Archive for Saturday, November 1, 2008

Under God

In the United States, faith and politics are often intimately intertwined

presidential candidates Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., greet each other at an event in Lake Forest, Calif., hosted by the Rev. Rick Warren, center. KU professor Thomas Heilke says Warren has helped evangelicals focus on issues such as poverty and other social justice issues, not just abortion.

presidential candidates Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., greet each other at an event in Lake Forest, Calif., hosted by the Rev. Rick Warren, center. KU professor Thomas Heilke says Warren has helped evangelicals focus on issues such as poverty and other social justice issues, not just abortion.

November 1, 2008


Election 2008

In-depth coverage of the candidates and the issues, all leading up to the Aug. 5 primary and the Nov. 4 general election.

To be eligible to be the president of the United States, a person must be at least 35 years old, a natural-born citizen and have lived in the United States for the past 14 years.

Check, check and check.

But is it an unofficial qualification that the president be a Christian?

That seems to be the case in current American politics, say political science experts at Kansas University.

Not a Christian, but want to run for president?

"Good luck," says Thomas Heilke, professor of political science at KU. "And so the question is always, well, 'Could a person who is an avowed atheist become president?' And that seems highly unlikely."

Don Haider-Markel, professor and acting chair of KU's political science department, says that in looking at polls, a non-Christian president isn't likely for at least another 40 years, even though the United States stands nearly alone among industrialized nations when it comes to religion as campaign fodder.

"In most industrialized countries, religion plays almost no role at all," Haider-Markel says. "Even in a country like France, where most citizens identify as Catholics, religion and religious values play almost no role in executive elections. In developing democracies, such as in Latin America or Eastern Europe, religion does play a role, but still nothing like in the United States."

Heilke says that though freedom of religion has always played a huge role in Americana, there are two distinct reasons why Americans tend to want their leaders to acknowledge a Christian faith.

"There's a widespread adherence to one form or another of Christianity. It's clearly still by far, in broad terms, the single largest religious group in the United States, and it's being augmented by ongoing immigration," Heilke says. "The second thing is that America has kind of a civil religion, and that civil religion has its roots in Christianity."

That civil religion leads to allowances such as a presidential prayer on Thanksgiving or general statements about America and God, even though those sorts of gestures tend to be in discordance to the country's stand on freedom of religion. Heilke says that while a sector of Americans would vote for a non-Christian candidate, the country's civil religion is likely to provide a major roadblock for any non-Christian, atheist or agnostic candidate. Heilke points to the 2004 presidential campaign of Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who is Jewish.

"He's certainly recognized or didn't make any bones about his Jewish faith, and it's actually quite a conservative Jewish faith. And he, during his campaign, celebrated the Sabbath and so the whole campaign just stopped on Friday evening at sundown and didn't start again until Saturday at sundown," Heilke says. "And he did, at first, did reasonably well. That's the only case of I can immediately think of ... where somebody of a different religious persuasion has gone and done very well in the primaries."

But, strangely enough, that same roadblock can sometimes help candidates who aren't exactly in the pews every Sunday.

"The interesting cases are folks like Ronald Reagan, who was a sort of a hero almost of the evangelical right, and yet he himself was certainly not a regular churchgoer," Heilke says. "(Nancy Reagan) practiced astrology and even changed meetings and rearranged his schedule on the basis of what the astrologers were reading. But there was still kind of a minimal acknowledgment and acceptance of this basic civil religion and some notion that there is a God and even more or less sort of conforms to what Christians say he is."

Also, politics can create relationships where those in the religious minority might align with a group one wouldn't expect.

"Or one might, out of one's own religious background, whatever it may be, be it Muslim, Buddhist, Shinto and so on, have certain kinds of moral orientations and say, 'That aligns better with what I'm about,'" Heilke says. "And so you will find very interesting, 'strange bedfellow' kinds of alliances sometimes that are partly out of religious identification."

An example he gives is of conservative Muslims aligning with conservative Christians.

"It's much more likely on a whole host of issues (that) conservative Muslims, as much as there seems to be this antagonism of evangelicals, will actually align with those kinds of policies. I'm sure they're more likely to be against abortion, they're more likely to be in favor of certain social conservative agenda, and so there you might see an odd alliance and an odd identification," Heilke says. "And so you have these fraternal relationships, as it were, and they also can drive alliances, even though at some level in that brotherhood there is a strong opposition to one another."

Religion in 2008

Both Heilke and Haider-Markel say that this year's presidential election has seen religion take a back seat to more pressing issues such as the economy and health care.

"Clearly it matters less, substantively, this year than it did in 2004," Haider-Markel says. "But in part that is because the Democrat has a clear symbolic tie to religious values, while the Republican candidate has very weak links."

But religion hasn't made a complete exit. During the course of the campaign, it has showed up in waves of headlines, most notably in the media frenzy surrounding Barack Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the nomination of John McCain's conservative Christian running mate, Sarah Palin, and the persistent, incorrect belief that Obama is a Muslim.

"Clearly, religion is still a part of the campaign, but in certain ways I think it has been de-emphasized. It's clearly part of the rallies if you look at the McCain-Palin rallies, but it's much less part of the national advertising, the national campaign," Heilke says. "(And) you hardly even hear any Democratic response to 'He's a Muslim' or 'He's an Arab' ... this kind of really nutty stuff.

"I'm not even hearing much of a response because it's all on which one of these two dudes is going to do a better job of taking care of this immediate problem."


Fred Whitehead Jr. 9 years, 3 months ago

Great article! It never ceases to amaze me how many people will fall back onto religious zealotry to add some significance to their prejudices and pre-conceived notions. All religions are the fabrications of the mind of men, far-reaching and sometimes fantasticly outrageous fabrications of some one person's images of the Supreme Diety, a concept that no mortal person has any idea about the true nature and substance of. Yet there is hardly a person alive who will not fall back on these fabrications to verify their beliefs, no matter how vicious and stupid they may be or who may be damaged by their bigotry.

Mixolydian 9 years, 3 months ago

"I've never seen much of a difference between radical Muslim and radical Christian beliefs; the differences seem to be primarily cultural :"=======================Here's a few, you generally don't see Methodists beheading Presbyterians. Christian pastors from Joel Osteen to Jeremiah Wright have yet to call for suicide bombings. When South Park pokes fun at Jesus, people do not die.I can go on.....

sdinges 9 years, 3 months ago

And yet, Mixolydian, you don't hear much about Muslim Americans committing violence. And since those are the only Muslims who vote for our president, your argument seems fairly invalid.

ryknow1976 9 years, 3 months ago

How hypocritical is the term 'separation of church and state' when the presidential pulpit has been more than partially redecorated as pulpit from which an interchangeable figurehead preaches wags his finger in the name of a modern mythology that is increasingly losing ground in our diverse, multi-cultured society. Shouldn't the spokesman for our ever growing and evolving collective find a happy medium to represent, or at least respect the ideologies of all involved, and not just the traditional majority? Maybe a hard-line atheist might be a bit extreme, as I think we all need something to turn to in times of doubt, but an open-minded spiritualist or an agnostic might be an avenue to explore. Or here's a thought; let's find someone who would prefer to keep his/her theistic views behind the closed doors of his/her own home and chosen place of worship, and the rest of us could follow in suit. This approach might just free up enough space for the important things such as unbiased policy-making, education, arts, foreign affairs, health care, the environment, housing, the economy and all those other pressing issues that are currently swirling down the bowl of our clogged toilet. It might even give us all a few less things to squabble about and this whole notion of unity and peaceful living could actually see the light of day. Am I crazy? I've always been taught that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again while hoping for different results. Revolution comes from brainpower, not firepower. Fight with tools.

Gareth Skarka 9 years, 3 months ago

"Here's a few, you generally don't see Methodists beheading Presbyterians. "Or Catholics bombing Protestants....or Protestants shooting Catholics....Oh. Wait. You totally Northern Ireland.I swear -- right-wingers always make themselves sound like ignorant asses when they try to make a point.....

jonas_opines 9 years, 3 months ago

allateup: See, this problem stems from your ignorance on a key issue. That's not a problem! It's not passed around too often. You see, prior to each election, members of the US government actually go into each Church where voting is taking place, and very respectfully ask God to leave for the day. God, being a relatively benign deity (at least since the birth of his son) is willing to favor our request, but just for that day.I've heard they have a contract, but I've not seen it myself.

MeAndFannieLou 9 years, 3 months ago

If you want to be a Christian you need to follow the teachings of Christ - not Leviticus (then you'd be a Levitican!). If you have a King James Bible, that's the red print. Jesus did say "love thy neighbor as thyself," in fact, when asked which of the commandments to follow, he listed only five of Moses' original ten, and then he added his own "love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matthew 19:18-19). He did say to pray in private (note: praying is different from spreading the word, or witnessing). He did not say that homosexuality is an abomination (that was someone else), but he did rail quite a bit against divorce. And when he said "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God that which is God's" he certainly seemed to be advocating the separation of church and state.

kmat 9 years, 3 months ago

And sorry Diva - but you are showing your young age and are contradicting yourself by namecalling. Little blood suckers? Would Jesus approve of your name calling?You are also quite insulting to say that others haven't proven to you that they are compassionate. You have no idea what many of us do. What compassionate acts have you done lately? Many of us volunteer, give funds, lend a hand when needed. For you to spout off like you are holier than thou doesn't show compassion and does not follow the teaching of Jesus which you claim to know so much about.I'm sorry, but grow up. Your posts are getting as bad as Tom and Prunes.

allateup 9 years, 3 months ago

Thank you Das! Anyone else? or does everyone agree with him?

ksdivakat 9 years, 3 months ago

wait..I never said mine was right, in fact, I suggest that you reread what I wrote, forgive the typos as I just get going to point is, and there is no other interutation of this is that the article is talking about the United States, not Ireland, so there is no other interputation of that, and I can have an informed opinion based on my own personal reading of the bible, what other interputation can there be to something that says "Go spread the good news about me, tell people that nobody comes ot the father but by me"so hey....if I can read something wrong into that then so be it, but th ewhole ireland thing stands and also the point that whenever people see the words christian or faith thats all they see and the hatred begins.....dont hate the player, hate the game!

allateup 9 years, 3 months ago

How is using a church as a polling place separation of church and state?

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 9 years, 3 months ago

allateup: "How is using a church as a polling place separation of church and state?"A building does not a church make.A church does not a congregation make.A congregation does not a following make.A following does not a direction make.Lack of direction defies state.

Jennifer Forth 9 years, 3 months ago

If you want to focus on only the US for your religious fanatics, there have been no American Muslims who have committed acts of terror in this country. Now Oklahoma City might have a word or two about the Christians among us.

ksdivakat 9 years, 3 months ago

And josh, I would suggest that you actualyl read the bible before you try to interput it, there have been hundreds of thousands of interputations and how do I know yours is hte right one? Right off the bat, the whole pray in your closet thing has nothing to do with keeping faith private, thats an oxymoron, the bible actually says to spread the good news and to talk to people about faith, love and the way to heaven, so how would that be able to "keep your faith private?" just an observation.........

ksdivakat 9 years, 3 months ago

oh and another thing, the bloggers who are on here who are so liberal and all about peoples "rights" and "freedoms" sure want to shut the "christians" up alot, so whats up with that? You want the respect but dont want to give it?/ Who could make up their mind in this town on what is good and evil when all they see is the evil that people spew on here, not just against christians, but jesus, you guys are against the homeless, your against low income people, your against immigrants, I mean really is there anyone at all that you have compassion for?? You dont have to be a christian to have it, but is there any group of people who you have compassion for who is outside your families and friends circle??? What have you done in this community to make it better other than bitching?? anything at all?? I keep waiting on someone to come out with it so that I dont have any kind of argument at all but nobody ever does....and God forbid that you come out and say something to one of the liberal left wing nuts, then its like a mob, you have all the little blood suckers on you, give a girl a break, I thought when I went to the poll tonight I wanted to vote for Obama, because I do want change, but if change means people like the bloggers on here running things then I will take my chances with the republicans again.....geez...............

yoornotmee 9 years, 3 months ago

Funny thing about the United States is that we're so far behind other developed countries in so many areas and we often don't seem to realize that.If I ran for President, I would pretend to be Christian until I got elected, and then I'd be like "Ha! I'm atheist, you suckers! Muwahahaha!"...but I wouldn't run for President.

ksdivakat 9 years, 3 months ago the name of the article again:Under GodIn the United States, faith and politics are often intimately intertwined..............key word: United States, not Ireland....This is why most "christians" or people of faith dont put any sustance into what a non-believer says...they see or hear one word, such as "christian" or "faith" and they are off on a Gareth, you really may want to rethink this statement " I swear - right-wingers always make themselves sound like ignorant asses when they try to make a point:.."

joshupetersen 9 years, 3 months ago

You know, I might have a little more respect for the religious right if they actually followed the teaching of the supposed founder of religion.You know, all the stuff... "Don't Kill" (ahemIraqahem)Love thy enemy (ahemIraqagainahem)Kindness to outsidersKeeping your faith private (to quote Jesus, "Pray in your closet")Putting compassion before conversion (no mistake Jesus said the most important commandments were about love.), the focus on communal political policies (aka, you actually look through it, Jesus & the disciples are closest to being communists.), respecting people for their actions, not their religious differences than you (that's what the good Samaritan story was about. Samaritans were the 'heathens', those who were against god's people, etc. The story was showing a compassionate religious enemy and was meant to be understood from the point of view of the person on the side of the road), etc. etc. As it is, when you delve deep into it, most of 'traditional' christian positions are directly antagonistic to most Jesus's teachings. In other words, most "Christian" religions would be more accurately described as "Anti-Christ churches". If you actually had a real Christian, they'd find they probably had more in common with Buddhists than the majority of "Christianity".

Grundoon Luna 9 years, 3 months ago

Diva, please read the following in the nicest possible way as I mean only to be straight forward with you:Resistance is not oppression. It's really very simple: Stop demonizing non believers - now that's real oppression - and people will stop resisting you and those like you.Christians are constantly on here shouting about Christianity is the only way . . . all others roast for eternety in a firey Hell . . . those evil muslims . . .those evil athiests . . . you have to come to Jesus, when pushing their beliefs on to others. They usually end up popping-off with a condescending, "I'll pray for you," when met with basically, no, Christianity isn't the only way and while it may be good for you, no thanks. I have had people get mad and project their anger on to me accusing me of being in a rage just because they didn't like what I said. Well, no one has to agree with you, think like you or believe like you because, thank the Goddess, we live in America, baby, and can recognize, or not, any God(dess) we want. Yeah! And free will is a beautiful thing! Yeah, yeah! Vive la difference! Yeah, yeah, yeah, baby!!

ksdivakat 9 years, 3 months ago

I was to young when Oklahoma happened, but refresh my memory, was that done in the name of religion?? Or was that done as a domestic terrorist?? And again, perhaps reading the actual article above would help in this plight, but its about the UNITED STATES and religion from the POTUS, so I wasnt aware the article was aboout religion and politics elsewhere in the world btu thanks for clarifying!

jaywalker 9 years, 3 months ago

sdinges: mix was contrasting 'radicals'divakat: 'interpret', dear :)

Grundoon Luna 9 years, 3 months ago

Schmuckmon:I hope your TV gets fixed very soon. I hope it will work better than before because your box seems stuck on Faux News as you harbor misguided and erroneous impressions.I'm really worried for you. If it doesn't get fixed soon you will still think Bush's 51% in 2004 is a mandate. You are about to witness what a real mandate is. I really hope you get to see it. Well, you still have internet and can get some streaming video.

Chris Golledge 9 years, 3 months ago

ksdivakat,Are you trying to strengthen Gareth's statement?You have, and I don't think you meant to.

kmat 9 years, 3 months ago

Divakat - so many times we have to correct you when you spout things about the bible.And if you are going to base your vote on what bloggers or just a few people on the LJW say, then you shouldn't vote. You should use your judgement as to which candidate will do what is best for you, your family and your country. It's scary that someone would base their vote on things read online.Regarding your statement that people slam Christians - it's because Christians constantly slam their religion on everyone else. I am Buddhist. I do not push my beliefs on anyone, ever.I find it funny you tell others to read the bible when you clearly should read it more. You will understand it better if you learn the history behind it also. You were corrected a couple weeks ago when you stated that the story of Genesis was only 2000 years old and was strictly Christian. You were corrected when you stated that Christians and Muslims don't share a common religion - even though they are both of the Abrahamic religions. And now you have been corrected again regarding your lack of understanding of the scriptures. Moral of the story - Please, speak only of the good book when you know what you are speaking about. Even though I am not Christian, I was brought up in a strict household and had to read the bible every Sunday. Luckily, I was also taught the history behind it to understand it better. I oftentimes realize I know the scriptures better and follow the teachings more than many proclaimed Christians. Sad.

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