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Austin Cline

Democrats' Religious Pandering Doesn't Impress

By August 29, 2008

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Recent efforts by Democrats to pander to religion and religious believers is offensive and immoral, but could it possibly be defended on the grounds that it at least works? In politics that which works tend to survive no matter how offensive or immoral it is, so this isn't an irrelevant question. Unfortunately for the apologists for pandering — and fortunately for the rest of us — all the efforts thus far appear to have been in vain.

Rob Boston writes:

Now that the Democrats are adding a hefty dose of religion to their plate, how does [Focus on the Family’s Tom] Minnery react? He attacks the party for adopting a “gloss of prayer and God-talk” and criticizes it for including non-Christian faiths!

Minnery also grouses that the Democrats are not pro-life on abortion and don’t oppose same-sex marriage. In other words, it’s not enough to reach out to religious leaders and add interfaith services to the convention. If the Democrats don’t adopt the specific policy positions favored by FOF, they’ll never be truly “religious.”

Source: Americans United

Rob Boston might also have added that Democrats' religious pandering won't attract support from the Christian Right until it is exclusively Christian pandering. Excluding secular atheists might warm their cockles a little, but it won't get them really excited so long as Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and other sundry non-Christians are treated as equals.

Here's a report from someone who was actually at the Anti-Atheist Hate Meeting (mislabeled an "Interfaith" religious service):

Bob Tiernan is an agnostic. "I'm not a hard-core atheist", he says. He was raised a Catholic and went to Jesuit College and law school. He is a practicing lawyer who specializes in issues involving separation of church and state. He is also a Democrat. This week he was in Denver to protest what he sees as the dangerous mixing of religion and politics, and the sad exclusion of non-believers in a party known for its inclusiveness.

On Sunday, Tiernan attended the first event at the Democratic National Convention, an Interfaith Gathering attended by some 2,000 people at the Colorado Convention Center. Speaking were distinguished priests, rabbis, imams and religion scholars. "I sat through, I guess I'd have to call it, a service," says Tiernan. "People were responding in unison. In the middle, Leah Daughtry (a pastor and CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee) spoke and said that despite what the media says, Democrats are people of faith."

Tiernan says he couldn't stand it any more. "I stood up and said, 'I'm a democrat but I'm not a person of faith.' I said, 'This looks like a church service to me and I never thought I would see the Democrats doing something like this." At that point, the police came and escorted Tiernan from the hall. They told him he could leave or stay and see what the Democrats wanted to do with him, so he stayed but nobody did anything so he left.

"The thing is," says Tiernan with a chuckle, "I'm not a career protester. I just don't like religion mixed with politics. It's wrong and it's dangerous."

Source: On Faith

It's a shame that there weren't more people there who could stand up, object, and be escorted out. That sort of protest can attract more attention and sympathy than the protest which was held outside (not that I'm objecting to that — I just think that, in hindsight, Tiernan's impromptu protest was a better approach). Isn't it interesting that the police were needed to protect the god-believers from the big, bad agnostic? What were they worried about, that he might stage a one-man sit in? Maybe that he'd start chanting "Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho! God Talk Has Got to Go!"?

Maybe we just need the Democrats to turn the hoses and dogs on atheists to keep them in their place... oh, wait, that isn't needed anymore because Americans are no longer allowed to protest in public. Americans, like the Chinese, are forced to protest in "free speech zones" where they are "protected" by barbed wire cages and where they won't disturb the rest of the public. Isn't that convenient? It says a lot about the Democratic Party today that they are using the same tactics to cage protesters that the Chinese used in Beijing during the Olympics. No political organization can claim to value free speech or free expression so long as they cage protesters and arrest reporters. This is one issue where those who complain that the Democrats are little different from the Republicans have more than just a point.

Sally Quinn adds these comments:

Can you imagine an atheist running for or even being considered for President? Even Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church, an open-minded and inclusive evangelical, told Larry King that he could not vote for an atheist.

The Democrats know that they have a large non-believing constituency and they also know that to not accept them is the height of hypocrisy. On the other hand they realize that to recognize them formally would be the kiss of death.

So what is the party of unity, togetherness, compromise, inclusiveness and pluralism to do? Sadly, it seems they have taken Leah Daughtry's approach. Don't answer the mail.

At one time embracing the Civil Rights movement was a "kiss of death" — at least if you were trying to attract votes from conservative Christians. Ditto with gays. You can tell a lot about a person — and an organization — based on whether they are willing to "embrace" people when it inconvenient or merely when it's convenient. People who are only nice to other people who are "popular" while turning their back on people who are "unpopular" are not good, moral, or just people. Political organizations which base their willingness to do the right and moral thing on whether it will make them popular with the "cool kids" are not good, moral, or just.

Don Byrd offers some advice to both political parties regarding the involvement of religion in politics generally and party conventions in particular:

1. Being religious is not in itself a qualification for office. The Constitution of course forbids any religious test. But beyond that, religion should not be used as a surrogate for discussion of important policy matters. Outward displays of faith neither confirm nor deny sound policy judgment or strong leadership skills.

2. A religious belief can be - and is - held by a wide diversity of political views, and a political view can be - and is - held by a wide diversity of religious beliefs. Politicians and activists do religion a great disservice when they presume to speak for all people of faith. [emphasis added]

Using religion as a surrogate for substantive political discussion is precisely what's going on when people start bringing religion into political debates — and I suspect that it's deliberate. When a person says that God "wills" some policy, the only options left are to deny that it's what God really wills or to declare one's opposition to God. If God "wills" something, there's no room for debate about whether a policy is wise, helpful, practical, harmful, etc. As I said, I think this is often deliberate because invoking God is a handy way of avoiding the hard job of substantively defending a political agenda.

Compare how the candidates treat religion to how they treat science:

Yet the bigger story is another, lesser-known debate — one that transcends faith or politics. The debate, slated for April 18 in Philadelphia, was arranged by ScienceDebate 2008, a bipartisan group of Nobel laureates and other scholars who want to bring science to the fore of public discussion. The idea of a science debate is supported by virtually every scientific organization in the country, including the National Academy of Sciences.

The reason you probably haven't heard about the Science Debate is that it didn't happen. None of the candidates accepted. They found time for other public forums, including the Faith Forum, and a "Compassion Forum," but when it came to science — the very engine that drives America's technology — the candidates were conspicuously silent.

Discussions of faith and compassion are fine, but solutions to the serious problems facing our nation and indeed the planet can only be found in science. It’s not clear why the candidates didn’t participate. Perhaps they felt that they weren't well-versed enough in science to really discuss it, lest the forum turn into an embarrassing, gaffe-riddled version of "Jeopardy!" Perhaps they think science isn’t sexy, and assumed that they should focus on more fundamental issues like the Iraq war, energy shortages, and the economy.

What they don't seem to understand is that science underlies all those issues, and many more. America needs a science-literate president now more than ever.

Source: Live Science

Both the Republican and Democratic candidates have found lots of time for religious and "faith" forums, even though religion has no relevance to their ability to fulfill the duties of the office of President. We elect people to hold a political office and every political view can be held by people of every religious persuasion. Basically, you can't tell anything about a person's politics from their religion, so deciding on who to elect to political office can't reasonably take religion into account.

On the other hand, science does have a lot of relevance to the ability of a person to fulfill the duties of the office of President. They don't need to be a scientist, but they do need to understand how important science is to solving the problems before us and they have to be willing to respect the findings of science even if those findings contradict political, philosophical, or religious commitments.

This means that we voters need to know more about candidates' relationship with science (i.e., reality) while we don't gain anything knowing more about their relationship with religion. To put it another way, Americans and their political candidates have matters exactly backwards: we keep pushing candidates to talk more about religion while ignoring science. It's no wonder America is in so much trouble and why we tend to get such bad candidates for public office. We get what we deserve and we deserve what we're getting.

Comments
August 29, 2008 at 11:51 pm
(1) Leon says:

The “interfaith” kick-off gathering at the DNC and Obama’s earlier participation in the Warren debate were intended to win Evangelical votes, i.e., the votes that put Bush in the Wite House for a second term four years ago. Unfortunately, the effect of these undemocratic initiatives was quickly wiped out by one stroke of McCain’s genius, the appointment of Palin as his running mate.

So, what have the democrats accomplished? If anything, they have alienated some non-believers, a sizable fraction of their constituency, and increased the risk of losing the bid for the presidency.

As Jeffrey Sachs so eloquently describes in his book “Common Wealth”, the future of the nation (and the planet for that matter) depends on our ability to find global solutions for the problems of climate change; shortage of water, energy and other natural resources; extreme poverty and overpopulation. These solutions require the appropriate foreign policy and the development of new revolutionary technologies. America has a unique opportunity to resume its role as a world leader. Sadly, pandering to voters who base their worldview on bronze-age writings is definitely taking the party in the wrong direction and greatly increases the risk of quickly degrading the US to a second-class nation.

August 30, 2008 at 1:12 am
(2) Paul Buchman says:

No one should be surprised that Dems are publicly embracing religion. American elections are, after all, popularity contests. The overwhelming majority of people in the US are religious to some degree. Any candidate would be foolish to ignore them.

No matter what Obama says about religion, it is certain that members of the Xian Right will not vote for him. Since he is not stupid, he must be trying to appeal to the more moderate theists.

Obama is obviously more appealing to non-believers than is Mcbush, so if we reject him we might as well sit this one out. But if we do that, we guarantee that theists will choose the next president.

No candidate is perfect. So end the Bush tyranny and vote for Obama.

August 30, 2008 at 2:22 am
(3) Leon says:

To my knowledge this is the first presidential campaign that included a “Compassion Forum” during the primaries and an interview of the presidential candidates by a megachurch pastor. This sets a very dangerous precedent.

The religious views of a presidential candidate have nothing to do with his or her ability to lead a nation. So, why did the candidates accept the invitation for a religious test? Refusal to participate does not mean ignoring religious people, but participating is likely to burn bridges with some voters.

Religion and politics do not mix. An exclusive prayer session at the start of a DNC goes against the all-inclusive democratic principles of the party. There is no need to reach out to religious people like this. Moderate democrats support separation between church and state anyway (see http://www.tfn.org, for example) and you will not attract any votes from fundamentalists. So why alienate the non-religious?

August 30, 2008 at 12:43 pm
(4) Paul Buchman says:

>So why alienate the non-religious?

Why alienate the religious?

Recall that Obama’s not wearing a flag pin gave Republican demagogues something to use against him, irrational though it was. Non-thinking voters respond to such irrational tactics.

I say, ignore it. Obama’s website mentioned non-believers in a discussion about church / stat separation. No other candidate to my knowledge has thrown us even this crumb.

August 31, 2008 at 9:46 am
(5) vjack says:

If the Democratic Party manages to alienate the reality-based community, they are going to find themselves without much of a base.

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