They both think a religious set of beliefs not theirs is enough to disqualify someone for public office.
During the 2008 Presidential campaign Bill Maher was interviewed on NPR about his film “Religulous.” Just before the ten minute mark, Teri Gross asked Maher his thoughts on the mixing of religion and politics. In response, Maher makes reference to the infamous YouTube video in which Sarah Palin was given spiritual protection against witches and deems that witchcraft, then says: “It’s pretty frightening to me that it’s the year 2008 and we’re considering for the second most important job in the United States of America someone who’s being ministered to by a witchdoctor?” He later wonders if we really want someone who holds fervent religious beliefs like Palin’s with her finger on the button.
And now Texas SBC Pastor Robert Jeffress seems to seriously wonder if someone, like Mitt Romney, who is a “good moral person but is part of a cult” is preferable to someone “who is truly a believer in Jesus Christ.”
Both assertions share some assumptions it seems. First, American politics are really, really super important. Second, religious belief really, really matters when it comes to being qualified to be at the helm of really, really super important politics. Third, anyone who has religious beliefs that seriously diverge from one’s own are enough to disqualify that person from such an office. And, fourth, the way to get that point across and cast doubt in peoples’ minds is to play the fear and loathing card. Maher’s card is “witchcraft” and Jeffress’s is “cult.” Some might say that both men, ironically enough, are two sides of a skewed Constantinian coin. The same might wonder what religious bigotry looks like if not these two suggestions. It is quite true that Sarah Palin’s particular beliefs and practices are enough to keep her from the Lord’s Table in any confessing Reformed church, but what isn’t very obvious is how those beliefs and practices disqualify her from public office (insert cheeky remark about incompetence being the fulcrum here).
Jeffress also seems to take some pride in breaking the rules of politically correctness and deem Mormonism a cult. But that really isn’t very politically incorrect, because ever since Walter Martin the broad evangelical world the good pastor inhabits has agreed that Mormonism, along with other Christian sects and false religions, is part of the “Kingdom of the Cults.” Cue the scary music. But what may be more politically incorrect is to suggest that in the post-Jonestown age Walter Martin has seen his day and that it is hardly fitting, decent and becoming to describe mainly good citizens and neighbors as “cultists.” To the extent that a cult is a society of people that exist on the fringe of general society and are actually much more anti-social than anything else, it may be that our neighbors who think they will be deified instead of glorified and wear secret magic skivvies aren’t anymore cultists than we who believe a man who was conceived within a virgin floated up to the sky after he rose from the dead and told us to eat his body and drink his blood until he comes back to judge the world. See, it’s pretty easy to make people sound weird and suggest along the way that they should have no part in regular society. But the thing about religion is that it is supposed to be odd to the natural ear. I would hazzard that folks like Jeffress and Maher likely presume that religion is supposed to be rational and useful for the good of general society, and as such shouldn’t contain beliefs that are, well, strange. But one can’t help but wonder if that’s just a way to say that the only religion good for civil virtue is one’s own and the kind that should strike relative fear in the hearts of people is the other guy’s. But for those who might suspect this is all a form of religious bigotry there is an alternative view: religious belief is irrelevant to civil polity in the first place.