These are trying times for rationalist rejecters of make-believe celestial tyrants and human-authored “magic” books.
A paunchy old man in a white frock and beanie (aka Pope Francis), who happens to preside over an obscenely wealthy institution (the Catholic Church) riddled with practicing child molesters, flies to the world’s first secular republic and receives not torrents of abuse and cries for impeachment, but a reception befitting a head of state (which he is, thanks only to the fascist government of Mussolini and the Lateran Treaty).
During his visit, said frocked and beanied pontiff utters soothing verbiage about tolerance and rights and the need to welcome refugees, yet the Vatican itself has taken in a total of one Syrian family (and a Christian one, of course). Aware of mounting criticism to his organization’s penchant for aiding, abetting and sheltering child molesters, he nevertheless lauds his bishops for their courage, “self-criticism” and “great sacrifice” in having to deal with their proliferating child abuse cases, thereby outraging their victims. (This, just after it emerged that Syracuse Bishop Robert Cunningham, in sworn testimony delivered in a federal court, has de facto blamed such victims for their own molestation.) Speaking before a joint session of Congress, the pontiff then proffers insipid banalities and gets standing ovations, and has the gall to preach about the welfare of children.
Otherwise, stolidly faith-deranged candidates continue to bark and babble in the crazy-house carnival of lurid grotesquerie that, as we know, is the campaign for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. They face no appreciable pushback from journalists, as though prattling on about religious faith – that is, the unethical tradition of believing propositions on the basis of no evidence – were behavior befitting aspirants to the highest office of our (again) secular republic.
The recent CNN Republican debate at the Reagan Library in California showcased this debased state of affairs, though it must be said that in comparison with the similar Fox News event of last month, this time the Lord inspired fewer outbursts of inanity and less noisome eructations of piety. Which came as a surprise, for the proceedings lasted more than three dismal hours. The problem is, though, that the inanities, being allowed to persist, and the piety, tolerated as a matter of course, are threatening the rule of law in our secular republic and destroying what little rational discourse on national affairs we have left.
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee reliably proffered the first sample of (potentially seditious) sanctimony. When asked to comment on his characterization of Rowan County (Kentucky) Clerk Kim Davis’ incarceration as illustrative of the purported ongoing “criminalization of Christianity,” he responded that the Supreme Court (in the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling legalizing same-sex marriage) had issued a “very, very divided decision decided out of thin air that they were just going to redefine marriage,” and without “a constitutional shred of capacity for them to do it,” since “the courts can’t implement a law.”
It follows from the aforementioned splattering of legalistic gibberish that we now, Huckabee said, live under “judicial tyranny,” and so unnecessarily. The magnanimous thing to do, he suggested, would be to “make accommodations” for people like Davis, since, he claimed, we have done so for Gitmo detainees and the Fort Hood shooter (who was initially allowed to grow a beard, in violation of army regulations). “You’re telling me that you cannot make an accommodation” for Davis? he asked. “What else is it other than the criminalization of her faith and the exaltation of the faith of everyone else who might be a Fort Hood shooter or a detainee at Gitmo?”
(The moderator, Jake Tapper, might have told Huckabee that the Army shaved off Major Nidal Hassan’s beard two years ago. He might have also asked him to provide evidence of Islam’s “exaltation” in the United States, as well as Christianity’s “criminalization.” Furthermore, and most important, he might have informed Huckabee that publicly denying the validity of a ruling of our supreme judicial body encourages disobedience of the law and reeks of sedition.
The key word in this discussion is “accommodation,” as Jeffrey Toobin pointed out in the New Yorker. Accommodation, used in this context, signifies permission to selectively violate the law in accordance with one’s religious convictions. Toobin concludes that “there is no logical stopping point for the accommodation principle,” which could be extended to all manner of laws, including those pertaining to driving, vaccinations, child labor and civil rights. Were such accommodations allowed, the result would be “cafeteria government.”
Tapper raised none of the above points, of course, but instead turned to Jeb Bush, noting, by way of preface, that Bush’s opinion on Davis differed (in being less faith-deranged) from Huckabee’s. This implicit accusation of rationalism straightaway prompted Bush to object that, “you’re not stating my views right.” In fact, Bush had earlier declared that Davis had “sworn to uphold the law” and that gay couples should indeed get their marriage licenses. But now he spoke of the need for “accommodating” (florists, bakers and so on), since “religious conscience” is “a first freedom. . . a powerful part of our – of our Bill of Rights.”
Tapper then turned to Gov. Chris Christie, who also (commendably) had said Davis had to uphold the law. But on stage, surrounded by faith-mongers, he hewed to the party line and delivered an accommodationist response.
Strangely, Tapper failed to address the Davis question to the evolution-naysayer Dr. Ben Carson. But off the podium, in an interview with Fox News, Dr. Carson told Megyn Kelly that, “jail [for Davis] seems a little extreme.” Demonstrating that he does not understand the Constitutional issues involved, he said Congress needs to “enact legislation that will protect the First Amendment rights of all Americans” – in other words, accommodate.
As for the Donald, he, also away from the podium, called Obergefell v. Hodges “the law of the land,” and evinced no appetite for arguing over the matter. Perhaps, as a result, evangelicals aren’t falling in line behind him. As I’ve written before, he just does not come off as faith-deranged, try as he might.
When it isn’t about psychological or sexual abuse of defenseless little children, or retarding their science education, or making women keep quiet or even beating them, or about enjoining slaves to shut up and obey their masters, religion, be it Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, takes an intense, wholly prurient interest in the sex lives of its dupes. In fact, one might say sex, sexual tastes, and the condition, intact or mutilated, of sexual organs, as well as reproduction in general, are faith’s fortes – to the detriment of us all, and especially women.
Hence Bush did not tarry long before proclaiming himself “the most pro-life governor on this stage . . . life is a gift from God.” Huckabee added that holding pro-life views would be his litmus test for Supreme Court nominees. Stunningly, and notwithstanding his stance on same-sex marriage (which the Supreme Court upheld on equal protection grounds), he opined that “due process and equal protection under the law” were also crucial for him. Tapper could have pointed out the contradiction, but did not.
The final, and flailing, faith-infected envoi of the evening: Carly Fiorina’s rambling, cliché-studded soliloquy about “Lady Liberty” and “Lady Justice,” which concluded with a (grade-school-style) recital of the Pledge of Allegiance. If she had tossed in “In God We Trust” she would have completed the enumeration of Everyman’s (and woman’s) Lordly clichés. She then appeared on the "Tonight Show" and insulted, groundlessly, the rapidly growing nonbeliever segment of the electorate, saying that she “actually believe[s] that people of faith make better leaders.“
“People of faith” leaders, we recall, undeniably include Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei, and George W. Bush. Take your pick.
Subsequent to the debate, Republican front-runners busied themselves pronouncing on another strain of religious delusion that has figured much in the news of late. Dr. Carson informed us that, "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that," because Islam and the Constitution do not go together. (This is no bold statement. Four out of 10 Americans agree with him, reserving just a bit more electoral distaste for atheists and socialists.) Despite the media’s hostile reaction to his words, he doubled down on them, telling The Hill that, ““Muslims feel that their religion is very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official, and that’s inconsistent with our principles and our Constitution.”
Dr. Carson really should read the Constitution. Article VI permits no religious test for office, with the Establishment Clause keeping religion out of government. So Islam would not be “consistent” with the Constitution, any more than his evangelical faith would be. The actual faith, though, of presidents and state officials matters not a whit – until (or if) it intrudes itself into the performance of their official duties, as it has in Kim Davis’ case.
The ensuing Carson controversy would be tiresome to recount. I’ll just note that Mitt Romney tweeted, “Of course, no religious test for the presidency – every faith adds to our national character.” This prompts counter-questions: Does every case of influenza add to the health of our nation? Would more debt enhance our solvency? Would further Republican debates help us discern the Solomonic wisdom of GOP candidates?
Anyway, God, God, God. The (nonexistent) Almighty and the candidates’ fealty to Him and one of the three variants of His magic book never exit our electoral stage for long. Yet reporters, as a rule, tend to avoid religion in interviews, or simply accept declarations of piety with equanimity and move on.
This is wrong. Religions are nothing but sets of ideas, and as such should be susceptible to discussion, criticism and even ridicule and satire. All the more so since candidates (both Republican and Democrat) often drag their faith into the public arena and boast about it, pander to religious blocs (and especially the evangelicals) for votes and cash, confer with religious leaders and (mostly where Republicans are concerned) base policy on precepts originating in religious texts (think reproductive rights, opposition to same-sex marriage, and right-to-die legislation).
In view of this, journalists should have long ago declared open season on religion. Interviewers should be hounding faith-flaunting candidates with hard-hitting questions, as they would on any other subject of import. They should disregard faith-based assertions and demand justification on evidentiary grounds. Politicians should be made uncomfortable for ignoring the worldview and concerns of rationalists.
Sample questions to be put to pietistic contenders for the White House: What makes you believe in God? Do you hear voices? See visions? Do you believe God answers your prayers? If so, please provide objective evidence. Why is, say, the Bible or the Torah better than the Quran? Does not the eternal hellfire the supposedly merciful Jesus promised sinners epitomize Constitutionally prohibited cruel and unusual punishment? If you consider the Bible a reliable guide for your personal life, may I ask if would you slaughter your child on God’s command (as Abraham was prepared to do)? Would you stone your daughter to death for not being a virgin on her wedding night? If not, why not? What scriptural authority can you cite for following your “Holy Book” in some cases, but not in others?
And what about Balaam’s jabbering donkey? Please explain how 21st century humans are to take such a tale seriously.
Finally, what are you planning to do to win over the most rapidly increasing segment of the population, the religiously unaffiliated?
Candidates, until you answer these questions satisfactorily, all your talk about God will provoke responses from rationalists suitable for little more than sit-com laugh tracks.
And we will certainly not vote for you.