Saturday, September 22, 2012

Judge Not

Some months ago, in April, to be exact, syndicated talk show host, movie critic and putative pundit Michael Medved penned (sorry about all the "p's" - it just happened) an article for USA Today entitled "Our forefathers got it right -- no religious test." He means for public office. His purpose, which he arrives at toward article's end, is to short-circuit any untoward curiosity about or discomfort with Mitt Romney's religion that voters might be experiencing. If, for example, you are an orthodox Christian who finds it peculiar that a presidential candidate belongs to a sect that calls itself Christian while rejecting the Nicene Creed, well, just shutup about it. That sort of stuff doesn't matter. Says Mr. Medved:

The ugliest byproduct of this year's protracted struggle for the Republican presidential nomination involves the unwelcome return of the discredited, dangerous old idea of imposing religious tests on candidates for public office.

He is quite outraged that during the Louisiana Republican primary, which Santorum won in a landslide, "73% of Republican voters insisted that it 'matters that a candidate shares my religious beliefs' — expressing the conviction that it's appropriate to judge a prospective president based on his theological orientation."

Mr. Medved is horrified because

Many of those same social conservatives who claim to revere the plain text of the Constitution seem determined to ignore its prohibition on religious tests for federal office."

Which text in particular is not being shown sufficient reverence?

Article VI, Clause 3 unambiguously states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

Well, Mike, as one who does not "revere" the text of anything except the Bible, Papal encyclicals, the decrees of ecumenical councils, the essays and sermons of John Henry Newman, the sonnets of Shakespeare, and the honey-do lists my wife leaves on the kitchen counter, this sounds like an article and a clause ripe for amendment. But since I am probably (certainly) in the minority on this, even among social conservatives, I must say that I haven't heard a one demanding that Mitt be subjected to an official interrogation by any religious or secular authority, upon which his eligibility for office would hang. And of course he, Medved, presents no evidence that anyone has so demanded. So what could he mean?

Well, it must be that some voters, including a few moderately well-known clergymen of various denominations, and acting purely as private citizens, have raised questions about Mormon theology. Is it really Christian, as its adherents claim? Is it a cult, as its opponents claim? Does Mitt believe that "God the Father is an incarnate being"? That "There is nothing that isn't material"? That "each person has something in him or her that is uncreated"? That "God was once a human being like ourselves and that we can become like him"? That there is a Heavenly Mother? Is the Mormon Trinity indivisible, or three separate entities, divine or otherwise? Is the Holy Ghost a person? What might we infer from Mitt's (presumed) belief in the materiality of everything, including God, and the eternal existence of every human being, concerning the sacredness and inviolability of the human body? Where might all this lead him when confronted with certain moral issues like abortion and euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research - issues upon which he will be expected to lead us, and to use his powers of presidential suasion in one direction or another? Are these things even important? Am I allowed to take them into account when weighing whether or not to cast my vote for the man?

In case you thought you were allowed to ask yourself such questions, Mr. Medved offers a further remonstrance:

...most of the Founders objected even to informal religious tests and demonstrated a consistent willingness to confer positions of responsibility on those who did not share their religious beliefs.

He offers no written evidence to this effect by the Founders themselves, but instead points to Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration, and Commodore John Barry, founder of the U.S. Navy, both Catholics who rose to prominence in spite of the "strong antipathy to 'Papists' and 'the Roman Church,'" characteristic of the time. Should you point out that these Papists and their Protestant fellow travelers in rebellion could all recite the Creed in unison, Medved has Thomas Jefferson up his sleeve, a reputed Deist harboring odd theories about Christianity, and Abraham Lincoln, who was pilloried for his failure to join a church, and whose orthodoxy is to this day a subject of biographical disputation. Both believed in a providential God, but both were also attacked for either a known or presumed lack of orthodoxy.

Things evolve. Today we find Protestants who used to call the Church the Whore of Babylon enthusiastically supporting the Papist Santorum, unlike the bad old days when such prejudice derailed the candidacy of Papist Al Smith. Mitt Romney, as a man of faith, should be extended the same courtesy. That he is such a man of faith, Medved is at pains to demonstrate:

He has devoted his life to religious service. He not only toiled for two years as a youthful missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but for 13 years he also served as a lay Mormon bishop and stake president, winning recognition as one of the most important LDS leaders in New England.

And, you forgot to add, formerly one of the least (but now most) important RINO Republican pro-abortion, compulsory health care governors in the nation, consequent to the fact that he is now a candidate for governor of the whole republic. In short, says Medved, "Mitt Romney would be an obvious choice for people of faith."

To which I must ask: So what? Who cares? You just finished telling me I ought not consider his faith at all. What difference does it make whether he has any? Have you changed your mind about religious tests? At the very end you say, "But the very process of analyzing denominational doctrine rather than reviewing values, personal biography and policy proposals betrays the core principles of pluralism, Lincoln and the Constitution."

So the core principles of pluralism are not plural enough to embrace those of us who analyze denominational doctrine? And when I review his values, am I not imposing a religious test in which I compare his professed values with his denominational doctrine?

Here's a question for you, Mike. Suppose the Democratic or Republican party somehow nominated for President an avowed atheist. Would it bother you particularly if I just wrote him off as someone I can't trust, and therefore impossible to vote for? Even if his professed values seem in line with the traditionally Christian sort, I am allowed to suspect that, when the crunch is on and the liberal scream machine at full volume, he might abandon the sanctity of life, am I not? Because that's exactly what happened to Romney in the Todd Akin case.

Here's another one, Mike. Suppose the Democrats nominated a Muslim for President, one who thought that sharia law ought to govern in predominantly Muslim communities, thus making Christians and atheists subject to it. Would that bother you? Would this Muslim nominee be free, in turn, to nominate Supreme Court justices who shared his views? Would this nominee be required to take the oath of office by laying his hand upon a Bible or a Koran? If the latter, would that bother you? Because if you, like me, believe that the heart of this nation's morality and culture derives from the former and not at all from the latter, maybe we ought to wonder whether a devout Muslim can swear to his God to uphold the values and the core pluralistic values of a Christian nation without violating certain "denominational doctrines" of his own faith. Any of this give you pause?

Here's the best of all, Mike (and the last, you'll be glad to hear). Do you remember that appearance by McCain and Obama at the Saddleback Forum back in 2008, during which they submitted to questioning by a Christian pastor? I hate to break it, but that was a religious test, Mike. And I'm glad for it. I learned something about Obama that day. Of course, to be perfectly honest, I'd already been religious-testing him before that and well after, too. And it was his own fault. He had some Muslim connections in his background, and thus seemed to think it important to let us all know that he was in fact Christian. He even pointed to the church he'd attended for over twenty years. Sure, it was a liberal church, which pleased some people but not others, but both sides were religious-testing him, one side lauding his liberation theology enlightenment, the other disdaining the dark age of racial division and America-bashing to which he would return us. He even told us how much he loved the pastor who had married him. When the pastor turned out to be a nut, Obama wisely discarded him. (The pastor failed the religious test.) Later, Obama said that his Justice Department would no longer uphold the Defense of Marriage Act, even though the Christian Obama claimed while running that he believed marriage should be between one man and one woman. Later still, when he came out in favor of same-sex marriage, he again used his Christianity to justify this new and completely opposite position. The one thing that remained constant throughout his political public life was his appetite for unfettered abortion in all its most horrible forms, an appetite the envy of any Moloch. Christianity sure is malleable, isn't it? The only way I know to figure out which Christianity is true, his version or mine, is to go back to the sources - to Scripture, to the Creeds, to the whole testament of Christian tradition - in short, to "analyze doctrine," which you don't want me to do. But because I did, I figured out what Obama was long before he was elected. As a result, I didn't vote for him. Aren't you happy?

Regarding this attempt to forbid our putting any candidate to even an informal religious test, this counsel to self-censorship in matters closest to our hearts, I'd like to say simply, "Take a hike, Mike." To break some more bad news, people are just like that. It's instinctive to want to know for whom they are voting. They want to know what he is at the core. Well, some of us, anyway, we social conservatives who don't properly "revere" the sacred constitutional text as filtered through the Medved magisterium.

Of interest: Mary Kochan of Catholic Lane explores the Mormon implications in more detail.


Lydia McGrew said...

The Mike magisterium is completely wrong. The religious test clause has nothing to do with the motivations of voters. It would have been absurd to have a clause of the Constitution forbidding voters to have certain motives when they vote; that just isn't what it means. And to call individual voter motivations an "informal religious test" is just for him to confuse matters, as though it's somehow "borderline unconstitutional" to have the "wrong motives" in voting. Maybe it's in the penumbra or something. Balderdash. The constitution doesn't tell you anything about why you must or mustn't vote for somebody. You can vote for somebody because he's your uncle or because you think he's good-looking, or anything of the kind, and it isn't unconstitutional in any sense of the word.

Now, if Congress while confirming someone were to say, "Are you Catholic? Is that in conflict with the office for which you are appointed?" _that_ would be either borderline or over unconstitutional. Oh, wait. Haven't they done something much like that not too long ago with a Catholic appointee?

William Luse said...

Preach it. I'm in the choir but that's okay.

Medved would have been better off saying, "Yeah, put him to a religious test, and what you'll find is a man of faith in spite of his oddball theology, the tree being known by it's fruit," and so on. Wouldn't convince me but it might some.

"Are you Catholic? Is that in conflict with the office for which you are appointed?" Funny how that question never gets asked of a Sebelius, since they know that her faith will always yield its seat on the bus to her boss's religious relativism.