Saturday, September 13, 2008

Separation Anxiety

Chicago Tribune columnist Kathleen Parker argues in an August 20, 2008 article following the Saddleback forum that “setting up two presidential candidates for religious interrogation by an evangelical minister [. . . .] is supremely wrong.” (Parker par. 1) At the conference, evangelical minister Rick Warren interviewed both Barack Obama and John McCain about their personal religious views. Although Parker acknowledges Warren, describing him as “a good man with an exemplary record of selfless works,” (par. 7) it is clear that she disagrees vehemently with the principle of the Saddleback forum, calling it “un-American” (par. 2) and stating that “The loser was America.” (par. 6) She recognizes that neither candidate was forced to participate and that both were willing to answer the questions presented to them. By giving credit to dissenting arguments at the same time she states her own views, Parker bolsters her own position.

She instead argues that the candidates should never have been asked in the first place. She states that “it shouldn’t be necessary in a pluralistic nation of secular laws to publicly define [their views] in Christian code.” (par. 16) She drives her point home by turning to the precedent of history and quoting one of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, who in 1781 wrote: "It does me no injury for my neighbor to say that there are 20 gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." (par. 18) Parker then claims that at the Saddleback forum, Jefferson, the primary author of the Constitution and enlightened defender of religious freedom, would have lost. Her argument that the Saddleback forum, while engaging and unbiased, violates the very principles of this country is a strong one, especially when supported by the words of our forbears.

Less powerful by far, however, is her evidence. Parker argues passionately for the separation of church and state, using a simple but eloquent style, separating key points in her structure (“The loser was America” has its own paragraph), and acknowledging the differing perspectives of her audience. Yet for all her conviction, her article lacks hard evidence. While her Jefferson quote is relevant and grounded in history, I do not believe it alone is enough to convert a skeptical reader. Parker claims that the Saddleback forum proves nothing and should have no sway in a secular democracy. But what better way can a presidential candidate present his (or her) moral principles than through a faith they share in common with many voters? Can religion and politics ever truly be separated?

1 comment:

KB said...

To answer Ross T.’s question (“can religion and politics ever truly be separate”): the answer is yes, if the politicians and their voters wished it so.

I turn to Kathleen Parker’s article for the reasoning. While it is true that the candidates may feel there is “no better” way to present his their “moral principles” I, along with Ms. Parker, and Thomas Jefferson believe there are better ways. First of all, a person’s morals may or may not affect how they lead a country. (For example, there are plenty of anti-abortion, pro-choice politicians.) Second, the best way to present these “moral principles” is through the candidates’ actions in the political realm.

If we looked at the candidates’ actions and policies instead of his words to a church leader, we’d have a clearer understanding of what kind of leader they’d actually be. If the voters continue to (in)validate candidates through “religious tests,” then come November, America will again be the loser.