Jerome Weeks of the Dallas Morning News recalls the golden days when John Adams, a “more traditional Christian” than Thomas Jefferson (Adams was a Unitarian), declared that “the Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
Weeks presents a contrast between thoughtful skeptics like Abraham Lincoln and the image of George Bush as too certain about everything.
While doubt is often seen as fuzzy and skepticism as counterproductive, rock-solid certitude is generally prized as a strength — in business leaders, public officials, ministers and action heroes. Yet Ronald Reagan, Phil Gramm, Charlton Heston, St. Paul and St. Augustine — among many others — changed their moral stances, their theological or political views.
Weeks’ report is informative, especially its argument from Jennifer Michael Hecht, a history professor at New York’s Nassau Community College, that many people perceive doubt as a sign of weakness.
Os Guinness plowed this ground many years ago in his book In Two Minds: The Dilemma of Doubt and How to Resolve It. As Guinness wrote, doubt is not the opposite of faith. Disbelief is. (Some theological liberals say certainty is, but I’ll leave that argument for another time.)
I would love to see an affable, unapologetic skeptic or nonbeliever running for the presidency, if only to test how such a candidate would fare. Howard Dean came close, despite his verbal slip about the book of Job being in the New Testament. Here, after all, was a public servant who broke with the laissez-faire Episcopal Church because his local congregation resisted a bike path along its property.
Perhaps there is a skeptic out there who could run for the presidency and win it. Leaving aside other considerations, I could envision voting for outspoken atheists Nat Hentoff (for his understanding of Culture of Life issues) or Christopher Hitchens (for his foreign policy) if only they had gone into politics instead of journalism.
Do our readers know of any skeptics who show potential on the national political stage?