Political Animal


October 22, 2011 8:35 AM This Week in God

By Steve Benen

First up from the God Machine this week is a closer look at an interesting question that came up during this week’s debate for Republican presidential candidates. CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked the GOP field a question we don’t often hear: “Should voters pay attention to a candidate’s religion?”

The responses weren’t exactly encouraging. Disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for example, said, “I, frankly, would be really worried if somebody assured me that nothing in their faith would affect their judgments, because then I’d wonder, where’s your judgment? How can you have judgment if you have no faith? And how can I trust you with power if you don’t pray?”

Mitt Romney, hoping to become the first Mormon nominee for president, not surprisingly rejected the notion that “we should choose people based upon their religion for public office.”

Amy Sullivan had a good piece on the bigger picture.

Americans wouldn’t accept an ethnic or gender test for office. Why then do so many voters impose a de facto religious requirement on their candidates? […]

The problem is that religion has become so politicized that it actually gets in the way of providing that moral clarity. Yet liberals and conservatives alike have fallen for the idea that a candidate’s religious beliefs are the key to predicting how they will govern.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I taped a segment for On the Media about how reporters cover religion on the campaign trail. In an unaired portion of the interview, I got into a debate about the relevance of candidates’ theological beliefs with host Bob Garfield, who argued that everything should be on the table. “Shouldn’t we know if Rick Santorum believes homosexuality is a sin?” asked Garfield. No. The only thing we should care about is whether a candidate like Santorum would seek to ban gay marriage as President. So just ask him that. In the end, his motivation for taking the position is irrelevant.

That sounds about right to me. If policy beliefs shaped by faith are what matters, voters should hear about those beliefs — not because of the theological underpinnings, but because we care about the kind of agenda policymakers will pursue if elected.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* New research suggests frequent reading of the Christian Bible leads to more liberal political beliefs. (thanks to V.S. for the tip)

* Roger Wolsey, a United Methodist pastor, put together the “10 Things Christians Should Know & Do about the ‘Occupy’ Protests.” (thanks to C.B. for the tip)

* And finally, remember Harold Camping, the guy who was certain the Rapture would arrive in May? He soon after revised his “calculations,” and assured everyone that doomsday would actually come on Oct. 21, 2011. That, as you may have noticed, was yesterday. We can probably expect a revised date again sometime soon. (thanks to R.P. for the tip)

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • KurtRex1453 on October 22, 2011 8:48 AM:

    Remember, the early Christians were all communists. Living in commune style, sharing all their possessions, not participating in the rituals & holidays of civic life, turning the other cheek. Compassion for the poor.

  • none on October 22, 2011 9:06 AM:

    "In the end, his motivation for taking the position is irrelevant."

    By that "reasoning," it's irrelevant whether a candidate's opposition to affirmative action is "those nigras are inferior and don't deserve good things" or "I think it's a fine program that's outlived it's usefulness."

    So, that "sounds about right" to Steve Benen? Steve Benen agrees with Amy Sullivan that motives don't matter - that it doesn't matter if a person is a racist or not? Give me a break, that's just stupid. Of course motives matter. It matters a lot whether a person adopts a position for good or bad reasons. The actual position can matter more, but the motives matter a lot.

  • yellowdog on October 22, 2011 9:12 AM:

    Blimey, I hate to say it, but Newt does have a point on this one. A person's religious faith, if it exists, is a very big part of his/her values, decision-making, judgment, and perspective of the world. People may agree or disagree about where that faith takes people--Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jimmy Carter I admire, George W. Bush and Harold Camping I do not--but faith remains a prominent piece of their biographies. For people who reject faith, too, the road they walked to get to that point is often biographically important--there are many gradations and variations of belief and non-belief. Would I really want a leader who had not asked the really big questions? Some of these questions are very personal and private--especially related to the experience of suffering, where people often choose to utterly reject faith or hold to it in a deeper way. Some are more public. Faith complicates everything, doesn't it? It is messy. Shall we simply ignore the faith-path of our would-be leaders? It is not so simple to do.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on October 22, 2011 9:20 AM:

    Sure, the religion of a candidate should be considered when measuring up a candidate. But not the way most people think it is considered; to discount someone because their religion is different from yours. It should be considered because of the problem of ALL religions. Should I trust a candidate's judgment if they believe in complete bullshit? If they require no evidence - empirical or logical - for their beliefs? On a ridiculous-ometer, do some religions beat hands down others? Ha. The Flying Spaghetti Monster is just good as any.

  • Wilco on October 22, 2011 9:26 AM:

    Holy crap, why isn't this a huge story?
    The Catholic Church in Spain took up to 300,000 babies from their parents and sold them to other couples! They told the parents their baby died.

  • linus bern on October 22, 2011 9:26 AM:

    Apparently Harold Camping didn't even give his staff the day off for the rapture.

  • Robert McClellan on October 22, 2011 9:29 AM:

    “Americans wouldn’t accept an ethnic or gender test for office.” Where has she been the last three years?

  • DisgustedWithItAll on October 22, 2011 9:32 AM:

    @linus: He knew they wouldn't be needing the day off to go anywhere heavenly if you get my drift.

    Actually, his first prediction came true and the Rapture occurred just as he said it would. It's just that no one was called. And no one noticed the ensuing mess because Republicans had already created such a mess.

  • kevo on October 22, 2011 9:38 AM:

    The majority of early colonists were Protestants who demanded, as part of their piety, continual reading of the Holy Bible. Protestant children many times read it as the first piece of understandable literature. Elders read aloud to audiences who desired to listen. The point, reading and literacy were encouraged, practiced and reinforced. (Check your electronic gizmos lately, or your children's? Not much in the way of conceptual reading!)

    All else aside, the shear connection between the historical rise of Liberalism (1689 - 1800), the need for a literate populace as a foundation to technological advancement, and the continual literary inculcation of the all-giving Jesus of Nazareth into the hearts and minds of our early European ancestors made for a mighty combination for what has truly become a great nation.

    Too bad this current version of the Republican party is putting itself before America's heritage of Yankee ingenuity!

    The current crop of Republican candidates would do well to reread the Bill of Rights! -Kevo

  • RSA on October 22, 2011 10:01 AM:

    I got into a debate about the relevance of candidates’ theological beliefs with host Bob Garfield, who argued that everything should be on the table. “Shouldn’t we know if Rick Santorum believes homosexuality is a sin?” asked Garfield. No. The only thing we should care about is whether a candidate like Santorum would seek to ban gay marriage as President. So just ask him that. In the end, his motivation for taking the position is irrelevant.

    I think Sullivan is wrong here. How many different policy decisions are open to the President? It's an unlimited list. It's just not practical to ask a candidate about every single thing that he or she might decide to do. In the end, knowing something about a candidate's belief system (which might be theological or otherwise) helps us understand what the person is likely to do. Sullivan would have us talking to a hypothetical Christian Identity candidate about their plans for the EEOC, the NSF, the UN, and so forth, rather than getting at the nub (and here I do mean a tiny chunk) of their beliefs.

  • dj spellchecka on October 22, 2011 10:14 AM:

    interesting piece from npr: "Latinos are saving American Christianity"

    The Rev. Wilfredo de Jesus is leading the movement to give a little color to the mostly white Pentecostal faith. He says — and statistics bear him out — that Latinos are saving American Christianity.

    "No doubt, every denomination would have decreased in membership," he says, "if it had not been for Hispanic growth, including our fellowship, the Assemblies of God."

    "People come to the church, and I'm in the lobby area, greeting visitors — and they say, 'Hey Father, thank you for the Mass today.' I know where they're coming from."

    They're coming from Catholicism. Polls by Pew Research Center show that fewer than 60 percent of second-generation Latinos are Catholic — and the ones who leave Catholicism head for the more boisterous evangelical churches, like New Life Covenant Church in Chicago.

    Sitting in the church's cafe, Isaac Vega says he chafed at the structured Catholic masses, with priests who served as intermediaries between him and God.

    That's why most Latinos leave Catholicism, Pew researchers found. There's another reason, too: Because they can.

    New Life member Betty Ochoa says that in Mexico, where her parents are from, she never could have made the switch — her culture, her family wouldn't let her.
    "We got a postcard from the future," Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life says. "And it told us that in the not-too-distant future, this country is going to be minority white. So, the future of many religious traditions in this country will depend upon the second-generation Latinos."

    Which is why de Jesus is traveling the country, telling other pastors how to expand their churches, Latino-style.


  • dj spellchecka on October 22, 2011 10:17 AM:

    eye opening chart showing how much evangelical chaplins are overrepresented in the military compared to the rank and file

    Click here:

  • Rathskeller on October 22, 2011 5:53 PM:

    As others have pointed out, clearly Harold Camping couldn't figure out what to wear for Halloween.

    dj spellchecka - that's not an eye-opening chart. first comparing religion of the general population to that of military chaplains is like comparing age distribution in the U.S. to that of the age distribution of working supermodels.

    Second, chaplains in the military will tend to be from the south, increasing the evangelical ratio.

  • Doug on October 22, 2011 6:05 PM:

    It shouldn't matter, but it does.
    And that's a pity...

  • grandpajohn on October 22, 2011 8:26 PM:

    New research suggests frequent reading of the Christian Bible leads to more liberal political beliefs. (thanks to V.S. for the tip)
    If all self proclaimed born again christians actually followed the teachings of Jesus as outlined in Matthew chapter 5-7 (Sermon on the Mount) They would all be liberals

  • jhm on October 23, 2011 5:55 AM:

  • dj spellchecka on October 23, 2011 11:29 AM:

    @ rathskeller

    i believe that the term "general population" on the graph i linked to means general military population not general american population...

    for example the chart shows atheists at .5% while pew says the american population share of atheists is 4%..

    i could be wrong...thoghts?

  • dj spellchecka on October 23, 2011 11:50 AM:


    the same chart as presented at mother jones is labeled "Religious breakdown of US servicemembers, versus the faiths of their chaplains."

    don't no why that note wasn't on the one i linked to...

    click here


    sorry for the confusion