Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ben Carson’s Religious Tests for Candidates

Ben Carson, the Republican neurosurgeon who wants to be President, recently said that a Muslim should not be our President. The divisions in the American body politic immediately announced themselves. That remark was widely criticized as being prejudiced, discriminatory and insulting against Muslims. Money poured into his campaign from those who support him.

On NBC’s Meet the Press on September 20, Carson laid out a general principle that certain religions need extra scrutiny. Chuck Todd asked, “Should a President’s faith matter? Should your faith matter to voters?” Carson replied, “Well, I guess it depends on what that faith is. If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the constitution, no problem.”

Carson then used that principle to exclude Islam as he understands it. Todd asked, “So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the constitution?” Carson said, “No, I don’t, I do not. I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

Last week in Cedarville, Ohio, he repeated his principle:  “Who should be allowed to be President of the United States. And I said I think anybody, regardless of their religion, if they are willing to embrace the values and principles of America and our Constitution and subject their beliefs to the Constitution. I have no problem with that at all. And that's perfectly reasonable.”

This Sunday, he specified what is wrong with Islam: “I would have problems with somebody who embraced all the doctrines associated with Islam. If they are not willing to reject Sharia and all the portions of it that are talked about in the Quran, if they are not willing to reject that, and subject that to American values and the Constitution, then of course, I would. If you are not willing to reject that, then how in the world can you possibly be the president of the United States?”

He told ABC that Muslims should rewrite their sacred text: “What I would like for somebody to show me is an improved Islamic text that opposes Shariah.  Let me see -- if you can show me that, I will begin to alter my thinking on this.  But right now, when you have something that is against the rights of women, against the rights of gays, subjugates other religions, and a host of things that are not compatible with our Constitution, why, in fact, would you take that chance?”

I agree with Carson that if someone’s beliefs contradict our Constitution, they should not be President. And I agree that some Muslim religious interpretations contradict our Constitution. The trouble is that Carson applies his tests of religious suitability only to Islam. He does not advocate that a Christian specifically renounce the Biblical passages which violate our Constitution, such as approving discussions of slavery and of stoning women accused of adultery.

Dr. Carson does not advocate that Mike Huckabee drop out of the presidential race because he supported Kim Davis in Kentucky, when she placed her religious beliefs against the rights of gays above her sworn Constitution responsibilities.

Ben Carson is a Seventh Day Adventist. On their own website, they hold up “the Bible as the only standard of faith and practice for Christians.” If Seventh Day Adventists assert that the Bible is the only standard of practice, shouldn’t Seventh Day Adventists who want our votes be clear that they “subjugate their religious beliefs to our constitution”?

If Carson thinks Islam is unacceptable because it is “against the rights of gays”, then I ask him to reject the Seventh Day Adventist teaching that “Homosexuality is a manifestation of the disturbance and brokenness in human inclinations and relations caused by the entrance of sin into the world.”

On Thursday, he told Bill O’Reilly, “When I look at Islamic nations, what I see are people who don't give women equal rights.” What about the controversy among Seventh Day Adventists about whether women should be ordained? At the General Conference in July this issue came up again, and was rejected again, as it has been for more than a century. Should Carson renounce his own religion’s discrimination against women in order to be a candidate?

His claim that Islam fails his Constitutional tests resonates with Christian fundamentalists who would never accept those tests being applied to their own faith. Nor would they appreciate the suggestion that the Bible be rewritten to remove offensive passages. Carson finds support among people who are ignorant of the many varieties of Islam, as many as there of Christianity, ignorant of the Quran as a source of Muslim belief, ignorant of the long history of Islam in America as a native African American religious movement.

As Kareem Abdu-Jabbar, who converted to Islam in 1971, said, “People do not condemn all Christians for the acts of the group that calls themselves the Christian Knights or the Ku Klux Klan. I don’t think that Mr. Carson has any idea, or knows very many Muslims, because if he did he wouldn’t say the things that he’s saying.”

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
Published by the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, September 29, 2015

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What Do Republican Voters Want?

I’m not a Republican voter. I could have voted for Paul Findley, but I didn’t live here. I study in detail what people do, and I listen carefully to what they say. But I’m speaking from the outside here.

Some people might say that Republican voters don’t know what they want. More than a dozen serious politicians are risking their political reputations, and lots of other people’s money, hoping that Republican voters still aren’t sure who they want.

I think that Republican voters are expressing what they want pretty clearly. They want a political outsider. Maybe that’s their main message so far. That’s news.

In 2011, after Donald Trump made all the right moves to enter the Republican presidential primaries, he dropped out in May: “After considerable deliberation and reflection, I have decided not to pursue the office of the presidency. This decision does not come easily or without regret.” He was polling about 14%, behind Mike Huckabee. Besides Trump, every other name among the dozen Republicans that Opinion Research asked about in May 2011 was an elected office holder, present or former. Trump had the highest negative ratings of anyone, 64%.

No longer. When Morning Consult asked those who watched last week’s debate, who won, the top three were Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump, and Ben Carson, none of whom ever held public office. 60% chose a non-politician. When asked who they would vote for, the same top three emerged.

NBC took a broader online poll in the days after the debate. Marco Rubio just edged out Carson for third as debate winner. When asked who appeared “most presidential”, Marco was out and Jeb came in, edging out Carson for third. A total of 44% of all Republicans think a real estate tycoon and reality show star, a tech company CEO, and a neurosurgeon look “more presidential” than the dozen politicians in the race. 54% would vote for one of the outsiders, who take the top three spots.

We now have the most Republican Congress since 1928, but Republicans don’t like their own politicians. Polls by Pew Research show that only 41% of Republicans surveyed approve of the Republican Congressional leadership. That number was 60% in 2011 and 78% in 1995. In 1995, 80% of Republicans thought their party’s leaders were keeping their campaign promises. Now it’s 37%. The proportion of Republican voters who disapprove of the new Republican leadership in Congress jumped from 44% in February, right after they were elected, to 55% in May.

But being an outsider is not enough. Republican voters want a confrontational outsider. Not necessarily a belligerent lover of personal confrontations like Trump. Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson act more decorously, but their policies are belligerent.

Here is Carson’s website on how he would fight in the Middle East: “If a bully faction or bully nation is beating up on those with whom it disagrees, we should immediately stop them with brutal force, if necessary, because it is the right thing to do. If that were done consistently, such incidents would cease almost immediately. I mention political correctness here because it only hampers effectiveness. For example, a lot of time, effort, and lives were wasted in Fallujah, Iraq, because the terrorists were hiding among the people and using them as shields. Political correctness dictates that we play their game. I would have announced via bullhorn and leaflets that in 72 hours Fallujah was going to become part of the desert because there were substantial numbers of terrorists hiding there. This would have given people time to flee.”

Carly Fiorina said in May that she would “stand up and arm Ukraine”, and conduct more aggressive military exercises in the Baltic nations, to “send a very clear message to Vladimir Putin.” In last week’s debate, she went further: “Having met Vladimir Putin, I wouldn’t talk to him at all. We talked way too much to him. What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the Sixth Fleet, I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland, I would conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic states. I'd probably send a few thousand more troops into Germany. Vladimir Putin would get the message.”

Political outsiders and their supporters owe nothing to the cumbersome process of governing in a democracy. They haven’t tried it. They don’t appreciate the checks and balances built into our system by centuries of  political evolution of all three branches.

These political outsiders trumpet their success in systems where things get done because they say so. They seem to believe that if they say, “I’m sending more troops to Germany,” or “The Mexicans will pay for that fence,” everybody will hop to it. That’s not presidential. That’s what dictators think.

That’s okay with many conservative voters. Earlier this month, 55% of Republicans surveyed said they would “support the military stepping in to take control of the federal government” if elected leaders pursued Constitutional politics they didn’t agree with.

That’s a dangerous political mood supporting dangerous candidates.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, September 22, 2015

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

When Religion and Politics Collide

The role of religion in politics has rarely been so openly controversial as today. Religious conservatives are trying to reverse decades of their diminishing ability to determine political outcomes. It’s all about tolerance.

In our own Catholic diocese, Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s Family School Agreement reverses the traditional tolerance that Catholic schools have shown toward non-Catholics. That Agreement would require non-Catholic families of students at Catholic schools, including Our Saviour and Routt and schools in Springfield, to attend weekly Mass and donate 8% of their income to the Catholic Church. It’s hard for me to imagine, for example, how any Jewish family could accept those conditions and the disrespect for Judaism it implies. This shift back towards intolerance was prompted by Paprocki’s intolerance for homosexuals. He initiated the Agreement when a same-sex married couple enrolled their children at Christ the King elementary school in Springfield.

In Kentucky, Kim Davis has catapulted from county clerk to conservative celebrity, one of a number of public officials who refuse to follow the Supreme Court ruling that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.

The Republican presidential candidates are divided on this issue. Those who are more conservative and more supportive of fundamentalist Christianity echo her argument: she should be able to put her religion ahead of the law, even when acting as a government official.

The issue is again intolerance for homosexuals, but also part of a larger agenda and a broader intolerance. Note Senator Ted Cruz’s statement: “Those who are persecuting Kim Davis believe that Christians should not serve in public office. That is the consequence of their position. Or, if Christians do serve in pubic office, they must disregard their religious faith — or be sent to jail.” For Cruz, a “Christian” opposes gay marriage. Other ideas can’t be Christian.

Tolerance eventually leads to equality. Advocates for equality, as far back as we can see, argued for tolerance and tried to exhibit it. Those who said “no” were not willing to tolerate people they felt were inferior and so should be unequal.

These are skirmishes in a bigger battle between religious fundamentalists and more tolerant Americans within their own faiths, as well as between fundamentalists and more secular Americans.

For Cruz and many other conservative Christians in politics, religion always trumps the law. The highest law at any time must be their brand of faith. Government must serve Biblical law. This political ideology is called “dominionism”, deriving from the passage in Genesis which gives to men “dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, over the cattle and over all the earth....” Although there is nothing about one group of humans exerting dominion over others, Christian fundamentalists assert their own interpretation, as written by Rousas Rushdoony, the founder of so-called Christian Reconstructionism: “every non-Biblical law-order represents an anti-Christian religion.” Rushdoony denied the Holocaust, said democracy was the enemy of Christianity, and called Southern slavery “benevolent”. Among current Presidential candidates, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee follow this line of thought, intolerant of any religious interpretation except their own.

The politics of our major religions mirror wider American politics. Not only Catholics and Protestants, but also Jews and Muslims are divided into factions, one which cannot tolerate equality for gays, women, and any other religion, and one which preaches tolerance and supports equality.

That split has always existed. But as the center has moved inexorably toward equality, traditionalists have become angry. They are doing everything they can to slow down the future.

As Pope Francis pulls the whole Catholic hierarchy explicitly toward more tolerance, conservative Catholics push back. As Protestant denominations open their doors and their offices to women, to immigrants, and to gays, fundamentalists shut them out.

The ultimate battle is not just about religious practice. Conservative Christians claim that they are only defending freedom of religion, but there is no attack on their freedom to worship and believe as they like. They want more. They want laws which apply to all Americans to reflect their religious beliefs. They demand the right to disregard laws they don’t like. They want their religion to be our politics. They want dominion over the fish and birds and the rest of us.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, September 15, 2015