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February 18, 2007

Who needs faith?

Nathan Newman writes:

There's a bit of a furor that Mitt Romney declared:

We need to have a person of fiath lead the country.

So what? I disagree with the statement, but it's no different in kind from someone saying they support Obama because they think we need a person of color as President, or saying they support Clinton because it's high time a woman was President. There's no violation of the Constitution for VOTERS to vote their religious beliefs, just as ethnic and racial solidarity has been common in elections without violating the 14th Amendment.

And at some level, why shouldn't a person's religious beliefs be relevant?

Mitt Romney is implying that you can't be a good president unless you're a religious believer.  He's deluded, of course. On the other hand, I'm not surprised or offended by his blithe dismissal of atheists higher office.

Mitt's entitled to support whoever he wants for president--including his own personal, faithful self. He's entitled to run on whatever platform he wants, including the false claim that only the faithful can be good presidents.

It's just kind of a stupid for Mitt the Mormon to start a person-of-faith pissing match. The thing is, most American voters agree that only God-loving folk can be good presidents. Unfortunately for Mitt, a significant percentage of those religious believers regard Mitt's God as fictional and his faith as heresy. Every single person he's running against has a more mainstream faith than he does. So, I'd advise him to tread carefully.

All previous American presidents have at least publicly professed a belief in God. Some of them were good. There doesn't seem to be any correlation between which God they believed in and how good they were at being president.

What really matters is a president's policy positions, not his or her religious identity. An atheist president with Mitt's agenda would still be a bad president.

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Comments

What really matters is a president's policy positions, not his or her religious identity. An atheist president with Mitt's agenda would still be a bad president.

I'd have to slightly dissent with you here. I think that first and foremost you have to consider a president's mentality, a lot of which can be gleaned from the sorts of statements they make about religion. William Jennings Bryan would probably have policy positions very similar to your's or mine (at least economically speaking), but you also have to take into account that he was a religious nutjob who epitomized fundamentalism in the same way the current Decider in Chief does.

I wouldn't want the election to come down to Dominionist Democrat and a somewhat rationalist Republican, but I certainly wouldn't discount voting for the latter out of hand.

I agree that a true Dominionist couldn't be a good president because s/he couldn't vow to uphold the Constitution. I'm assuming that the essence of being a practicing Dominionist is that you believe that the Constitution should be replaced by some kind of "Christian" law.

I'm just saying that being religious shouldn't disqualify someone from higher office, per se. History has shown that it's possible to be an excellent political leader and have devout religious beliefs.

The interesting thing to me about Romney's statement is that he said it in response to criticism from someone who was attacking him for being Mormon. It's a classic tactic -- he gets attacked by a religious bigot, and he defends himself by defining himself and the attacker in opposition to an other who is even more other. Very slick.

But he didn't say anything about instituting a formal requirement, so the umbrage about how he should read the constitution is just baseless. All I can really say is "well, I wouldn't vote for you anyway, but I hope that this loses you more votes than it gains you." And shrug. Atrios's point is more relevant, I think -- "people of faith" is an empty and ridiculous concept, useful mainly for co-opting Jews and Mormons and other religious minorities.

Though one could make the case that having a Commander in Chief who acts out of faith in certain fantasies, rather than facts that can be supported by a preponderance of evidence, has gotten the US (not to mention the rest of the world) in a whole lot of trouble lately...

In Duane Reade two days ago, I heard a woman have a conversation that would have gotten her hung not terribly long ago ("all religions are basically the same, christians and jews and muslims are all worshipping the same god, they just disagree on some of the details," etc.). I think you'd be hard pressed to find 5% of the population familiar with the concept of heresy. It would be possible to goad the most extreme factions of the religious right into sectarian squabbling, but no one with the standing to do it has an interest in picking that fight.

Romney hates gays and abortions. That's all that matters (although actually I don't think he's going to go anywhere, because there's far too much evidence that he doesn't hate gays and abortions as much as he now claims).

(for the record, she also threw in some astrology; the conversation took place as part of what sounded like a cell-phone tarot card reading. The combination made me sort of pine for that old-time religion myself)

I'm assuming that the essence of being a practicing Dominionist is that you believe that the Constitution should be replaced by some kind of "Christian" law.

In a reality-based sense it is true, and the goal of the Dominionist movement is such. The methodology has changed, however, and they now propagate a gigantic ahistorical myth that America was the product of Christian dominion and was fine like that until those evil liberal secular commie "elites" proceeded to undermine it all.

Political context has to be considered. In the early-mid 20th. century secularists (meaning advocates of church-state separation) were actually better represented in the Republican party than the Dems, cutting all the way from progressives like Robert M. La Follette, J.r and William E. Borah to staunch conservatives like Bob Taft, while the Dems were associated with nutballs William Jennings Bryan. And seeing as the Dems seem to be entertaining a certain zeal from their long missed success in traditionally conservative areas of the country, there is no guarantee that this state of affairs can't rear it's ugly head once again.

In conclusion, I guess all I'm saying is that the religious opinions matter more than most people are willing to admit. A fundamentalist whackjob is a fundamentalist whackjob whether economically populist or free market idealist. I wouldn't vote for either.

Romney is not deluded; he is deluding - us. He knows exactly what he is doing - trying to pull theistic political privilege far enough to cover himself under the shield of its good will. He is not engaging in a discussion, but is angling selling a product, Mitt version 13.0 beta version. 13.1 and 13.101 will emerge from the response.

One cannot even for a moment reasonably take what this man says at face value.

The comparison Newman above of Romney's statement with someone who says we need an african american president is also a bit off, I think. Romney seems to be implying that _only_ a 'person of faith' can be qualified to be president while few, if any, people who would say we need an African American president think that _only_ such could lead us as opposed to thinking that there are other good benefits of having such a president. Something similar applies for a woman president. So, the comparison doesn't really work and Romney's position, widely believed though it may be, is the more vile and stupid.

I bet Romney really believes that only a God-believer could be a good president. It's sad, but most Americans think so.

As I think janet pointed out, Romney's making a shameless plea for sympathy from fellow persons-of-faith--in response to a bigoted POF who thinks his brand of Christianity is the be all and end all, no less. That takes some serious chutzpah, as my POF ancestors might have said...

The rather insulting assumption on Romney's part is that most of his fellow POFs won't regard his religion as being in mortal conflict with their F's, or that they won't care because at least he's got some F-f'in-F-or-other.

He's right, look how well it's worked out for us since the turn of the century.

As an aside, it is rather entertaining to watch POF's cannibalize one another over the proper interpretation of the F in question. I still fail to grasp what the F it is about this F that makes it so F'ing important to the F'ers in how they vote. F sucks dick.

The real reason for this talk comes from, not even Conservative talking points, but from the general beliefs of the conservative movement, one of which states that a person who has some sort of religious faith is more likely to be a person of good character than a person who doesn't.

You could easily criticize this on the grounds that if faith and living in accordance with sort of higher law are required for good character then it doesn't matter if it's the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, something made up yeseterday, it still will be valid if it causes you to live a better life.

From the point of view of atheism I suppose that the right tactic to counter this isn't to talk about 'made up person in the sky' but to argue that atheists can have strong characters too.

Just a general note--usually when conservatives talk about things like the importance of faith they mean something different from simple belief in a 'made up person in the sky' and mean things more along the lines of morality, living a good life, being above what they see as secular trends dragging down the quality of life.

Criticizing them on the grounds of 'made up people in the sky' misses the point and just makes them think that you don't understand what it is they're saying, which is often true...

I agree with Matt in his Comment above:

Nathan Newman is conflating the obnoxious position of Mitt Romney, that no atheist should ever be president, with the reasonable view that it would be good for our diverse society by having a black or female president sometime soon.

He's not saying that an atheist can't be president. That's so obvious it doesn't need saying. He's saying that an ordinary rational churchgoer can't be president. No more Eisenhowers or Roosevelts or even George W. Bushes. No, you've got to wear your religion on your sleeve and be guided by your faith in everything you do. Anyone who makes decisions based on facts, reason, and experience is not qualified to be president.

Well, I’d write a long comment about why Mitt’s blithe dismissal of atheists does rather offend me as an atheist, implying as it does that any atheist is necessarily immoral, but I’m all tuckered out after spending the day working little old ladies over with a crowbar for their purses.

I see concentric circles in a Venn diagram: people of faith; right-wing people of faith; people of right-wing faith. Romney is inside that last, innermost circle. In this century, a candidate who believes that the First Americans were descended, at least in part, from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel must be intellectually disqualified for the presidency, just as a creationist or intellectual racist (someone who, without malice, believes, as did Bryan, that e.g. African-Americans are natively stupider than whites) is disqualified. My religion is a major part of my identity, and if Who I Am debars me now from such minimal achievements as knowing that species evolve by natural selection and that all the evidence is against an Israeli migration to these shores 2500 years ago, then I shouldn't be president. The Republicans might as well nominate someone who believes as an article of faith that the moon landings were faked.

In this century, a candidate who believes that the First Americans were descended, at least in part, from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel must be intellectually disqualified for the presidency …

There’s nothing in the Constitution about any intellectual qualification for the president’s office. No hooey Mr. Romney believes about aboriginal American origins will bar him from office, nor, given the average voter’s knowledge of, or interest in, science and history, will it prevent his election. It should be interesting to see what happens if President Mitt takes a junket to Guatemala.

everyone should probably just listen to blind lemon jefferson's "all i want is that pure religion". that'd clear things up nicely.

side-note to dabodius: the moon landings WERE faked. yeah.

With those "Left Behind" fantasies so hot among the Christian Right now, and 25% of Americans supposedly anticipating the return of Jesus this year, I'd very much like to hear the views of the candidates on the Book of Revelations, and how its contents will affect their foreign policy. I wish in fact someone had tried to pin down the current President on that.

general beliefs of the conservative movement, one of which states that a person who has some sort of religious faith is more likely to be a person of good character than a person who doesn't

Summerisle, I would really like it if religious people with such a belief could recognize it as the bigotry it is. I am truly offended that I am expected to prove my own ethics while a man who served his wife divorce papers while she was in the hospital with cancer is given a pass because he's nominally a Christian (ie Newt). Come to think of it, I am a person of my word as opposed to that supposed Christian who swore an oath to GOD to preserve and protect the Constitution and who disregards that oath constantly.

Personally, I am less interested in having a person of faith in the White House as having a faithful person there. It would be nice to have some politicians who actually believed in their oath of office.

I think what Mitt said is roughly what I'd expect. It's nothing surprising, and nothing I haven't heard before.

However, what Nathan Newman said kind of did surprise me. Nathan writes as if the case of "Person of Faith as president" and "woman as president" or "african-american as president" were equivalent. No: we've never had a woman or an african-american as president. We've had plenty of people of faith, a dominance which has been increasing in recent history. (Jefferson would be totally unelectable today, for example.) Saying "we need to have a person of faith lead the country" is more like saying "we need to have a white person lead the country" or "we need to have a man lead the country."

As for myself, I've always thought that the essence of being a Dominionist should be the belief that our government should be replaced by vorta ambassadors enforcing the will of the Founders in the gamma quadrant with the help of genetically engineered Jem'Hadar soldiers, coopting our current political leaders or replacing them with more oppurtunistic collaborators.

See, I would argue that the problem for Romney is not that he's a religious bigot but that he (and whoever on his campaign approved going ahead with this statement) is a dumb politician.

He could have said that a president has to be a person of faith, and it would, arguably, have been true - 53% of voters surveyed said that they wouldn't vote for an athiest. Roughly the same statement for dogwhistle purposes, but not explicitly calling for a litmus test.

Sadly for him, almost half that many wouldn't vote for a mormon, and given the composition of our voting bases, I'm guessing that most of the fierce sectarians are voting on his side of the primaries.

Meanwhile, the evangelical leadership have come out against roundheels Giuliani and his prochoice record and they really, really don't like McCain (the black baby story in SC came from a professor at BJU, where he hasn't yet been invited to go)

It'd be fun running against Brownback and Tancredo. Me, I'm looking forward to it. Of course, if Hunter would promise to get indicted for any of the massive scandals percolating over at Armed Services I could be convinced to switch my support...

See, I would argue that the problem for Romney is not that he's a religious bigot but that he (and whoever on his campaign approved going ahead with this statement) is a dumb politician.

He could have said that a president has to be a person of faith, and it would, arguably, have been true - 53% of voters surveyed said that they wouldn't vote for an athiest. Roughly the same statement for dogwhistle purposes, but not explicitly calling for a litmus test.

Sadly for him, almost half that many wouldn't vote for a mormon, and given the composition of our voting bases, I'm guessing that most of the fierce sectarians are voting on his side of the primaries.

Meanwhile, the evangelical leadership have come out against roundheels Giuliani and his prochoice record and they really, really don't like McCain (the black baby story in SC came from a professor at BJU, where he hasn't yet been invited to go)

It'd be fun running against Brownback and Tancredo. Me, I'm looking forward to it. Of course, if Hunter would promise to get indicted for any of the massive scandals percolating over at Armed Services I could be convinced to switch my support...

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