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Religion and Politics

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Well bred people are, I am told, very reluctant to discuss either religion or politics on social occasions; to discuss them in concert is generally considered to be in extremely poor taste. This reluctance often results in rather dull discussions.

The purpose of this article, in poor taste though it may be, is to explore what, if any, proper nexus there may be between religion and politics. I have opined in previous articles, here, here, here and also in various comments, that the hot button issue of abortion, fascinating though it is, has little if any legitimate place in the Presidential campaign, for the simple reason that there is precious little that a President can do about it. Tornadoes are undesirable and beautiful weather is desirable. Since we all (or at least most of us) agree with this conclusion, and recognize that a President can do nothing useful to prevent the one or to produce the other, they are not generally part of campaign discussions. I suppose that if a President came out four-square in favor of tornadoes or against beautiful weather, we might well consider him a lunatic and vote against him no matter what his stands might be on other issues. Perhaps the same may be said of the abortion issue, and a candidate's views on that subject may be of similar interest. Still, there is far less popular consensus that someone who opposes abortion or who favors choice on the matter is a wicked person or a nut. And that's all that I propose to say about abortion here.

Once upon a time there was substantial doubt that a Roman Catholic could run successfully for President. JFK, a (perhaps occasionally lapsed) Roman Catholic did so, and there remains little question about that possibility. Senator Goldwater, a Jew, ran for President, and lost. Senator Lieberman, also a Jew, ran for Vice President and also lost. I don't think that their religion had much to do with their losses, and I certainly hope that we have put once very strong anti-Semitic tendencies behind us. "Born again" Christians have successfully run for high office, although those widely deemed excessively heavy-handed haven't succeeded. An avowed Agnostic/Atheist would probably get few votes; since I am one of those that bothers me, but very little. I understand that the United States has a Judeo-Christian heritage, I respect it, and find it far preferable to many other possible religious heritages. The United States would, in my view, be a far worse place if it had a Marxist or Muslim heritage, for the simple reason that we would not likely have the freedoms which we so enjoy. Of course, never having had them we might not miss them, but I suspect that we would nevertheless come to desire at least some of them. There are modest suggestions that such desires have arisen, despite strong resistance to them, in some countries dominated by the Marxist and Muslim religions.

When I was a young boy, and attended Sunday School at a Methodist Church, it was suggested that should I have an opportunity to do so, I should prefer Methodists over, for example, Baptists as employees. I was told by others, more or perhaps less in jest, that Methods were Baptists who had learned how to read, that Episcopalians were Methodists who had learned to write, and that Roman Catholics were Episcopalians who could deal with Latin. That was back in the early 1950s, and I rather hope that things have changed for the better. In any event, I am confident that Baptists and Methodists now read and write almost as well as Episcopalians, as a group, and that Roman Catholics no longer need to be able to deal with Latin.* I am hopeful, but less confident, that these matters little affect political decisions these days.

But what about substantive differences outside the mainstream Christian and Jewish (Hasidic, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform) religions? How about Unitarians (who are not, by any definition of which I am aware "Christians," since they reject the doctrine of the Trinity and some are, gasp, Agnostics) and Mormons, considered heretical by many, if not most, Christian denominations? These differences appear to be problematical. And, I submit, they are relevant in the political process, however we might wish it were otherwise. True, Thomas Jefferson has been characterized, and even characterized himself, as essentially Unitarian, and Mormons have held high office, frequently elected office. Can we as voters consider these things? Of course we can. We can consider whatever we wish to consider, including a candidate's hairstyle, facial features, age, sex, religion, race and anything else. Despite our traditional freedoms of religion, we are also free to vote for or against someone on account of his religious views. Do we? I think it happens quite often. Should we? That is a different question.

I suppose we should, if the matter is very important to us and if we think, or even feel, that it makes a significant difference in the extent to which we trust a candidate to shape Government in accordance with our desires. To vote for a candidate whom one simply does not trust, for whatever reason, visceral or otherwise, is unlikely; nor is it particularly praiseworthy.

I do not like thee, Doctor Fell.
The reason why I cannot tell.
     But this I know and know full well,
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell.

I may think that consideration of various of these characteristics is perverse or stupid, but that's my choice and (fortunately) nobody has to agree with me.

To decide to vote for or against a candidate based on any single issue, particularly one which is very unlikely to affect the manner in which we are to be governed is, in my view, counterproductive. There are multiple important issues facing the country, and they are constantly changing. No single issue, no matter how much of a hot button issue it may be, is so important as to make all others inconsequential. Fortunately, the religious views of a candidate speak very weakly to how he will be able to deal with present issues, let alone issues which may arise during his term(s) of office. Even an adherent to the Aztec culture and its religious practices would unlikely try, or if he tried, be able, to institute human sacrifice to propitiate the gods and bring success to our nation's ventures. I would be rather unlikely to vote for him nonetheless, because his cultural values would be quite different from those with which I feel comfortable; that, I think, is a different matter. How about a Roman Catholic Presidential candidate who proclaimed "I believe all that the Church believes and the Church believes all that I believe, and I intend, if elected, to govern in strict accord with those beliefs?" I would have grave reservations about him, and would most likely not vote for him, since (a) I am not intimately familiar with the broad tapestry of Roman Catholic doctrine and and therefore would not understand whatever he might mean and (b) even if I were and did, a theocracy would not be to my liking. How about a Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian or Mormon who promised to govern in strict accord with the teachings of his religion? Ditto. Unitarian? I would feel more comfortable, since there are hardly any Unitarian doctrines and the statement would be so vague as to have little if any meaning; it would, most likely, be spoken in jest.

Where does this lead? To me it suggests that we should be as familiar as we can with the issues which we consider important, with the positions of the various candidates on those issues, with the character of the candidates as we perceive them, and that we should seriously consider the extent to which the candidates are likely to be able to implement whatever their proposals might be.

* It would be pretty neat if we could all deal with Latin, since grammar is rarely well taught in English classes, and I found that whatever grammar I may have learned came from my Latin classes in high school.

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About Dan Miller

  • Lee Richards

    Personally, I get the chill of real fear when any politician starts talking about her/his interpretation of “God’s will.”

    A less likely combination is hard to imagine, and it’s far too close to what extremists everywhere believe and practice.

  • Silas,

    Of course my question now is do you believe that vampires exist?

    Of course not. But according to Leo Frankowski’s alternative history series, “Crosstime Engineer”, men living in caves suffering from leprosy were what medieval folks actually considered vampires. Add a horrifying leper to the sadistic legends of Vlad of Transylvania, and you pretty much have what constitute vampires. The fetishists are just sick fools with too much time on their hands.

  • Cannonshop

    Well…in the Fetish community, there are folks who call themselves Vampires and participate in blood-play, so I suppose it’s not so much a matter of whether “Vampires” exist, as whether the immortal-until-disposed-of, supernaturally powerful, vampires of myth, legend, and Hollywood exist.

  • Interesting story, Ruvy. Of course my question now is do you believe that vampires exist?

  • Cannonshop

    That’s cool.

  • Clavos


    I named all of my sailboats from the Edda.

    They were all named Vindalf. The Vindalfs (Wind Elves) were the creatures who controlled the wind.

    With my half Scandahoovian background, my Lit major, and the boats being sailing craft, it was a natural.

  • Cannonshop

    The whole of the Norse Pantheon are a nasty lot. Hel is Loki’s daughter, and she’s about half-dead, vicious though…kinda kinky. I mean, building an assault ship out of fingernails?

  • Cannonshop,

    Why does it not surprise me that being told to “go to Hel” involves reporting to some nasty bitch? Wonder if she burns her brassier too? Or is it just my underwear and family jewels that burn for eternity? Them ice queens can be a nasty lot, you know….

  • Cannonshop


    I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek there, Ruvy. If a symbol won’t hold the vampire off, then there’s only taking direct action that can possibly save you- though I suppose I could have just mentioned picking up the dagger and the pentagram instead…

    (Oh, and “Hel” is the Norse Goddess of Death and the Underworld, she oversees a realm of the same name where the dishonoured go when they die, along with anyone else that doesn’t qualify for Valhalla.)

  • based on your advice, Ruvy, I should probably just go ahead and try to send him to Hel (not “Hell”) where he belongs then.

    Hel? You gotta map? You got some directions? This newfangled geography is getting old farts like me cornfused….

    Hell, how am I supposed to fine Hel?

  • Lisa,

    A few questions/thoughts for you.

    1. What did you really know about Barry Goldwater when he was running for president? Were you that precocious at age 8? Did you hear the man talk to the Republican Convention in 1964?

    2. I heard the man talk, and while there were a great many things I did not like, I heard honesty and integrity, and a fundamental decency that “progressives” like LBJ just didn’t have.

    3. I wish he were a Jew. He would have made a good kohén gadól – High Priest. I never said anything about president, did I?

    4. I won’t claim to be well bred – what can you expect from the son of a truckdriver, Lisa – but I am no progressive either. I am a syndicalist socialist – probably to the left of you on economic issues.

    5. Don’t speak for all Jews? I can’t do that, can I? But I can sure as hell represent that small bunch of us who do believe in G-d, and who do believe in the Torah, and the Prophecies, and that far larger percent of us who are determined to see a sovereign Jewish entity in all of the Land that G-d gave us – no matter what “progressives” want or think. After all, Lisa. I’m here. You are not. Bottom line: my ass is on the line in this country, and my sons asses are even more so. Yours is not.

  • Cannonshop

    So…based on your advice, Ruvy, I should probably just go ahead and try to send him to Hel (not “Hell”) where he belongs then. (MY gods believe in a pro-active approach to problem solving, rather than waiting to be rescued…)

  • Clavos

    PS, Arch. I can’t stand it. Learn how to spell. Don’t you own a dictionary?

    Lisa, please back off. I am the (self-appointed) Grammar and Spelling Nazi around here.

    Get your own shtick. :>)

  • Ruvy,

    I guess I’m out of luck. Black’s was just too much trouble (big and heavy) to bring along on the boat, and I didn’t foresee much need for it. I do have some garlic, however, and will spread it liberally over my copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide. As to running like Hell, I don’t know how to do that. Perhaps becoming a Christian, only nominally of course, might help. I shall consider it.

    Nah. It ain’t worth it.


  • Lisa Solod Warren

    Ruvy, all I ask is that you please, please, please don’t speak for all Jews. Speak for yourself, but not for all Jews, especially in wishing that Goldwater was one. He did not practice Judaism as far as I know.

    And I am both well bred and a progressive.

    PS, Arch. I can’t stand it. Learn how to spell. Don’t you own a dictionary?

  • So what is a poor Agnostic/Atheist to do?
    Make the sign of the dollar.

    Nope. Vampires want blood, not money. If you don’t know if you believe in G-d, then you’ve forfeited His protection. Of course, you can always shove Black’s Law Dictionary (any edition will do so long as it is thick and heavy) with lots of garlic on it, in his face and then run like hell….

    In fact, Dan, I suggest you put the garlic on your edition of Black’s now, before night falls in Panamá.

  • So what is a poor Agnostic/Atheist to do?

    Make the sign of the dollar.

  • Ruvy,

    Dear me. I am so depressed. Marvin the paranoid android in Hitchhiker’s Guide would seem positively joyful in comparison. So what is a poor Agnostic/Atheist to do?

    We do have a few vampire bats here, and although they generally go after cows, they occasionally bite horses. There is a red jell which, if spread around (not on) the bite is said to ward off further attacks on the wounded area. Perhaps I shall try bathing in a solution of that. Do you think it might help?


  • Dan,

    What a Christian does in making the sign of the cross is to call upon and invoke the Power of G-d for protection. We don’t make signs to do this at all. We recite the “Sh’ma”, the basic creed of the faith, which translated, means “Hear, O Israel the L-rd, Our G-d, the L-rd is One!”

    A Jewish vampire will just laugh you in the face if you try to make the sign of the Star of David to protect yourself, and he’ll say goyisher kup – “the head of a heathen” or “not too bright”. And then he’ll take his pound of flesh anyway….

  • You know, you could have at least deleted the one where I spelled course the right way!

  • If you live in Northern California and follow that advice, though, you’ll end up in Reno. Which probably works for a lot of people.

  • Of ocurse, if you don’t go far enough left, you might only make it to Bezerkly!

  • Doc – there is only one way to get to SF though…you just have to keep going left….left….left….left…

  • Ruvy,

    It is far quicker and easier to make the sign of the cross than the Star of David when facing a vampire. The next time I meet one, however, I shall try. I may try both simultaneously, one with the left hand and one with the right. Any pointers on which hand I should use in making the Star of David?


  • Silas,

    I just want to make sure to remind you that your conception of religion, like that of the author and most of the commenters here, is Christianity.

    For that, we need a story.

    Therese was watching the horror movie late on Saturday night. The commercial came on with a fat slob in a construction helmet selling his department store to union members only. Therese’s eyes began to glaze over as she waited for the endless commercial to finally be over and for the movie to resume.

    Suddenly, she noticed a shadow outside her window, which happened to be a French window, that opened up like a door does. The shadow darkened the window and the lock on it fell off. The shadowed figure pushed the window open and began to advance into the room. Therese felt cold sweat popping out of her head. Fear nearly made her wet her panties.

    She saw the dark figure push the hood off his head, and she saw a cape and a man facing her with long sharpened canines advancing on her bed.

    She screamed.

    The man with the sharp canines only smiled – a mirthless grimace that exposed his pale white skin and even more of his canine teeth and made him seem like the monstrous vampire he indeed was.

    Panicking, Therese backed up on her bed, desperate for help. She suddenly remembered the cross over her bed, and reached up, grabbing it off the nail that held it.

    The nail clattered to the floor.

    She stretched out the cross in front of her face, sure of the salvation it would give her against the blood-sucking monster she now confronted.

    “Begone!” she shouted at the top of her lungs. “Begone!” she screamed.

    The vampire stopped his advance for a moment and a really big smile broke out on his face. This time the mirth in it reached his eyes, which sparkled in the shadows. He said something in a language she could not understand.

    But in her mind she could hear the words the man spoke as he reached an aged hand into his black coat where his collar parted at a white neck. She watched in horror as the gold necklace came out and she slowly made out the shape.

    “Lady, the cross ain’t going to help you”, she heard in her head as she looked at the six pointed Star of David facing her.

    Shloimey the Vampire advanced on his newest victim…

  • There’s an emptiness inside, a lack of ultimate satisfaction.

    Hopefully you’re not trying to argue that this is anything new. The world of our ‘rude forefathers’ may have been simpler, but they had for the most part a fucking miserable life. Complete happiness is an elusive and probably impossible goal.

    There are very few truly spiritual people in the world. Most of us probably know one or two of them – and the local pastor with his tailored suits, his Lexus and his grand church expansion plans isn’t one of them!

    There’s no way to escape materialism completely. (Even Gandhi had his support network!) The happiest people, in my view, have managed to strike a balance that works for them. It might include much spirituality, or none.

    The idea that greater spirituality is the only way to cure the country’s ills is as ridiculous as saying that there’s only one way to get from San Francisco to New York.

  • Arch Conservative

    So am I to infer that being “well bred” means one is of good character?

    To me it seems like knowing which fork to use for which dinner course or which wine goes with which type of meal seems awfullly superficial.

  • All throughout the ages religion has been used as a catalyst to promote political agendas. It’s no different now. The success of the ultra right over the last 30 years isn’t due to a renewed spirituality, rather it’s been a successful brainwashing campaign. The more crap we accumulate, the more we want. We’re conditioned by a barrage of advertising, shoddy journalism and a substandard education system. There’s an emptiness inside, a lack of ultimate satisfaction. The ultra right will have you believe that only God can save you. In the meantime the ultra left dismisses God with a reciprocal zeal.

    Religion does have a place in the national discussion in that religious freedom must be a cornerstone of our society’s foundation. Palin can believe that the Iraq War is God’s will but that’s her opinion. Politically, the Iraq War is America’s will by virtue of the Commander-in-Chief we elect (or assume to elect).

  • That’s an old one. chevy used to make a truck that actually had WT on the back quarter! I never knew what it was supposed to mean for chevy. I knew what my friends and I always said it stood for!

  • Over here in California we use a term taken from the radio alphabet: Whiskey Tango.

    You can figure it out…!

  • I heard a new term a week or so ago. A friend pointed out to me that being a yankee I’m not qualified to be a redneck as the term really refers to someone of southern heritage. he said there’s a term from CT…Swamp Yankee that fits me better….

    Although when I pointed out to my wife that I couldn’t be a redneck because I wasn’t FROM the south she said….South Jersey! I’m really from central Jersey though…I grew up a couple of miles north of the Pine Barrens! She’s a New Yawker and she tawks funny…

  • troll

    (more importantly he’s knowledgeable and less myopic than your average bear)

  • Curious that the subject of rednecks should come up. Just been reading an article on the BBC website which offers a strikingly different perspective on the species and particularly their potential impact on the election.

    Fascinating stuff and well-written (for a redneck!).

  • Clavos

    Polite, too.

    Bet he knows exactly which is the right fork…

  • He is very well behaved isn’t he???

  • Clavos

    Strange, Dan(Miller), that you should have a somewhat cavalier attitude toward the concept of good breeding, when you yourself have repeatedly embodied most of its better qualities on these pages.


  • Yeah, I looked it up. I figure I was pretty well bred, you know…don’t talk with you mouth full, don’t interrupt the adults when they’re talking, please and thank you, how to hold a knife and fork, asking her if she wants top or bottom…all that good stuff. I just gave it all a “burial at sea” on one of my 7 month deployments…except for that last one…hehehehe

  • Well bred is probably an anachronism, meaning having or displaying good breeding; being refined. I must confess that I used the phrase rather tongue-in-cheek, which a well bred person might well avoid doing. Emily Post might pout about it. Only Zeus knows what Queen Victoria might have done.


  • Is unprogressive like unliberal?

  • I’m still shaking my head in amazement that there are any well bred people left…

  • Arch Conservative

    No Andy I think “well bred” really means “unprogressive.”

  • Ruvy,

    I was wrong, and you are correct that Goldwater was not Jewish. I understand that his paternal grandparents were Jewish and I assume therefore that his father was Jewish as well. His mother was Episcopalian and therefore, since the Jewish line of descent is through the mother, he was not Jewish. He was raised as an Episcopalian, but referred to himself as “half Jewish.” Whatever he was, I liked him a whole lot, and when he made what was to us a surprise appearance to speak at a history class I was taking (taught by John Blum, a “liberal” historian but a damn objective one in most cases), he was given a standing ovation by the two hundred or so people in the class. I believe that I voted for him, but it was a long time ago.

    Thanks for the correction, Ruvy. As to the Pumpkin soup, I don’t understand the reference. We have a very obese cat named Pumpkin, but I never liked the vegetable variety; even at Thanksgiving, I don’t eat Pumpkin pie.


  • troll

    Silas – it can be argued that bound as it is to faith in ‘historical necessity’ a concept that without some obtuse mental gymnastics is of a supernatural force Marxism is indeed religious in nature as in: “recognition of, obedience to, and worship of a higher, unseen power”

  • That’s the only thing I could come up with…I mean, I understand well buttered, but…well bred…

    I could have just said…not me!

    Maybe it’s the same as cosmopolitan?

    Do you know which fork is for which course? Do you know when to curtsy? How about which glass is for wine, champagne, water?

    I guess if you eat off paper plates, drink your beer from a can or a bottle as opposed to a pilsner glass or whatever then you’re NOT well bred. Hell, drinking beer might just disqualify you right off the bat!

  • Arch Conservative

    Not redneck…

    Ok. Bit’s blatantly obvious as used in this article and the ensuing posts that it is a euphimism for something and I’m just cruious about it.

  • Just a picky point for you to consider, Dan.

    Goldwater was not Jewish, though he was proud of his Jewish grandfather (or was it great-grandfather?). The man embodied something that Jews round the world would do well to emulate – a straight shooting honesty. He was honest enough and humble enough a man to have served as kohén gadól High Priest of a Third Temple; but unfortunately for us Jews, he was not Jewish.

    I got my first understanding of the difference between character and political platforms in the race of 1964. Johnson embodied most of what I believed in – but he was not a man i would have followed – even to the toilet. But Goldwater? Him I would have followed to hell and back. Of course, 13 year olds don’t have the vote in America….

    Keep stirring the pot. One day, you may get pumpkin soup.

  • Not redneck…

  • Arch Conservative

    What is “well bred” a euphimism for?

  • Cannonshop

    Well, Silas, look at it this way- he’s got a better chance of going back to Maverick after November, than his opponent (and let’s face facts here, third parties just aren’t organized enough to win statewide, much less National, elections with any consistency-we’re stuck with two parties for the time being.) who is a product of the Chicago Machine through-and-through.

    And Marxism requires no less ungrounded faith than belief in God,Allah, Odin, or Zeus-and it has its own version of the Collection plate, but instead of a tenth, it takes everything and gives you back what the Committee decides you need.

  • Bar, do you think there’s a remote possibility that if McCain is elected he will return to his original maverick style? I want to believe that he’s developed this “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” attitude just to get elected. And then once he’s in, he’ll turn the screws on every last one of the fundies that screwed him in 2000 down in South Carolina and across the anti_Bible Belt. That’s one of the few things which could sway my vote to his side. I love the original John McCain of the Reagan era and would welcome his return.

  • Dan,

    I think we passed by this issue on another thread as regards how a particular president can affect the legal statuse of abortion. Generally, your position is likely true.

    However, in the instance of the next resident of the WH, he may have a good deal to say about abortion vis a vis probable Supreme Court appointments. McCain has specifically stated that if given the opportunity, he would install conservative justices, and would actively pursue the overturning of Roe v Wade. There are but two impediments to his realizing success in this regard.

    Number 1: I suppose it’s possible that the court will remain as it is over the next four years. But Stevens, Ginsberg and Kennedy may all bail in that time. Even if they don’t, the current court is already tilted at a socially conservative angle.

    Number 2: A heavily Democratic Congress could make it difficult for McCain to appoint ultra-conservative justices. But the Dems have shown virtually no backbone in resisting Bush, even now when he is at his weakest. It may be a stretch to imagine that they would have the spine to take on the “Maverick.”

    As we move forward, new revelations keep showing up regarding Gov. Palin. Thus far nothing, in and of itself, has proven to be particular damaging, but in time they may have a cumulative effect, much as the various Obama revelations have had. The last day or two, the media has been focusing on Palin’s religious beliefs. She was raised in the Pentecostal Church of God, a strongly fundamentalist sect which now embraces the coming rapture. Many of their parishoners periodically speak in “tongues.” There is no evidence I know of that Palin has done so.

    Palin left that particular church a few years ago, adopting a less “out there” church. Whether that move was done for political reasons is anybody’s guess.

    I do believe that a candidate’s particular beliefs should be open to scrutiny in so far as there are those amongst many fundies who are bent upon the creation of a christian theocracy in this country. This movement may not have the legs it had even a couple of years ago, but to believe that they have given up their quest, or that they are not a force to be considered, is patently foolish.

    In my 60 plus years, the only presidential candidate I knew of for whom religion became an issue was John Kennedy, until the 2nd Clinton term when his unsavory personal conduct brought the fundies out of the wood work. They proceeded to propel that great BAC (Born Again Christian) GW Bush into the WH.

    The fundies had been more or less pushed out of a central role in the McCain campaign until the powers that be began to read the handwriting on the wall. The McCain people realized that they will need every vote they can muster. The choice of Palin has apparently served to bring the fundies back into the fold. Hallelujah!


  • There’s the problem. We don’t have enough well bred folks in the red states. Sorry, couldn’t resist. I am intrigued however that you view Marxism as a religion. I look at it more as a belief system. Kind of like the three major religions without the collection basket.

  • Well, for goodness’ sake, Baronius, we’ve got to have something to talk about on here besides Sarah Palin and that moose…

    I have to say that Dan’s opening paragraph is so eminently quotable that, with his blessing, I may put it on my own blog!

  • Baronius

    You just can’t walk past the pot, can you, Dan? You’ve got to keep stirring it.