The presidential election is nearly a year away, and the race to secure the GOP nomination is already in full swing. Yet despite a rather hum-drum assortment of candidates, media pundits everywhere are bewildered to once again behold that most quizzical of creatures: the conservative Christian.
Aside from the now-infamous “submission” question lobbed at Michele Bachmann during a recent debate, Ryan Lizza’s hatchet job on the Congresswoman serves as Exhibit A. Using a mix of hyperbole, misrepresentation, and pretentious grandstanding, Lizza drags Bachmann’s supposed politico-theological skeletons out of the closet in an attempt to “inform” the rest of us of this perplexing woman and her confounding beliefs.
The result? Another fault-ridden portrayal of the “extremists” who just so happen to make up about half of the country (anti-gay marriage, anti-evolution, anti-”science,” yadda yadda yadda). As usual, the folks who are supposed to be schooling us on what politicians really believe (“keepin ‘em honest!”) display an uncanny knack for being completely oblivious to Christian culture and digging only where they want and only when they’re in the mood to play “pretend.” (see Joe Carter’s full-throttle takedown of the piece here).
For Bill Keller, editor of The New York Times, Lizza’s piece is a different kind of Exhibit A. “Enlightening,” he calls it, for its illumination of Bachmann’s batty side, namely, her “spiritual and political mentors” who believe “homosexuality is an abomination” (gasp!) and who preach “the literal ‘inerrancy’ of the Bible” (as opposed to the inerrancy of An Inconvenient Truth).
“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,” says Keller. “We have an unusually large number of candidates, including putative front-runners, who belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans [i.e. the editorial staff of The New York Times].”
We must press these candidates in the areas where they might go too far, Keller says. It’s fine and dandy if such folks believe in silly things like transubstantiation (a doctrine Keller calls “baggage”…seriously), but when they believe in the authority of the Bible and the supremacy of God in public life, ya’ll better hold on to your trousers, cause it’s time to defend our democracy:
…I do want to know if a candidate places fealty to the Bible, the Book of Mormon…or some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this country. It matters to me whether a president respects serious science and verifiable history — in short, belongs to what an official in a previous administration once scornfully described as “the reality-based community.” I do care if religious doctrine becomes an excuse to exclude my fellow citizens from the rights and protections our country promises. And I care a lot if a candidate is going to be a Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed.
Wait, “divine instructions” as in, like, divine instructions, or divine instructions as in a copy of the IPCC report?
(“Prophet Gore…Paging Prophet Gore…”)
Where was I? Oh yeah: those kooky, Bible-believing weirdos.
To help us unlock the “mysteries” of such peculiar people, Keller provides a helpful list of questions for the candidates, the whole of which will certainly filter out any God-before-country loonies before they get too far.
Here are some of his suggestions:
- Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that America is a “Christian nation” or “Judeo-Christian nation?” What does that mean in practice?
- If you encounter a conflict between your faith and the Constitution and laws of the United States, how would you resolve it? Has that happened, in your experience?
- Would you have any hesitation about appointing a Muslim to the federal bench? What about an atheist?
- What do you think of the evangelical Christian movement known as Dominionism and the idea that Christians, and only Christians, should hold dominion over the secular institutions of the earth?
- What is your attitude toward the theory of evolution? Do you believe it should be taught in public schools?
- Do you believe it is proper for teachers to lead students in prayer in public schools?
As hard as it is to swallow Keller’s oh-so-enlightened pose, he’s right to call for an invigorated debate on the intersection of politics and religion. It does matter how Romney’s Mormonism or Bachmann’s Lutheranism impacts their political philosophies, and as Ross Douthat recently noted, plenty of evangelicals are sure to disagree with their stances as well (myself included).
Yet it’s a bit difficult to take Keller’s suggestions seriously, primarily because his posturing over what constitutes a potential “concern” feeds my suspicion that he really doesn’t know what he’s asking for. If we are really to press conservative Christian candidates on how they view God in relationship to the State, one would think we should also ask secularist progressives to defend their views (which are no less religious, to be sure).
Why does the secularist progressive’s view of “serious science” reign supreme? How is his version of America’s founding more accurate than, say, David Barton’s? What happens when his dogma — secularist, materialistic egalitarianism — brushes up against the Constitution? Why does he believe in the errancy of the Bible and the inerrancy of the theory of evolution? How does all this tie into public life? If the secularist is not praying to God for answers, who is he praying to? If it’s his own mind (“reason”), why should I trust his mind over my own (which, by the way, led me to God)?
Thus, in an attempt to build on Keller’s prestigious model for weeding out the crazies, here are my questions for dogmatically secularist politicians:
- Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that America is a “secular nation”? What does that mean in practice? Why did George Washington pray publicly and what exactly did Jefferson mean when he talked about “separation of church and state”?
- If you encounter a conflict between your secular progressivism and the Constitution and laws of the United States, how would you resolve it? Has that happened, in your experience? (this one could take a while…)
- Would you have any hesitation about appointing a fundamentalist Christian to the federal bench? What about a Pentecostal holy-roller? What about Pat Robertson?
- What do you think of the movement known as “secularism” and the idea that Christians should reject or ignore their religious convictions about evolution, homosexuality and abortion if they are to participate in the secular institutions of the earth? Why do they need to conform to your point of view?
- What is your attitude toward intelligent design theory, and do you believe it should be taught in public schools? Can you give me a brief 101 on why evolution is a better theory, why ID theory is unscientific, and why your personal view of which is “better” should dictate what Jonny learns in the third grade? How did life begin?
- Do you believe it is proper for teachers to teach students about man-induced climate catastrophe in public schools? Is it acceptable to show Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth in elementary-school classrooms, even if parents are opposed to it?
Plenty of secularist politicians would surely have serious answers to these questions, and I’d be glad to listen to their responses. But many would also fumble, having been shielded from such in-depth interrogation throughout their political careers.
But alas, I doubt we will ever hear such questions, because it is the Christian beliefs that do not deserve merit or respect in the public square. It is the Christian beliefs that arouse skepticism for their opposition to the secularist’s religious devotion to “serious science.” It is the Christian beliefs that are actually “beliefs.” The rest is simply the facts.
Thus, in the coming election cycle, I expect we shall once again be resigned to hearing President Obama defend his secularist views on Christian turf. Once again, we will have to hear how his “personal” Christian beliefs on homosexuality and abortion don’t matter, because they are obviously subservient to a higher power.
God forbid we ever question that higher power, for who would dare mock the divinity of the Secular State?
Anyone in the mood for some idol tipping?