I Care about a Candidate’s Values, Not Faith

Does a candidate’s faith matter? This is a question I have been pondering ever since the question “would you vote for a conservative atheist or a liberal Christian?” went around the atheist blogosphere a few weeks ago. My thoughts? I personally feel that no, a candidates faith does not matter, but his or her values do. In other words, I don’t care whether a candidate is a Mormon or a Christian or a Muslim or a Jew or an Atheist or a pagan but I do care whether a candidate values secularism, social justice, equality, and science.

Faith versus Values

I have mentioned before that there has been a bit of a religious realignment in this country so that the split is not between different denominations as it is between liberals and conservatives across the religious spectrum. I wrote then that

As culture and religious structure has changed, American religion has become strung out along a conservative-liberal spectrum rather than divided into denominational bubbles. Today, evangelicals can vote for Santorum without worrying about him imposing the pope’s will on them because they share similar religiously-based social and political values with him, values they don’t share with their liberal counterparts even in their own denominations.

While I wrote the above during the heat of the primaries, you can insert “Ryan” for “Santorum” without changing the effect. Ryan is Catholic. Do the evangelicals and fundamentalists of the Christian Right appear to care about that? Not really. What matters to them is that he shares their values.

While I at first felt that evangelicals lining up behind Romney was a sign of hypocrisy, I have come to think that it may well be a sign of maturity. Romney (claims) to share their values. In lining up behind him, evangelicals are stating that when it comes to politics it’s more important to endorse the candidate who shares their values than the candidate who shares their religious beliefs. And that, I think, is as it should be.

The same is true for myself. Hillary Clinton is a Methodist, Nancy Pelosi is a Catholic, and I am an atheist, but we have the same basic values in common. In fact, when I look at a candidate I’m not inclined to ask about his or her religious beliefs. Sometime between today and election day I will be researching some of the local races I know very little about and deciding who to vote for, but as I do so I don’t plan to look up the candidates’ religious beliefs. I honestly don’t see any need to. Their positions, and the values that underlie those positions, are what I care about.

My Values

What values do I see as most important when looking at political candidates? Personally, my values flow from my Humanist worldview. Here are some of the ones I hold as most important:

Secularism

“Secularism” is defined by wikipedia as “the principle of separation of government institutions, and the persons mandated to represent the State, from religious institutions and religious dignitaries.” Wikipedia further clarifies that “In one sense, secularism may assert the right to be free from religious rule and teachings, and the right to freedom from governmental imposition of religion upon the people within a state that is neutral on matters of belief. In another sense, it refers to the view that human activities and decisions, especially political ones, should be unbiased by religious influence.”

Social Justice 

“Social justice” is defined by wikipedia as “justice exercised within a society, particularly as it is exercised by and among the various social classes of that society.” Wikipedia further clarifies that “A socially just society is based on the principles of equality and solidarity, understands and values human rights, and recognizes the dignity of every human being.” I believe that every individual should have the right to basic food, shelter, and healthcare, and that we need to work towards equality of opportunity. I believe that the current corporate system is broken and in need of reform.

Equality 

I believe that all people, regardless of race, gender, or sexual or gender orientation, should have social, political, legal, and economic equality. I believe that we need to combat racism, promote feminism, and work towards LGBTQ rights.

Science 

This last one may seem to stick out here, but I nevertheless think it’s important. I cannot support a candidate who is an evolution denier or a global warming denier or an anti-vaxxer. This lack of respect for science sets of automatic alarm bells for me. Wrapped in here and at the same time separate is the belief that we need to care for the earth.

Conclusion

Does a candidate’s faith inform his or her values? Sure. But as I’ve pointed out, no religious tradition seems to result in a monolithic set of values. There are Catholics who share my values, and Catholics who don’t. There are Muslims who share my values, and Muslims who don’t. I honestly think knowing a candidate’s values provides more information than knowing that candidate’s religion or denomination would.

How about you? Do you think a candidate’s faith matters? What values do you look for when comparing political candidates and deciding which to vote for?

Content Director’s Note: This post is a part of our Election Month at Patheos feature. Patheos was designed to present the world’s most compelling conservations on life’s most important questions. Please join the Facebook following for our new News and Politics Channel — and check back throughout the month for more commentary on Election 2012. Please use hashtag #PatheosElection on Twitter.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • smrnda

    I agree, also since I could find other unbelievers who definitely do not share my values at all.

    My usual worry is that, to some extent, faith does inform a person’s values, but some people seem more capable of regarding their own faith as a private practice and not the foundation for public policy. I also think that in terms of faith and values, many ‘religious’ people separate the two into ‘ethics’ versus ‘religion’ where ethics is seen as a wholly human concern and ‘religion’ is how to worship god or gods. I mean, I don’t see many liberal Catholics asserting that Catholic doctrine forms the foundation for their value judgments.

    An important value you picked was secularism. I find that a great many religious people just don’t support a secular society, probably because they take a view that society is either ‘godly’ or ‘ungodly’ – there’s no option of neutrality. so secularism, rather than being neutrality, it seen as anti-religious. Pointing out that secularism doesn’t take away anyone’s right to practice religion seems to be worthless.

  • http://eschaton2012.ca Eamon Knight

    If I *have* to know about a candidate’s religion — whether they advertize it, or it’s behind the scenes covertly influencing policy — then there’s something wrong.

  • Anonymouse

    What smrnda said.

    Also, somewhere I read (and didn’t bookmark) an article that said political affiliations tend to break down by brain function. Those who comprehend nuance and flexibility tend to vote Democratic, those who see the world in black-and-white authoritarianism vote Republican.

  • smrnda

    Anonymouse, I read something similar and you might find something about that in Robert Altmeyer’s work on authoritarians. I’ve seen many experiments that link conservatism to an inability to handle nuance or to apply independent judgment in different situations.

    Can’t recall who, but someone had a theory that there are different aspects to morality : fairness, harm, authority, purity, and in-group loyalty. The first two tend to be associated with liberals, and the rest with conservatives, particularly purity.

    • http://eschaton2012.ca Eamon Knight

      That’s Jonathan Haidt’s work, though IMNSHO (and that of quite a few other people) he goes stupid places with it. For one thing, he doesn’t seem to acknowledge that the different Moral Foundations give contradictory answers in some situations, and you need a way to make an actual *decision*, not just go all passively academic and say you totally understand why some cultures would stone women for having the wrong kind of sex. He’s kind of a self-hating liberal that way.

      • smrnda

        Was he the guy who waxes poetic about the value of purity that we poor, over-educated Westerner’s can’t appreciate? I mean, the problem with the moral foundations (in my opinion) is that authority and purity should be rejected for pragmatic or utilitarian reasons outright by any thinking person.

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