NY Times: "Every faith holds beliefs that seem bizarre"

Bill Keller of the New York Times is wondering what some of the 2012 presidential candidates believe when it comes to matters of faith. But I can’t escape the feeling that he’s using his column as an excuse not just to question, but to sneer:

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. 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. (Huntsman says he is not “overly religious.”) Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum are all affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity, which has raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction.

I honestly don’t care if Mitt Romney wears Mormon undergarments beneath his Gap skinny jeans, or if he believes that the stories of ancient American prophets were engraved on gold tablets and buried in upstate New York, or that Mormonism’s founding prophet practiced polygamy (which was disavowed by the church in 1890). Every faith has its baggage, and every faith holds beliefs that will seem bizarre to outsiders. I grew up believing that a priest could turn a bread wafer into the actual flesh of Christ.

But I do want to know if 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. 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.

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Comments

  1. Keller makes an excellent point, and in a way that is really not uncharitable. Every religion has beliefs and practices that would strike any reasonable person as bizarre, especially from an outsiders perspective. Devout followers of those faiths are often the first to admit that, and many have a good sense of humor about it. Certainly paganism is full of stuff begging for satire, and some of the funniest writing I’ve ever read comes from members of our own community turning a lens on our own absurdities.

    Keller’s point is that none of that matters. In a plural democracy, it doesn’t matter whether my beliefs and yours strike us each as bizarre beyond belief. What matters when one of us proposed to seek office is whether we can truly respect each other’s rights and the laws of the land which mandate such respect by government. Based on what I see and hear from some of these candidates, that’s a very valid question.

  2. Rev Mr Flapatap says:

    Rick Santorum is Roman Catholic. Nice homework by the author. That may explain why he abandoned his faith. By the way, it is Christ Himself who is responsible for transubstantiation.

  3. Wow. What arrogance. Nothing worse than a “former”.
    Kenneth, glad you think it was “not uncharitable” I would hate to see it if it were uncharitable.

  4. Well, you learn something every day. As a Roman Catholic, I did not know that I was affiliated with a fervid subset of evangelical Christianity.

    Why does Mr. Keller have to insult me – I do believe that bread and wine is changed into the very Body and Blood of Our Lord… Thank you Holy Spirit!!

    And this on-going conversation about the separation of Church and State is just plain nonsense. If a candidate is religious, the odds are is that he/she has some good moral values. Isn’t that a good thing?

  5. friscoeddie says:

    The RC church officially calls Mormonism LDS a cult. Gov. Perry’s friend/ sponsor Rev. Haggie calls Catholicism the great Whore. And we always will have Rev. Wright..
    We are going to have more religious election bashing in 2012. Whiners need not apply.

  6. The line about being brought up to believe “a priest could turn a bread wafer into the actual flesh of Christ” really struck me. There’s a lesson of humility here for all of us who some way try to pass along the faith. I’m sure he was exposed to what we believe. But what he took away was: the priest has the power, and transubstantiation makes actual flesh. Power and actual mean wildly disparate things. No place in his understanding for Christ, and no nuanced understanding of substance/accidents. This from someone catechized before Vatican II. Believe me, it’s even harder now to explain and to apologize (defend) the language of church-speak. A “liberal” may have trouble in using language that is not co-opted by the culture; but the “conservative” language falls (and apparently fell) on deaf ears. Pray for those who catechize!

  7. To not know that Santorum is a Catholic when writing on the religions of the presidential candidates is a transgression of journalistic competence. Keller ought to hand back his jouranlism degree to whatever college would have to shame-facedly acknowledge he graduated from.

    And sorry Kenneth. Keller is completely being uncharitable. This is a backhanded slap on religious believers first and foremost and toward Republicans second. Does he say anything about the racist, America hating church that Obama belonged to for 20 years? Maybe this article is actually an attempt to blunt one of Obama’s negatives. Keller’s line of thinking might be that these guys also belong to questionable religions.

  8. Richard Johnson says:

    Manny #7 – “Does he say anything about the racist, America hating church that Obama belonged to for 20 years?”

    Actually, Manny, he does. Had you bothered to read the full column you would have known that.

    “In any case, let’s ask. In the last presidential campaign, Candidate Obama was pressed to distance himself from his pastor, who carried racial bitterness to extremes, and Candidate McCain was forced to reject the endorsement of a preacher who offended Catholics and Jews. I don’t see why Perry and Bachmann should be exempt from similar questioning.”

  9. Wow, the New York Times coming out in an attack of the faith and also the republican party…Now that is news. Lets face it, they and those they support hate those who believe in God and cling to the second amendment and the Constitution as in the written text.

    I do think it is a good idea to understand the beliefs of those who want to be President of One Nation UNDER God and to make sure the government passes no laws that infringe on our God given right of the free excercise of our religion. Seems like a good idea to make sure we know when we have a mormon or aethist or Catholic or anything else going into this position in our country. We should know as much as possible about this person which is why the Consitution gave the press protection so they as the 4th estate could find out everything possible about those who want to hold power. But remember two things…All our rights come from our Creator and the freedom of religion to be protected from government came before the freedom of the press and freedom of speech. The left wants to seperate the freedom of religion from the government with the big lie of separation, while they do not seem to be trying to do this with the other two rights in the same amendment, freedom of speech and freedom of the press with the same type of separation issue. Kind of like finding the right of “privacy” not in the text to justify the killing of babies or the promotion of sodomy as equal to marriage between one man and one woman.

  10. @Richard Johnson in #8

    Keller wrote:
    “In any case, let’s ask. In the last presidential campaign, Candidate Obama was pressed to distance himself from his pastor, who carried racial bitterness to extremes”

    Oh wow! You consider that fully characterizing Obama’s church? Give me a break. How mildly he put that, in the very best possible light. Nowhere does he say that Obama’s church was racist and anti American. You proved my point exactly.

  11. “But I do want to know if 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. 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.”

    This is the money quote for me. Despite the Declaration of Independence’s clear assertion that there is a higher authority than any earthly laws — namely, the Creator who endows the human person with inalienable rights — Mr. Keller feels that belief in an authority higher than the Constitution and laws makes someone unworthy of office.

    Unless, of course, that higher authority is the currently held scientific theory on this or that issue. In other words, Mr. Keller would have a specific religious test: theists are out and (atheist) scientists are in. As for exclusion, it seems to me that the most likely to be excluded from rights and protections are traditional believers: if you can’t, in good conscience, officiate at the wedding of a same-sex couple, can’t dispense abortafacient drugs, etc., then you are barred from certain lines of work. In some states, it’s already happening. Not just to individuals, of course, but also to institutions like Catholic charities and Catholic hospitals.

  12. Yes, every group has beliefs that seem bizarre to outsiders. Such as the belief that “religion is the cause of ALL wars”.

    And the belief that “The Churches” are all rolling in money. That seems particularly bizarre to me (He said, as he was handed a printout of the budget.)

  13. pagansister says:

    There wouldn’t be so may “religion’s” on this planet if everyone believed in the same Divine Being” or super power or prophet etc. IMO, if everyone did believe the same—it would be a most boring world. Variety is the “spice of life”. What would really be nice, again, IMO, if some folks wouldn’t get so up-tight about what others believed it would be nice. Many get up-tight because they can’t understand how some folks don’t follow a faith. At least in this country (USA) we are (or should be) allowed to follow a religion of our choice or to just say—I do not need one.

  14. pagansister says:

    Greta , there is no religious requirement for a President or the USA. So much is made recently about who believes what—–IMo as long as that president, no matter who it is, doens’t let their faith get in the way of running this country–then it shouldn’t really matter.

  15. pagansister..how does one not have their faith impact how they do their job when the job is to be the leader of One Nation UNDER GOD and in a country where ALL our rights come from God? Can a person who does not believe in God operate as leader of a country founded on these principles and as recently as 60 years ago seem this reaffirmed with adding UNDER God to our pledge? Washington started the tradition of adding at the end of the oath of office of President “so help me God”. Even Obama who certainly leaves many with doubt as to his true religious beliefs added that to his oath.

    Before we get off track on religions like Islam, witches, and Mormons, lets remember at our founding how many of them were in this country and of concern to the founders. It was indeed a country founded largerly on the Christian faith and that faith remains the dominant force in this country so the impact of Christians on government and the way this country is run remains the most single important component of our country despite the lie of those trying to say faith is separated in our founding documents. The text and intent as written was to keep government from doing anything to impact those people of faith and the impact they would have on the running of this country. Thus the minority faiths are allowed free use of their faiths, but by the sheer numbers, Christianity will always dominate our future. Proof can be seen in the number of non Christians in the legislative, executive, or judicial branches in our entire history including today. While many are not very good Christians, and some fools believe their faith should play no part in how they do their jobs, they soon fall into the massive hypocracy that this creates. If faith plays no part in many democrats based on the “separation”, then how do they justify doing anything to help the poor or to punish crime? By what right do they do these things? I note that they often quote scripture when trying to pass new taxes or to start programs to help the poor or increase regulations, but forget them when killing babies…funny how that works with liberals.

  16. pagansister says:

    Finally have power back after Irene.

    Greta, I would ask just whose God are we discussing when a person recites the words in the Pledge? I don’t include them when I say the Pledge, as I learned it without those words and prefer it the original way. IMO, it wasn’t necessary to add “under God” 60 or so years ago to a Pledge that was a better loyality oath without it.

    A leader of this country can’t let, again, IMO, his/her faith get in the way of the rights of our citizens —example—same gender marriage. He/she might believe that religiously it is wrong, but it should be the right of consenting adults to marry the person they want to. (as many states have agreed to allow).

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