Politics, philosophy, religion, and other things

Friday, July 13, 2007

Does the (future) President have religion?

One of the things I find most interesting about the upcoming elections are the choices facing conservative Christians in the Presidential elections. Conservative Christians generally hold that the religious beliefs of prospective political candidates are relevant to their fitness as American leaders. But this puts them in a bit of a pickle in the upcoming election. While the major Democratic candidates are quite vocal about how their Christianity has affected their political commitments, the major Republican candidates are rather less . McCain has always had a distrustful relationship with the Religious Right. Giuliani disagrees with conservative Christians on most social issues and seldom discusses his religious views. And Romney, who has positioned himself as the most conservative candidate is a Mormon--which many, if not most, conservative Christians would place him outside of Christianity altogether.

Some liberals write fairly scornfully of evangelical Christians. I think some evangelical ideas deserve this. And evangelicals have certainly been at least as scornful and vituperative in writing against liberal ideas. But I am not sure that the liberals are very good at understanding or predicting how Christians will react politically. It is occasionally asserted that Republicans engage in dog-whistle politics--where as long as they say the right buzz-words they will get the Christian vote. I don't know if this is true. After all, this would be effective only as a signalling device--a way to show Christian voters that you are one of them. The reason this worked so well with Bush is that he really did convince evangelical Christians that he was one of them--a born-again Christian with the same religious and spiritual concerns they had. Will this work as well for a Republican candidate that cannot identify religiously with the evangelical community? I don't know, but I suspect not. If the Republicans fail to mobilize the evangelical vote again in this election, will the Bush presidency be anomalous? And if so, can the Democratic party peel off some of these voters by presenting strongly religious candidates?

I am doubtful. While I do think that the failure of the Bush presidency will deservedly tarnish and hamper most efforts to mobilize evangelical Christians, I am unconvinced that these voters will switch parties. It is not enough to just be religious. After all, even the Muslims are religious. What is important is that you be of the proper religion. And frankly, liberal politics has overwhelmingly been identified with liberal Christianity amongst the evangelical community. And evangelical Christians has defined itself in opposition to liberal Christianity.

Furthermore, I think many underestimate how well evangelical Christianity meshes with the current policies of the Bush administration. For instance, why are evangelical Christians so fervently in support of the war in Iraq? Shouldn't they, as Christians, be against war a la Jesus's many sayings on humility and forgiveness? Is is just group identification? Or is it that they've believed the (formerly) cunning lies of the Bush administration? An unjustified assumption is that these Christians wouldn't support the war on the basis of their religious beliefs. After all, evangelical Christians are Christian. That is, they believe that God is on their (the U.S.) side. And with God on their side, how can they lose? Only by a lack of faith--i.e. by giving up because the war looks hopeless. And not only Christian, but evangelical. Their ultimate goal is not peace in the Middle East, but a Christian awakening. Of course they will support the overthrow of governments they view as anti-Christian (i.e. not run by Christians). This would be a policy goal vitally important to them in a way that is almost invisible to secular people.

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