Historians Repeating Themselves

Sometimes historians skip a step or two by juxtaposing their own opinions on historical facts and then applying the “lesson” to the current day with little explanation. Such is the case with Champlain College Distinguished Scholar in History Willard Sterne Randal’s musing on the history of religion in campaigns:

No presidential election since 1800 has taken place without an attempt to damage at least one candidate’s reputation by innuendo, rumor or ridicule. Too often, the weapon of choice has been religion.
No campaign has more brutally combined these tactics than when President John Adams, a New England Puritan, faced off against his vice president, Thomas Jefferson, a Deist. Jefferson’s narrow victory left the country divided for decades. …
Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and Madison all opposed tearing down the wall they painstakingly erected between church and state. Today, no American should have to worry about a candidate’s religion, or that, if elected, a president would transform his private religious views into a public agenda.
Maybe it would be better to keep religion off the campaign trail, too.

One could descend into the argument over the founders’ understanding of their supposed wall (citing, for starters, Ben Franklin’s call for prayer at the Constitutional Convention), but for my purposes with this post, it is sufficient merely to offer my own opinion that candidates’ religions should in all cases inform their public agendas whey they’re elected — else their religion must be insincere.
This isn’t to say that a president ought to impose theological principles on the country, but that religion encompasses a world view and a hierarchy of priorities. Indeed, promoting an absence of religion — particularly in the modern political context — is to promote just such a hierarchy.
Leveraging religion in campaigns can go too far, of course, as demagoguery or bigotry, but it is important to consider, for one immediate example, whether Barack Obama shares his pastor’s anti-Americanism. For a more general example, as a pro-lifer, it makes a difference to me whether a candidate’s stated positions in that area are founded in a long-term religious conviction or appear potentially to be political calculations.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
16 years ago

This sums it up fairly well, in my view:
I believe in tolerance, not in spite of my faith, but because of it.
I believe in a God who calls us, not to judge our neighbors, but to love them.
I believe in grace, because I have seen it, in peace, because I have felt it, in forgiveness, because I have needed it.

-Gov. George W. Bush, accepting his party’s nomination for President, Philadelphia, PA, Aug. 3, 2000.

Richard Tuoni
16 years ago

Anyone can say anything. Jesus spoke to this when he said, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” The fruits of George Bush are evidenced by 4,000 U.S. dead in a useless war in Iraq, upwards of 600,000 Iraqis dead, millions of refugees within and without the country, a broken economy here at home, a million U.S. citizens foreclsed or facing foreclosure; while he was governor of Texas he signed a death warrent every six weeks. And you quote his “pius” words as proof of his “goodness”. Read Matthew 23: Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; (He didn’t mind sending men to die in Iraq) but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. (Bush skipped out when he was called to fight in Vietnam) But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi… Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves… Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for… Read more »

Show your support for Anchor Rising with a 25-cent-per-day subscription.