Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Religious intolerance for Gov. Jindal?

Montana Headlines thought it a bit suspicious when a leftie dropped by on the last post, indicating agreement with our plug for Gov. Bobby Jindal as McCain's Veep choice.

But Wulfgar let the (black?) cat out of the bag: Dems apparently see Gov. Jindal, a devout convert to Catholicism, as being vulnerable because he witnessed an exorcism while in college and (gasp) prayed the "Hail Mary" while it was going on. He wrote an article about the experience in the New Oxford Review -- a journal that was started by Episcopalians of the Anglo-Catholic persuasion, but whose editors likewise converted to Catholicism subsequent to the theological and moral turmoil in their former denomination. And the article included a passage about the exorcism.

Whatever the phenomenon was that the youthful Jindal observed, the net effect was that it left him believing in "the reality of spirits, angels and other related phenomena..." Shocking, truly shocking, that any Christian might believe in the reality of the spirit world.

While the event Jindal relates appears to be from his early days of being a Catholic, and took place within the loose structure of a generic college Christian organization, it is worth noting that exorcisms are, unless things have changed recently, a standard part of every Catholic baptism. Pope John Paul II approved a specific rite for exorcisms in the late 1990's. A belief that there are demonic forces that can specifically oppress an individual, and that prayer has efficacy in dealing with it is not something that comes from the fringes of Christianity.

Anything that a politician has written in the past is, of course, fair game. What church a candidate chose to attend for decades is fair game. Pretty much everything is fair game in politics. Voters can and will decide whether something makes them more or less likely to support a candidate.

But what if Jindal were still a Hindu, and believed in reincarnation and karma? Or if he had dabbled in Buddhism in college rather than Catholicism? Or if he had smoked peyote as part of a spiritual search that included an exploration of Native American religion? Would he be just as scary and excrable as he apparently is for having been a part of an unusual prayer service held by a campus Christian organization at Brown University, back when Christianity was still a new thing for him? Would he be mocked for these experiences on leftie blogs?

But in a nation where 62% of Americans reportedly believe that there is such a thing as the devil, we're not sure how much ground will be gained by Democrats ridiculing Jindal about the fact that a very strange college experience convinced him that there is more to the spiritual world than meets the eye.

A recent Gallup poll indicates that nearly 3/4 of Americans believe in the reality of paranormal phenomenon (75% for Christians, 66% for non-Christians). For that matter, 64% of Americans believe that aliens have contacted humans and nearly half apparently believe that aliens have abducted humans... Now, just because 31% of Americans believe in telepathy doesn't mean that there is a 31% chance that it is true -- a majority of people can believe something and have it be wrong. But in America today, someone who doesn't believe that paranormal phenomena exist is actually the odd man out.

If Democrats decide to go down the road of religious ridicule toward Gov. Jindal, it will only reinforce the perception that their party is a hotbed of religious intolerance -- a party where it is acceptable (cool, even) to have dabbled in just about anything in college... other than Christianity.


goof houlihan said...

For that matter, 64% of Americans believe that aliens have contacted humans and nearly half apparently believe that aliens have abducted humans.

Yeah, I don't. So that does make me the odd man out. And yes, I would be less inclined to vote for a person who did.

Wulfgar said...

Please, *please*, follow this track. I am not intolerant of belief, certainly no more than those who believe that Burkas should be worn to save women from the predations of small spirited men, or that ganja leads to enlightened reason. Exorcism, as a means of health care, will not play well with middle America. I adore the thought that this will be a part of the freak-show that is election 2008.

But why worry about what I think? Won't holy spirits lift McCain to power on Angel's wings? Hehehe.

Montana Headlines said...

Goof -- I don't either.

Wulf -- I agree that you aren't any more intolerant of beliefs that you don't share than are the Taliban.

So never give up hope about us finding things to agree on!

Anonymous said...

My wife is shortly to have surgery, and a friend asked us if we did not feel better knowing the surgeon was a devout Christian. Not really - knowing he went to medical school is more comforting. Knowing a person is superstitious, no matter how widely shared the belief, is not comforting.

America, with it's periodic Great Awakenings and the like, has always been borderline psychotic. I doubt we've more than a handful of truly religious presidents. But they all have to now before the icon.

That's all you're suggesting - that we bow before graven images. Oh - we'll do it. But know from the outset that it is only because we are a silly country.

Rebecca said...

Goof's comment and your post begs the question, MH: just where do you draw the line? At what point does a candidate's beliefs and behaviors influence your vote? If exorcism is okay by you, then, as Goof mentioned, is alien abduction? Ghost hunting? Scientology? Can your candidate get audited by Xenu once a year? Speaking in tongues? Handling snakes?

If tradition is what's important here, then would you vote for someone, like Roger Koopman, who believes the Earth is only 6,000 years old? That idea's been around for a more than a few centuries; old gods like Osiris, Ganesh and the Buddha have been with us for millenia. Are they any different than the time-honored practice of exorcism? Could you vote for someone who believes the Earth is on the back of a turtle?

Surely there's a point at which you think to yourself, "that's ridiculous", and reject a candidate.

Wulfgar said...

MH, all I was doing (as Rebecca did ever so much better) was attempting to draw your attention to the weight of your own hyperbole. What you refer to as intolerance, I refer to as "pointing and laughing". Even you must admit that you outdo yourself by comparing that to the Taliban.

The core of your presentation is that derisive disagreement means "intolerance". No it doesn't. Intolerance is the slaughter of millions by the Inquisition. Intolerance is the hanging and beheading of one who converts away from the chosen belief of the intolerant. I am not intolerant. I am just amused by grown adults who still believe in the bogey-man, and believe that casting out the bogey-man will cure cancer.

In short, you know nothing of my faiths or spiritual beliefs save this: I can assure you, they share nothing of the intolerance of either the Catholic Church or the Taliban.

Jeff, over at the website Speedkill, has penned a rather terrific response to your post. I would be very interested in reading your reaction to it. But then, I guess I'm easily amused.

Montana Headlines said...

Mark T's example of a surgeon is a good one for summarizing this issue. Is he reassured by the fact that his wife's surgeon is a Christian? No. He wants to know whether the surgeon knows how to operate, and what kind of results the surgeon gets.

Now, let's put the question a different way -- suppose you have a hell of a surgeon, the kind of surgeon that anesthesiologists and surgical nurses (who have the opportunity to work with and closely observe every surgeon) handpick to operate on their family members.

Now imagine that you learn that this top-notch surgeon participated in a prayer service/exorcism back in college like the one Jindal did. Or to use Rebecca's example, imagine that this surgeon believes that the earth could be 6000 years old. Think that can't happen? Trust me, it does.

Would you decide to find another surgeon, or would you still base your decision on whether the guy has a reputation as the best surgeon at the hospital?

Me, I don't believe in alien abductions or visitations, but if I learned that said surgeon believed that such things have happened, I doubt that it would affect whether I trusted him to operate on me.

And that's where I am with Bobby Jindal. I think that Jindal's record as a hell of an administrator speaks for itself, and I don't care if his religious experiences or beliefs don't match mine (and they don't.)

Religion and attitude toward religion will always be a part of the complex mix of whether a voter trusts a politician. And the larger the gap between a voter's beliefs and the politician's, the bigger that part will be.

But it seems just as bizarre to me to choose or rule out a politician solely based on what he does or doesn't belief religiously as it does to choose or rule out trusting one's life to a surgeon or airline pilot based on such beliefs. It seemed to me that the leftie critics of Jindal have portrayed the exorcism article written about his college experience as sufficient evidence for declaring him to be disqualified for being President.

And to me, that just doesn't seem rational.

Anonymous said...

MH, I think you really got to the crux of the issue with your last post. The deciding factor ought to be the ability, effort, quality of work, etc.--not one's beliefs or some odd thing one did as a kid. I guess I'd describe myself as an agnostic, so I don't really get revved up by conservative Christians. But if one were the best doc on the block, that's the one I'd want to use.

I think a lot of folks on the left simply cross Christian conservatives off the list of acceptable choices as public officials because they don't like their beliefs. Yet oddly, they'll genuflect before other religions that hold similar beliefs -- or even more rigid beliefs -- simply out of "tolerance" and political correctness.

For example, you'll often hear the left defend Muslims (which is an honorable thing to do in most cases) even though many Muslims have much more rigid views on homosexuals and women than do Christian conservatives.

I say that as someone who would have no trouble voting for a Muslim as a public official if he/she were the best qualified person for the job.

Rebecca said...

When I was a child I was obsessed with a book in my parents' library, Edith Hamilton's Mythology. I read the stories of the Greek and Roman gods over and over for years. If I had carried that obsession into adulthood, and now wandered around pestering everyone about Hera's rule over the hearth and home most rational individuals, even someone as tolerant as you--a person who likes to take into consideration the "complex mix" of another human being--would consider me completely dotty, and rightly so.

And so I must point out that for all your thoughtful words about Jindal's beliefs and our derision, you didn't answer my question. There is a line most people refuse to cross when it comes to accepting others' superstitions.

Wulfgar! alluded to this fact earlier: the belief system of a country's leaders affects everything. When the Taliban's in power in Afghanistan, women are treated like dogs. No, that's wrong. Even dogs aren't imprisoned in their homes. Because I never want to live under a theocratic government, I do care about a politician's religious experiences and beliefs. However, I've gotten pragmatic with age; I now vote for the person least likely to take advice from James Dobson.

Your surgeon is an interesting fellow. He's talented. He's educated. He was supposedly at the top of his class. He presumably went through all the necessary scientific training required of the medical profession. But he's not the leader of a nation, is he? He's the guy who takes out my appendix; he's not the guy who decides whether or not to go to war. He may accidentally leave a sponge in my abdomen after the operation, but the President who's an evangelical Christian might start a war in the Middle East to hasten the Rapture. I'm more likely to survive the former.

Montana Headlines said...

Rebecca, I did indeed address your question quite directly. I stated that I would take the differences between my beliefs and a politician's as part of the mix, and that the greater the distance between our beliefs, the more of a role it would play.

The same is probably true for those on the left -- suppose that Bobby Jindal was aDemocrat, pro-choice, favored government involvement in creating universal health care, supported affirmative action, was a Sierra Club environmentalist, was beloved by labor unions, or held whatever criterion of progressive orthodoxy you prefer.

And suppose he was a star Democratic governor elected by a landslide in a state long run by Republicans. And suppose he held the same religious beliefs that he does today -- would you be as scared of him as you apparently are of him as a conservative Republican? I doubt it.

I also stated that a politician's record is to me what is overwhelmingly even more important. So while Nancy Pelosi's religious faith is almost certainly closer to mine than is Mitt Romney's, I'd take Romney in a heartbeat as President over Pelosi (and I don't even like Mitt Romney.)

Just as my surgeon's theoretical belief in a 6000 year old earth doesn't make him any more likely to leave a sponge in the abdomen, likewise the fact that Mitt Romney believes that he and his wife are going to be rewarded in the hereafter with their own heavenly planet to populate with their progeny doesn't make him more likely to screw up the economy, choose a bad Supreme Court justice, or start a war.

And the fact that Joe Lieberman doesn't believe in the rapturous return of Jesus Christ wouldn't make him either more or less likely as President to get us into an Armageddon-like war in the Middle East.

The whole idea that you can better predict dangerous and apocalyptic political actions based on their religious beliefs (and on what they believed or did in college, no less,) rather than on their stated political philosophy and the record of their actions as a public figure is simply hard to swallow.

Rebecca said...

I can find no better predictor than the last eight years, MH. Bush's "faith-based" approach to government has influenced everything from his foreign and domestic policies to his nominees for the Supreme Court. Conservative Republicans have a way of shoving their faith down everyone's throat that usually isn't done on the other side of the aisle. I'm sure Mitt Romney would do the same given the chance, if only he wasn't a Mormon; as it is, the Southern Baptists in his party barely consider him a Christian.

The last time I checked, Nancy Pelosi wasn't using her religion to prevent gay marriage.

You (and Anonymous above) seem to laboring under two mistaken impressions. First, this lefty isn't one of those who are comfortable with religious expression so long as it comes from the right (or, in this case, left) person. I'm not. Atheism isn't partisan, nor is it blinded by the exotic. The Dalai Lama is a nice guy; his single message is kindness. However, I don't kid myself. If he controlled Tibet, his countrymen would live under an autocratic theocracy ruled by a supposedly benevolent dictator who believes he's the reincarnation of a god. Ugh, no thanks.

Secondly, we live in a majority Christian country. If we were in a majority Hindu one, believe me we'd be having this same conversation. But since we're not, and Gupta Dobson isn't running around demanding everyone submit to One Nation Under Krishna, I have to work with reality. And that's Christian religious conservatives using the GOP to advance their faith.

Anonymous said...

If Jindal is disqualified from office because of some weird religious thing from his distant past, that pretty much disqualifies Obama from the presidency, right?

Anonymous said...

This is really an interesting exchange. Maybe the baseline question is Rebecca's - where do you draw the line. At what point does a person's religious belief become mental illness? I think a strong case can be made that religious fundamentalists are more likely to suffer from delusions and disorders than normal people. Most folks accept a certain amount of the paranormal without really thinking much about it, but fundamentalists think about it, obsess on it, act on it. A religious fundamentalist would be more likely to start a war to advance his belief than a person to whom religious is just a comforting backdrop to life.

That said, when you mix religion and politics, it gets muddled. I don't think American energy corporations or Dick Cheney were thinking in religious terms when we invaded Iraq. They might use religion against us, targeting it as a weakness in people that builds support for their policy.

But these people - the ones who start our wars are not religious, unless they worship at the statue of Machiavelli. So I don't think that part of the debate is useful.

David said...

"I think a strong case can be made that religious fundamentalists are more likely to suffer from delusions and disorders than normal people."

I would be very interested in seeing this case. I suspect that the opposite is true.

Montana Headlines said...

David -- I would agree with you that the opposite is likely true.

It all, of course, depends on what one characterizes as a delusion or disorder. If someone believes that God helps guide his life and keep him on the straight and narrow, so to speak, that is fairly common among the devoutly religious.

But perhaps to Mark and Rebecca, such a belief would be evidence in and of itself of delusional and disordered thinking.

And Mark, I would also disagree with the idea that someone who is fundamentalist in religion is more likely to start a war or engage in violence or do something else irrational that will adversely affect others.

The evidence, at least as regards Christianity, has been pretty consistent throughout American history that religious fundamentalists have tended to withdraw from public life and government and not be involved in politics at all.

Even today, when being married and going to church weekly is the most powerful predictor of Republican voting habits, the Republican Party has trouble getting many religious fundamentalists to believe that there is any use whatsoever to involvement with government.

If you believe that what happens here on earth is just a prelude to the hereafter, then why care who the next President is? While I don't move in fundamentalist circles, I've been around that world enough to know that there are a good number of people with the attitude that political activity, even for "good things," is, at best, prolonging the inevitable decline of the world.

In summary, while what you and Rebecca describe may fit some small fringe subset of religious people, in my experience it is a caricature that just doesn't fit reality.

By contrast, if one believes that this world and this life is all that there is, and that there is nothing beyond it, isn't one going to be more likely to think that what happens here and now in government is of the utmost importance? And wouldn't someone who feels that way be more likely to take extreme action for whatever they think is right, regardless of collateral damage?

The body bag count from officially atheistic regimes in the 20th century dwarves that of any war of religion.

Rebecca said...

The body bag count from officially atheistic regimes in the 20th century dwarves [sic] that of any war of religion.

The math there doesn't quite add up; religious warfare has been around far longer than socialism and/or communism, from the about the time the first group of early Homo sapiens attacked their neighbors for worshipping a different stone carving to the fighting between Shia and Sunni in Iraq.

Anyway, that's a specious argument. Allow me to quote someone who can argue far better than I can:

Wiener: The final killer argument of your critics is that Hitler and Stalin were not religious. The worst crimes of the 20th century did not have a religious basis. They came from political ideology.

Hitchens: That’s easy. Hitler never abandoned Christianity and recommends Catholicism quite highly in “Mein Kampf.” Fascism, as distinct from National Socialism, was in effect a Catholic movement.

Wiener: What about Stalin? He wasn’t religious.

Hitchens: Stalin—easier still. For hundreds of years, millions of Russians had been told the head of state should be a man close to God, the czar, who was head of the Russian Orthodox Church as well as absolute despot. If you’re Stalin, you shouldn’t be in the dictatorship business if you can’t exploit the pool of servility and docility that’s ready-made for you. The task of atheists is to raise people above that level of servility and credulity. No society has gone the way of gulags or concentration camps by following the path of Spinoza and Einstein and Jefferson and Thomas Paine.

I don't know about you, MH, but I think there are few actions more extreme than hijacking a plane and flying it into the World Trade Center, regardless of the collateral damage, because you've been promised paradise and glory in the afterlife.

Montana Headlines said...

No argument about the dangers of extremist Islam -- I just would disagree that Christianity after, say, the 18th century, has posed any similar threat to anyone.

You are conflating Christian American fundamentalists with Islamic terrorists -- convenient if you want to smear the American right, but not particularly intellectually honest.

Hitchens, whom I generally admire, is just plain batty and irrational when it comes to Christianity. Any attempt to lay the crimes against humanity of Stalin at the feet of the fact that Russia's Christian population was submissive to its government under the tsars is intellectually dishonest.

And the parts of Nazism that engaged in mass murder were a bizarre form of neo-paganism fused to a fanatical secular nationalism/tribalism. Jews were killed for "sanitary reasons" and racial purity -- not because of any Christian religious motivation.

In short, the mass murders of fascism and communism belong to avowedly secular or atheistic regimes, and not to Christianity.

Given how small the world's population was prior to 1900, it takes no great stretch to state that these acts of genocide dwarf the numbers of people killed in the name of religion, historically.

As the world has gotten more secular, it has not become less violent.