Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Religion in Politics

Two interesting items:

1. Al Gore:
Gore’s mouth tightened. A Southern Baptist, he, too, had declared himself born again, but he clearly had disdain for Bush’s public kind of faith. “It’s a particular kind of religiosity,” he said. “It’s the American version of the same fundamentalist impulse that we see in Saudi Arabia, in Kashmir, in religions around the world: Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Muslim. They all have certain features in common. In a world of disconcerting change, when large and complex forces threaten familiar and comfortable guideposts, the natural impulse is to grab hold of the tree trunk that seems to have the deepest roots and hold on for dear life and never question the possibility that it’s not going to be the source of your salvation."
2. Paul Kengor, analyzing the number of times that Clinton and Bush, respectively, used religious rhetoric:
Though clearly a devout Christian, Bush is no more outwardly religious than the vast majority of this nation's presidents, including his most recent predecessor. I researched the Presidential Documents (the official collection of every public presidential statement); an examination of the mentions of Jesus Christ by George W. Bush and Bill Clinton showed that through 2003, Bush cited Jesus, or Jesus Christ, or Christ in 14 separate statements, compared to 41 by Clinton. On average, Clinton mentioned Christ in 5.1 statements per year, which exceeded Bush's 4.7.
* * *
In addition, the Presidential Documents list only three incidences of Bush's speaking in a church through his first three years. By contrast, Clinton spoke in churches 21 times, with over half of those appearances occurring in election years. And often what he said and did in these churches was blatantly partisan, from identifying New York's Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo as a "prophet" to instructing worshippers to go vote. No politician in modern times mixed politics and religion with complete impunity to the extent Bill Clinton did. Here is a mere sampling:
  • "By the grace of God and your help, last year I was elected President."
    — Clinton, Church of God in Christ, Memphis, Tennessee, November 1993

  • "Our ministry is to do the work of God here on Earth."
    — Clinton to a church in Temple Hills, Maryland, August 1994

  • "God's work must be our own. And there are many questions before us now in this last presidential election of the 20th century."
    — Clinton to a church in Newark, New Jersey, October 1996

5 Comments:

Blogger Howard McEwen, CFA said...

I think the reason people are so threatened of Bush's religion and not Clinton's was that either 1. Clinton was on their side, 2. everybody knew Clinton didn't mean it, or 3. both 1 & 2.

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Similar to the above, I would bet that a high percentage of Clinton's religious comments were made in black churches or to black audiences. The secular elite in America tolerates black religiosity, in part because on any concrete issue (e.g., abortion), they have been successful in preventing the black churches from implementing any religious agenda.

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there is a difference between religion as rhetoric and religion as motivation--and there in lies the difference between Clinton (and Reagan) and Bush. I prefer a secular politics, but I recognize the rhetorical place of religious references and invocations in political speech. But it's one thing to say, "God Bless America," and quite other to say, "we are doing the will of God" especially when the latter is invoked in a time of war against people of a different religion. Add to that Bush's statement that "I believe that God wants me to be president," see http://www.religionnewsblog.com/7036-.html, and I think that Bush's religiosity takes on a very different--and to me, disturbing--pallor.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Stuart Buck said...

Anon -- you have something of a valid point as to the difference between "God bless America," and "God wants me to be President." But you seem to have missed the bullet-pointed quotes from Clinton, which indicate a belief that God's grace led to Clinton's election and that Clinton was doing "the work of God here on Earth." In other words, Clinton certainly did not confine himself to saying "God bless America" or the equivalent.

1:00 PM  
Blogger QD said...

In general, people get upset about religion getting into politics when it's on the other side. There are plenty of religious conservatives who didn't much appreciate the Catholic Bishops' views on the economy or nuclear weapons in the 1980s.

I also think that Anon's distinction between rhetoric and motivation is overdrawn, even if he/she is assuming that Clinton wasn't entirely sincere. Rhetoric is, after all, meant to appeal to something in the audience and motivate them to think or do something. It may have indeed been the case that Clinton was thoroughly secular in his motivations (though I think that's hardly necessarily the case); yet, given the fact that at the very least his *supporters* thought the rhetoric important means that applauding Clinton's "talk" while deploring Bush's "motivation" doesn't quite work. Or so it seems to me...

3:56 PM  

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