Friday, September 02, 2011

The Damage From Electing Religious People

In my job, we have several types of activity where we have to show exactly what we think the damage will be, or precisely what it is we are trying to fix. It’s tedious, but a good exercise. We can’t go into court and say “Well, he’s crazy, judge. He needs a guardian.” We have to show what harm is likely to occur if he doesn’t take medication. Is he going to stop eating? Is he going to assault someone? Because if he is just going to be a pain in the ass, so what? Lots of people are a pain in the ass, but we don’t lock them up for it. We can’t say to the insurance company “Well, she’s not better yet. Still sounds a little depressed to me.” The insurers are going to insist that for $1000/day, we need to show she’s likely to get suicidal again immediately, and that there’s no $100/day outpatient treatment that would keep her alive just as well. So rather than conjuring all these images of the Inquisition, the Crusades, and Salem trials – and I could have quite a few words in defense of those anyway, but that’s another day – it pays to ask people define exactly what they think will go wrong if a religious person is elected. I think Mormonism is a cult, for example, but may still vote for Romney. Because I am not seeing exactly what damage his Mormonism is going to do, here. Judd Gregg is UCC Congregationalist, which is already pretty milk-and-water, but even in that sphere is a limited player – so he’s 90% secular; John Sununu was an ardent Catholic. I’d vote for either in a heartbeat over anybody running for anything in America today. When you try and define exactly what is going to go wrong for religious reasons if we elect a Michelle Bachmann or a Rick Perry, I don’t find that their critics come up with a lot. There are some symbolic issues, which people use as a proxy for whether someone is Like Us or Not Like Us, but only on gay marriage is there likely to be any activity. Since the mid 70’s, the abortion issue has never been in danger of moving more than a few degrees one way or another – more waiting or notification or less, more federal funding or less. Even under radical change, the most that will happen is sending it back to the states. On stem-cell research much of the activity is on using your own stem cells or umbilical cells anyway – it’s a symbolic issue. Creationism? Kids learn neither the biology we teach now nor their Sunday School lessons. There’s a lot of “who’s in charge” posturing on this – both sides. Even if a teacher were made to teach creationism against their conscience, if they stood in the front and said “Uh, this is another theory that some churches think is important that you know,” does anyone think there will be mass conversions to fundamentalism? Of course not. But it bothers people because it seems rather explicitly religious, and thus not very separation of C & S. I think they are right. But I think environmentalism is weak science trotted out in defense of some pretty dubious philosophical ideas that absolutely crest over into religion for some people, and no one’s going to stop teaching that to my kid.

What exactly do people feel the damage is going to be? When you take away all the haunted house recordings and pictures of blood and werewolves, what exactly is going to harm us at Spookyworld? I think a lot of it comes down to feelings that America/society/the government isn’t expressing them. I think a lot of American groups feel that way, including a passel of conservative ones. There’s this idea that our values should be reified in some formal, obvious way, declaring to the world that this is the Real America. Liberal or conservative, it irritates and puzzles me. I have never expected the society as a whole, and especially not the government, to reflect my values more than approximately. I just don’t get it. People get all worked up because what – we were made to say the Lord’s Prayer in schools decades ago? And we now think that’s unamerican (likely true), so electing people who don’t condemn that in the loudest possible terms is going to lead to some fascist… Like that’s going to lead to…well, what did it lead to last time? Give me a break.

You hear it in the phrase “I don’t want to live in a country that…”

 Think that through, Bessie. I wonder how much of people’s personal issues are behind this? When I can’t find much measurable in the complaints, it’s a natural next question, isn’t it?


terri said...


I think there are varying levels to this. I don't care about Romney's Mormonism because Romney doesn't make it an issue. He doesn't trade on that persona, or hammer it home at every convention or campaign stop. It's a part of his identity, but not the only part of his identity...which is much closer to what you're talking about with some of the UCC, Catholic, etc. candidates you mention.

Bachmann I am leery of because she purposely and consistently uses her "street cred" with the religious right. It is not one part of her identity. It is the part that she has chosen to highlight and pander to.

That automatically raises my level of distrust in her because she uses it not only to ingratiate herself with the religious right, but to take aim at others.

I don't like manipulative rhetoric, especially when God is being used as part of the package.

What would actually happen if Bachmann were elected?

I don't know. Culturally, other than annoying half of the country, it may not be a big deal. My main concern is that she doesn't seem to understand federal-level issues. SHe promises things like $2 gasoline with no understanding of the fact that the price of gas is not controlled by the will of 1 person, or even 1 country.

But.....that's never stopped any politician from saying incredibly naive, stupid things in order to get elected.

I do think there are effects that can be traced back. When you mention stem cell research and its focus on a person's own stem cells instead of embryonic stem cells, I think that can be traced to the fact that there has not been federal approval for new embryonic stem cell research. Scientists work with what they have. If new embryonic stem cell research were allowed there would be scientists rushing to use the technology, which may not be the best venue for curing disease in an individual but which might open the door to other areas of research and application.....which could be a Pandora's Box.

Gringo said...

From 1976 to 2008, we had a Democratic President who was Southern Baptist (Carter) plus 20 years of Republican Presidents who were partial to the religious right.
If the dreaded theocracy didn't come from that onslaught, when will it come?

Just look underneath your bed. You will see the Christian Bogeyman underneath it, Mr.Lib.

Disclaimer: I am not a churchgoer.

james said...

I am not a biologist, but I'd judge that using your own stem cells in any sort of therapy is a no-brainer. You automatically have the same DNA, same RNA, same proteins studding the outside of the cells (OK, proteins you find elsewhere in your body)--which greatly reduces the chance of rejection and increases the chance that the tissues that form will merge with yours correctly.

james said...

And on the original topic, I suppose we could refer to Luther's remark that he'd rather be ruled by a wise Turk than a foolish Christian.

If we have a limited government with well-defined roles (dream on, I know) then the integrity and competence of the office-holder for the particular office is the important thing. We're all fallen and perfect messiahs don't come along as often as certain political partisans believe. Remember that Lincoln offered to find out what whiskey Grant drank and give it to his other generals.

Of course the question of what constitutes misuse of the office comes up. The notion of a national day of prayer gets up the nose of some people I could name, generic though it is. A presidential speech peppered with references to Joseph Smith would undoubtedly annoy a lot of us. So one is "safe" with generic religious references, but expunging all religious expression is already stirring up a ruckus. Hmm. Not easy. But one of the finest presidential speeches is Lincoln's second inaugural address--right for the time and for the ages, and full of scripture quotations.

Texan99 said...

When I was a kid I was an atheist, like all of my family. I was required to stand and listen to everyone recite the Lord's Prayer every morning at school. No one thought anything of it, even though a solid 1/3 of my classmates from year to year consistently were Jewish. All non-Christians just stood there quietly until everyone else was finished praying out loud. No one died. I thought it was a little rude and presumptuous, but big deal.

I used to think the answer to everything was the separation of church and state, so any religion in any politician was fine as long as he claimed he kept his religion out of his politics. I no longer think it's possible to keep your religion out of your politics or out of any other area that involves the proper treatment of one's neighbors. I do think it's possible to be humble enough about your power over your fellow creatures that you don't insist on using government tools to enforce any behavioral norms that are not awfully widely shared by the entire citizenry, including all religions and non-religious creeds.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, some types of religious statement are a clue to a general arrogance, which might be worth knowing about in a candidate.

Sam L. said...

Al Gore comes to mind, AVI.