Bill Keller of the New York Times published a weird, rambling screed today in which he tries to justify hassling Republican candidates about their religious beliefs:
If a candidate for president said he believed that space aliens dwell among us, would that affect your willingness to vote for him? Personally, I might not disqualify him out of hand; one out of three Americans believe we have had Visitors and, hey, who knows? But I would certainly want to ask a few questions. Like, where does he get his information? Does he talk to the aliens? Do they have an economic plan?
Yet when it comes to the religious beliefs of our would-be presidents, we are a little squeamish about probing too aggressively.
How about if your newspaper’s star “economist” has been openly musing about the economic benefits of space alien attacks during televised interviews? Is that cause for concern too?
In the hermetically sealed ideological environment of the New York Times, the belief that “space aliens” not only exist, but might “dwell among us,” is functionally equivalent to every faith tradition except Islam, which Bill Keller would not describe in such terms on a dare.
Nowhere in his long essay does he get around to wondering if a presidential candidate’s fervent Muslim beliefs would be as problematic as Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry’s Christianity… although he does include “Would you have any hesitation about appointing a Muslim to the federal bench? What about an atheist?” as one (well, two) of the three (er, five) questions he would ask “the aforementioned candidates” (by which I think he means Bachmann and Perry, although he does mention some of the other Republican candidates about eleven paragraphs up.) It’s not easy to shoot the rapids in Keller’s stream of consciousness.
Michele Bachmann was asked during the Iowa G.O.P. debate what she meant when she said the Bible obliged her to “be submissive” to her husband, and there was an audible wave of boos — for the question, not the answer. There is a sense, encouraged by the candidates, that what goes on between a candidate and his or her God is a sensitive, even privileged domain, except when it is useful for mobilizing the religious base and prying open their wallets.
See what I mean about that hermetically sealed environment at the Times? Nobody ever talks about issues of faith sincerely. Bible-thumping rubes are living, breathing ATM machines, and Jesus H. Christ is the pin number. You don’t suppose some folks in that debate audience might have booed the question about Michele Bachmann and “submission” because they thought it was a ridiculous waste of valuable debate time, do you?
Keller goes on to relate some of his dark fears about evangelical Christians and the dreaded “Dominionists,” who are apparently radioactive in a way that unrepentant anti-American terrorist Bill Ayers is not. In a rousing display of patriotism, he says he wants to know “if a candidate places fealty to the Bible, the Book of Mormon (the text, not the Broadway musical) or some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this country.” Liberals are always so eager to defend the Constitution from people who actually take it seriously.
Say, while we’re challenging candidates to keep their Bibles out of the White House, are we allowed to mention the left-wing “Circle of Protection,” which views big-spending socialist programs as a divine imperative? Does that bother Keller at all? Especially since it’s not some hypothetical conspiracy theory about shadowy evangelical illuminati, but a real group that has actually held prayer meetings in the White House with Obama? Or is putting that sort of Big Government-friendly religion above Constitutional restraint perfectly acceptable?
Keller brandishes his bipartisan credentials by mentioning the way “Candidate Obama was pressed to distance himself from his pastor, who carried racial bitterness to extremes.” That “pressure” most certainly did not come from Keller’s wing of the mainstream media, which tried very hard to ignore Reverend Jeremiah Wright until conservative media dragged him into the spotlight. The resulting “pressure” against Obama – who pointedly refused to disavow his old pastor, until Wright’s antics made that impossible – had absolutely nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with extreme racial bitterness.
These tortured apologias for religious bigotry never get around to describing exactly what they think committed Christians will do, once they settle into the Oval Office with Vice President Jesus and Chief of Staff Holy Ghost. Appointing Supreme Court justices hostile to Roe vs. Wade is about the only concrete policy position of the Religious Right that ever comes up. Other than that, what else are we supposed to be afraid of?
Does anyone seriously think a Romney-Bachmann Mormon-evangelical ticket would grab more of our money and liberty than Barack Obama has? Does anyone even think they would deliver more hectoring, moralistic lectures than Obama has? Is Biblical “inerrancy” more bizarre than the expensive, compulsive religion that says humans cause global warming, ATMs cause unemployment, and everything else is George Dubya Satan Bush’s fault?
The unspoken assumption behind the decidedly uneven treatment of Republican and Democrat religious beliefs is that only the former are serious about them. Everyone knows Barack Obama’s presence in Jeremiah Wright’s church was an act of politics, not faith. Obama himself said so, when he claimed he sat there for twenty years without hearing a word Wright said. As long as your “faith” involves politically correct views and requires government subsidies, the New York Times has no further questions.
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