MERE PANDERING

Michael J. Totten and Donald Sensing take on conservatives who have questioned the authenticity of Dean’s faith following his statement that he’d be emphasizing his religious beliefs more in speeches once the campaign moved South.

Totten analyzes a rather bizarre Cal Thomas column that sneers at the Congregationalist brand of Christianity that Dean was reared in, saying it amounts to what C.S. Lewis termed Mere Christianity. Thomas cites my favorite passage from that book,

I’m trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I can’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God or else a madman or something worse.

Totten defends Dean and argues that Thomas’ argument amounts to religious bigotry, especially this passage:

Each Congregationalist believes he is in direct contact with God and is entitled to sort out truth for himself. Mr. Dean’s wife is Jewish and his two children are being raised Jewish, which is strange at best, considering the two faiths take a distinctly different view of Jesus.

I would argue that, almost by definition, devout believers in almost anything are bigots in this sense. A quick check of thesaurus.com offers the following synonyms for bigotry:

bias, conservatism, discrimination, dogmatism, fanaticism, ignorance, injustice, Jim Crowism, mindlessness, narrow-mindedness, partiality, provincialism, racialism, racism, sectarianism, sexism, unfairness

Most of us who believe strongly in anything are biased and partial–if not dogmatic and fanatical. Thomas is a Roman Catholic, so his objections to the extreme holding of the Congregationalists to the Priesthood of All Believers doctrine is certainly understandable, since all the apostolic sects believe in a strict hierarchy of authority. I would also second his puzzlement at Dean’s allowing his children to be raised Jewish if he is indeed a devout Christian. If one believes Jesus to be the one true path to God, eternal salvation, and all that, how could he then permit his children to be raised outside that grace?

Living in a diverse society such as ours requires tolerance for the views of others, seeking to understand their perspectives, and a live-and-let live attitude about certain things. But being tolerant does not require being non-judgmental. Evangelical Christians are perfectly entitled to assess the religious sincerity of political candidates and to vote for those who are more likely to be guided by the teachings of Christ. Similarly, devout Jews have every right to side with politicians whom they perceive to be more friendly toward Israel. This is no different than choosing candidates on the basis of their conformity to our views on affirmative action, capital punishment, gun rights, or tax policy. The only people who are non-judgmental are those who really have no firm opinions.

Sensing’s excellent essay includes an extended discussion of the above passage from C.S. Lewis. While understanding Thomas’ argument, Sensing believes it to be “mighty thin gruel,” noting that there are many ways to practice Christianity:

It seemed to me that Dean was not terribly comfortable with speaking openly about his religious faith before national media. I frankly expect a northern congregationalist would not be as comfortable about that as, say, a Southern Baptist – or a southern United Methodist, which is what Bush is.

Absolutely. This is a cultural difference, as well as a religious one.

Don is a Methodist clergyman and I am a non-theist, but we come to the same conclusion as to the Dean debate:

What Christian confession may spring from Dean’s heart is a subject in which I am studiously uninterested in judging his fitness for office. My only interest . . . is whether he is truthful rather than pandering. But that is true for any question, religious or not.

But, again, it’s perfectly reasonable for Cal Thomas or any other devoutly religious person to be less objective on this matter.

Update (1821): Matt Yglesias weighs in as well:

[I]t would appear that Cal Thomas is also assailing Dean on the grounds that his wife is Jewish, which I guess goes to show that there’s plenty of anti-semitism to go around in this country.

For reasons stated above and in his comments, I disagree. Unless all devout Christians are definitional anti-Semites?

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Paul says:

    Well, I read all of the above prose and various links but a single thought will not leave the top of my mind.

    When a candidate announces that they are going to talk about something (religion in this case) in a geographic area of the country only to increase their poll number, I’m pretty sure that defines pandering.

  2. jen says:

    Also, for those of us who are followers of Christ, it’s as you said – a little suspect when someone who professes to be a Christian has allowed his children to be raised Jewish. A true, devout Christian would ensure that his children were raised in the Christian faith, although aware of the traditions of Judaism because it is the root of Christianity.

    While I understand the cultural reserve of a New Englander, I’m more than a little skeptical of Dean’s profession of faith. It definitely seems like pandering to this southern Christian.

  3. My problem with Dean as an evangelical isn’t that he seems secular or has a Jewish wife and children (I think Thomas is being bigoted there), it’s that he has a history of making snide remarks about the faithful — telling Judy Woodruff that religiousness and hypocrisy go hand-in-hand, telling Southerners they shouldn’t let their religious beliefs influence their vote, proudly announcing that his religious beliefs don’t influence any of his policies (which makes no sense to say to a Dem primary crowd given the fact that Dean’s Congregationalist church is, by all accounts, far left) castigating his old church for not being “Godlike” because it didn’t want to go along with his bike path. Add to this his “Come to Jesus” tour in the South and most religious people have a lot to dislike about Dean.

    On the other hand, religious people can’t claim to know Dean’s personal relationship with God and Jesus and should stay above attacking him for having a Jewish wife and children, even if it may seem doctrinally odd. And I’d like to point out that Thomas’ swipe at Congregationalism’s lack of intermediaries seems like generic conservative Catholic anti-Protestantism, so that should give pause to any Protestants who want to praise Thomas’ column.

  4. Mithras says:

    he has a history of making snide remarks about the faithful — telling Judy Woodruff that religiousness and hypocrisy go hand-in-hand, telling Southerners they shouldn’t let their religious beliefs influence their vote, proudly announcing that his religious beliefs don’t influence any of his policies (which makes no sense to say to a Dem primary crowd given the fact that Dean’s Congregationalist church is, by all accounts, far left) castigating his old church for not being “Godlike” because it didn’t want to go along with his bike path. Add to this his “Come to Jesus” tour in the South and most religious people have a lot to dislike about Dean.

    Where to start? Dean is saying his personal religious beliefs are his personal religious beliefs. Check. He doesn’t talk about them much because where he comes from, people don’t. Check. Says he understands that in other places, people do talk about them, and when he goes to those places, he will. Check. Says personal religious beliefs should not influence policy. (The example of his congregation being left-wing doesn’t prove that his faith has influenced his policies.) Says that people who mix faith and politics are often hypocritical. Amen to that.

    What’s the quibbling about? He sounds like a smart, honest guy to me – but of course, I’m biased. Are we so used to dumb, pandering, dishonest politicians that we can’t recognize one who is none of those things?

  5. Mithras,

    In the interview, which is quoted in Franklin Foer’s article on Dean for TNR, the governor said people who are religious had a hard time not being hypocritical. He did not specifically say people who mix religion and politics. He was insulting believers.

    When interviewed, Dean said the church opposing giving up their property for his bike path plan was “not Godlike,” and that the path was “God’s work on earth” — a pair of statements which ranks up there with Pat Robertson saying God is on his side or that God will see to it that Bush wins in a blowout, which I consider blasphemous.

    Regarding his bit telling Southerners not to base their votes on religious beliefs, I suppose you’re not going to recognize this fact, but much of Southern political culture obtains from religion, and telling a Southerner to not think about God at the ballot box is the same as telling a humanist to disregard his value system when he votes. It was silly and insulting, since everyone votes based on their values.

    Lastly, the reason I said Dean’s “my faith doesn’t inform my politics” quip made no sense is that no one was attacking him for having faith that informed his politics. If Dean was a conservative Catholic (as opposed to a lefty Congregationalist) who had expressed pro-life views, then he got up in front of a liberal audience and said, “But my faith doesn’t inform my politics,” his statement would follow logically. As is, his statement can only be interpreted as saying that someone’s faith shouldn’t inform their politics, which is, again, privileging one value system over another. Me, I’d rather have a candidate promote religious and philosophical pluralism.

    Lastly, I don’t see how you think Dean saying he’s going to talk about Jesus in the South isn’t (a) pandering and (b) dishonest considering his “God, guns, and gays” quip.

  6. fife simonize says:

    “Unless all devout Christians are definitional anti-Semites.”

    James, by your analysis, it seems that you concur with Matt Grills’ interpretation of ‘devout’.

  7. James Joyner says:

    fife,

    If you mean this column, yes, I largely agree with it. It seems to me that you either believe in the divinity of Christ and all its implications, or you don’t. I don’t. I also don’t believe, for example, that the Pope is the infallible Vicar of Christ; but then, I don’t claim to be Catholic, either.

  8. jen says:

    Just to clarify one nit-picky thing – it’s Catholics who believe that the Pop is the infallible Vicar of Christ. Protestants (me) don’t – we believe there was only one infallible man, Jesus Christ.

  9. PunditFilter says:

    Shredding Dean’s God card
    Dean’s spirituality (or lack of it) has been a popular subject lately. Cal Thomas has now also weighed in with “Dean’s pleadings” in the Washington Times. Michael J. Totten, Outside the Beltway, and Donald Sensing do some fisking….