Thursday, August 25, 2011
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.