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    God, I thank thee that I am not as…

    So the candidates have started pushing the electorate’s God button for real now. “What do you think of that?” some friends have asked, adopting a “Gotcha!” tone that seems to assume I managed to reach age thirty-five without noticing that most registered Republicans aren’t atheists.

    Well, if you care, I think that religion is a repository of genuine wisdom about life that our civilizations have built up over time. If a given religion is the source of a candidate’s deepest beliefs and those beliefs are going to be driving policy, I’d kind of like to know about it. That said, I essentially agree with what McQ says at the QandO blog here:

    If you’re a politician, I don’t care what your religion is. I don’t care if you are religious. What I care about is your character, your ethics, your public record and your ideas. And while I understand your religion could have a certain level of effect on the development of all of those things, that isn’t the point.

    It’s one thing to explain to voters how your faith contributed to the development of your way of thinking; it’s another to imply that simply being religious somehow makes you a better candidate for office.

    In reality, I don’t think it does. A lot of politicians seem to have found a convenient way to balance humility toward the Lord with high-handed arrogance toward their fellow citizens when using the coercive power of the government. That the humility and the arrogance are probably both genuine in most cases doesn’t mean one excuses the other. McQ and a lot of other people are citing Peggy Noonan’s latest column:

    I wonder if our old friend Ronald Reagan could rise in this party, this environment. Not a regular churchgoer, said he experienced God riding his horse at the ranch, divorced, relaxed about the faiths of his friends and aides, or about its absence. He was a believing Christian, but he spent his adulthood in relativist Hollywood, and had a father who belonged to what some saw, and even see, as the Catholic cult. I’m just not sure he’d be pure enough to make it in this party. I’m not sure he’d be considered good enough.

    I hope there aren’t really grounds for such worries. Huckabee would have inclined in any case to play up his upright Christian-ness, but my sense is that he’s chosen to do so in his current coarse way mostly because there happens to be a Mormon in the race. Most Americans already think Mormonism is slightly weird, and playing on that is an obvious way to get a tactical advantage. (And since most Americans think atheists are weird, playing on that was an obvious way for Romney to try to regain his balance.) Of course, it would have been nice if everyone had refrained from building themselves up by casting slimy aspersions on others’ beliefs, especially when they’re not directly relevant to policy. But we are, after all, talking about people who think they deserve to be president here.

    Added later: Whoa. I thought I’d been on the cynical side, but that was until I saw this article in The Weekly Standard by Kenneth Anderson, a law professor and former Mormon (via Ann Althouse). The argument might have been made more compactly, but every paragraph has something to say.

    My former confrères among the Mormons apparently do not count as Christian, yet somehow feel themselves bound by their allegiance to the teachings of the Nazarene to turn the other cheek and meekly suffer these attacks upon their spiritual fitness to participate in the public square. Admirably Christian, I suppose. I myself propose that Huckabee be horse-whipped in the square of public reason and turned out of politics so he can get on with writing The Seven-Day Diet of Creation and Mary Magdalene Got Skinny for Jesus and You Can Too.

    The “all-out” answer that Romney gave was the denial that citizens might ever legitimately and ethically demand to know the content of religious doctrines professed by a candidate for public office. (“Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance.”) It is multiculturalist because it essentially treats all private beliefs as immutable and beyond reason, and because it says that to propose to subject any of them to public scrutiny of reason is an act of intolerance akin to racism. It is a position traditionally asserted by the left on behalf of its identity-politics constituencies. It is dismaying, to say the least, that Romney would claim it for his own to deny the legitimacy of all questions.

    It is, moreover, relativist in implication. Toleration is not an assertion of relativism. It is, rather, the forbearance from judging and acting on judgments in the public sphere that one might well believe oneself entitled to make in private. Toleration entails the suspension of public disbelief, or at least political action thereupon, about matters that one might nonetheless consider well within the realm of private moral judgment. Relativism, by contrast, is denial of grounds for judging at all. They could not be more different–and, crucially, relativism removes the possibility of toleration because it removes the possibility of reasoned judgment.

    Added still later: Anderson also has an item on his blog about his piece. Interesting comments.

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