Religious Bigotry Has No Place in Politics

Religious Bigotry Has No Place in Politics October 13, 2011

Catholics have learned a long time ago of the defects of religious stereotyping as a political tool. It is easy to call into question someone who is not an “approved” or “normal” religious tradition. Their views and beliefs are strange, and so, they must be seen as suspect. It is a kind of xenophobia, and every bit as wrong as racism.  Catholics suffered with this xenophobia, and, to some extent, continue to face it today as non-Catholics look at Catholics as weird, and their loyalty to the Pope marks them as questionable.

Catholics, knowing this, should not fall for such xenophobia in our political candidates.

If President Obama plans to ridicule Mitt Romney for his Mormon faith, and to use Romney’s Mormon background against him, this would be a pathetic  form of politicking. President Obama should know better, having had many question his own religious faith, and call his loyalty into question based upon his background with Islam before his conversion to Christianity. And, even then, his association with Reverend Wright was used for xenophobia. If he experienced this kind of backlash and unjust prejudice for his own religious faith, seeing the defects this brings to the political scene, he should not act upon it himself.  Romney’s religious background should be left alone, no matter how easy a target it can be.

The same, however, needs to be pointed out to the Republican Candidates for Presidency. For example, Herman Cain’s outright bigotry towards Islam has no place in the American political scene.  While it might be popular with some to hate Islam (and to use that also as a talking point against President Obama, who is not a Muslim), such bigotry goes against the standards behind the founding of the United States. The founding fathers were very interested in working with Muslims, and recognized the rights of Muslims to all aspects of the American life.

It seems the tone of political rhetoric is going to go poisonous in regards to religion. Catholics need to proclaim to all politicians the decrees of religious liberty, of religious tolerance. When a politician goes against such a standard, they must be criticized for their failing. It might not, and probably will not be, all one needs to take into account when dealing with presidential candidates, but Catholics cannot and must not let such bigotry stand unquestioned, and even their favored candidates should be taken to task when they fail basic human decency.

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  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    There is a background issue to this whole matter that does not get discussed enough, which is strange because it has so deeply affected elite culture in this country. The influence of Harold Bloom’s famous book on American Religion cannot be over-stated when discussing how elite culture in this country approaches Mormonism. Of course some of the reverence for Bloom from intellectuals on all political sides is deserved. His early work was genius. But that book on American religiosity was a real nadir, and I believe conceptually it is a mega-influence on so many elite arguments. Tropes of paranoia, to which Bloom succumbed in that book when discussing Mormonism, never have any analytic value. But they are particularly harmful in someone who is considered a sage. Further, Bloom played into, perhaps unknowingly, one of the favorite conceptual shelters of right-wing evangelicals and Catholics. Namely, he asserted a general pervasive Gnosticism which embraced all of these matters, and is easily cobbled together by reactionaries as crypto-pagan. All of this is terribly imprecise of course. It is interesting, and I guess good, that bumbling horrors like Bill Donahue are calling on Perry’s Pastor to recant. But while they are at it they should repent of the tendency to disparage all religious rhetoric that does not fit orthodox philosophical parameters as non-sensical due to the blob of gnosticism, as they seem to see it in their typical haunted house of horrors.

    • I have seen how Voegelin helped create this tendency in some conservative circles… especially Catholic ones.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs


        Exactly!! Voegelin is their ice-Nine!

  • Anne

    Believing the Obama campaign would “leak” to the press plans to mock Romney’s religion requires a great enough leap of faith. The even greater suspension of disbelief required to discover its basis in anti-gnostic philosophies could lead to a cerebral explosion. I find it so much easier to simply recall that, when it comes to dirty tricks, one party is particularly gifted…and it’s not Obama’s.

  • Rodak

    Have you seen any indication, at all, that President Obama intends to ridicule Romney’s Mormon faith? I haven’t. Nor would I expect him to. I’ve seen nothing in the character of President Obama to suggest that he would stoop to those tactics. By even bringing it up in the way you have, you impugn the man’s character unfairly. I really think that you should emend this presentation to redact such an unwarranted suggestion, unless you can produce something to justify it. I’m very disappointed in Pres. Obama and may not vote for him again. But I will criticize him only for what he has actually done (or failed to do), as I think is only fair.

  • Charles

    Henry, Politico is little more than a rag. Do you really think that Obama would attack another candidate’s religious background particularly given his attempted public image as a moderate and the Democratic Party’s institutional positioning of itself as the party of tolerance?

    • Charles,

      It might be a rag, but there nonetheless was some talk that he might do this. Would he? I don’t know. Politics is odd. I didn’t say he would. I said if he did. But with the way politics goes, when the discussion is out there, one can comment on it.

      • Charles

        There is no factual basis for this article. It is nothing but conjecture and mudslinging of the worst kind. Watch: “Would Mitt Romney, if elected, put kittens on spikes.” I mean, politics is odd and I did not say that he would.

  • Kurt

    As a strong supporter of the President, I’ll accept the sincerity of Henry’s “if.”

    I’m also no fan on Romney but I have horrified about the attacks on his religion. I’m confident the President will not go this route, but of course there are others he cannot control. To beat some sense into them, I appreciate an early discussion of how wrong this is.

    I have faint memories as a child of Romney’s dad’s presidential campaign as well as my own volunteering for Mo Udall in 1976. No one raised a word against them because they were Morman. I find the current backsliding most upsetting.

    • Yes, I was trying to deal with the political gossip I’ve heard (and continue to hear echoed in some sources). I didn’t say he would do it, since I’ve not seen him do it, but with what was being discussed, I do think it was fine to say “if,” and to continue on — as you rightfully point out — and discuss the problem of bigotry in general. And sometimes, as you say, preempting the discussion is important. This way could prevent bad political advice.

  • Steve

    Ummm what Church does President Obama belong too? He may not be Muslim but he certainly not a practicing Christian.

    • He will visit a church from time to time. However, he follows a rather contemporary Protestant understanding of being a practicing Christian. I don’t agree with the Protestant privatization of faith, however, I understand it is there — and so to say he isn’t a practicing Christian because he follows a Protestant practice is rather odd.

      More importantly, President Obama does let out his Christian faith from time to time. Indeed, Rush Limbaugh got upset when Obama said everything should be seen in the light of the resurrection!

      • Kurt

        The President prays and reads the Bible daily. He is a member of the United Church of Christ. He particpates in Christian worship at Camp David and occassionally in churches in Washington. If we are measuring him by church attendence, he is ahead of Bush and Bush and Reagan and Nixon and Eisenhower, though behind Clinton and Carter and JFK and Truman and FDR and Hoover.

        As for Mr. Limbaugh, I don’t know where or if he worships God. I just know when coming back from vacation he needs to keep in luggage closed so the airport floor is not littered with his romance enhancing pharmaceuticals and prophylactics.

    • Charles

      Steve, where did you pull this from? The President is a practicing Christian and was a member of a black church that got him in some trouble during the election as it was, like Mr. Romney’s Mormon faith, not the “right kind of Christian.”

  • Anne

    It is odd how (not counting Obama) Democratic presidents have generally attended church services more regularly and had longer-lasting marriages than Republicans who’ve adopted religiosity and strong family values as political selling points. I’m not noting this for political purposes. I just find it ironic, and often wonder why. Just a coincidence?

  • Anne

    The “longer-lasting marriages” part of that may be hardest to claim. Still, Reagan holds the record as the first and only divorced and remarried president. I have to admit I was thinking as much in terms of candidates for president as presidents themselves, since the candidate pool has consisted of more divorced and remarried Republicans (McCain, Gingrich, etc.) than Democrats.