John McCain has long been an important Republican politician, active both in his home state of Arizona as Senator and on the national scene as candidate for president. McCain's views on religion, religious faith, secularism, church-state separation have played an important role in his policy choices, which means that atheists need to consider those views when evaluating McCain. How has John McCain injected his own Christian doctrines or prejudices into public policy and civil law? In what ways has John McCain opposed secularism, secular law, and religious neutrality? Does McCain support Christian Privilege
John McCain's Religious Background: What Does John McCain Believe and Why?
John McCain had a devout Episcopal upbringing: he was raised in the Episcopal church, his great-grandfather was an Episcopal minister, and he graduated from an Episcopal high school. Today, however, he attends the North Phoenix Baptist Church which is part of the Southern Baptist Convention. In 2007 he described himself as Baptist rather than Episcopalian and emphasized how important being a Christian is to him. In his book Character is Destiny
he says that his religious faith helped him survive his years as a POW. McCain's church's theology
is that Jesus chose to die on the cross as a sacrifice to pay a penalty the rest of us owed God, even though Jesus himself led a sinless life.
John McCain is widely regarded as a "sensible" Republican who is "independent" of many traditional Republican constituencies. Neither view is correct: John McCain is not sensible when it comes to questions of church/state separation and, at least when it comes to the radical Christian Right, he isn't the least bit independent. McCain gladly repeats traditional Christian Nationalist lies about America being a "Christian Nation" and appears more than happy to abandon secular government. This makes John McCain about as dangerous to secular, civil government as any Republican candidate could be.
Atheists are the most despised minority in America
; this is demonstrated most clearly by the fact that more people would be willing to vote for any other minority - Muslim, gay, female - than vote for an atheist for president. This discrimination is fueled by bigoted prejudices about atheists' values and morality, and you can tell a lot about a person's character based on whether they promote or oppose this bigotry. Sadly, John McCain is on record as supporting anti-atheist bigotry. According to John McCain, the most important thing which voters must take into consideration is whether a candidate will carry on "in the Judeo-Christian principled tradition."
We may talk about male privilege, white privilege, or Christian privilege in isolation, but in practice one form of privilege is consistently used to buttress the others. One cannot be eliminated without at least weakening the others, and one cannot be challenged without implicitly challenging the others. This means that anyone promoting one is implicitly promoting the other; sometimes, though, all get promoted together and explicitly and it appears that John McCain believe in them. Do Republicans want a president who believes in America having a white, male, Christian power structure?
John McCain on Prayer in Public Schools
The right of children to pray in public schools has been an important issue for Christian Nationalists — and an easy one to twist, misrepresent, and lie about. Students have a right to pray in schools, but it's a right that belongs to individuals acting as private citizens. What Christian Nationalists wish to restore is the ability of the government to promote, endorse, encourage, or even mandate prayers. John McCain has voted to back the agenda of the Christian Right by supporting the idea that the government should be able to erect religious symbols or endorse officials prayers in public schools
. These votes are always couched in terms of protecting "voluntary" prayer, but that's not a practice that is threatened.
John McCain on Science & Evolution
Unlike other Republican candidates, John McCain's views on evolution and creationism are somewhat reasonable. He's actually said publicly that he accepts the findings of evolutionary science whereas the other Republican candidates had openly denied science in favor or believing the Bible. John McCain's view teaching creationism in public schools is unclear. At 2007 debate at St. Anselm College he said that it "should be decided by school districts" whether they teach science or religious mythology. Other times, he said that he agrees with George W. Bush that "all points of view" should be taught in schools, including intelligent design
creationism. Either way, he is not willing to defend the teaching of science in public schools.
John McCain on Equality for Gays
Opposition to equality for gays, especially in the context of gay marriage, has become a litmus test for Republican presidential candidates. John McCain passes this test with flying colors. He did vote against an attempt to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage, but he supported a 2005 state initiative that would amend Arizona's state constitution to both "ban gay marriages
" and deny any government benefits to unmarried couples (thus undermining any future creation of civil unions). John McCain has publicly expressed opposition to any sort of civil union that would provide the same status and benefits to gay couples which married straight couples already enjoy. McCain also opposes gays serving openly in the military.
John McCain on Reproductive Rights & AbortionAnother litmus test for Republican presidential candidates is reproductive rights. John McCain not only supports criminalizing abortion, but also criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions. This can only be based on believing that the fetus is human, but he contradicts himself by refusing to prosecute women who have abortions and supporting exceptions in cases of rape and incest. John McCain says that Roe v. Wade should be overturned and would appoint Supreme Court justices who would do so. He also opposes providing education and contraceptives to teens for the sake of reducing teen pregnancies. McCain's advisor on sexual health matters is Tom Coburn, who claims that condoms are unsafe.
John McCain on Stem-Cell ResearchThe debate over stem-cell research has divided the Republican party: most conservative Christians who oppose abortion also oppose stem-cell research on the same grounds while many other conservatives see a distinction between the two matters. John McCain is one Republican who supports expanded funding for stem-cell research despite opposing abortion. This is relatively consistent for McCain because he is willing to legalize abortion in cases of rape and incest, even though the status of the fetus differs not at all when the pregnancy is produced by consensual sex. This suggests that he opposes abortion not so much because of the status of the fetus, but due to how the fetus was created.