Thursday, June 07, 2007

Which Faith Do They Mean?

In America, any person, even a presidential wannabe, is free to practice whatever religion he or she chooses. Constitutionally, it would seem that a candidate is free to mention his or her beliefs, and members of the voting public are equally free to use those religious beliefs as a Ouija Board pointer to help them pick a favorite.

When presidential candidates refer to their “faith,” though, they almost always use the word in the abstract. But in their private lives, they all do claim to practice a specific religion. It would be deceitful for candidates to claim that their faith is merely some amorphous belief in a fuzzy, non-sectarian supernatural being. No, for each candidate, his or her faith springs from a particular set of religious teachings, which conflict with the teachings of other religions. A candidate who professes faith is essentially endorsing one religion over others.

The implication of all the “faith” talk is that each candidate will, if elected, use his or her faith to influence presidential actions. Otherwise, why discuss faith at all?

But using a specific faith under which to govern may lead to a violation of the First Amendment. That amendment speaks only of the actions of Congress, not of the president. However, if Congress follows the policy recommendations of a president who uses his or her faith to help decide governmental questions, that Congress is endorsing the president’s religion — at the expense of others.

A president swears (or affirms — ha!) to “... preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States.” That Constitution clearly forbids lawmakers from establishing religion (Note: not a religion, but religion in general).

Some interpreters argue that an “a” is implied, and that Congress may legislate in a vaguely pro-religious way as long as it doesn’t support one belief system over another. But nobody except the most blatant theocrat believes that one religion should be favored. So the president, whoever it may be, must not allow Congress to be swayed by his or her own particular form of faith. If the president makes decisions based on that faith — a faith grounded in a specific religion — and urges legislators to implement such decisions, the president is acting contrary to an explicit Constitutional prohibition.

Therefore: For a candidate to make an implied promise that faith will play a part in his or her governmental decisions is tantamount to saying that he or she, if elected, will violate the Constitution.


John P said...

What irritates me is that faith is considered a virtue. The idea of believing in something without evidence, in many cases in the face of contradictory evidence, is counter-intuitive, yet still a virtue. Why? Because churches and religions have been indoctrinating their adherents for generations that it's true.

So when the media makes a big deal by questioning a candidates faith, they are simply reinforcing this idea, and the candidates go along for the ride, because after all, it's votes they want, not followers.

So it's pandering, pure and simple. The constituents place a high regard on faith, so then faith has to be emphasized. All this despite the fact that it has little, if any bearing, on the ability or competency to govern. In fact, it may only be a factor in inverse proportion to it's incidence.

The Exterminator said...


I agree with everything you say, except that "candidates go along for the ride." I think candidates actively look for the ride and hail it as loudly as they can -- as if it were a big-city taxicab.

What I'm also suggesting in this post is that the incessant faith talk, aside from being offensive, may raise legal issues.

Chuck Blanchard said...

A very interesting point. I guess my answer is that there is a distinction between the thoughtless "I have to vote this way because my religion tells me to do so" and "I vote this way because that is what I believe, and my religious faith--together with my views of economics and politics--no doubt influence my beliefs." It seems to me that the first case is unconstitutional. The second is not.

I thought that you would be interested in the following statement from Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis in an essay entitled, "A Reply to Professor Haldane" (Lewis, C.S. "A Reply to Professor Haldane." On Sotries. ed. Walter Hooper. Harcort & Brace Co. Orlando, Florida. 1996.):

"I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. And the higher the pretensions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber barron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point may be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely more because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations.

And since Theocracy is the worst, the nearer any government approaches to Theocracy the worse it will be. A metaphysic held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them, like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly high, super-personal sanction to all the very ordinary human passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be actuated. In a word, it forbids wholesome doubt. A political programme can never in reality be more than probably right. We never know all the facts about the present and we can only guess the future. To attach to a party programme -- whose highest claim is to reasonable prudence -- the sort of assent which we should reserve for demonstrable theorems, is a kind of intoxication."

My Christian faith undoubtedly affects my views on issues, but my views are not shared by all (or most) Christians--even within my own denomination. Similarly, I doubt that every atheist has the same opinion on issues--but I also supsect that an atheists world view will color their views on issues. In viewing candidates, I like to know their world view so I can understand how they are likely to respond to particular issues. And I will vote for an atheist who will come down my way on issues like poverty and war over a Christian who will not,

The Exterminator said...


It's good to know that you don't have a faith requirement for political candidates. I don't either. Politicians' protestations of faith make me very uncomfortable, but, standing by themselves, they usually wouldn't keep me from voting for a person I think is otherwise qualified. I will say, though, that I wouldn't be able to vote for a contender who panders at every opportunity to the so-called social conservatives. That's not an anti-religion stance on my part, though; it's just an anti-bullshit one.