On Sept 1, 2012, Melissa Harris-Perry interviewed Ronald Scott, author of Mitt Romney: An inside look at the man and his politics.
The question, in very basic terms, was should religion matter for selecting a candidate? How much should religious beliefs influence how the American people are governed? These questions, however, has been answered by then presidential candidate John F. Kennedy in 1960 at the Greater Houston Ministerial Association meeting and Romney during the 2008 presidential election.
Romney and Kennedy both said no, religion should play no part in the selection of the President. However, Scott disagreed, as his single word answer “Sure” made his position known.
Though Harris-Perry’s question leaned towards Romney’s refusal to release his taxes, the bigger question, the question about one’s personal religious beliefs influencing one’s political position, is an important one to examine.
This is not to question Mr. Romney’s passion for his religion and his church. The question goes much deeper. Will the teachings of the Church of Latter-day Saints, will the Book of Mormon, directly affect the decisions of a Romney administration?
Mr. Romney has also adjusted his religious/political positions over the years concerning his move from Democrat to GOP, and then to meet the new criteria of the Republican Party, a criteria demanded by the religious right. More specifically, the conservative Christian movement, though the ideals of the Jewish conservative movement, which is rarely spoken of, has also influenced Romney’s latest incarnation.
Scott’s answer could have concerned a secular humanist or atheist political candidate as well, that their non-belief would influence their political positions. No one is immune to one’s personal philosophical positions.
The question is really about virtue.
I am, and I believe Scott is not saying that personal beliefs is a bad thing unless that belief or non-belief causes harm or is in opposition of our laws and constitutions. In fact, there are religious commends, stories and myths, western, eastern or dead, that meet the definition of “virtuous” as defined by Aristotle; that seeks the greatest good.
We are not born with secular or religious morals (the societal rights and wrongs), but we learn our morals and that which is virtuous through the lessons we are taught. To paraphrase Western Kentucky University philosophy professor Dr. Jan Edward Garrett lecture notes from 2005, a person has basically four moral states, that he
- knows and wishes to do the right thing and does it (Virtuous),
- knows and wishes to do the right thing, but has to struggle against strong opposing personal beliefs,
- knows and wishes to do the right thing but often loses to strong personal beliefs which overpower reason, or
- has no wish to do the right thing regardless of consequences (Vice).
Here is where our religious or a-religious philosophies cause a problem.
Over our lifetimes, we receive lessons from traditional sources, school, parents, house of worship, etcetera, and through other sources that may not be so well-defined. These may include news media, the Internet, political and social organizations, and politics.
R. Buckminster Fuller coined the term “synergy,” meaning the sum of the total is greater than the sum of its parts. It is the human capacity to take information A and information B to create new information N.
This does not mean if A is virtuous and B is virtuous, then N remains virtuous. The human capacity of reason is not that simple.
Included in this moral alchemy is one’s ability to evaluate the facts presented, to accept or reject the presentation and to modify one’s personal philosophically of “right versus wrong.” All based on reason and illogical emotion.
Those of both ends of the religious dichotomy tend to reject the opposition’s message off-hand, tend to forget that agreement comes from critical thinking and listening, not from argument and disagreement.
The real question is “Why do you believe that way?” This is the question we must ask our presidential candidates concerning their current stances on religion and the American society. This is the question we must ask of those who believe differently that you. These are the questions we are most afraid to ask… and to answer.
“Why do you believe that American exceptionalism equates to God’s grace?”
“Why is it so important to evangelize your religious beliefs through the American governmental process?”
It may be that the fear of asking is based on the fear of the answer. It may be a collective cognitive dissidence, the fear of or simply not wanting to consider the possibility that you answer concerning these questions may be wrong.
It is not saying that you must agree with the opposition.
It is saying that if the two sides do not listen and think with moral values, with virtue, then there will be no understanding.
To answer the original question, I believe one’s personal religious or a-theist philosophy should play no role in the determination of one’s ability to hold any office of trust or how the entire people should be governed. The caveat is that personal philosophy does direct an individual’s thinking, so the question goes back to Dr. Garrett’s four moral positions; where on that scale does the candidate fall?
Blind faith, whether religious or secular, is just that, blind.
In the words of Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, one must “Open your ears to open your mind.”
Hard to achieve, but virtuous when accomplished.
David is an award-winning essayist, educator and teacher. He is the author of “A Christian Nation?: An examination of Christian theories and proofs” (2011) and the upcoming “The Clobber Passages: Homosexuality and the Bible.”
You can find David’s presentations at InkandVoice.com. If you are interested in asking David to speak to your organization concerning politics and religion, church/state separation issues, please contact him at Speaker@InkandVoice.com