In a spirited letter to last week’s Paw Print, Joel Shults argued that it’s perfectly acceptable, nay, desirable, for people of faith to bring their religious beliefs into the public sphere of political debate.
I agree with Shults 100 percent.
Of course, when we do mix faith and politics, we forfeit any claim to the special deference normally accorded religion in our public discourse. As I put it in a column last year:
“When religious people step into the public sphere and argue for turning the government into an instrument of their theology, they open their faith up to public criticism. It cannot fairly be otherwise. If the marketplace of ideas is to function as it should – as a place where arguments compete against one another until the good ones drive out the bad – then all the arguments made there must be fully and equally open to rebuttal. We must be free to challenge not just an argument’s conclusions but its entire chain of reasoning — its facts, its, logic, and, most importantly, its basic premises.”
Purely private beliefs should not be grist for the public mill. But once believers take those beliefs into the public realm of politics by arguing, say, that we should elect Rick Perry because he’s a Christian, or reject Mitt Romney because he’s not a Christian, or ban gay marriage because God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, well, at that point the gloves can come off.
Back to Mr. Shults, who ended his letter with an allusion to “a certain German Chancellor whose views came sharply revealed to the world in November of 1938. If people of faith had spoken their truth then in the public arena … ah but how undemocratic it would have been for them to speak out!”
Let’s unpack this a little. The “certain German Chancellor” was of course Adolf Hitler. The night of November 9-10, 1938 was the infamous Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, a series of vicious anti-Semitic attacks widely viewed as a turning point on the German march toward genocide.
So Shults seems to be saying that the Holocaust might have been prevented, if only “people of faith had spoken their truth.”
Problem is, a lot of good German Christians believed that the Jews were the satanic enemies of Christendom. Why would they think otherwise? Christian anti-Semitism goes all the way back to the Gospels, which depict the Jews as taking upon themselves the “blood guilt” of the crucifixion, and which have Jesus saying of the Jews, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.”
For more Germans than would later care to admit, anti-Semitism was “their truth,” and it seems to me that with Hitler’s help they spoke it loud and clear. All of which is to say that Christianity is — how shall I put this? — not necessarily a guarantee of the best public policy.
O ye of much faith, feel free to inject your pieties into our politics. Bring ’em on. Just don’t be offended to see them manhandled as if they were nothing more special than Reaganomics or Obamacare.