they are Catholic enough. I recognize that I have no idea what I am talking about in those regards.

    That’s the end of tonight’s rant.

    (Yes, I am back. Other than occasional Twitter posts, I have found writing about politics repulsive since last November. For whatever reason, I feel like wading around in the surf a little now. Maybe I’ll get out into the open water before too long.)

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    Going Wrong

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:35 am, July 12th 2013     &mdash      Comment on this post »

    A very prominent evangelical blogger interviews and insightful author:

    Mary Eberstadt, Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC, is widely hailed as “one of the most acute and creative social observers of our time” (Francis Fukuyama). George Will has called her “intimidatingly intelligent,” and George Weigel says she is “our premier analyst of American cultural foibles and follies, with a keen eye for oddities that illuminate just how strange the country’s moral culture has become.”

    [...]

    Like many Americans who have visited Europe, I was struck repeatedly by how secular some of the Continent’s societies are and how empty their churches. So the first reason I started researching into theories of secularization was simple curiosity: What makes formerly Christian precincts lose God?

    And the interesting thing about the existing literature is that none of the going answers really explain the decline of Christianity in parts of the West. As chapters in my book go to show, prosperity alone doesn’t drive out belief in God, and neither does education, rationalism, or science per se. Nor do the two world wars explain it, another commonly accepted explanation.

    So little by little I started re-arranging the pieces of this great intellectual puzzle, and what emerged was a new way of looking at it: one in which the fate of Christianity turns out to be more tightly tethered to the fate of the family than has been understood before.

    K-Lo asks who it is that is really fighting for religious freedom in America: (Hint: it is not the protestants or the Evangelicals and it is not some Catholic organizations)

    Why would we care about religious freedom, anyway, if our religious faith is but a

    In remarks earlier this week in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia’s archbishop Charles J. Chaput said: “The more secular we become, the less we care about the true, the right, and the lasting. And here’s the reason: We don’t really believe they exist. Or we simply don’t care.”

    Do you care about what you say you believe? Do you believe it? Do you care to know it, praying for ever-more clarity in the Light of Faith, as it were? These are the questions this HHS mandate injustice asks of us.

    “Our job as Christians is to remind our culture that true and right and lasting things do exist about human nature,” Chaput said, ”and if we abandon these things, we abandon who we are, and we abandon those who need us to speak on their behalf.”

    Reading these two things caused me to reflect deeply on the shifts that have occurred in American Protestantism in my life time.  The liberalization of the mainlines has turned them into, well dying institutions – in some cases they are among the living dead already.  It’s not surprising. Once efforts to reform turned into schism, such shifts between institutions becomes almost inevitable.

    What’s troubling is what replaced it.  Evangelicalism is half a religion.  It lacks institutional infrastructure and it has a very limited field of view.  It is religion completely personalized.  It is religion that demands dogmatic adherence to some aspects of behavior, but when society frowns on it, it retreats into a ghetto rather than fight back.  It assumes itself a minority when it is not.

    When I watch Evangelicals in America today I am reminded of nothing so much as the Jews – forced into ghettos by a society that needs but does not respect them.  For Jews, that was inevitable.  They are a small people group and they are not prone to soliciting conversion to swell their ranks.  But Evangelicals  suffer neither of those disadvantages.  So why the retreat to our own self-styled ghettos?

    I think if you answer K-Lo’s questions you will find the answer to my question – “Do you care about what you say you believe? Do you believe it?

    It seems like what happened is that people never took their faith that seriously.  So when liberalism invaded the mainlines, conservatives retreated to Evangelicalism rather than fight.  They remind me of Billy Bob Thornton in Tombstone.  All bluster and no fight.  They prey on the weak and have no stomach for a real fight with real fighters.  That truly is not taking your faith seriously because if we have faith we know we have unlimited power granted by the object of our faith.

    What Evangelicalism should be doing in making the weak strong.  Instead we make the strong weak.

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