These religious clowns should scare you: GOP candidates' gullible, lunatic faith is a massive character flaw

Their deluded debate answers removed any remaining doubt: These kooks belong nowhere near the White House

Published August 16, 2015 10:00AM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Dominick Reuter/Rick Wilking/<a href=''>jorisvo</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>/Salon)
(Reuters/Dominick Reuter/Rick Wilking/jorisvo via Shutterstock/Salon)

One of the most serious problems with religious faith is that it can afflict an otherwise intelligent person and incite her to utter arrant inanities with the gravitas of an old-time, Walter-Cronkite-style television newscaster. This problem is doubly striking when that intelligent person is herself a newscaster (of sorts). And triply striking when that newscaster (of sorts) is Megyn Kelly, the Fox News star who looks sane amid a roster of crazies headed by the faith-addled duo of Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. Kelly is purportedly a Roman Catholic, but judging by her racy photos, divorce, and remarriage outside the church, the Pope and his bull(s) don’t play much of a role in her life. All of which is good, in my view.

Nonetheless, as the recent Fox News Republican presidential debates were coming to an end, Kelly decided to extract a (patently ridiculous) religion-related question from her channel’s Facebook feed and give it air time. Prefacing it by calling it “interesting,” she put the query to the politicians assembled on stage directly and in all seriousness: “Chase Norton on Facebook . . . wants to know this of the candidates: ‘I want to know if any of them have received a word from God on what they should do and take care of first.’” She paused. With just a hint of insouciance, and in one of the most understated segues I’ve ever witnessed, she then asked, “Senator Cruz, start from you. Any word from God?”

Now let’s pause and consider the situation. Kelly is a political science graduate from a major Northeastern university, an attorney by trade with some 10 years of practice behind her, and a citizen of one the planet’s most developed countries. Speaking on satellite television (a technological wonder, whether we still recognize it or not, and no matter what we think of Fox News) in the twenty-first century, this sharp, degree-bearing professional American has just asked, with a straight face, a senator (who happens himself to be a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law) if he is receiving messages from a supernatural being. Yet no one in the audience broke into guffaws or even chuckled. And, of course, no one cried out with irate incredulity at the ludicrousness of the supposition implicit in the question (that an imaginary heavenly ogre could possibly be beaming instructions down to one of his earthling subjects). But since the supernatural being in question goes by the name of “God,” in the clown show that was the Republican debate, everyone – audience, MC, and the clowns themselves – simultaneously took leave of their senses and judged the matter at hand legit.

In any event, the question gave Cruz the chance to display his bona fides as a faith-deranged poseur. He told us, to waves of applause, that he was “blessed to receive a word from God every day in receiving the scriptures and reading the scriptures. And God speaks through the Bible.” He reminded us that his truant, once-alcoholic father had found Jesus and returned to the family; that he supports the sickening array of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts now pullulating pestilentially across the land; and that he’s against Planned Parenthood. Nothing new or even interesting here. Referring to conservatives, he noted that “the scripture tells us, ‘you shall know them by their fruit.’" Well, we know Cruz’s fruit, and it is poison to the cause of Enlightenment.

Kelly then turned to John Kasich, who, punctuating his speech with a strange mix of karate chops, head wobbles, and thumb-wags, brought up his family’s immigrant background and implied his election as Ohio’s governor was a miracle, but, oddly, did so without really implicating the Lord in it. He rambled on (godlessly) about the need for unity and respect, giving us reason to think – and this is a good thing – that he considered the issue of religion too divisive to dilate upon. He finally, though, did answer Kelly’s question: “In terms of the things that I’ve read in my lifetime, the Lord is not picking us. But because of how we respect human rights, because that we are a good force in the world, He wants America to be strong. He wants America to succeed.” This bland verbiage prefaced his closing non sequitur: “Nothing is more important to me than my family, my faith, and my friends.”

Given that he is a biblical literalist and believes he is destined for heaven, why Kasich chose to pass up the chance to spout piety is a mystery.  However, he (grudgingly) recognized the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage; quite possibly, he is content with leaving faith out of public affairs.  Just as the Constitution would have it.

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker spoke next. He admitted to being an "imperfect man" and straightaway proved it by claiming to have been redeemed of his sins “only by the blood of Jesus Christ.” Walker’s father is a Baptist preacher, and he himself took to the pulpit as a teen, so such language should hardly surprise us. But before you dismiss it as boilerplate Jesus jabberwocky, consider that it does serve to highlight the bizarre conceit of the Christian cult: that the good Lord could think of no other way to give us a boost a couple of millennia ago except by orchestrating a cruel, ghastly act of human sacrifice involving His own kid. (Some dad.) If nothing else, ghoulish talk of this sort should prompt Fox News post-factum to rate the entire debate NOT SUITABLE FOR MINORS, or, at the very least, VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED.

(And where are all those annoying trigger-warning zealots when you need them? Why don’t they campaign to have the Bible stamped with “TRIGGER WARNING: contains multiple accounts of genocide, warfare, murder, enslavement, sexual abuse of women and underage girls, and ritual human and animal sacrifice”?)

In any case, Walker returned to reality, if only for a brief sojourn, and said the Lord hasn’t vouchsafed him a plan of action, and “hasn’t given me a list, a Ten Commandments, if you will, of things to act on the first day.” He closed saying he planned to live his “life in a way that would be a testimony to [God] and our faith.”

On this latter point journalists may wish to ask Walker to be more specific. Since he had just mentioned a bloody, barbaric, public act of execution and its lasting salvific effect on him, we are well within our rights to demand what sort of form his “testimony” will take. He has two sons. Might he consider offering at least one of them as a participant in one of the Philippines’ horrific real-life reenactments of the crucifixion that occur on Good Friday? Perhaps he would like to take part himself? Will he, if elected president, opt to introduce crucifixion as an approved means of execution? According to the Bible, God visited genocide, warfare, exile, slavery, and rape on humanity, and has drawn up plans to destroy the vast majority of us. Which of these banes would a President Walker chose, as part of his personal faith journey, to impose on his fellow Americans? Or would he limit himself to making merely cosmetic changes, such as replacing the White House’s annual National Security Strategy with the Book of Revelation?

Without responding to the Facebook user’s question about God’s to-do list, Senator Marco Rubio sputtered out permutations of bless (noun, verb, and adjective) in pitchman’s prattle too dull to merit space here, and spoke about the need for reform in the Veterans Administration (which Kelly had asked him to address, from the Lord’s perspective, of course). One might have concluded that he hardly believed in the supernatural at all, yet one would, of course, be erring grievously: he attends the extremist Christ Fellowship in Miami, a hotbed of exorcism, creationism and homophobia.

Kelly last turned to Dr. Ben Carson. Perhaps the most disturbing example of how high intelligence and belief in balderdash myths can jointly inhabit a single mind, Carson, so faith-deranged that he denies evolution and has had himself baptized twice, dodged God entirely and offered a reasonable look into how a neurosurgeon sees the issue of race relations. We can only surmise he felt he had elsewhere spoken enough about God. He gained nothing with his audience by leaving the Lord out, but by doing so he at least offered rationalists a tiny respite from the evening’s madness.

Presidential candidates have the constitutionally protected right to profess the religion of their choice and speak freely about it, just as atheists have the right – and, I would say, the obligation – to hold religion up to the ridicule and derision it so richly deserves. In that regard, nonbelieving journalists in particular should give openly devout candidates no passes on their faith. Religion directly influences public policy and politics itself, befouls the atmosphere of comity needed to hold reasoned discussions and arrive at consensus-based solutions, sows confusion about the origins of mankind and the cosmos, and may yet spark a nuclear war that could bring on a nuclear winter and end life as we know it. I could go on (and on), but the point is, we need to talk more about religion, and far more frankly, and now, before it’s too late.

Discussing religion freely and critically will desacralize it, with the result that the public professions of faith of which our politicians are so enamored will eventually occasion only pity, disgust and cries of shame! or, at best, serve as fodder for comedians. Faith should, in fact, become a “character issue.”  

The advances of science have rendered all vestigial belief in the supernatural more than just obsolete. They have shown it to indicate grave character flaws (among them, gullibility, a penchant for wish-thinking and an inability to process information), or, at the very least, an intellectual recklessness we should eschew, especially in men and women being vetted for public office. One who will believe outlandish propositions about reality on the basis of no evidence will believe anything, and is, simply put, not to be trusted.

Come on, rationalist journos, be brave and do your job. Even if Megyn Kelly won’t do hers.

By Jeffrey Tayler

Jeffrey Tayler is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. His seventh book, "Topless Jihadis -- Inside Femen, the World's Most Provocative Activist Group," is out now as an Atlantic ebook. Follow @JeffreyTayler1 on Twitter.

MORE FROM Jeffrey Tayler