Faith and Politics

Breaking news from CNN that Barack Obama has officially resigned his membership at Trinity United. This is unsurprising, as the church has caused nothing but trouble for Obama for the last several months.

But the underlying story here is the extent to which faith shapes our political opinions. There was, for example, widespread speculation that Romney's faith would hurt him in his presidential campaign. And indeed, many polls indicated that it was costing him Republican support at least to some extent. Obama, on the Democratic side, first had to fend off rumors that he was a closet Muslim. Subsequently he's been taken to task for his long-term involvement with a Christian church whose rhetoric is at times questionable at best. And this has in turn led to counteraccusations regarding the religious leadership associated with the Clintons and the McCains.

Ostensibly, most Americans agree that there is and should be a separation of church and state...that there should be no official American religion, and that a candidate should not be disqualified from seeking office on the basis of his faith (or, in some cases, his lack thereof). Yet faith is at the very core of who we are as a people -- Harris reported in 2003 that 90% of Americans believe in God and 36% attend church at least monthly. For many Americans, our values stem from our churches and our faith. So we can't help but assume that our candidates identify with the values espoused by their own churches. And thus we judge a candidate's moral and character fitness for office in part by the church s/he attends and its teaching.

Is this fair? I don't know. And I don't know if it matters whether it's fair. It just is. It's ingrained in who we are as a people, in how we think about our nation, and in how we think about ourselves as individuals. If we look back at the campaigns of Lieberman and Kennedy, it's clear religion has been an aspect of presidential politics for a long time. And yet I can't help but feel that in this election religion has played a larger role than it has in decades and decades. The question is whether the increased focus this year is merely an aberration, or rather a new precedent and indicator for the future of American politics.

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Excellent questions.

Genuine faith is the basis of one's life decisions.  It defines for the individual not merely the limits of right and wrong, but the very parameters of truth.  From our understanding of the unseen reality behind this present life (or our refusal to acknowledge same) comes our criteria for each decision  In my case, knowing God and seeking His will provides me with a framework by which to measure each issue.  Our basic principles, our views on specific issues, and our political decisions flow from our faith, not vice versa.

On the other hand, our religion can spring from our politics.  My suspicion is that much of the discourse on the realm of the spirit in the current political season falls into this latter category.  A person knows what they want to accomplish, or at least what they see as the right course for society, and becomes a part of a fellowship of like-minded individuals.  In essence, we fashion a god in our own image.

We also have the heritage of parental beliefs being transmitted to successive generations.  This is as it should be, but often the practices are passed down more than the faith.  We often say that God has no grandchildren; each of us must form our own relationship with Him.  Sadly, many of us never do, and either wander in the wilderness for many years, or blindly follow the rituals we were taught, with no connection to our spirits suggesting that such rituals carry any true significance.

The extraconstitutional phrase "separation of church and state," incidentally, stems from President Jefferson's 1802 letter to a group of Baptists in Danbury, CT.  It is worthy of note that it has been only within the past half century that the concept has been applied as a restriction on the church.  The expressed intent was to prohibit the new national government from sanctioning its own religious institution, as had been done by Henry VIII and his successors.  To suggest that the business of the public should ever be conducted without a firm reliance on the Divine nor the freedom of the individual to publicly call upon Him -- or not -- would have been unthinkable in the first American century.

Correct. The separation of

Correct. The separation of church and state does not necessitate a secular society.

So with respect to your comments here:

Our basic principles, our views on specific issues, and our political decisions flow from our faith, not vice versa.

Do you feel that the extent of religious vetting that we've seen this cycle is justified? Or has it crossed a line when, if Obama is to be believed, reporters are interfering with the abilities of parishioners to worship?  I can't decide. On the one hand, a man's beliefs and intentions are so intertwined with his faith and church that it seems some investigation is necessary. On the other hand, I don't see how it's permissable to invade a candidate's privacy and a sacred community to this extent. I know that much was made of Kennedy's religion, but in reviewing the journalism record, I see no evidence that reporters were interfering with (or even present at) the services.

As far as whether this story represents a new trend, I think it both does and doesn't. I think that with the attention we've seen to the details of the beliefs of Romney, Huckabee, and Obama, it's clear that a candidate's faith is and will continue to be an important consideration for voters weighing the candidate. But the extent to which we've seen the focus on Obama, that I think is a special case. I think it's in part due to his funny Muslim name, in part due to the fact that for most of us black churches and liberation theology (which are, incidentally, not one in the same) are somewhat of a mystery, and of course, in part because his minister is on the record with some inflammatory remarks.  So while I think we will continue to see almost gossip-style coverage of candidates' churches, I don't think it's likely we'll see it to the extent we've seen it this year.


Vetting is one thing,

but interfering with worship, teaching, programming, or any other aspect of a candidate's church or anyone else's is going beyond the necessary, perhaps even into the realm of antagonism.

I want to know all I can know about the personal faith experiences of both candidates (I mean, once the Dems finally make up their minds) and their running mates, and even their spouses.  (I realize that my interest in such matters is uncommonly deep, of course, but given my earlier comments, you can see how important I believe these things to be.)  However, if a reporter, a friend, a potential oppositional spy, or myself choose to visit a house of worship in order to learn such detail, we must do so with the utmost respect for the people who call that place THEIR house of worship, and above all, for the God that WE worship, who I suspect would likely think little of anything other than quiet and unobtrusive observation.

As Long as...

the Candidate is a Christian or a Jew I can support them. I ,myself, am an Atheist and comfortable in my decision based upon my personal interpretation of Life. Which is why I'm also a Republican, I choose to be an Atheist and a Republican because I think for myself and know that attempting to break a persons faith serves no purpose. Thats why I generally dislike other Atheist , which 100% of the time I have experienced are also Liberals.

When the Chit hits the fan I am on the side of the Jews and the Christians because they are what got US here and have a proven track record of being the winning team.

That said......I really wish you volks would stop turning your backs on Condoleezza Rice as VP.She is the most qualified 'person' in this nation and her appointment would carry over quite well into the 2012 election and beyond with Romney as her VP.  Go read her personal Biography then Try to consider it,Please.


I like Condi very much, Czar, but she's made it clear that she's done with Washington and is returning to her work as an educational activist.

Your perspective is fascinating! I've been reading quite a bit from the group known as "evangelical atheists," i.e. those atheists who are determined to show the religious folk the error of their ways. You certainly don't sound like any of them. Of course, I'm married to an atheist, and he doesn't sound like them either. I wonder how comfortable the majority of atheists are having the Sam Harris Richard Dawkins crew as their self-appointed spokesmen.


As an Atheist I despise Atheist.

As an Atheist I cannot stand Atheist. You know the type. They act like every Christian they have ever met has tried to convert them by quoting scripture or smacking them with a Bible.

At one time I was one of those people that felt ,given the chance, that I would and could convince a person that has faith in God,the Bible,Catholicism,etc... that I would be able to break them from their errant ways. One night I spent at least 6 hours just hammering away with every humanist and realist interpretation and explanation for every detail that my Catholic freind would choose to discuss. After hours of this <drunken> discourse he broke down and admitted to me his secret misgivings about Religion and ....well, quite frankly, I felt Horrible. Nothing had been accomplished of value.I took nothing away from what I had accomplished as a break in this mans faith xcept for a crap feeling in my gut. So That's how I feel now. Nothing is accomplished from breaking a persons faith so why spend the time in attempting to do so?

In my experience I have had to listen to Far more sniveling and borish Atheist going on and on about how they can't believe people could fall for the whole Religion thing.Then you have to listen to them talking about how they want to find a "nice local charter school that has as high standards as those Christian schools only without all of the teaching of "Morals and Purpose" and other crazy "Conservative" lessons. Then you have to listen to these twits actually labeling "Christains and Jews" as less than themselves because they choose to live their lives according to a code,rules, a belief system of rituals and practice.

I do not believe in God but I am an ally of the Believers. The really difficult part though is how to define who a true believer is because of all of the poseurs and oppurtunist that play the game but aren't in it for the spiritual reward. I do not believe for one second that Bill,Hillary,Obama and 90% of the other Politicians actually Believe in God or Jesus or anything else greater than themselves but they are so corrupt in their own personas that they would never ever never admit such a thing. But they will sure as hell sit their butts down in a Church every sunday.

  And so it is....