Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bill Keller tees one up for Paul Horwitz

The NYT's Bill Keller poses, here, what he characterizes as some "tougher" questions for the (Republican) presidential candidates about "their religious beliefs."  In my view, the questions (that were not partisan and snarky) actually weren't very tough, but, whatever.  And, as some of the commenters point out, Keller seems to be overlooking the fact that a number of his questions could just as well be posed to (or have been posed to) Pres. Obama.  Still, some of the questions themselves -- again, the ones that are not partisan and snarky -- are ones that Paul Horwitz has thought and written a lot about, including in, well, The NYT. 

Keller's lead ("lede"?) question is, whether it is "fair" to ask candidates about the details of their faith.  In my view, the question invites another:  Why is one asking?  Sometimes, such questions are asked because it is thought by the asker that the content of a candidate's professed religious faith actually tells her something about the candidate's character, loyalties, priorities, loves, commitments, etc., that -- it is honestly thought by the asker -- is relevant to the enterprise of the office the candidate is seeking.  (Example:  Gov. Smith, you are a Quaker.  Given your sincere beliefs about the immorality of violence, could you serve effectively as Commander in Chief?)  Who could object to such a question, assuming it was asked in good faith, and asked -- when relevant -- of both parties' candidates?

At other times, though, it seems to me that the question is asked in order to elicit what the questioner hopes will be an answer that can be presented superficially (after all, not every question about religion can be answered propositionally, or in two sentences), out of context, or in a way that will (the asker hopes?) strike those who hear the answer as just "weird."  (Example:  "Rep. Jones, you are a Mormon.  Tell us about your garments."  Or, "Rep. Johnson, you are a Lutheran.  Doesn't that mean you are anti-Catholic?")  Our shared political life could get along pretty well without these latter sorts of questions, it seems to me. 


Garnett, Rick | Permalink

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Hi Professor Garnett,

First of all, maybe because it's Friday or because my morning Mountain Dew hasn't kicked in yet, but I couldn't find anything snarky or partisan in Mr. Keller's questions. Perhaps you could tell me what I might have missed?

As for my politicians (or for anyone else that I associate with) I don't care how religious they are or aren't. I'd rather have a competent president who is seen as not being so religious (Presidents Obama and Clinton) than incompetent presidents who speak often of their religion (Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush).

What I think seperates the current religious right (and I use that term very loosely because I think they are neither) is that they have taken Judeo-Christian thought and sought to impose it as the governing power on its own accord, rather than having it as a complement to governance. That's why the current spat over creationism and this intellgent design nonsense is so instructive-it shows the lack of tolerance for deviation from Judeo-Christian thought that this movement has.

As for Mr. Keller's question about appointing a Muslim to a political post, go as Governor Christie about the grief he just went though on that issue.

Posted by: Edward Dougherty | Aug 26, 2011 8:32:38 AM

Edward, with all due respect, it is important to note that our Founding Fathers stated, unanimously, that governments are instituted to secure our fundamental, unalienable Rights that have been endowed to us from our Creator at the moment we are created. Since it is true that our Founding Fathers believed our Government was founded in order to secure our fundamental, unalienable Rights that have been endowed to us from God at the moment of our creation, then we can assume that the purpose of these unalienable Rights, is what God intended.

Posted by: Nancy D. | Aug 26, 2011 9:03:33 AM

Ed, thanks for writing. I suppose snark and partisanship are "in the eye of the beholder." I thought Mr. Keller's piece was dripping with both. But, then again, I admit that I am quick (perhaps too quick) to see it in Mr. Keller's writing, because he strikes me as, well, a snarky partisan! You don't think the questions revealed both condescension and a double-standard? I guess I did. Best, R

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Aug 26, 2011 9:07:14 AM

Ed, thanks for writing. I suppose snark and partisanship are "in the eye of the beholder." I thought Mr. Keller's piece was dripping with both. But, then again, I admit that I am quick (perhaps too quick) to see it in Mr. Keller's writing, because he strikes me as, well, a snarky partisan! You don't think the questions revealed both condescension and a double-standard? I guess I did. Best, R

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Aug 26, 2011 9:07:14 AM

Professor Garnett, I'd like to submit that one reason the questions may seem partisan is because the Republicans have, for the most part, made fidlity to Judeo-Christian thought a requirement for one of their major candidacies, rather than it having serve as a crucial element of that philosophy, while allowing that philosophy to stand on it's own in civic terms.

Chris Christie proves again to be a point on two of Mr. Keller's questions, one being the Muslim judge example I cited earlier and the other being when he told a reporter that it was none of his business whether or not he thought evolution was correct or not. The fact that a major GOP player has to answer this way and cannot deviate from the creationist line says volumes about the overreach of Judeo-Christian orthodoxy in the GOP (just as the Democrats have underreached-I know that's not a word- on it).

Posted by: Edward Dougherty | Aug 26, 2011 1:02:15 PM

Edward, there's certainly something to what you say -- more than just something -- and I'm sure that's part of the explanation. Still, I think my charge of double-standards and snark sticks, at least in the case of folks like Mr. Keller. Often, Republicans (and not just those who wear religion on their sleeve) are asked "gotcha" religion-related questions, and Democrats (including those who do make religion relevant to their public life) are not. At least, that's what I (think I) see. Best, R

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Aug 26, 2011 1:09:58 PM

Two more points, Professor Garnett. On the question to Governor Perry about Mr. Hagee, I'm surprised you wouldn't want more information on that. Have you ever heard what he's said about Catholics-he don't like us very much!

As for the question to Senator Santorum about marital infidelity, he was part of the absurd impeachment of President Clinton on this issue and I am at least glad to see him called on it.

As for global warming, let's not forget that he tried to mandate the teaching of the absurdity that is intellgent design in public schools during NCLB and I'm glad Mr. Keller also asked him about that. I also wish Mr. Keller had asked him aboout how he squares his stance on waterboarding with his Catholcism but, then again, Mr. Keller wouldn't allow his own paper to call what the Bush Administration was doing torture so I'm not surpirsed by that.

Posted by: Edward Dougherty | Aug 26, 2011 1:17:29 PM

Edward, I am (obviously) entirely familiar with Hagee, and the stuff he's said. He is, remember, a Protestant minister, who thinks that Catholicism is a heresy and is distracting people from the message of salvation. He's wrong, of course, but there it is. Anyway, it seems that we are seeing this differently and, in any event, I'm not sure how much of the point of my post depends on whether one thinks, as you seem to do, that Republicans are really bad and deserve what they get, or thinks, as I do, that the NYT is a (anti-Catholic) snark-pool. Do you disagree with the point I wanted to make, namely, that some of the kinds of questions Keller mentioned are less worthy of serious people than others?

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Aug 26, 2011 1:41:20 PM

Rick, I put up a post on Prawfs about this; thanks for teeing it up for me. (And I hope you enjoy the title of the post!) Just a couple short notes here that didn't make it onto that post. I agree that these questions are at least potentially equally relevant for Democratic candidates. Obama, of course, spoke at length as a Senator about some of these questions, and I discuss his remarks in my piece in the University of Memphis Law Review. I am less inclined to think of the Times as an anti-Catholic snark pool than you are, of course, but that said I think Keller could probably be criticized in this piece for addressing his questions solely to the Republican candidates and not the President (although one of the top questions, about being criticized for things said by your minister, certainly seems to me to be addressed to Obama); but I did not find the tone snarky in and of itself. Even if Keller would be equally likely to make the same mistake in a different election cycle, it's perhaps fair to point out that in this cycle, the only Democratic candidate is running for re-election, not nomination, and has already spoken about many of these issues.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Aug 26, 2011 2:14:04 PM

Sure they are, Professor Garnett. And I don't think Republicans are really bad-I voted for one twice for governor lastyear here in Michigan (Rick Snyder) who's doing a great job in part because he doesn't deal in the anti-intelletual tripe that is currently wrecking the GOP.

There was a study released a few years ago by the Pew folks detailing the overall decrease in our population of folks who affiliate themselves with an organized religion. I don't think it is co-incidental that it corrlated with the end of the Bush Administration. The anti-intellectualism on science (and you don't have to be a foe of embryonic stem cell research, which I am, to see this in the creationism debate) and the positions on same-sex marriage (apart from the principled positions you and other contributors on MOJ hold on this issue and that our Church in general holds) are killing the GOP with young people. And I think that's going to continue to hurt religion and other associated causes (such as the pro life cause) as a result. I just think that it is high time for people of faith (other than Jim Wallis) to point this out.

Posted by: Edward Dougherty | Aug 26, 2011 2:43:36 PM

Edward, I'm all for science and intellectualism. I tend to think that the popularity of the idea Republicans, in general, are more "anti-science" than Democrats, in general, has more to do with the issues that the press is interested in focusing on, than on the facts regarding what Democrats, in general, and Republicans, in general, actually believe, but that's a matter for another day. Anyway, your first sentence indicates that we agree, so I'm happy. Best, R

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Aug 26, 2011 2:49:18 PM