A little while ago, while discussing the element of faith in political candidates (prompted by Rick Perry’s Day Of Prayer), commenter (and former Wizbang Blue editor) Steve Crickmore challenged me on my opinions of people of faith — and its role in public service:
I have always found Jay´s condemnation of Obama for his quiet, (perhaps even questioning) faith, totally incoherent, coming from Jay´s position as an all-encompassing agnostic. I would like to hear Jay´s delineation, another time. But on ther hand, Jay seems to admire Rick Perry setting the stage for his run for national office, in a noisy, well-advertized, prayer/service, so he can testify he has seen the light, that somehow eludes Jay,… maybe, because he is not running for public office? There are no atheists or agnostics in this Congress, nor one unaffiliated or none of your business. I´m sure Jay would find some faith, soon enough, if he were? Would his, be more like Obama or Perry`s if he did? I imagine it would depend where he was running? Perry is a simple man, so the complete blueprint in the Bible, word for word, which never mentions freedom of thought or intelligence, undoubtedly attracts him.
Lapsed Christians or quite meditative ones, like Obama who can quote scripture are “insincere”, because they don´t, like Perry, publicly try to convince (maybe even themselves), that “they know”, rather than just going about their business, given only the customary platitudes, such as “God bless America,” at the end of an address. If that is insincere, as in as for God’s sake, I guess Obama is.
First up, I feel I should reiterate that I am agnostic, not atheist. I do not acknowledge the existence of a supreme being, but nor do I deny it. I am in no way hostile to religion; on the contrary, I consider myself somewhat “religous-friendly.”
So, how does this non-believer (dammit, I want a cool term, like “heretic” or “heathen” or “infidel!”) consider religion and its rule in public office?
Generally, I find it not that important as to whether or not a politician proclaims their faith, or their strength of faith — but I pay fairly close attention to their sincerity. To me, it’s a decent indicator of their general character.
Let’s take a look at the two examples before us above — Rick Perry and Barack Obama. Both men profess to be Christians, and that their faith is very important to them and guides them.
Perry attends church regularly. He, when prompted or finds it appropriate, cites and discusses his faith. He organized a day of prayer, and led it with a rather well-crafted (and pretty non-partisan) appeal to his personal deity. He, in general, reminds me of a lot of people I’ve known who are fairly strong and sincere in their faith.
Barack Obama, though… he definitely strikes me as someone going through the motions. His attendance at Jeremiah Wright’s church was so significant to him that he had Wright perform his marriage, baptize his daughters, bought tapes of his sermons to listen to in DC, and even used a phrase of Wright’s for one of his book titles. But then, once his presidential campaign kicked in, people started looking carefully at Wright’s sermons and beliefs. And they found out that there were a lot of things there that a lot of Americans found repugnant.At that point, Obama distanced himself from Wright.
Now, there are two key points here that need to be hammered home. First, the investigators who uncovered these statements by Wright found them in very short order — while Obama hadn’t picked up on them in 20 years. The two explanations for this are equally damning: Obama simply didn’t pay enough attention in that 20 years to pick up on them, or Obama was simply so tone-deaf that he didn’t realize how a lot of Americans would react to them.
The second point is how quickly Obama threw Wright and the church under the bus. He had sunk 20 years into that relationship, his chosen expression of his spirituality, but chucked it aside the instant it became a political liability.
Obama’s public expressions of his spirituality are also troubling. He hasn’t settled on a church, so he and his children haven’t been continuing their religious observations since they moved to the White House. Obama has had, I believe, more religious observations for non-Christian faiths than for Christianity. And most troubling, his description of how he prays.
I’ve had a lot of Christian friends, and we’ve discussed prayer on several occasions. They usually describe it as “asking God for His guidance” or “asking for the wisdom to know His will” or “asking for the strength to do His will.” They don’t pray for specific things or outcomes, they don’t ask for His blessing on their goals and intentions; they’re submitting themselves to God.
Obama, though, probably let a bit more slip than he intended, when he was asked about whether he prays daily:
It’s not formal, me getting on my knees. I think I have an ongoing conversation with God. I think throughout the day, I’m constantly asking myself questions about what I’m doing, why am I doing it.
Obama’s “conversations with God” means asking himself questions.
That ties in nicely with a rather bitter quip I once read, but stuck with me: “of course Obama’s an atheist. He can’t accept the notion of a power greater than he.”
That’s my gut instinct about Obama: he doesn’t believe in any particular faith. He caters to Jews and Muslims for political gain, and professes Christianity for its benefits, but in his heart of hearts he doesn’t really believe, like people of true faith do.
And while I have no problem with that in and of itself, it’s the insincerity of the position that bothers me. Religion is simply too important a matter to ass around with false professions — it’s why I found Pascal’s Wager so repugnant, until I actually looked it up and caught the “this may lead to true faith” aspect. I’m still suspicous of it, but I no longer get so outraged at it.
Steve also said that no atheist could ever be elected to public office. That’s technically not true — Representative Pete Stark of California has proclaimed himself an atheist, and he’s been re-elected twice since he “came out” — but he’s very much the exception. Steve might be technically wrong, but he’s on the right track.
So, do I agree with Perry’s faith? Absolutely not. I am far more in line with what I think Obama’s true beliefs are than I am Perry’s. And there’s pretty no way I’d ever vote for a religious authority for any kind of elective office. I have no problems with having leaders as men of faith, but I would never want to entrust temporal power in the hands of someone who already wields spiritual power. When Pat Robertson ran for president, I swore to vote for anyone — even the Communist Party nominee — before I would vote for him.
Religion is an incredibly important subject. Rick Perry seems to respect that enough that he is honest and candid about his beliefs. Obama, on the other hand, seems more interested in telling us what he thinks we want to hear.
My respect goes towards the more sincere one.