God Doesn’t Get a Vote

Fellow Patheos Atheist blogger Libby Anne has a great post up on whether a candidate’s religion would affect her vote. Her opening almost perfectly parallels my own position:

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.

This may seem odd: why, as someone who frequently finds himself opposed to the ravages of conservative religion in American public life, do I not care too much about the religious leanings of a potential president?

Consider this thought experiment:

If I could vote in this election, I’d vote for Obama (or, perhaps, if voting in a safe Democratic state, a third party candidate). Imagine that the religious identities were reversed: Obama is a Mormon, Romney an Atheist, but their policies and values stay the same. Would that change my vote?

Nope. I don’t think it would. What’s primarily important about a candidate, as Libby Anne argues, is their values, those ideal and principles which guide them in their policy decisions, not their membership of a given religious denomination. In asking how a potential President will dal with a foreign policy crisis, for instance, it is less useful to know that they are a Catholic than to know that they are an Isolationist.

However, there is one nuance I would add to Libby Anne’s argument. She states the following at the conclusion of her piece:

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.

While its certainly true that a candidate’s faith will inform their values – often in unpredictable ways – it is also true that faith itself is a sort of value. And it’s not the sort of value I appreciate in potential world leaders.

Think of George W Bush and the revelation that he genuinely seemed to believe that his mission in Iraq was supported by God. According to Palestinian ministers he said, justifying his actions:

“I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, “George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.” And I did, and then God would tell me, “George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq .” And I did. And now, again, I feel God’s words coming to me, “Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East.” And by God I’m gonna do it.’”

Clearly, for W, faith was an important value. Expressed explicitly, he had a value something like this: “I should seek to find what God desires of me, and I should attempt to do what God desires.”

I don’t want my elected officials thinking this way. Faith, as a way of coming to decisions and orientating oneself toward the world, is problematic. It places the locus of concern somewhere outside the proper area of consideration for an elected leader, who should be doing the people’s work, not the work of The Lord. Their thought should be “how will this affect the people I represent”, not “is this the will of God”.

For this reason, all other things being equal, I’d prefer to vote for someone who does not value faith over someone who does. We elect them to serve us. God doesn’t get a vote.

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 conversations 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.

Boy Scouts of America: Still Bigoted
A Humanist's Guide to Working with Clergy
Humanism at Yale Week!
God and the Gay Humanist - A Response to Matthew Vines
About James Croft

James Croft is the Leader in Training at the Ethical Culture Society of St. Louis - one of the largest Humanist congregations in the world. He is a graduate of the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard, and is currently writing his Doctoral dissertation as a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is an in-demand public speaker, an engaging teacher, and a passionate activist for human rights. James was raised on Shakespeare, Sagan and Star Trek, and is a proud, gay Humanist. His upcoming book "The Godless Congregation", co-authored with New York Times bestselling author Greg Epstein, is being published by Simon & Schuster.