Sunday, February 21, 2010

Gimme somma that ol’ time religion!

Robert Costa, from the Corner at the National Review Online [even the dog goes slumming once in a while], reports this about Tim Pawlenty’s recent speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference:

Pawlenty also made a strong pitch for the support of the religious right. “God is in charge,” he said, criticizing the “naysayers who try to crowd out God.” If God is “good enough for the Founding Fathers, it should be good enough for us.”

Now, here is a guy who learned, too late, of course, that he needed to amp up the religious craziness to have a shot at national office on the Republican side.

Pawlenty’s words remind me of Leslie Uggmans singing Give Me Some of that Old Time Religion during the opening credits of the 1960 classic Stanley Kramer movie Inherit the Wind. Uggmans sings several verses of the song, the refrain of which is:

Give me some of that old time religion; it’s good enough for me.

The movie was about the 1926 Scopes trial in Tennessee where a young school teacher was convicted of the crime of raising the subject of evolution in the classroom. Although the names were fictionalized in the movie, Spencer Tracy played the Clarence Darrow character, and Frederic March played the William Jennings Bryan character.

Most of the courtroom dialogue in the movie is taken from the trial transcripts. At one point in the trial, Bryan calls himself as a witness to take the stand to prove the existence of God and the inerrant nature of the Bible. Darrow points out several inconsistencies in the Biblical narrative of creation on cross examination of the blustery Bryan.

It didn’t matter to the Tennessee jurors, of course. They, like Bryan, weren’t interested in the truth, but only in having their prejudices confirmed. It wouldn’t have mattered to the CPAC attendees, either.

This is the danger when you turn the law over to the “God is in charge,” “natural law” types. It really doesn’t matter which religion. You can get extremists from any of them: Osama bin Laden, Timothy McVeigh and Scott Roeder, and the assassins of Rabin and Gandhi.

You see, when you turn it over to God, you surrender the principle of democratic control over civil society. But it isn’t even rule by God; it is the rule of the priestly class: whoever can convince the most people that only they have the best interpretation of the moral code. That always holds the promise of tyranny by the most stiff-necked mullahs, preachers, and rabbis around.

Pawlenty libels the Founding Fathers when he says that “God was good enough for them.” Many of the founders were not even conventionally religious; they were creatures of the Enlightenment, a period in history influenced heavily by the invention of the scientific method and Europe’s bloody religious wars, including the Thirty Years War in the 17th century. They wanted none of it in their new secular government:

Two final points. The common conviction that bound together most of the Founders was the belief in the complete separation of church and state. As products of the Enlightenment, they shared Diderot's vision of a heavenly city on earth where the last priest would be strangled with the entrails of the last king. This was a radical doctrine at the time, and even now in Iraq we can see that it is an idea yet to be regarded as, shall we say, self-evident. Let me acknowledge that it was easier to implement in the United States than elsewhere, because the vast majority of the populace were practicing Christians of various denominations that shared core values, and also because there was a century-old tradition of religious toleration generated by the multiplicity of sects. That said, it seems to me that the central legacy of the Founding Fathers was a "hands off" policy towards any specific religious doctrine. No faith was to be favored.

Finally, Michael has argued, quite correctly, that the secularists in this debate have their own prejudices, just as do the evangelicals. At the theoretical level, I concur. But at the practical level, out there on the lecture trail and the call-in radio shows, the evangelicals are the dominating influence. They care more about this debate than the secular humanists, they have the most edgy agenda, they seem to have more at stake. As with the creationism debate, they bring the energy of believers in a lost cause. I respect them, want to put my arms around them, regard Michael as their ablest defender, but in the end believe that this is a nation of citizens rather than Christians.

That’s from a dialogue between James Ellis (writing here) and Michael Novak on the Encyclopedia Britannica blog. Ellis is a professor at Mount Holyoke College, and is the author of several books about the revolutionary period, including Founding Brothers, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize.

We can see that Pawlenty is too misguided about democratic principles and too dangerously ahistorical to be the president. But he is a monumental hypocrite, too, a modern-day Pharisee of the first water. Because, you see, as Pawlenty was hob-nobbing with the CPACers, and professing his faith in a living God who is in charge of temporal affairs, he took time out from his busy schedule to veto a bill calling for the extension of General Assistance Medical Care that had been passed overwhelmingly by both houses of the Minnesota Legislature, and passed with bipartisan support.

GAMC provides at least some measure of health care to the sickest and poorest Minnesotans.

You might think that a man as religious as our governor — a professing “Christian” — would heed the words of the departing Jesus: If you love me, feed my sheep.

But you’d be wrong; in some cases dead wrong.

A thump of the tail to Hot Dish Politics for the link to the NRO post.

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