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?