Politically Faithful

Last night, on the MSNBC show “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” stand-in host Michael Smerconish, along with contributors Richard Wolffe and John Heilemann, discussed the contents of Bill Keller’s New York Times article Asking Candidates Tougher Questions About Faith, which states that, despite the uproar stemming from asking Tea Party Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann how she defined being “submissive” to her husband (as dictated by the Bible), the American media, as well as the American people, should be asking tougher questions about a candidate’s religious beliefs. Keller’s point was that it doesn’t matter the religious beliefs of the candidates, but whether they, to quote the article:

[place] fealty to the Bible, the Book of Mormon… or some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this country. It matters to me whether a president respects serious science and verifiable history…. I do care if religious doctrine becomes an excuse to exclude my fellow citizens from the rights and protections our country promises.

This sentimate was echoed by Wolffe, who said, “Journalists have the right to ask any questions of these Presidential candidates or of anyone in public life. The question really should be more precicely focused [on] what their religion does to their positions on policy, on public affairs, on events in general…. Bachmann is making lots of pronouncements about her religion, how it affects her worldview. It’s perfectly acceptable to go after that….”

While I’ve only had an opportunity to vote in one Presidential election in my lifetime so far, I’ve never really understood why a candidate’s religious views mattered in the public debate. Maybe I’m one of those “weird people” who care more about what a candidate is going to do to benefit the American people rather than which church they’ll attend on Sunday morning. Maybe it’s strange to make sure that the person I vote for is someone who has common beliefs about the issues that are important to me, rather than how often they pray to the “right” God.

However, I also believe that the candidates should be held responsible for the statements they make. If someone is going to say that a cultural event or a natural disaster is a “sign from God,” I’d like to know why they believe that, and if at some point they backtrack and say that it was just a joke, I’d like to know what prompted them to say it in the first place.

A person’s religious beliefs shouldn’t be thrust into the limelight. I’m a fan of “live and let live” as far as religion goes. But if a candidate is going to flaunt their religious beliefs as a political tactic, then absolutely they should be questioned about it. If they’re confident enough to publicly state their beliefs, they should be confident enough to answer questions about it, no matter what the questions are.

Bill Keller went a step further, sending a list of questions to the GOP candidates about their religious views, even going so far as to send specific questions to the candidates. Some of my favorite questions on the questionnaire:

  • If you encounter a conflict between your faith and the Constitution and laws of the United States, how would you resolve it?
  • Would you have any hesitation about appointing a Muslim to the federal bench? What about an atheist?
  • To Rick Santorum: You signed a pledge circulated by the Family Leader, an Iowa conservative group, promising “personal fidelity to my spouse.” Do you think cheating on a spouse disqualifies a candidate from being president?
  • To Mitt Romney: In your 2007 speech on religion, you said that “freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.” Where does that leave unbelievers, in your view?
  • These are not “gotcha questions.” These are questions that are important to a great majority of Americans. They’re questions based on statements that the candidates have made, and they should be held accountable for them. They’re questions that need answers. And if they don’t answer them, as Bill Keller says in the end of his article, “let’s keep on asking. Because these are matters too important to take on faith.”

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