Tuesday, October 02, 2007

McCain on the Founding

So how much churn will there be over John McCain's statement that the Constitution nation? Of course, the Constitution doesn't do that in any sense that makes it, as he implies, "preferable" to have a Christian president. (It actually forbids religious tests for office, but that's not what he was talking about.)

I suppose that you could make an argument that, as a matter of intellectual history, certain elements of Jewish and Christian theology paved the way for liberal democracy as it is practiced in the West or that a majority of Americans have generally subscribed, in theory of not always in fact, to Christian principles. That seems to be where he wanted to go:

I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation. But I say that in the broadest sense. The lady that holds her lamp beside the golden door doesn't say, “I only welcome Christians.” We welcome the poor, the tired, the huddled masses. But when they come here they know that they are in a nation founded on Christian principles.

Throwing in the Constitution is a mistake, but let's give McCain a little slack on that. But he also said:

I admire the Islam. There's a lot of good principles in it. I think one of the great tragedies of the 21st century is that these forces of evil have perverted what's basically an honorable religion. But, no, I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles.... personally, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith. But that doesn't mean that I'm sure that someone who is Muslim would not make a good president. I don't say that we would rule out under any circumstances someone of a different faith. I just would--I just feel that that's an important part of our qualifications to lead.

What does he mean here? Whatever relationship may exist between Judaism and Christianity and western liberal democracy doesn't mean that people who are steeped in the values of liberal democracy must also be steeped in the values of its intellectual predecessors. Who knows anything about the Greeks nowdays?

I think he may have meant to say that Judaism and Christianity co-exist well with liberal democracy in a diverse nation, while there may be other religions, say the more fundamentalist forms of Islam, that don't, but that's not quite what he said.

I suspect that we'll hear that he was pandering to the Christian conservative base.
That could be, although the comments don't read like something that was planned or put together in a way calculated to have political impact. They seem to be a bit tentative and meandering.

While I may qualify as a Christian conservative, I think that this trope about American being founded as a Christian nation is unhelpful. To the extent that it's true, it doesn't prove much. To the extent that it might prove something, it's not true.

On the other hand, I suspect that whatever blowback there is about McCain is going to be in the nature of 1)he's an idiot or 2)he's a bigot since so much of our political conversation seems to have to fit that template. He's neither but, in this instance, I think he doesn't have it quite right.

8 comments:

illusory tenant said...

From the same beliefnet.com interview:

I'll never forget that first Christmas when I read from the Nativity story from the different Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

McCain knows his NT as well as he knows his Constitution. Neither Mark nor John recount any "Nativity story."

Anonymous said...

McCain appears to be dipping his toe to test the waters. His mistake is not being strong and forthright in his Christian convictions if he in fact has them.

Many Christians are informed as to the founding of this nation and as to the evil intention that Islam presents. Prior to Kennedy, this nation would not have elected outside of a protestant Christian and now we are talking about Islam and Mormonism.

This is something that needs to be talk about because people would not even consider a Muslim if they knew what it really teaches.

illusory tenant said...

His mistake is not being strong and forthright in his Christian convictions if he in fact has them.

No True Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.

Anonymous said...

IT - by McCains statements, would you say that he is a Christian or that he is only sending out bait to try to catch the Christian vote?

illusory tenant said...

He says he's a Christian; I guess we have to take his word for it. What else do we have to go on? Who knows what he really believes.

He doesn't seem to have read the Bible - although you don't have to read the Bible to be a Christian, otherwise there wouldn't be Catholics.

The impression I get from the interview is not so much of McCain setting bait, but that he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about.

I doubt he's done anything to assuage James Dobson and his followers, if that was his intent.

Saleem Siddiqui said...

Republican John McCain says US is a Christian land, Not for Islam
http://www.hotconflict.com/blog/2007/10/republican-john.html

He was asked whether a Muslim candidate for president was a viable option? McCain made an unfortunate mistake, by speaking his mind. It seems no matter what you say or do, there is a strong racism on the republican side against Islam and Muslims.

Anonymous said...

Saleem -

You think that disagreeing with Islam is racism?

Why is it that Islam teaches that all non-muslims are second class citizens and are treated that way in Islam countries?

Anonymous said...

IT -

I agree, McCain didn't do himself any good with those comments.
He can't even make up his mind if he wants to be baptised. I think he said it's in discussion as if he's negotiating a political compromise.

I guess that's where I percieve his lack of conviction. Christian leaders throughout US history have said what they meant and haven't played peek-a-boo with it. If you don't stand for something you'll fall for anything and I think McCain now falls under the latter.