Christopher Hitchens wants you to know that it is perfectly reasonable to reject a presidential candidate because of his religious views. Article VI of the constitution discusses that there should be no religious test for office, a reaction to European monarchies which required people to do kooky things like affirm religious belief.
However, what Article VI does not do, and was never intended to do, is deny me the right to say, as loudly as I may choose, that I will on no account vote for a smirking hick like Mike Huckabee, who is an unusually stupid primate but who does not have the elementary intelligence to recognize the fact that this is what he is. My right to say and believe that is already guaranteed to me by the First Amendment. And the right of Huckabee to win the election and fill the White House with morons like himself is unaffected by my expression of an opinion.
Hitchens has never been shy, so far as I know, and so I wouldn’t expect to hear he felt much pressure to curtail his expression of opinion. But his point is important, that there is a difference between voters expressing their opinion and the government requiring a certain faith be observed. You should not hear complaining from atheists that there is a defacto test for religiosity in this country, because it is based on voter preference, not any official policy1.
But, aside from what’s official, what can I say about voter preference?
There is an expression: “It’s nothing personal.” What that expression means is to reassure the listener that some decision was not made on an unreasonable personal bias, but rather on facts that are outside of the personal. If you don’t invite Vice President Cheney to go quail hunting with you, you might say “it’s nothing personal” if you relish spending some time with the arch-Neocon, but you fear for the lives of the other participants, based on his past performance. It’s nothing personal, but you don’t invite anyone on your little trips if that person has a separate section of notches on his belt that correspond to humans. It’s not a prejudice against his personality, it’s a practical matter of a fear for your life, and perhaps the fear that your health insurance carrier will get wind of it and raise your premiums.
Okay, that’s a bad example, considering that it’s difficult to imagine wanting to spend time with the VP. I leave it as an exercise to the reader.
What I mean to say is that you can have reasonable arguments why someone shouldn’t be president, and then you can have prejudices.
“I just won’t vote for any Christian” is a prejudice that I have never noticed. Nonbelievers are voting for Christians all the time. This is why it’s so easy to dismiss crackpots who worry about anti-Christian boogeymen. Atheists get freedom of religion. They get freedom. People whose beliefs are not in the majority are keenly aware how far that freedom goes and where it ends. Well, that and the fact that atheists are still outnumbered.
We’re used to voting for Christians. But many of us (I’ll just speak for myself here, but feel free to join in) don’t want to vote for crackpots.
If you have goofy2 beliefs, you have the choice and right to keep them to yourself. You have the right to practice those beliefs without interference, insofar as you don’t break any other laws. And, heck, we love freedom of religion so much here that it’s OK even if you do break some of our other laws. Some people balk at the idea of religion being a private thing. OK, so shout it from the rooftops (within noise pollution laws, and between appropriate hours). But if you’re up on a rooftop telling me about your supernatural beliefs, what part of that is supposed to convince me that you’re fit to be president?
And if you’re running for president, and you want me to think that religion is in any way relevant, then you’re tempting people to judge you on religion. You’re begging them, even. You think it will help more than hurt. I have a lot to say about why I don’t respect that, but that’s for another time. We were talking more about the voter’s decision rather than the candidate’s campaign. And I will avoid, for this essay, just judging a person based on his religion as a knee-jerk reaction.
But why isn’t it relevant to examine someone’s specific beliefs just because there is a context of religious belief around them? Does it matter whether a belief is a Christian belief, or a Muslim belief? In some legal contexts it does, but that’s a matter of trying to prevent the government from infringing on an essential freedom recognized by the constitution. But some beliefs impact directly on a voter. And it would be completely nuts for some voters to ignore those beliefs, no matter what the context.
Mike Huckabee is increasingly becoming a great example for blog posts, if only I had time to write them all. It’s nothing personal, Mike, but you’re in the news a lot. I’ll pick on Romney later.
But, Mike, I noticed that you wrote some crazy stuff in a book, less than a decade ago:
Men who have rejected God and do not walk in faith are more often than not immoral, impure, and improvident (Gal. 5:19-21). They are prone to extreme and destructive behavior, indulging in perverse vices and dissipating sensuality (1 Cor. 6:9-10). And they—along with their families and loved ones—are thus driven over the brink of destruction (Prov. 23:21).
Huckabee clearly hasn’t watched Deliver Us From Evil (warning - link has sound). And also, I suspect that he hasn’t done research to back up his assertion that atheists are more often than not (that’s over 50% for you math-inclined people) immoral3. I’m assuming that by “impure” he means that we don’t wash behind our ears.
I’ll vote for Christians all day long. But I won’t vote for a Huckabee. It’s nothing personal. And clearly, it’s nothing to do with his religion. It’s that he’s a nutfudge. And I frankly don’t care whether he’s a nutfudge who drinks his own Kool-Aid or somebody else’s. He’s a nutfudge either way.
1 You’ll get a number of people telling you that the country is a Christian Nation, and these same people will also, out of the other side of their mouths, tell you it’s a free country. Well, they’ve clearly got to be wrong on at least one of those assertions. Hm?
2 I don’t mean the word goofy to be offensive. I mean it to indicate supernatural beliefs. I don’t want to say “weird” beliefs, because then people will just assume I mean majority beliefs are OK and they’ll think I’m picking on Mormons or Scientologists or some other group. I’m not. If you believe God personally toasts your bagel every morning, why should I laugh about that any more than or less than a belief that dinosaurs hung out with folks in the Bible? Certain beliefs are unverifiable.
3 I don’t know which interpretation is worse: that over 50% of atheists are immoral and impure, or that all nonbelievers are immoral more than 50% of the time in their lives. Sometimes, the principle of charity is a coin toss.Posted by James at December 18, 2007 12:45 PM
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