God and Caesar In America
Gary Hart printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Nov 29, 2005 at 01:35:26 PM EST
The revelation that a senior White House official "cleared" the since-failed nomination of Harriet Meyers to the Supreme Court with Focus on the Family founder James Dobson reminded me of the huge controversy caused by John Kennedy's campaign for president in 1960.  Then it was the religious conservatives who were up in arms about the separation of church and state and about preventing "the Pope from taking over the White House."
Can you imagine their reaction if, in 1961 when President Kennedy nominated Byron White to the Supreme Court, Ted Sorenson had placed a call to the Pope to seek his approval of the White nomination?
Reflections such as this in the context of today's political rhetoric of "faith" and "values", and the high-jacking of the Republican party by the religious right, together with my own evangelical background and divinity school studies of theology, caused me to write God and Caesar in America: And Essay on Religion and Politics.
[The following is an excerpt from God and Caesar in America: An Essay on Religion and Politics, published by Fulcrum Publishing, available November 1, 2005, in your local bookstore or at www.fulcrumbooks.com.]

The full agenda of religious right "values"--laissez-faire economics, antigovernment biases, neo-conservative foreign policies, and rightist orthodoxy--requires a judiciary compliant with it. It does no good to convert a Jeffersonian public school system into private parochial schools, to make churches the instruments of the state by transferring public funds from social programs to them, to pass laws restricting reproductive rights, to expand law enforcement's intrusive reach in the name of security, or to torture or indefinitely detain terror suspects if a judge or court from the pre-revivalist past overturns those actions on constitutional grounds. The full religious revolution cannot be realized without a federal judiciary, up to and including at least five members of the Supreme Court, that shares those ideals and goals.
    The New American Theocracy requires judges who will go along and who will continue going along for the remainder of their lives. The ultimate goal is a Supreme Court philosophically attuned to the principles and purposes of those seeking a state that incorporates and promotes their religious beliefs. Only then will the presidential decrees and compliant congressional actions sought by the right be safe from assault by a judiciary dedicated to the proposition that the law is established within the framework of the United States Constitution, not the Bible.
    The new theocrats do not know and do not seem to want to know that judges take an oath of office requiring them to uphold the Constitution. The fact that they may (or may not) place their hand upon a Bible and swear, "so help me, God" in taking that oath does not in any way mean that they are to place their, or anyone else's, theological doctrines above those principles spelled out in the Constitution and laws of the United States.
    But does not democracy require that the majority prevail, that the will of the majority is to determine the direction of the nation? And did not the majority of Americans elect a president and a Congress committed to the agenda of those dedicated to a theocratic democracy? It is too much to assume that a majority of those who voted for George W. Bush for president or for any individual senator or house member were of the same mind on the very wide variety of religious and social issues promoted by the religious right.
It is clear that the religious right has established a dominant position within one political party, a position that permits it to impose its veto on candidates for office, proposed legislation, and judicial appointments. But this position does not make it a majority even in one political party, let alone in the nation. A somewhat similar position was occupied by the organized labor movement in the Democratic Party up until recently. But that did not mean that a majority of Democrats were members of that movement or even that they agreed with the labor movement on all issues.
    It is one thing to be one member of a coalition that makes up one political party and it is quite another to assume a minority position in one party that requires that party, all institutions of government, and the nation at large to accept the religious doctrines of that minority. The religious right in America, empowered by compliant elected officials, some of whom are intimidated by that element, is seeking a dictatorship of the minority. There are more than a few authoritarian and totalitarian examples in the world where this has taken place, but not in a constitutional democracy such as the United States.
    One can only wonder at the response of a Jefferson or a Madison to such an effort.

                                        Gary Hart
                                        November 29, 2005

This isn't something that can be, I suspect, legislated against. The problem is that elaborate workarounds can always be contrived such that the quiet or secret clearing, by a theocratic elite, of potential judicial nominations and also political candidates can never be stopped.

The law is a cumbersome beast - necessary but crude and slow to respond as compared to the rate at which human tactical approaches can be adapted and modified.

The ultimate safeguard, one in danger of crumbling now, is this : a widespread cultural belief that the separation principle is a valid one.

On those grounds - and on others too -  the theocratic movement is winning, and it is winning by virtue of brute force advertising and grassroots organizing tactics, by ceaseless repetition, by hollow and obtuse intellectual sophistry....

Once majority perceptions have been shifted sufficiently, to the belief that the government of the United States was founded as a Christian rather than a secular entity, the game is lost.

But that grim end is not yet here - and though I'm tempted to flourish - in grand rhetorical style - about the need for magical solutions, great imagined battles to stem this tide - Gettysburgs, Stalingrads, or a Thermoplaes..... but, no :

Turn to Face The Feared, the Strange :

At the cultural level this struggle can be reduced, at least in part, to efforts that are mundane, practical, even tasteless  - to cheap "evolution comics" to counter Jack Chick tracts, to media saturation techniques - in television, radio, and advertising - to potboiler novels that sell on a level to rival the Lahaye franchise......the Christian right has flooded mass culture with product bearing theocratic overtones, undertones, memes, shadings.....  and, where is the left's response - not academic responses but ones with maximum lowbrow appeal ?

And - yes - the struggle is for a re-engagement of the religious traditions of the left. Did the religious right enter the fray ? Of course. Was that fair ? Well yes and no depending on the specific methods in question. But the religious left certainly also, to considerable degree, ceded the territory. Where is its nobler animating ideals to impart purpose and conviction, spirited evangelical zeal for the promotion of global human rights, of human liberties celebrated and yet tempered by communal repsonsibility ? Or the acceptance of non Christian and even - dare I say it - ostentatiously atheistic or simply agnostic beliefs ?

Well, those ideals are around and - even - vibrant among parts of  the religious left, but we need more of that, and quick.  

I think, for my part, I'll sense the game is truly afoot when a certain little Unitarian Church I know, in sleepy New England, awakes to realize it is beset, under atttack from many quarters, holds off its weakness for bemoaning and then simply forgetting the latest scary thing or presidential outrage, and rolls up its sleeves to hold bake sales, raffles, and dances - dances, yes, because theocracy in its purest forms tends to loath dance.

The game will truly be afoot when the churches, schools, teachers associations, dwindling unions, the environmentalists and Greens, the members of AARP, the trial lawyers and librarians, the MD's and medical profession, the scientific community....

When all of these interest groups, institutions, factions - all such groupings which have shared social, political, or financial cohesion begin to notice the theocratic movement, then turn about to look long and hard, to assess and not to turn away in despair or retire to television and the many distractions of life......

When these atomized forces stare this thing they've long dreaded in the eye to suss it up as a worthy opponent, in study of its nature, its musculature, it tactics and strategies and - finding that alone, as a solitary combatant, sufficient strength is acking, look to others engaged in that very same strategic and tactical appraisal...

When those forces turn towards each other - to find common ground, build allegiance, craft strategies.......

Then, the game will be afoot.  I believe I'll see the day - and I believe in the power of that belief : faith, if you will.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Nov 29, 2005 at 05:47:43 PM EST

the Jack Chick parody archives!

by moses freeman on Tue Nov 29, 2005 at 06:55:02 PM EST

Senator Hart, you've highlighted the Bush Administration's attempts to curry favor with religious groups, such as James Dobson's Focus on the Family -- and perhaps to go beyond getting their advice to actually seeking to have a potential nominee "cleared" according to some unspecified political or religious agenda to which the public has not been made privy. That does seem like a violation of church and state separation. But you've also stood firmly for the proposition that Christians should be free to participate in public debate. So what in your view should be the proper role of religious folk in weighing in on a judicial nomination, including a Supreme Court nomination?

by jhutson on Tue Nov 29, 2005 at 01:52:53 PM EST

It seems to me that the infamous call to Focus on the Family was exactly what the Constitution forbids in Article 6 Section 3: a religious test of a candidate.

Is there any legal standing for bringing suit on such a thing?

Beware of the everyday brutality of the averted gaze.
by mataliandy on Tue Nov 29, 2005 at 02:00:56 PM EST

But I would assume that the prohibition on a religious test would apply only to the confirmation process. A President is free to submit any candidate he wants, and vetting them through the organizations of his supporters is simply a part of his decision making process.

Not that I like it of course, these right-wing judicial candidates may well be the death of the republic.

by moses freeman on Tue Nov 29, 2005 at 03:23:36 PM EST

For participating in the first national e-conference on the religious right, Sen Hart.

It was an important moment, as you observe, when John Kennedy went before a group of protestant ministers to declare that he was a strong supporter of separation of church and state, and that even as a faithful Catholic, he would not, as president, be taking orders from the Vatican.

When we elect people to public office, they certainly bring their faith with them, and no one is asking them not to. But we do ask people to swear an oath to uphold the Constitution.  As Susan Jacoby details in her essay, the only thing in the constitution, prior to the First Amendment, that deals with the question of religion is Article 6 -- which states that there shall be no religious test for public office. This meant, of course, that we were establishing religious equality in the United States. Our religious views, would be irrelevant to our status as citizens, and we would be free to believe as we will without interference from the government, or any religious institution.

Jeffersonson once said, if I recall the quote correctly, regarding churches, that 'we should be as free go go out as we are to go in.'

You are right that it is an afront to our constitution that the president and his advisors are resorting to a religious test for nominees to the Supreme Court, and other offices.

I hope your book will receive a wide readership and help jump-start the kind of broad public discussion we need to have on these important issues.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Nov 29, 2005 at 02:01:39 PM EST

in the Republican coalition is the issue of morality. As the Republicans begin to drown in scandal and corruption, there is a potential that the rank and file members of the Christian right may eventually grow disaffected with politicians who apparently don't reflect Christian values.

I think it's important to highlight Republican malfeasance and to focus on pieces of anti-Christian legislation that they have passed (ie the bankruptcy bill). Sooner or later I would guess that the fundamentalists would realize that the GOP is just using them.

by moses freeman on Tue Nov 29, 2005 at 03:39:19 PM EST

I agree with Moses that, as an organizing tactic, it's a great idea to frame issues in such a way that they recognize and speak to people's values -- not limited to, but including "Christian values." It's time to stop letting the theocrats define what "Christian values" mean. Moses offers a great example: we could choose to define issues like bankruptcy, or prescription drug benefits, or stewardship of natural resources, in terms of Biblical values. That would help rank and file followers of theocrats understand that their leaders haven't cornered the market on talking to voters about values that matter.

by jhutson on Tue Nov 29, 2005 at 04:58:44 PM EST
"Honor your father and your mother."
"You shall not murder."
"You shall not commit adultery."
"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."
"You shall not covet."
"When you harvest your land, don't harvest right up to the edges of your field or gather the gleanings from the harvest. Don't strip your vineyard bare or go back and pick up the fallen grapes. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner."
"Don't steal. Don't lie. Don't deceive anyone."
"Don't swear falsely"
"Don't exploit your friend or rob him. Don't hold back the wages of a hired hand."
"Don't curse the deaf; don't put a stumbling block in front of the blind."
"Don't pervert justice. Don't show favoritism to either the poor or the great. Judge on the basis of what is right.
"Don't spread gossip and rumors. Don't just stand by when your neighbor's life is in danger."
"Don't secretly hate your neighbor. If you have something against him, get it out into the open; otherwise you are an accomplice in his guilt."
"Don't seek revenge or carry a grudge against any of your people."
"Show respect to the aged; honor the presence of an elder."
"When a foreigner lives with you in your land, don't take advantage of him. Treat the foreigner the same as a native. Love him like one of your own. Remember that you were once foreigners..."
"Don't cheat when measuring length, weight, or quantity. Use honest scales and weights and measures."

by Vaclav on Tue Nov 29, 2005 at 08:26:24 PM EST
What a fab list.  Probably could add a few more.

Don't try to rip away the rights of women.
Don't bribe public officials, nor as a public official accept so much as a free golf outing from someone doing business with you.
Don't try to rip away the social security that will protect the aged.
Don't steal money from the next generation with adventurous militarism.
Don't try to rip away civil liberties in the names of people killed by terrorists.
Don't deceive the masses with falsehoods about gay people, abortion, science and health.

Hey this is grand.  Surely others can add!

by cyncooper on Tue Nov 29, 2005 at 11:20:33 PM EST

It appears that the Republican's president has violated at least 16 of the 17. The only one I'm not sure about is the adultery one (and I don't want to know).

by moses freeman on Tue Nov 29, 2005 at 11:41:32 PM EST
I'm not sure what sort of methodology would tease out this sort of quid pro quo, but I sense an implicit trade off when Christian theocratic right voters opt for George W. Bush - do they think Mr. Bush is the most moral of candidates according to their definition of whatever morality might involve ?

Probably not. But, he does bring home the ideological bacon - wrapped, to be sure, in the liberal swaddling of pork fat now surrounding American "conservatism"....

by Bruce Wilson on Wed Nov 30, 2005 at 01:56:22 AM EST

But from what I've seen in my travels, the religious right has gone from being absolutely enamored with Bush, to acknowledging some of his faults, but more or less still supporting him strongly, for lack of an alternative plan. Many have had their faith in him shaken by his court appointments, his spending, his corruption, etc...  

It's too late to focus on George though. Even if they began to universally revile him tomorrow, it wouldn't matter much. Short of impeachment proceedings, we are stuck with the chimp until 2009.

I've tried to shift my focus onto the Republicans in general. We have to connect this malfeasance in government to the Republican Party as a whole, not just George Bush, because he'll be replaced soon enough.

I try not to mention Bush without using the word "Republican" in the same sentence, and I frequently don't mention him at all anymore (since the election), for example "Republican regime" instead of "Bush regime".

Regarding your mention of trade-offs, I would like to plant in the minds of fundamentalists, the idea that the Republican Party is profoundly amoral, and that their goals are at cross purposes with the goals of Christians. The ways we use language are a part of that strategy.

by moses freeman on Wed Nov 30, 2005 at 02:23:18 AM EST

But I think the distinction you make between an allegedly mercenary and libertine GOP ( forgive me if I mischaracterize ) and the GOP's religious and theocratic right voting base can be overstated.

First, once in power all politicians tend to fall prey to excess, and although the current crop filling the ranks of the GOP is astonishingly and perhaps historically excessive that does not mean that they came to power bereft of beliefs - and even severe, extreme beliefs. There are normal human demons, or foibles, which the heady fumes wafting off the Potomac and seeping from underneath the doors of sealed rooms of power very often set free. This is a spectacular and yet mundane thing, like the stotting of antelopes or the migration of shuffling penguins, and only a very few are immune unless thoroughly innoculated in advance - and sometimes not even then.

But, is to act in discord with one's stated beliefs to then lack belief ?

That is a question impossible to answer, but I am quite convinced that the many expressions of deep religious belief - and what I might call zealotry - which issue from the mouths of the captains of the GOP are more often than not genuine though perhaps overtated, but exaggeration is a stock tool of politics.

Could the relationship between the GOP leadership and its religious voter base be a bit more complex than the "con man" / "mark" model so often suggested ? I think the "manipulation" model may obscure more than it sheds light on.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Nov 29, 2005 at 06:19:53 PM EST

But, is to act in discord with one's stated beliefs to then lack belief ?

Jesus would probably say yes, his words to the hypocrites were pretty unambiguous.

I bring attention to this, because while the conman/mark model certainly does have it's limitations, likewise it accurately describes at least some people on the religious right. If we can deflect even single digit percentage of these folks, speaking their own language, we can start to seriously affect certain elections.

Nothing irritates or angers those folks as much as someone else stealing their podium... so let's do it!

by moses freeman on Tue Nov 29, 2005 at 06:45:18 PM EST

To acknowledge that !

I have a bone or two to pick with the "mark" model, but you are absolutely correct, and this brings up the "binary fallacy" :

To see only the "mark model" misses a great deal that's of strategic substance, while to deny the "mark model" altogether surrounders the powerful rhetorical attacks on the sort of spectacular and grotesque hypocrisy we're currently awash in.

So - indeed - point well taken.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Nov 29, 2005 at 07:33:54 PM EST

Correct me if I'm wrong, Senator, but one of the beautiful things about the Constitution is that it is all about the rights of the minority to be protected from the oppression of the majority.  This seems to be forgotten in our times. This makes it very different from the Ten Commandments, it seems.  The Constitution insists that despite polls, despite majoritarian-elected officials, despite the weight of public outcry, certain principles will stand for one and all, even if the parties in question are part of a despised minority. The Supreme Court is sworn to uphold this concept.  Theocracy is just the opposite, I think -- about imposing the will of the majority on one and all.  Why do you suppose there is so little attention today to this aspect of role of the judiciary?

by cyncooper on Tue Nov 29, 2005 at 05:57:04 PM EST

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