Monday, May 15, 2006

God be with you. . . if you agree with me

Since we are already talking about God's political preferences, this is what I think about it. I think that maybe we would all be better off if politicians were not allowed to invoke the almighty at all. I am all for good god fearing people holding office, and I think that it is okay for someone's religious beliefs to influence their political ideas (and even their actions once they are in office), but it is dangerous to say that God endorses any political agenda. Here are a few reasons why:

1. when someone thinks that they are doing God's work there is a tendancy to be unwilling to compromise, which is a great quality when standing by your beliefs in your personal life (aka thou shall not steal, etc.) but in politics you have so many competing interests that compromise is almost always necessary, and usually not a bad thing. I've heard a lot of people that think one of the reasons that the Nush administration feel so comfortable doing whatever they feel like is the president's strong belief that he is doing what God wants (whether or not you like Bush, I think most people would agree that at least a little more compromise/discussion would be a good thing).

2. The last time I checked, there was only one guy who was authorized to recieve revelation for the whole world. Maybe you could argue that political leaders have some kind of stewardship, but given the important-but-secular nature of their position I think this might be a tough case to make.

3. Political leaders have to solve lots of problems that seem to me to be mostly organizational, taxing/spending plans, voting districts, etc. a lot of these areas seem to fall under the choosing between two good things umbrella that God may or may not feel strongly either way. If we raise tax on beef to get more funds for highways, it helps the drivers and hurts the BBQers, who does God want to bear the spending burden. Stuff like that.

4. Political leaders are elected to serve all of the people who live within their jurisdiction, not just the christians, or the moslums, or the atheists. Lots of those people don't care if the God that the mayor believes in wants him to do something, they want him to try to do what is best for everyone and listen to his constitutients. It seems kind of insensitive to assume that just because you think that God is one way everyone else does too.

I guess it might even lead to a discussion of how far the establishment clause should go, God has always had a role in American politics, but when does that help us and when does that hurt us? A while ago a friend said to me that while, as Latter Day Saints we are all for prayer and worship, shouldn't we also be the ones that really want a seperation of church and state after a lot of the things that have gone on historically between the LDS church and the government? Just a starting point, your thoughts?

9 Comments:

At 5/15/2006 01:15:00 PM,

C.M.G.,

I'm glad you posted this because it incorporated some of the things that I've been thinking about lately and had planned to write about.

I'm a little uneasy about jumping to the stance of banning (essentially your position in saying "not allowed to invoke") the use of the almighty.

I have always found it refreshing when politicians aren't afraid to incorporate (or admit, fess up, whatever) their religous beliefs into their everyday (and political) life. Perhaps I could join your quest at the moment that God or religion is used as the driving force behind political action (crusades anyone?).

(Now to the Line-by-Line)
1. There may be a distinction between compromise at the individual level and at the national level (i.e. by government actors). Certainly, I wouldn't imagine that I would need to compromise what I believe is correct or true. And it seems to be a premise of "democracy" that truth (or the democratic ideal) is based upon the compromise of individual beliefs and desires. What if, however, the democratic majority WANTS (and indeed elects based on this premise) someone that makes choices based off what they believe is God's work? (Please understand I'm not suggesting this is the current case by any means) Would it then be undemocratic to compromise?
That being said, I would agree with your analysis of the Bush administration.

2. (Sigh) if only we lived in a Theocracy - life would be SO much easier.

3. I think perhaps God may have a "political" belief about the beef tax v. highway funds issue: see D&C 89:12-13. (And puh-leez don't take that seriously folks)

My initial thought to this just because it's a choice between good and good-er, or even if we grant that it simply doesn't matter in the eternal scheme of things, do we still eliminate religious accountability?

I keep trying to justify your position in contradistinction to Book of Mormon examples, where even Kings were acceptable, as long as they were righteous. Certainly we could find room for a righteous Presidential-"dictator" if that is the case.

4. This is assuming that the purpose of politics at the local level (and perhaps even at the national level) is to serve the constituancy. This may not necessarily be the case. While it is certainly a catch phrase used by politicians, and something that I would love to see actually happen, I fail to see where this idea developed. Perhaps "We the People" simply meant "The American People" (tribute to an earlier post duly noted), and it is not Their constituents who they must serve, but some ideal of the greater good of the nation, state, local, etc. This would view elections as a more of a procedural mechanism. If that were the case, why couldn't we have a mayor that follows the Spirit to the great good of his city, contrary to what his athiest friends suggest he should do? Just a thought.

NOW the part I've been waiting for: the Establishment Clause discussion.

Yes, if any group of people should want a separation of church and state, it would be the LDS people (or the Jews, or the Muslims, or the...). But that assumes that the First Amendment protects a 'separation of church and state,' which it doesn't.

Yes, the LDS people should be up-at-arms about Establishment Clause violations. Who is the government to tell us that we need to belong to a specific religion, a certain nationwide church, etc. (But then again, does BYU receive any federal tax dollars?)

BUT, remember, that's only half of the 1st Amendment analysis. There's this murky little section of "Free Exercise" that gets forgotten in the call to "separation of church and state," and I think that's why there's still an issue.

It muddles the original reading of the 1st Amendment (yes, ok, textualist roots finally being exposed) to adopt the "Wall" thinking. Rejecting what then existed in England, the Framers simply intended to protect against the Establishment of a specific National Religion (while protecting the general and visibly apparent practice of one's own beliefs).

Might have gone on way to many tangents on that one, but you did ask for general thoughts.

 
At 5/15/2006 02:24:00 PM,

I have a lot to say about the first part of Chris' post but I wanted to respond to Siyadow's comments about the Establishment Clause. I remember reading somewhere that the whole idea of "wall of separation" came from the anti-catholic/anti-jew white supremacists wanting to keep protestants on top. Here's a quote from the Volokh Conspiracy  on the history of the idea:


"As University of Chicago legal historian, Philip Hamburger, has shown in his history of the Separation of Church and State, none of the major framers favored Separation until about the election of 1800, when the Jeffersonians urged Separation to silence Northern clergy. Indeed, in the 1780s some religious leaders who were accused of wanting Separation denied such a misreading of their position. In the 1780s and early 1790s, a few religious dissenters favored Separation, but none of the insiders--certainly not Madison.

What Madison wanted in the 1780s was disestablishment of religion and equal liberty for different religions, not a "wall of separation."

In second half of the 19th century, the liberal wing of the Republican Party made a failed attempt to add Separation of Church and State as a constitutional amendment to the US Constitution (since it was not there already).

In the early 20th century, Separation became part of the jurisprudence of the KKK and other nativist groups (as well as some mainstream groups), and Hugo Black (ca. 1920) made new members of the Klan pledge to the eternal separation of church and state. Then in 1947, a labor organization with ties to the Klan brought a suit, Everson v. Board of Education, where then-Justice Hugo Black of the US Supreme Court wrote Separation into the US Constitution.

The US Supreme Court has been quietly moving away from Separation as the metaphor in recent cases, with most majority opinions (whether upholding or striking down aid to churches) making no mention of Separation, except in the titles to articles cited in the footnotes.
 

 
At 5/15/2006 03:14:00 PM,

CMG: I am all for good god fearing people holding office, and I think that it is okay for someone's religious beliefs to influence their political ideas (and even their actions once they are in office), but it is dangerous to say that God endorses any political agenda.

Chris, I tend to agree with you on this. However, this is easier said than done. If your belief in God shapes your belief in a certain policy, it's hard to imagine that you would not think that God likes your policy (or endorses it), since that's why you chose it in the first place.

Siyadow: What if, however, the democratic majority WANTS (and indeed elects based on this premise) someone that makes choices based off what they believe is God's work? ... Would it then be undemocratic to compromise?

If so, then any attempt to preserve the rights of minority groups should be labeled "undemocratic." The will of the majority of TAP is not always the trump card. (However, the will of the majority of legislators is.

 
At 5/15/2006 04:41:00 PM,

Chris: interesting - thanks for the info, I'll have to check more into it. And I love the Volokh blog.

Doug: If so, then any attempt to preserve the rights of minority groups should be labeled "undemocratic."

I understand (and agree with) your point. In extending the concept, however, this is similar to the issue discussed in Sheldon's post earlier, namely, "Democracy" defined traditionally, wouldn't protect the rights of minority groups. They would be subsumed into the greater/collective will.

There is a countermajoritarian element to this Republic we have that ultimately ensures that the majority of TAP doesn't become a trump card. And, I would argue, that element ties in nicely with the points being made about the importance of "free exercise."

 
At 5/15/2006 04:45:00 PM,

Chris: I dreaded bringing up Jefferson's views on "the Wall" for fear of triggering horrid Law Review flashbacks... too late, I guess.

 
At 5/15/2006 07:25:00 PM,

I don't think that it is bad for a politician to try to do what God wants him to. For example, should there be a president Romney I think that it would be totally approproate for him to fast and pray about the decisions he has to make and to seek Heavenly Father's help in his job. What makes me uncomfortable is if he anounces to everyone that his policies are unequivocally sponsored by God, meaning that his opponents (who are also seeking what they believe are the best policies) are totally wrong, cutting off the possibility of discourse and compromise.

 
At 5/16/2006 10:13:00 AM,

If you can get a copy of it somehow, Madeleine Albright addresses this subject on the Colbert Report. Quite humorous. (and I think her new book discusses something to the same effect)

 
At 5/16/2006 03:18:00 PM,

Siyadow - You're correct that the literal definition of democracy would not necessarily allow for minority rights. However, the democracy in which we live does account for these rights.

Chris M.G. - I, too, am uncomfortable when the President announces that God has called him to do something, or enact a certain policy. But if the President chooses a certain path because he feels the Lord endorses it, does it matter if he publicly announces it? (aside from being annoying). Whether he admits it on Meet the Press or not, he is likely to "cut off the possibility of discourse and compromise" anyway, since he truly believes that God sponsored it.

Making a public announcement is likely to galvanize his supporters, although it's extremely pretentious (like Kanye West announcing his record is so much better than everbody else's).

What specifically bothers you?

For me, it's less the public announcement, and more the attitude.

 
At 5/16/2006 11:01:00 PM,

Yeah, I completely agree: Jay-Z is SO much better than Kanye

 

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