by Stephen P. Pizzo
At the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Florida this weekend, a heckler yelled at presidential hopeful Mitt Romney that he was not a “real Christian,” since he was a Mormon and his church, also known as the Church of Later Day Saints (LDS), the Christian heckler charged, “is a cult.”
Romney didn't lose his cool. He just smiled and a calmly replied that, what particular faith a candidate held was unimportant. All he cared about, Romney claimed, was that the next President of the United States “is a person of faith.”
Really? Does that mean Romney would support a fundamentalist Muslim candidate for President, one who believes that US law should be replaced with strict Islamic law?
How about a Scientologist? Would Romney be comfortable with Tom Cruise in the Oval Office? Don't laugh. Remember, it was less than a century ago that the Mormon church was viewed by mainstream Christians the same way they view Scientology today. (Becoming a “religion” is, after all, a numbers game. Gather just a few followers, and you're cult. Gather a few million and you're officially a religion.)
My purpose here is not to bash Romney, his faith or anyone else's. America is chuck full of faiths, and that's just fine with me. Whatever floats your boat. But when I am picking a president, a person's publicly stated faith becomes another matter entirely.
This is serious business — the most serious. We've had nearly seven years of experience with what happens when we fail to nail down just what a candidate really means when he or she claims they are “a person of faith.” We have a guy in the White House today who repeatedly evoked the name of God and Jesus during his campaign, assuring us that he had been “saved,” and was, therefore, a certified “person of faith," — pronouncements that went unexplored and unchallenged.
What we discovered, too late, was that for once young George wasn't lying. Among the things Bush had “faith” in was that his decisions were endorsed from on-high — by no less than God Himself. He also believes that creation had more to do with “intelligent design,” than natural evolutionary processes, and that bundles of cells moments after fertilization are itty-bitty people.
All the warnings were there, but weren't pursued. And so it came to pass that George's faith blessed an illegal and un-winnable war in which hundreds of thousands of “full-term humans” have been — and are still being — killed.
He appointed others who shared his “faith” to government posts, and they acted on their faith too. These appointees of faith today shun real science when it collides with their faith and instead provide aid and comfort to practitioners of faith-based un-science, who proceeded to cripple potentially life-saving stem cell research, all in the name of “life.”
So we learned, the hard way, that there can be seerious consequences for failing to parse details out of otherwise bland-sounding claims of "faith."
The cost we've paid, and will pay for decades to come, for the media's failure to press George on his faith has cost Americans, and the world, more than can now be calculated. Only history may be able to weigh the cost of Bush's arrogant, ignorant, numskull faith-based polices.
Nevertheless, here we go again. There's already a baker's dozen of candidates, from both parties, out on the hustings, advertising themselves as “persons of faith.” Of course there are two possibilities with each; they are simply lying to attract “voters of faith,” or they're telling the truth — like George.
The media's first job should be to sort out which is which.
If the candidate is claiming "faith" just to herd some of the religious flock into their coral, then they're a liar, and we've had quite enough of that kind of leadership already too, thank you very much.
If they're telling the god's-honest truth, and really are a “person of faith,” then the media's work should really begin. Reporters should treat claims of faith with the same scrutiny as they treat claims of fiscal responsibility and personal morality — with due diligence. That means plumbing the depths of a candidate's advertised faith. Just what is it that that candidate has faith in? What are the central tenants of that faith? How do those tenants shape the candidate's private and public life, how they conduct their business, form their decisions, shape their view of life and the world around them?
Inquiring minds should want to know.
But we haven't wanted to know in the past, and we've paid a horrific price for that lapse of democratic responsibility. Why? Because we continue to consider probing a person's faith as impolite, even intolerant.
That's provides a free-bee to candidates. It allows candidates to advertise “faith” as a reason we should vote for them, unchallenged, unexplored. Their faith, these candidates assure us, is one of the personal and professional assets we should consider in voting for them — yet we cannot allowed to inspect this asset, weigh it or even judge its sanity — or lack thereof.
This is how we end up with people in the Oval Office who believe in some pretty strange things — really believe in them. Take Mit Romney for example. Romney is a Mormon, and by all accounts a devout Mormon. Now, remember that college student who asked candidate Bill Clinton whether he wore “boxers or briefs?” Well she might drop her jaw if she'd asked Romney the same question. If Romney wins in 2008 America will have the distinction of being the only nation with a leader who believes he's wearing magic underwear.
The temple garment ... is a set of sacred underclothing worn by adult male and female Latter Day Saints ...Those who wear the garment consider them sacred and may be offended by public discussion of the garments. Anti-Mormon activists have publicly displayed or defaced temple garments to show their opposition to the LDS Church.... It is worn, in part, to remind adherents that they have made special oaths and covenants to God. .. The garment and the covenants made in conjunction with it are believed to be a spiritual "shield and protection" against the powers of evil, and sometimes against physical harm.
(More on that here.)
So there's that.. but holy undies are the tip of the iceberg of Mormon beliefs. (Plenty more questions here)
Romney wasn't the only presidential candidate twirling prayer beads at the Religious Broadcasters Convention. Straight-talker-crooked-walker, John McCain was there too. He tried to out-person-of-faith Romney by coming out four-square against abortion. Why? Because, he explained, he's “a person of faith” — specifically their faith — the Christian fundamentalist faith. And he wants their vote.
As a foreign policy expert, McCain must know that most of those at that convention also believe that Armageddon — the “End Days” — can arrive only once all-out war consumes the Middle East and all “unsaved” Jews are massacred - among other things:
Although there are many variations in perspective among religious believers, a few specific events which are commonly held by many of dispensationalist inclination have been attributed to Bible passages:
- The revival of Israel as a nation, (last generation before Christ): Parable of the fig tree, Matt.24:32, Mark 13:28, Luke 21:29
- A strong and united European state (United States of Europe), (revived Roman Empire): Daniel 2
- Various tribulation events: Matt.24:4, Mark13:5, Luke21:5
in Iraq -> Jeremiah 50 "Concerning Babylon, A nation from the north
will capture her" — It is important to note that Iraq has been
conquered several times by Ottoman Turks, British, Persians, Greeks,
Arabs, etc. (although maybe only captured specifically and not
conquered by the British, there is a distinct difference) (More)
Who knows. Maybe one or both men share such beliefs. We don't know. We can't know because, while the media has no problem turning a candidate's personal finances and even sex lives inside out, reporters can't seem to bring themselves to give a candidate's stated “faith,” the same level of inquiry.
Reporters demand to know what a candidate's position is on tax cuts, but show no curiosity about what a candidate's advertised faith leads him or her to believe on pressing issues that could get us all killed if they get it wrong — like global warming. The Christian right is full of folks who believe God will bring mankind's reign on earth to an end in His own good time and in His own way. And, if global warming is His way, so be it. If a candidate for our nation's highest office is of that “faith,” might we not want to know that before we vote?
I have made no secret of the fact that I am a hardcore secularist. So that's my “faith,” and I am happy to answer anyone's probing questions about what I believe and don't believe. For example, I don't believe Noah got one of every kind of animal on earth aboard a boat he built in his backyard. And frankly it makes me more than a little nervous when I realize we currently have a President (with access to nuclear weapons) who believes that literally happened just as the Bible says.
Am I wrong to worry about that degree of reality disconnect at the very top of my government?
When George W. Bush was asked if he ever sought his father's advice, he responded, “No, I consult a higher source.” You know Who he was referring to. Unfortunately that “higher source,” gave us Iraq and has saddled our federal judiciary with hundreds of faith-based-friendly judges. Person of faith, George W. Bush has perverted taxpayer funded, secular, family planning programs and organizations. He and his persons of faith appointees have morphed them into faith-based — nearlyTalibanish — instruments to deny women control over their own reproductive prerogatives. And, since George's “higher source” has assures him America is No. 1with the Big Guy, George treats the rest of the world with dismissive contempt.
Have we not learned anything from all that?
When Joe Biden mispoke a few weeks ago, describing Barack Obama as “clean,” reporters beat that horse to death. Why? Because, they reminded us, “words matter.” Well, if words matter so much, shouldn't faith matter even more?
What I am suggesting here is that the media not allow candidates a free pass any longer on blanket claims of “faith.” Precisely what are the driving tenants of the faith they claim? And how much of it does the candidate believe is literal .. I mean really believe? Then ask the candidate to explain how he/she would handle the contradictions and tensions between what their stated faith holds true, and their duties as a secular leader.
It amazes me that this discussion has not already begun. After all, it's not like we don't know where the road that mixes religion and politics leads. We are entangled in a part of the world — the Middle East — almost entirely run by “men of faith.” And look where it's gotten them. One would think just watching the evening news would be enough to sober up right wing Christians who believe that the cure for all that ails America is to elect more “leaders of faith.”
I say all this “faith-branding” among candidates is serious business and we better start treating it as such. It has already reshaped public policy and will continue to do so in ways we cannot control or predict until we stop pussyfooting around and get to what's really going on between the ears of candidates who to be “persons of faith.” And that's not going to happen until the media begins treating pronouncements of faith with the same level of suspicion and curiosity as they treat a candidate's secular claims and positions.
If the media began doing that tomorrow, I predict it would quickly yield two postive results in matter of days:
First it would flush out the intellectual lightweights — and the wingnuts, like George — running for office. Because such folk really can't tell the difference between the real and the metaphysical, or care to. Instead they wear blind faith as a badge of honor, no matter how absurd their beliefs might be. They are easy pickings for reports who simply have to pose the questions. They'll gush out the answers in all their nonsensical glory. After that, voters can decide if, for example, they want to turn the keys of the country over to someone that believes the universe is only 6000 years old, mankind and dinosaurs co-existed and burning bushes can talk — or not.
Then, within a week of the media asking for more information about the candidate's advertised faith, serious candidates in the race would drop the “I'm-a-person-of-faith-too,” gambit like a hot potato.
Then we can around to finally picking among candidates willing and capable of ruling what's becoming a very complicated and increasingly deadly earthly realm.
Ponder ThisVia Eric Martin, one of McClatchy's Iraqi bloggers wonders if the Bush administration has asked itself this question:
If the war started between U.S. and Iran, on which side the Iraqi government will be?
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