05 August 2016

I may not like your politics ...

In the heavens over Moscow Region, yesterday...

... but I'm not allowed to trash your faith.

I listened to and read with great attention these treatments of the faith of the Republican and Democratic candidates for the presidency and vice-presidency of the USA:
This calm reportage contrasts dramatically what I'm seeing in blogs and social media and hearing in ordinary conversations. There's an open season on these candidates (especially Trump and Clinton); even Satan is dragged into the picture. Forgive me for not dipping into the cesspool of contemporary political discourse to provide examples. Fortunate are you if you don't have some already right at hand. In any case, there no doubt are unclean forces at work here (Satan is known as the father of lies and the author of confusion!) but I'm quite sure that none of the candidates are his direct affiliates!

Thoughts on commenting on candidates' faith:

First of all, there is only one authority on a candidate's religion: the actual candidate. (I agree with C.S. Lewis's advice as described in an earlier post, "We will never see another non-Christian.") Whether a candidate's heart faith or their comprehension of every detail of that faith achieves perfect coherence is another question, but one that we must approach cautiously. Does my faith and your faith meet that standard? How do you know? Can the speck of imperfection in the candidate's eye be seen through the plank in your own? (Matthew 7:3-5.) Flirting with this boundary risks violating the Commandment against false witness.

Thinking privately about candidates' faith and consistency is completely natural and important, of course, since it (among other things) helps us understand their motivations, reliability, policy biases, and likely blind spots. The problem is getting enough honest input on which to base our thinking. The Getreligion writers talk about Kellerism, a phenomenon summed up by Julia Duin thus: "...the trend toward editors making up their minds on hot-button issues to the point that they believe there are no legitimate, alternative points of view on the story. Thus, only one side of the story makes it into print."

To complicate things, candidates and their teams are highly motivated to reveal and enhance those aspects of the candidates' faith that will appeal to voters. This is understandable, if ethically troublesome. The religion industry itself (whatever the specific religion) emphasizes the ideals, aspirations, and superiority of its brands. The candidates' campaigns naturally want to exploit the benefits of those hints of special godliness. We just have to retain the ability to discern core values and issues from the public-relations enhancements that are being sprayed our way.

Given the power of religious rhetoric, political campaigns are also tempted to go negative on the opposition. (Remember the stolen e-mail recommending pinning Bernie Sanders with the "atheist" tag?) Individuals have great freedom to do the same, as I can witness time after time on social networks, where (for example) Trump is accused of faking his religiosity, and Clinton's own faith history is minimized or ignored.

When can we permit ourselves to go public with our thoughts on candidates' faith?
  • When we accurately report what the candidate says -- any candidate.
  • When we make reasonable inferences about the social or policy implications of a candidate's expressed religious views (not based on the exaggerations of their own campaign or their opposition's campaign).
  • When we point to genuine controversies about a candidate's expressed views on faith. (For example, can Norman Vincent Peale really be linked to the so-called Prosperity Gospel? But we're not allowed to tar Trump with this brush unless we can do so with a fair use of his expressed views, rather than a cherry-picked selection of quotes or references to others conducting smear campaigns.)
  • When we (or the candidates we like) are not guilty of the same level of heresy or hypocrisy that we want to charge our opponents with.
  • When we're honest with ourselves about our motivations. If we really don't like a candidate -- if we're sure a candidate is dangerously wrong for the office they seek -- that's when we are most tempted to generate or repeat false testimony.
As I read over these words, I think to myself that these ideas are so routine and obvious that they approach banality. But then I look back on Facebook and think, maybe they're not so obvious after all.

Test case: What do you think of this article, with its brief mention of a current candidate? -- "The Bad Faith of the White Working Class."

More on J.D. Vance and his understanding of Trump supporters, via Amanda Erickson and the Washington Post. And a National Public Radio interview.

Gina Ochsner (Pentecostal) and Paula Huston (Catholic): a conversation between novelists.

More conversation: encouraging a dialogue on "becoming God."

"We follow the ways of Jesus": Margaret Fell and the first Quaker peace declaration, in contemporary English.

Coup talk in Ukraine.

"Oh, what have we done to this kingdom we proclaim to be the chosen one?"

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