The question remains:
How can we tell the character of another person… is it revealed by their biography, the story of their formative years, their education and activities? Is it revealed by their achievements as adults, their business resume or academic curriculum vitae, their contributions to the economy or society in which they have worked? Is it revealed by their intentions, their promises, their dreams; by what they are determined to accomplish with the rest of their lives? (IMIMM, Tell Me)
For me… unable to follow my mother’s advice to avoid judgement, to accept people as they are, to love unconditionally… this is an important life challenge. I want to know what my friends think, what books they read, what influences them, what disappoints them, what excites them… and also, alas, what they believe. I say “alas”, because while I think this is paramount, it is really the most difficult… and dangerous… to talk about. I want to learn “what makes them tick”. If you have been following this blog you will have a pretty good idea of what I mean.
My friends talk about their churches, but not their religion. Our minister is leaving. My grandson is being Christened next weekend. Our organist is pregnant again. Our women’s group is baking 1000 butter tarts for the Christmas bazaar.
Once I expressed surprise to a Catholic friend that women were not raising an outcry and leaving in droves because of the misogynist and punitive attitude of the Church about reproductive freedom. Oh, she said, we don’t listen to any of that! No, I wanted to say, because if you did… and took it seriously… you would leave. Then the churches would be empty, or they would have to change to survive. I did not say it, as she quickly turned to speak to someone else.
I want to probe more deeply, to ask, for example, whether my friends really believe what they say when they stand to recite the Apostles’ Creed. If they do, that is wonderful, I am happy for them, but it will be hard for me to take them seriously. If they don’t, if they are merely mouthing the words without thinking about what they mean, I feel sorry for them, and it will be hard for me to take them seriously. If they do, but with a dismissive attitude of unbelief, then I feel contempt, and it will be impossible for me to take them seriously.
So it is better, for the sake of friendship, not to probe, not to ask. But this epidemic of hypocrisy erects glass walls between friends, confuses judgement and decision-making, and prevents real intellectual and social progress. Which leads me back to my last blog and the questions quoted above.
We “know” the religious affiliation of all the candidates… it is a matter of public record. What we do not know is whether each is a sincere orthodox follower of the creed and moral teachings of that religion. If they are, then how will their sincerely held religious beliefs influence political decisions that affect the rest of us? If they are not, then why do they accept that religious identification, and supposedly, the loyal support of others in the same denomination? If they are not, then why do they allow themselves to be identified with that religious group? Why don’t they speak out, or leave?
A case in point is Mitt Romney’s Mormonism. The Frontline broadcast: The Choice, 2012 tells us that when he was eighteen he went to France as a missionary… at eighteen expecting to be taken seriously as a religious spokesperson, recruiting others. At the same age, Obama was still finding himself, studying and travelling, making friends with other young people from all over the world, living and working in the inner city.
Which is more impressive… religious certainty, or curiosity and social experimentation? Do we want leaders who know they know the truth, or who know that they don’t know but are keen to find out?
Slate Magazine published an article about the attempt 45 years ago of the Mormon leadership to reverse their history of racism.
The Mormon leadership has changed its policies on racial discrimination, but the underlying arguments that supported it remain part of their holy book. If Christian candidates were held strictly accountable for poisonous attitudes and the atrocities of the Old Testament, many of them still taught as part of the Biblical narrative, but then largely ignored except by extremists, then we would have to challenge their ideas as well.
George H.W. Bush famously said in 1987, “No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.”
Is it possible that there will ever be An Atheist as President of the United States? Read this article by President Reagan’s son, speaking about any prospects for a political career being cancelled by atheism:
There is a terrible stigma associated with atheism in the United States, as if reasonableness were some kind of sickness that should be subject to quarantine. There is so much talk about whether we will see a female president or black president in our lifetime, but wholly ignored is the fact that any politician who identifies himself as an atheist stands no chance at reaching the nation’s highest office. Of course, it is quite possible that there have been atheistic presidents, just none that came out of the closet, so to speak. They end every speech as an American president must: “God bless the United States of America.” Will this change in our lifetime? Will an “out of the closet” atheist ever be elected President of the United States?
How could decisions about character and leadership be any more problematic for an atheist candidate than it is now for candidates with identified religious affiliation?
An examination of ethical standards, unfiltered by irrational belief systems… it sounds good to me.