Socrates was killed for asking the wrong questions in a city that could not handle open minded investigations. John the Baptist was killed by politicians who did not like having their corruption and immorality pointed out. Tyrants never enjoy having their actions questioned and they particularly resist explaining them. Americans must live by the lessons of Socrates and the Baptist:
Question everything. Examine everything. Dare to challenge anyone especially our rulers.
Free woman and men demand to know not just what a politician will do but the values that guide those decisions. All laws and regulations are judgments and those judgments must be based on principles. Religion will be one source of those principles (or values) for most Americans.
Pity the population with leaders that cannot stand Socratic gadflies or difficult questions. Tyrants, secular and religious, can only survive when some topics are off limits. This republic needs harder questions and more open answers from its leaders to survive and thrive in hard times.
We cannot know what a man or woman really thinks without asking hard questions . . . and those questions will include religious ones. A man or woman’s religious views shape the person and are excellent guides to how they will lead.
Voters know this is true, which is why unscrupulous demagogues will try to deceive the population about the beliefs of an opponent.
Of course these discussions are uncomfortable enough that some Americans might want to silence the discussion by saying, “I don’t care about their religion; just tell me about their politics.” Sadly this happy division is not possible, because a person’s beliefs are one of the best clues voters have to their politics. Church and state can and should operate in their own spheres, but a man cannot be divided so neatly. She or he will vote as conscience demands and so voters will have to examine the conscience of any would-be-leader.
People may fear that the American Christian majority will misuse such knowledge, but they need not worry. The United States has always had a Christian majority. This religious majority accepted and has maintained the Constitution of 1789. However imperfectly, the Christian majority has tolerated views contrary to its own, because it is right to do so. American Christianity has learned that we thrive in an open marketplace of ideas.
American Christians overwhelmingly defend the right of any man or woman to run for office with any view. If we did not, this basic right could not have existed for even a moment of our history. It is so true, it is easy to forget, but we have never voted for a theocracy and we never will. Liberty has been our great blessing and we should expand it to every man and woman and child in this nation.
The Christian majority greatly benefits from the strengths of those of other faiths and of no faiths. We will continue to do to our political neighbor as we would have them do to us if we were ever in the minority.
Asking for an explanation of values from anyone who would rule us is not intolerance, but prudence. Hiding those views by making some questions off limits breeds ignorance and ignorance is the father of tyranny.
What we need is better and deeper questions about religion and philosophy for politicians that get them off talking points and force them to say what they actually think. Whether named Boxer or Palin, if a politician has no coherent philosophy, they are unfit to govern.
Philosophical or religious labels are not good enough, because they reveal too little for us to make informed choices. If a politician says they are a “Christian,” what do they mean by it? How does it guide their values? If a politician says they have not religious views, what does guide their decision making?
The glory of the social media is that we can ask follow up questions after a candidate claims to be pro-life, pro-family, and eager to advance justice. We can ask for follow up when he or she claims to want to cut the size of government, but votes to control our great-grandchildren by mortgaging the future to bail out their cronies.
We need more information about values not less. This will be loud and messy, but also exhilarating. We should all look forward to hearing opinions and points of view that are new and challenging. We should listen and then vote our values.
Christians must do so by divine command.
When a Christian voter hears a candidate coveting his neighbor’s wealth, then we will worry about the fitness of that candidate to serve. When a Christian voter sees a politician unconcerned about protecting the life of the innocent, we will know that candidate is unfit for office. When a Christian sees a leader favoring the rich at the expense of the poor, then the Christian knows the politician is unjust.
We know we cannot vote for Jesus, but we should never vote for tyrants, Christian or not.
We accept that Socrates is not running, but know the unexamined candidate is not worth a vote.
Most Americans are Christian and most Christians would rather be governed by an atheist who shares our ideals than a hypocrite who pretends family values, but lives and votes like a hedonist.
Here is hoping we get harder questions, religious and otherwise, for our leaders and a voting public fit by training to follow the answers. Athenian demagogues killed Socrates, and Herod murdered John the Baptist for prophetic insights, but American politicians will have to answer to citizens.