Keller's shortsighted religious bigotry – UPDATED

My column at First Things today looks at Bill Keller’s recent piece demanding “tougher questions” be asked about the religious views of presidential candidates — or, at least, of Republican presidential candidates.

It goes without saying, only Republican religious beliefs should be queried in Bill Keller’s world:

Others have ably pointed out that Keller’s own paper conveniently displayed minimal interest in the religious beliefs of the candidate Barack Obama or those of his rather fervid pastor and spiritual mentor, Jeremiah Wright. Democrats are understood to have tamed their religion into obedient torpor—to governance give the glory!

But his casual bigotry, in and of itself, is not what I’m really thinking about. I’m actually wondering why Keller and his ilk — so determined to bring America into conformity with the secularism of fading European governments — would prefer that our president be unable comprehend a fundamental language of 21st century diplomacy:

Islam, like all faith, is not of this world but of the world to come. Islam’s extremists, like all extremists, would like to speed their agenda along. . . If one side’s ideas are mayhem in service to transcendence and the other side is thinking about meetings and signed papers, then secular Western diplomacy is boxing with one glove.”

Obviously, I was writing specifically about jihad, but I think the argument could be made that the pronounced disdain for religion, which is increasingly hoisted as a standard for Western intellectualism, real or faux, exposes a potential fault-line in understanding, language and mindset that—if not overcome—could eventually set the very earth to trembling.

Last week, in these pages, Rusty Reno asked if the Tea Party had “a religion problem.” Another question might also be asked: shouldn’t voters consider whether decidedly irreligious (or expediently religious) political leaders are deficient in comprehension where it is most crucially needed in the twenty-first century?

I hope you’ll read the whole thing
and add your thoughts!

Ed Morrissey asks: Why is MSM so ignorant about religion? Because they don’t know anyone religious? And, because they don’t know anyone religious, they’re stuck in the 1970′s perceptions, still reacting to religion as “stupid establishment” stuff they transcended with their self-actualization?

Mollie Hemingway: Keller’s pulling everyone’s leg?
Verum Serum: 20 Questions for Bill Keller
Lisa Miller: Don’t fear the Evangelical
Ace: Sauce for the Goose
Karl: Bill Keller’s Magical Thinking

UPDATE: No, I am not accusing Bill Keller of causing the recent earthquake! :-)

UPDATE II: Also related, Mike Bloomberg and the End of Tolerance; Why New York’s mayor says there’s no room for religious leaders on 9/11.

UPDATE III: Michele Bachmann and Dominionism Paranoia

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • kenneth

    It is fair to ask tough questions about the religious views of ALL candidates. More than that, to ask questions about all of the major influences which inform their philosophy of governance. Bachmann and Perry ally themselves very closely with some very extreme religious figures – people who have said, among other things, that Muslims and non-Christians have no inherent rights under our Constitution. Their agenda is theocracy, whether they call it that or not.

    It may well be that the candidates are just cynically pandering to these extremists for a few votes and dollars, but its entirely fair to ask them point-blank “do you support the agendas and beliefs of these people?” So long as they give tacit support to extremists, it’s entirely fair to ask them how, exactly, their beliefs would mesh with their public policy decisions.

    [I think it's fair to ask, too. But not only of one side. And I took exception to Keller's condescending tone. By all means, let's ask candidates questions. I would like to know how Obama sat in a pew for 20 years and never heard the extreme rhetoric of his pastor, who baptized his children. I have no problem with him claiming that the Islamic call to prayer is "the most beautiful sound in the world," or his hosting Muslims for Ramadan, but his own answers about Christian faith were dodgy but never followed up on, by MSM. -admin]

  • Billiamo

    Both Keller and Paul Krugman have recently mentioned space aliens. Is something catching at the New York Times?

  • dry valleys

    “”Of course I was being humorous when I said that. It would be absurd to think it was anything else,”

    Yes, I suppose it would be absurd to suppose that they actually believe what they say. But if she thinks it’s funny, I’ve got some pretty choice words for her.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Honestly, billiamo, with all the talk about space aliens these days, I’m beginning to wonder if lizard men, or winged monkey people aren’t taking over the New York Times, as part of their super secret invasion plans! (It would make a great Sci-fi movie!) :)

  • dry valleys

    Also, conservative evangelicalism in particular IS a massively powerful force. It may not seem like one from the vantage point of New York, but too many liberals accept the religious leaders’ assertions that they are a small and persecuted minority. They also believe that Islam is overrated and isn’t that big a deal really, which is a completely wrong thing to think, but I suppose is what someone who moves entirely in secular circles would think.

    It’s absolutely right. Obama seems not to have listened to this Jeremiah Wright or any of the Islamists he supposedly consorts with. Perhaps he was too busy overseeing the removal of a terrorist mastermind and a vicious Arab dictator at the time.

    That’s why attention is being focused on the challengers. They need to ask Bachmann and Perry because they hedge on the issue of whether they’d actually impose a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (Perry isn’t “Fed Up” with preventing forms of love he frowns upon being officially recognised- funny, that) or in exactly what context Bachmann plans to “submit” to her husband, and whether it extends to obeying his orders over issues like the wielding of nuclear weapons.

    It’s almost as if they were sending out dogwhistles to their constituencies whilst reassuring centrists. Well, I’ve got their number.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Valleys, Obama sat in Jeremiah Wright’s church for 20 years.

    How could he not have listened to him? (Or are we really supposed to believe that he used earplugs the entire time he went there?)

    Progressives would never tolerate a Moslem candidate being quizzed about his religion, and whether or not he agreed with “those” people; nor would they stand for a very liberal, left-wing “social justice” Christian being questioned about his stance on, say, Marxism, or economics.

    It all depends on whose ox is being gored. That’s the number, right there! Or, maybe, it’s the writing on the wall.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Also, Valleys, since you seem to be a champion of the working man, and the Proletariat—I feel constrained to point out that a lot of those supposedly awful American “Evangelical/Conservative Christians” you dislike (not Bachman, Perry, etc., but your ordinary Evangelical, fundamentalist Christian) are, in the main, blue-collar, working class types; your average workin’ Joe! (Or Jane).

    Like it or not, these guys are working class.

    (As are many Irish Catholics, and Southern Baptist blacks.)

  • Mandy P.

    You know, the last time I checked my Constitution- which was within the last week, actually- no president has the power to “impose” a Constitutional Amendment. Amendments have to be passed by a 2/3 majority of both Houses of Congress and a 3/4 majority of the states OR via a Constitutional Convention (which we haven’t had in over 200 years, mind) and still would need approval of 3/4 of the states. The president literally has nothing to do with the amendment process at all. So, it seems that the threat of some wild-eyed evangelical imposing Constitutional changes willy-nilly is pretty moot.

  • kmk

    When I hear about Bill Keller, sometimes I remember to pray (I don’t remember enough). I remember this article:

    I think he is fighting any bit of truth about God. Maybe he feels he must.

    We are a nation in need of a massive Project Rachel retreat. I really think our elite classes, in all walks of life, are just in knots–they just aren’t rational anymore when if comes to God or the thought of answering to any higher being whatsoever, because we have so much blood on our hands, collectively. NOthing will be fixed well in this country until we acknowledge this. I pray that he finds God’s Mercy and Forgiveness.

    How about a national Project Rachel retreat on the Mall?

  • Dan

    I agree with Kenneth. For someone as clear as Ms. Bachmann is about the ijport of faith in her life, what her faith is, how she will treat opponents of her, particularly if they are of a different faith, and how she views Catholics historically (for which little evidence has been amassed either pro or con) is fair for me to consider for her.

    Additionally, last folks I heard so aggressively American conservative evangelical were horrifying at the local level in my experience, and religion was a constant weapon. I can inform my opinion as a one-time constituent of aggressive conservative Christians. (Think conservative Christian knee-jerk villification as RRReno describes in the opening paragraphs of Cosmopolitan Conservative except political roles are reversed.)

  • Greta

    Mandy P. you beat me to your excellent comment. It shows how little most know about the Constitution, especially the press who ask such dumb questions.

    I was reading about the big lie on the “separation of church and state” and found out something I was not aware of before. Remember that the supreme court was solid with the appointments of FDR and Hugo Black in the Senate helped push their much of the FDR new deal. for that, he got a seat on the court. He found the separation and it turns out it had more to do with his KKK past and his hatred of the Catholic faith and concern that growing Catholic population needed to be controlled.

    Law professor Daniel Dreisbach summarizes the critique by a leading Constitutional scholar, Professor Philip Hamburger of Columbia University Law School:
    [Black's] affinity for church-state separation and the metaphor was rooted in virulent anti-Catholicism. Philip Hamburger has argued that Justice Black, a former Alabama Ku Klux Klansman, was the product of a remarkable “confluence of Protestant [specifically Baptist], nativist, and progressive anti-Catholic forces…. Black’s association with the Klan has been much discussed in connection with his liberal views on race, but, in fact, his membership suggests more about [his] ideals of Americanism,” especially his support for separation of church and state. “Black had long before sworn, under the light of flaming crosses, to preserve ‘the sacred constitutional rights’ of ‘free public schools’ and ‘separation of church and state.’” Although he later distanced himself from the Klan, “Black’s distaste for Catholicism did not diminish.” Hamburger, Separation of Church and State, pp. 423, 434, 462, 463

    In many ways, it is as important to understand the views of those who get lifetime appointment to the courts who have taken to such huge lies to change the very basis of our constitution. In our day to day life, they often have much more powerful and extended control that the president and they can slide in by refusing to answer questions based on not stating opinion on something they have to rule on. After all, besides the big lie on separation, they also started the world longest and largest holocaust with over 54 million babies slaughtered when they found privacy.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Mandy P., another problem with the whole paranoia-re-fundamentalist-Christians, thing—ever heard the old joke, “When three Baptists get together, two of them leave to form their own church!”

    Putting it another way, evangelical/fundamentalists are by no means as well-organized, well-funded or as all-powerful as their enemies claim they are. Even if they were up to something—and I don’t think they are—evangelical Protestantism simply doesn’t lend itself to the sort of monolithic, state-sanctioned totalitarian state that, for instance the Islamic Shari’a state (and Caliphate) does.

    kmk, I agree with you; I’m beginning to think that a massive Rachel project is exactly what the country needs at the moment! Certainly, the Left’s embrace of abortion on demand, and its fixation on preserving that “right” above all else, seems to have tainted its worldview, and given it a jaundiced, angry view of Judeo-Christianity.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Well, Dan, never having read RRReno, or Cosmopolitan Conservative, I’m a bit puzzled; you say these conservative Christians were “Horrifying”? What on earth did they do? Burn villages down, while cackling maniacally? Call in the Spanish Inquisition? (Nobody expects them!) Refuse to recycle?

    Nothing wrong with considering Bachman, or any other candidate; that should go for Obama, and all the Democratic candidates, as well.

  • Richard Johnson

    Actually, I agree with those who mention how poorly the mainstream media followed up with the Obama/Wright matter. There should have been much more digging into that connection, and into the theology of Wright as well as the financial shenanigans that came to the surface shortly after Obama left the church. The mainstream media and much of the blogosphere demonstrated the short-attention-span-theater that now pervades what passes for news in this nation.

    So…we have the 2012 campaign before us, and plenty of time to dig into the backgrounds of *all* candidates, Democrat and Republican. What say you…are you going to bemoan past bad practices by the MSM anytime someone suggests we check out a Republican, or are you going to do some fact-checking on both sides and show up the MSM and other bloggers?

  • grumpy pelican

    It is strange. It’s as if the possibility of having faith requires that the candidate go into the special line where he or she has to answer extra questions and be subjected to additional scrutiny. Of course, in my opinion, it’s just a chance to remind himself and those in his milieu of their own perceptions of religion and faith. I do find something very shallow about it. You can spend your whole life trying to understand what faith means to you. Are they trying to reduce it to a series of standardized questions?

  • dry valleys

    What I am saying is that Obama may have been listening to Jeremiah Wright, and would have been wrong to do so, but when the time came for him to exercise responsibility and make decisions, then the influence of his former friends wasn’t there. He has not followed up their agenda, despite having had every chance to.

    It would have been a live issue in 2008, but not now that we know what Obama’s policies consist of. We know what Obama does as president, we don’t know what Bachmann or Perry would do, and it’s right to have suspicions and to ask. It’s also right to ask Romney about some of the odder tenets of Mormonism. If he were an atheist, then he could make the issue all about secular issues in the way he wants to. Yet he won’t get away with it, and I suspect his rivals will want to press him on the issue.

  • Todd

    There are times when some people perceive that the questions have been exhausted. Maybe that’s true. But if someone is looking for a gotcha! moment, maybe not.

    Among non-anti-O folks, even those like me who find him a little thin on religion (not to mention economics), the questions on his faith have been thorough but not terribly well-vetted.

    Watch Rev Wright on YouTube, and the average anti-O American who was a non-parishioner thinks the whole thing is a scandal. But judging from my own experiences in forty years of Catholicism, the preachers I’ve heard consistently, even the bad ones, cannot be pinned down to a single theme or quality. And then there’s the context of worship beyond the preaching.

    I’ve put up with some pretty poor preaching (or the occasional poor homily performance) from a pastor because they were outstanding counselors, spiritual directors, colleagues, or bosses.

    I have no interest in reading mainstream opinion jocks on religion. Far more interesting are the commentaries from religious folks–from people for whom I know religion matters, and especially if I disagree.

    My sense is that any opposition candidate has yet to be grilled to the level of the current president. But it’s still early.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Sadly, we now no all too well Obama’s policies, and how he performs as president.

    It would have been nice if the MSM had vetted him a bit more, before presenting him to as the greatest thing since sliced bread, with a crackerjack prize!

    And, no, we don’t know what Bachman, or Perry—or any other candidate—will do, until they’re elected. But, I say again, if anybody else were being grilled about their faith: an atheist, a Moslem, a “social justice” Christian, the Left would be crying “Foul!”and saying the Inquisition had returned.

    Mormonism may have some odd tenets; Marxism definitely has, and we’ve had way too much of the latter, in the 20th Century. But, of course, if you question a politiican about that, you’re a “McCarthyite.”

  • LisaB

    Sure we can question candidates religious backgrounds. How about we start with the known Democrat candidate for the 2012 election – Barack Obama. He claims to be a Christian, what is his denomination?

    Am I the only one who finds it strange that his church going days ended 2 1/2 years ago? Oh, about the same time he entered the WH. For someone who claims to be a Christian it is certainly odd that he does not attend church on Sunday and does not fulfill his Christian duties of taking his children to church. He didn’t even take his children to church on the Holy Day of Christmas! Is he lying about being a Christian? If so, that is a serious issue and no Christian can support such a candidate. This is something that definitely needs to be explored by the MSM; he is after all a candidate for the 45th president of the U.S.A.

  • Mandy P.

    @dry valleys

    Well, those people in question actually have records by which you can see how their faith has or has not influenced their governance style. I’ve yet to see any bill introduced by Rep. Bachmann that would impose a theocracy on the population. Former Mass. Governor Romney didn’t force the residents of his state to wear Mormon underwear. And Governor Perry hasn’t mandated that Texans adhere to the Methodist creeds. It’s funny how one’s adherence to the basic tenets of one’s faith only seems to become an issue when one has an R behind one’s name.

    I’ve been to my fair share of crazy preaching sessions in m Protestant days. I have not, however, been to any homily, sermon, worship service, or assembly where a preacher or pastor every said things along the lines of Reverend Wright. Stating plainly and publicly (and on camera!) that the US government created the AIDS virus in an effort to exterminate black people is more than just a little nuts. And I don’t know what kind of spiritual context that could ever be put in to make it any less offensive and just plain crazy than it is. Same thing with his GD America statements, calling us the US of KKKA, and so on and so forth. The only thing that I can think of that would be comparable is if one of the GOP candidates had sat in a Westboro Baptist-type church for over two decades.

    What’s really the most offensive to me about this nonsense is that the same media folks who famously declared “Rev. Wright free zones” on their shows and in their paper and insinuated that any questioning of Obama’s religious and political affiliations (Bill Ayers, anyone?) was the epitome of racism and bigotry are the same folks who would love to apply a religious test to Republican candidates. That is, I believe, the point Ms. Scalia and other commenter on this trying to make. What’s good for the goose….

  • dry valleys

    Suppose Obama proved to be an atheist? A lot of people are these days, me included (no- I’m not sure why I comment here either :) )

    Well, he certainly would have been making false claims by calling himself a Christian. But then, there are a lot of atheists, homosexuals and other members of unpopular groups who don’t talk publicly about their true selves, and I don’t particularly blame them.

    (This includes some Christians, such as this Ada Calhoun whose story was posted here a while back, and this group:

    In the circles I move in it is rather unusual to be a believer. I know a handful of people who are avowed Christians, and some Muslims, and I’ve never been as hostile to them as these people have found their fellow bankers to be!

    I honestly have no conception of what Obama’s private religious beliefs are. A resident of a different country/planet I might be but I don’t think it’s anything unusual in America to feign religiosity, I actually think some top conservative pundits do it too because their careers would suffer unless they genuflected towards religious opinion.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Well, if Obama were feigning to be religious when he was actually an atheist, that would be a big strike against him for me, because it would mean he was a phony, who says one thing, and does another. I would feel the same way about any candidate who claimed to practice one thing, and actually believed something different.

    (As far as atheism goes, well, dogmatic atheism—you should only pardon the expression—has caused far more misery in the 20th Century, in the form of Marxism, with its persecution of Christians, Jews and, in the East, Buddhists, than all the evangelical Christians put together! Whatever Obama’s actual beliefs, I do find his waffling on Christianity, his membership in Wright’s “Church” and his glowing praise of Islam, troubling.)

    (Evil Christian bankers, running London? LOL, sounds kind’ve like a re-working of the old “Jewish bankers are running the world!” schtick!)

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Yes, Mandy P, the only thing comparable I can think of is membership in Crazy Fred Phelp’s crazy “church”, or in some “Aryan Church of the Aryan all-White Nazi Jesus!” church!

    And, if a candidate had been a member of such an organization, you can bet that nobody would be inclined to excuse it all away with, “Well, he didn’t really listen to them!” (Nor should they!)

  • dry valleys

    The point of that link about banks is that observant Christians consider themselves mocked and belittled in banks, in a sense that I’ve certainly never done to any believer I’ve met. The worst banking offenders I’ve heard of have all been gentiles, and besides which I tend to blame banks rather than bankers on a personal level, who were just taking what was offered to them by governments that allowed them to carry on unhindered.

    When you have got deceit (there’s no actual proof, obviously, of what Obama believes or doesn’t believe so that’s just speculation) my first reaction is to ask why people find it necessary to do such a thing, and poll after poll shows that atheists are one of the groups most likely to be voted against on the basis of their convictions.

    Furthermore, actual regimes such as the USSR went out of their way to persecute believers, whereas my definition of secularism is a religiously neutral state. France is
    probably the secular state par excellence, which is why it banned the wearing of the veil in public, a move I didn’t actually agree with (because I didn’t think it would achieve its goals, not because I’m in favour of veiled women) but can understand the reasons behind. You don’t find the French state preventing people from having convictions of their own or persecuting those who observe their religion.

  • dry valleys

    And it’s right to say that Obama can’t have listened to Jeremiah Wright because to my knowledge, in his years in office, he has not followed any Jeremiah Wright-inspired policies. As I say, he must have been too busy overseeing the killing of Osama Bin Laden and other jihadist elements to do such a thing.

  • Mandy P.

    Ah, I see. So we’re supposed to ignore two decades of Black Liberation Theology sermons- one of the major tenets of BLT, BTW, is the belief that any God that claims white people as his children isnreally rhe devil- attended by the president because you suspect he’s probably a secret atheist. Despite him saying multiple times he’s a devout Christian and proclaiming many, many times that the Reverend Wright was such a tremendous influence on his life and him even taking then Title of his most recent book from one of the good Revered’s sermons. No, thats fine and dandy.

    But those darned Republicans absolutely must get a thorough religious anal probe just to make sure they’re not going to impose their Crazy Christianist beliefs on everyone else. Even though there’s ample evidence in their records thus far that shows none of them have tried to force anyone else to act like or become a Christian.

    In other words:

    Barack Obama= Liberal Christian= Ah, well he doesn’t mean it. Next question.

    Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney= Conservative Christian/Mormon= PROVE TO ME YOU’RE NOT INSANE!!!


  • Mandy P.

    And just for the record, Rick Perry isna Methodist, and Michele Bachmann is a Lutheran. Both are very mainstream Protestant denominations. Significantly more mainstream (and frankly, sane) than those that practice BLT. If you were to do a bit of investigation into what BLT teaches I would think you SHOULD be disturbed that anyone would associate themselves with it for twenty years, even if they were really atheists at heart. It’s the equivalent of someone associating with Westboro Baptist (you know, the “God hates fags” idiots) for the sake of political appearances or whatever. Maybe you don’t believe that nonsense but why on earth did you think it was a good idea to hang around that kind of crazy for two decades?

  • dry valleys

    Because there was nothing good on TV every night for a 20-year period?

  • Mandy P.

    Would you be so unconcerned if this were Rick Perry sitting in the Westboro Baptist church for 20 years?

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    If there’s nothing good on T.V., there’s always books—or movies—or talkiing to your friends.

    Neither Fred Phelps, nor the BLT, can be excused away by pleading boredom.

    And, given Obama’s destruction of the economy and his rancor towards Israel, and other American allies, his squandering tax dollars on expensive junkets for himself, his family and cronies. . . I’m not so sure he isn’t lobeying some of Reverend Wright’s teachngs.