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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Voting by the 'Book'

Ramadan draws to a close this week. In the past several days, during this season of sacrifice, I've given considerable thought to the recent comments of John McCain--both his claim that the U.S. is a Christian country and his expressed discomfort with the thought of a Muslim for president. He feels, he said, that his faith likely offers 'better spiritual guidance' than that of a Muslim.

Such a stance may resonate with candidates who seek to gain the confidence of voters by espousing their religious views. Candidates whose beliefs do not mirror those of the American majority, however, may take a different tack (as did Keith Ellison, whose successful Congressional campaign was decidedly not about his adherence to Islam).

Is religious belief a proper decisive factor in determining for whom to vote? Those who answer this question in the affirmative may do so as part of a belief system that equates morality, ethical behaviour, and strength of character, for example, with religious adherence. I am not convinced, however, that such a consideration should be a driving force behind candidate selection in the voting booth (and not only because our moral compass may be a product of evolution). I may be old-fashioned, but I vote based on whether a candidate will uphold the Constitution, and whether, in the case of a president, any Supreme Court justice appointed will refrain from serving as a facilitator for an ideological agenda. And I am curious: If one is moved to vote for a candidate based on religious identity, what is it about that identity that indicates the candidate's willingness to perform, once elected, in a manner Constitutionally mandated?

If one refutes the notion that having a largely Christian population does not mean that a country is in fact Christian, then the response to the question posed above the break is pretty simple. But what of those Americans who are not Christian, but tend to vote with (to the extent possible) the candidates' claimed religion in mind? And what of those--nonbelievers or not--who wish to avoid consideration of a candidate's beliefs, but are nevertheless inundated with the matter?

Of course, this all presupposes that one has made it to the voting booth in the first place--a potentially faulty assumption given the uncertain future of voter ID laws. But more on that in a future post.

Posted by Nadine Farid on October 10, 2007 at 01:25 AM in Religion | Permalink

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Comments

Ruined w/ respect to where it was even 7 years ago. Comparatively ruined if you will.

Although Zimbabwe is certainly much worse I think a lot of why it is much worse is because it is relatively clear and apparent rather than the obfuscated workings of our own economy.

Artificially controlled and regulated currency, rampant printing of money, massive foreign debt, decreaing productivity, lack of energy independence, the dissolution of the middle class, spiraling health care and housing costs... it goes on and on. One of the main reasons the ruin is not yet apparent is becuase it all floats on a sea of debt. This last year is the first time where American's have a negative saving rate.

It is all well and good to think everything is OK until the bills come due.

These issues will need to be dealt with sooner than later unless we are willing to have the house come crumbling down around us. It'll be interesting if any of the candidates have real answers for these fundamental issues. Not many do.

Posted by: Arthur | Oct 11, 2007 4:20:16 PM

The end of GHW's presidency will leave us with a ruined economy, shattered health care system, endless wars, ill will around the world, countless dead at home and abroad, the highest incarceration rates in the world, massive social and economic inequalities, and a failing education system...

Don't you think this is a bit over the top? A ruined economy? Zimbabwe is a ruined economy.

Posted by: pchuck | Oct 11, 2007 2:34:38 PM

Please pardon all the typos in that last one. Bad keyboard.

Posted by: Adam | Oct 10, 2007 8:46:54 PM

"If the policy arises because of some sort of quantifiable justification (such as wealth distribution, efficiency, total costs, etc.) then it makes sense to analyze that policy on the merits. You can point to a deficiency in any one of the legs that the policy stands on."

But, as I noted above, your decision as to which quantifiable justification should control is, itself, a decision that requires nonquantifiable justification. Say a policy promotes efficiency but excerbates wealth disparity. Your decision as to whether to the policy is a good one depends on your moral and ethical values, and not on quantifiable justifications.

(Incidentally, "wealth distibution" loaded with nonquantifiable value judgments. You seem to think that disparities in wealth is a bad thing. it may well be, but good luck resting that assessment only purely quantifiable values.)

Posted by: Adam | Oct 10, 2007 7:59:50 PM

In terms of taxation, GDP policy, education policy you certainly can quantify success or failure. If the policy arises because of some sort of quantifiable justification (such as wealth distribution, efficiency, total costs, etc.) then it makes sense to analyze that policy on the merits. You can point to a deficiency in any one of the legs that the policy stands on. The same cannot be said of moralistic or religious polices. ID for example is a great one. What rational justification can an ID proponent offer as support for that educational system. The main basis for something like that is either biblical literalism or the idea that the workings of life on earth are so complex that they can only be explained by a "force" or some sort of deity (even though they hide behind the fact they choose not to name the deity). How can someone attack those points? If I say I don't think the bible purports any truth you cannot expect a rational person to accept the answer of "yes it does, god wrote it" as something to base educational policy on. No matter how many people wish or hope something is true based on faith does not make it so.

When you have candidates on debate stages supportive of ID views and anti climate change beliefs how can you take anything else they say seriously. There sense of doubt and skeptecism is severely crippled. You cannot believe that a candidate who will take one set of ideas on faith and belief will not take other and (easily verifiable) policy positions with the same thought process.

This is one of the reasons we end up in foreign entanglements where we don't think of the real costs to us as taxpayers and the world citizenry who are paying with their lives and resources because we are constantly told that this policy is somehow guided by our "morality" those who are then in opposition to these activities are labeled as amoral or unpatriotic. A political system devoid of this type of moral and religous infiltration is one that promotes dissent and rational thought.

Wholly or predominantly atheistic and /or agnostic nations don't have the same societal problems we have here. It is easy to see why we have the issues we have here when we create walls and schisms between people who are or are not religious or people who do or do not reach the moral standards of the supposed majority. The reason is simply because it is easy to treat people with horrible indignity when you label them the "other". That has always been the case throughout all of history, you pump up differences and wait for a power imbalance then exploit it. This is precisely how this nation is run. The religious have entrenched themselves in positions of power and intend to stay there. If the religious really wanted to use their powers for moral good then we wouldn't have the crippling poverty, poor education, crime, and inequalities we have here.

Back to the peaceful and atheistic nations of the world...Take away religion and replace it with civic duty and respect for citizens rights and you realize that "they" are "you" and "you" are "them" and it becomes increasingly difficult to treat them poorly. Additionally when you can openly question gov't policies based on rational thought devoid of religiosity it either stands or falls on its own merits. Wouldn't it be nice to see that here? No more answers of "because"....

PS I agree blind faith in candidates based on religious affiliation is deplorable but quite common.

Posted by: Arthur | Oct 10, 2007 5:52:02 PM

"Religion above all else requires faith and nothing more, it does not require proof, or rationality, or analysis."

By definition, the same must be said about any a priori value judgment. Progressive taxation can't be justified without reference to value judgments that simply are nonquantifiable. You can say that some policy promotes increased GDP, or more evenly apportions tax incidence, but the choice of those rubrics requires a value judgment. (Indeed, the comments above focused on "legitimacy." I'd be interested in seeing someone quantify "legitimacy," or even to come up with a definition for it that does not rest on value judgments.)

I agree that to simply say, "vote for me, I'm Catholic," or "don't vote for him, he's Muslim" is silly and stupid. I'm Catholic, but I'd be more than happy to vote for a Muslim, Protestant, Mormon, and so forth. That said, I would hesitate to vote for someone who worshipped a Sun God, or the Moon, even if he/she shared a great number of my policy views on taxation, social entitlement spending, and foreign policy. To try to draw bright lines on this subjet is futile.

Posted by: Adam | Oct 10, 2007 4:36:57 PM

The idea of appealing to religion as a basis for votes is quite disturbing. But it is a powerful tool for candidates to use since it is regrettably one of the lowest common denominators upon which voters base their decisions (I'd put aesthetics a bit lower). Religion above all else requires faith and nothing more, it does not require proof, or rationality, or analysis. That sounds like a pretty good description of the skills that many Americans lack today and making religious choices for the President or any other elected official based on them is nothing more than deplorable.

I think that we should vote for candidates that bring ideas to the table that are substantiated by data and careful analysis, rather than some sense of "morality" that, for simplicity's sake, manifested itself from thin air or a burning bush. How can we really question or analyze that which cannot be analyzed?

In this information age we as citizens have access to an enormous amount of information and should use to make decisions for the future based on real research that can expose things like voting record, financial backing, lobbying roles, past employment, past speeches, etc. You can hold candidates to their past and grill them on the issues and attempt to knock them from their talking points.

The creep of "religous morals" into gov't controlled and funded programs has been slow but steady. Whether we are attacking issues of same sex marriage, ID proponents, abortion rights, human rights, anti- Islamofascism, etc. and at some point the rational (hopefully) secularists will need to draw a line in the sand and push back this creep.

That time is likely upon us. The end of GHW's presidency will leave us with a ruined economy, shattered health care system, endless wars, ill will around the world, countless dead at home and abroad, the highest incarceration rates in the world, massive social and economic inequalities, and a failing education system. All of this at the hand's of a President and gov't that constantly invokes their religiosity. We KNOW what that has given us, maybe it's time we let the secularists and dare I say maybe even an atheist have a turn at the helm?

How much worse does it need to get until we see that there is something wrong with "business as usual"?

Posted by: Arthur | Oct 10, 2007 4:20:50 PM

"... I do think it is appropriate to say that religious persons whose views on morality can not be explained and justified to persons who do not share their faith should refrain from voting on the basis of those views."

If your view, contained in that quote, can't be explained and justified to persons who don't share your faith, does that mean that your view, contained in that quote, is illegitimate grounds for political action?

Your take on "fosting religion on unwilling citizens" befuddles me. I had no idea that the First Amendment erected "a wall between church-inspired-political-action-lacking-alternative-secular-justification and state."

Posted by: Adam | Oct 10, 2007 3:45:08 PM

You say, "[e]ven more important, a legislator, judge or any other person in a position to 'make' law should refrain from making laws on the basis of their views of morality if those views cannot be justified on a secular basis." Two questions: Does the legislator have to believe, subjectively, that the "secular" reasons are good reasons? Next, what counts a "secular" basis?

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Oct 10, 2007 2:58:59 PM

"Everyone's vote is rooted at least in part in views of morality. To suggest that religious persons should not vote on the basis of morality because their take on morality comes from a specific religion strikes me as inappropriate and impractical."

I agree that it is not appropriate to ask a person whose moral views are shared by or derived from religious beliefs to refrain from voting on the basis of those views. However, I do think it is appropriate to say that religious persons whose views on morality can not be explained and justified to persons who do not share their faith should refrain from voting on the basis of those views. Even more important, a legislator, judge or any other person in a position to "make" law should refrain from making laws on the basis of their views of morality if those views cannot be justified on a secular basis. If a legislators or judges did not exercise restraint in these situations, the end result would be government foisting religion on unwilling citizens and choosing between and among religions. I believe both of these would contravene the 1st Amendment.

Posted by: Harry Gerla | Oct 10, 2007 1:58:51 PM

"I may be old-fashioned, but I vote based on whether a candidate will uphold the Constitution, and whether, in the case of a president, any Supreme Court justice appointed will refrain from serving as a facilitator for an ideological agenda."

Really? Your vote has nothing to do with policy proposals regarding taxation, spending, immigration, foreign policy, etc. (i.e., subjects that are deeply tied to "morality, ethical behaviour, and strength of character")?

Everyone's vote is rooted at least in part in views of morality. To suggest that religious persons should not vote on the basis of morality because their take on morality comes from a specific religion strikes me as inappropriate and impractical.

Indeed, what is your opposition to judges who would "serv[e] as a facilitator for an ideological agenda," if not a statement of your own morality and ethics? (Then again, I don't really understand what you mean by "ideological agenda." A judge driven by an "ideological agenda" to support and defend the Constitution sounds like a very good judge to me.)

Posted by: Adam | Oct 10, 2007 1:05:02 PM

(Note: the first comment appears to be sp*m.)

I would go so far as to say that eliminating potential candidates from consideration based
on their religious (non)belief is in direct opposition to the intent of the nation's founders, who wished reasoned judgement to be the guiding principle of the government. Personal faith should be the guiding compass of an individual's moral decisions, not something used to gain the acceptance of the masses or as a justification for the exercise of power, two things we have seen recently. An appeal to faith to gain voters is really an appeal to the fear of that which is different, and thus promotes divisiveness in society. In extreme cases, people will allow themselves to be blinded to a candidate's true qualities if they like the pious image put forth by proclamations of faith.

Posted by: anon | Oct 10, 2007 8:39:35 AM

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