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.
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” 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” 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.
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.
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.
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?
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