Monday, October 23, 2006

The political role of religion

It's really interesting how people, especially in the media, select what's important. One of their favorite topics is Evangelical Christians as if they can tell them what to think or do.

Of course they're disgusted with behavior of Republicans like Mark Foley, but, as Hugh Hewitt likes to say, no matter what the question is, "electing more Democrats" cannot be the answer. This portrait of religious conservatives as simple-minded, black & white thinkers is delusionary. It assumes that anybody who has any sense would at least be agnostic. If you've never felt a real spiritual experience yourself, how can you deny it's reality?

Religious conservatives know that there are disappointments in life, but they also know that calling for Dennis Hastert or Don Rumsfeld to resign over the actions of someone else they didn't authorize and don't approve of doesn't make much sense. They're not stupid or automatons. Faith is a conscious choice, an act of will. It's a decision to obey certain teachings to receive a witness. As Jesus said, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." The spirit speaks through our emotions, which are dismissed a priori by materialists and atheists. Feelings, as anyone knows, are real, and are some of the most powerful motives in our lives. To dismiss them as unreal, merely chemical reactions or some type of mechanistic result of natural selection is to close off an entire realm of experience. Science is a subset of all experience, not the whole.

Anyhow, this is one of the techniques the "smart people" use to mislead: belittle those who believe, and deny their legitimacy in our democracy.

Heather Mac Donald makes a cogent case against invoking one's faith in political debate. But that is different from what I'm talking about. She's saying that it's a shallow and dishonest argument to say, "Vote for me, because I'm religious." She rightly points out that, "The rich history of religious bounders and charlatans should give the lie to that hope. Nor has a sincere belief in God prevented behavior we now view as morally repugnant." One is reminded of Jimmy Swaggart sobbing on screen and Jim and Tammy Fae Bakker repenting on camera.

I would never argue that because my religion teaches certain principles that you should believe them, too. But that's a different proposition from telling me that my views are illegitimate because they're based in faith. When people tell exit pollsters that "moral values" are their most important concern, they're not saying that they want all politicians to talk about their faith. I've seen liberal women gush over Barbra Streisand and Hillary Clinton as if they could never lie or be vindictive. To me, this seems like naive faith in a political position, and it's repulsive. When people like that talk about their faith or their upbringing in a "praying" home, most people will have the same response. However, when someone says what he believes we have to judge his sincerity. That doesn't mean it's logically persuasive, but it does give us a basis for judging his character, and character is one of the things we base our votes on.

I heard a clip of Hillary urging a Democrat crowd to defeat that evil Right Wing Conspiracy, and she sounded just like she was trying to sound like Bill. But she just sounded shrill and insincere. Bill himself has never struck me as honest. He's too slick. Hillary isn't slick at all. She's stiff and strained, like Al Gore forcing himself to high dudgeon.

I didn't buy Bush's religiosity at first either. It set off bells. But after I watched his hehavior and reactions to baiting from the media, I recognized something. He acts like a person who has read the Sermon on the Mount and is trying to live by it. I respect that, even if his refusal to fight back often frustrates me.

I think highly of Heather Mac Donald because she is cogent. She presents facts and presents discerning logic in her analyses. To me, she comes across as honest, not as someone who's trying to shine me on. I don't believe that anybody should support a position or a candidate based on his faith without being able to see the logic behind his position. I think integrity consists of consistency between your with your avowed beliefs, verifiable facts, logic and behavior. That doesn't rule make religious faith a requirement, but it doesn't make it invalid, either.

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