Several days ago, Rain at Rainy Day Things made some good observations and asked some good questions about the intersection of religion and politics in this country. One of her key questions was 'should a candidate's religious beliefs influence whether you would vote for him/her?' That has been rattling around in my mind for several days now leading me into some very strange paths of thought. Rain makes the astute observation that Republican candidates, especially in the South, have a very hard time getting nominated, much less elected, if they don't hew closely to what Rain calls 'christianist' (as opposed to Christian) positions. This article from the New York Times indicates that demands for orthodoxy doesn't just affect Protestants. I remember the storied 1960 election when John Kennedy had to repeatedly make it clear that he, a Catholic, would not be controlled by the Pope. We have come a very long way backwards over the last several decades. Over the last ten years we have seen Catholic bishops threaten Catholic politicians with excommunication if they voted in any way that could be construed as favorable to abortion rights, reproductive rights, or gay rights. John Kennedy insisted on being an American Catholic. The purists in the Church now insist that their communicants be Catholic American. Unfortunately, we have seen the same hardening of lines among some of the Protestant denominations.
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I would have told Rain that I never would have considered a candidate's religion when making my choice in the voting booth. Now, I can't say that. Once upon a time, I would have respected the candidate's religious beliefs and been fairly sure that he would have respected mine and would have known where to draw the line. Now, I can't be at all sure of that. I realized that two years ago when Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, was pursuing the Republican nomination. Stories came out about two parole cases that came before him that made me question this matter. Two men, each convicted of heinous crimes, requested parole claiming that during their incarceration they had experienced a religious conversion and reformation. One man's request was refused and he was executed. The other was granted and he was freed with the condition that he leave the state on release. The one that was refused had converted to Buddhism. The one Huckabee granted converted to fundamentalist Protestant Christianity. The one who was freed went on to rape and murder three, I think, women in another state. Mike Huckabee, a born-again-fundamentalist-Protestant-Christian, accepted the 'conversion' of the Christian and freed him while not accepting the conversion of the Buddhist allowing him to be executed. This incident made me doubt that Mike Huckabee could be trusted to administer justice impartially. That means I can no longer trust that candidates respect the religious choices and values of those who don't share those choices and values. In fact I see a contest to demonize anyone outside their own group.
My suspicion of religiously motivated candidates goes even deeper, however. Over the last couple of decades the notions of 'capitalism,' and 'free markets' have acquired a quasi-religious aura. One would almost think that god had delivered them along with the Ten Commandments or that Jesus incorporated them into the Sermon on the Mount. Christian orthodoxy now seems to require an Economic Orthodoxy that seems, to me at least, very much at odds with the origins of Christianity. Now the believer and unbeliever alike are left to their own devices and the mercy of god. Early Christians had a supportive community to care for the sick, the old, the needy. Today's Christianists label that 'communist.' Economic heresy has become synonymous with religious heresy.
To answer Rain's question--once I would not have asked anything about a candidate's religious belief. Now, unfortunately, I have to consider whether that candidate can accord me the respect I deserve as a citizen and voter. I have to ask if a candidate can respect my right to hold different beliefs and whether s/he can respect my beliefs and my right to act on my beliefs. And I have to ask the same questions concerning the quasi-religious beliefs that have flooded our political scene over the last few years. Already my rights to hold a job in some companies has been wiped out because they have a zero tolerance policy on smoking. Though I don't smoke I would always test positive for tobacco contaminants because someone else in my household smokes. Some companies have such a zero tolerance policy with respect to weight? Those companies wouldn't hire me because some insurance companies think I would be a poor health risk even though statistical surveys have shown that weight alone is not a good indicator of how much I would use health services. I feel assaulted on all sides from the High Priests of Capitalism, the High Priests of Health, the High Priests of the Green Church, and the High Priests of the Christianist Churches (Catholic and Protestant). All are intent on forcing their beliefs on me. I don't like it much but I have to consider their 'religious' views when I vote.