Hillary Clinton Joe Biden on Faith and Politics

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I discussed some of John Edwards' comments on his faith and its relation to his politics from this old 2008central.net post. I don't have as much to say about Hillary Clinton Joe Biden's section, but I thought this section was interesting: 

And we are a spiritual nation. We are a nation that was founded upon — the only nation I can think that was founded upon the notion that there is a — a — that there is a God. We hold these truths self-evident, that all men are created equal, et cetera.

And, so, I think, what has happened with the Democratic Party, there’s been this reluctance, in the face of the evangelical, judgmental movement on the far right in the past, of even invoking religion, for fear of being put in the same category. But we’re a spiritual nation. We’re a nation of faith.

In almost the same breath, he (1) claims that the U.S. was founded on belief in God, something many Democrats are loath to admit and many Republicans, particularly socially conservative ones, think is obvious, and (2) treats evangelicals and judgmental people in grammatical apposition, as if the term 'evangelical' and the term 'judgmental' go hand-in-hand. Is he trying to cater to evangelical voters while offending them at the same time? I wasn't sure what to make of this.

14 Comments

She is just trying to pander to both sides, which is nothing new with her. I just can't see that helping her very much. Usually when you try to please both sides, you end up pleasing neither. I don't think that the 'judgemental' evangelical vote that she seeks will be very impressed by her comments.

Mostly, I think that this is more of an appeal to the Christians who might belong to Sojourners, for example. Or it's a nod to the real left, who will appreciate that she might have a quaint little notion of belief, but doesn't mean that it should MEAN anything ...

My guess would be that she's mostly trying to appeal to non-evangelical Christians and adherents of other theistic faiths. But I think she's also probably trying to appeal to moderate or left-leaning evangelicals who are becoming embarrassed by the label, who are eager (to judge by some of the blogs I read) to distance themselves from the "judgmental" kind of evangelical we knew "in the past."

So she's trying to claim the high ground, as it were, away from conservative evangelicals. To do that, she's adapting (but not actually repeating) the "Christian nation" view, since that has worked fairly well for them at times.

Wait a minute: the transcript you link to, Jeremy, shows that it was Joe Biden, not Hillary, who made those comments. Oops!

Uh, little correction here ... actually, a big one.

Those are not Hillary Clinton's words.

They are Joe Biden's.

Transcript here: http://edition.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0706/04/pzn.01.html

Huh. I must have been writing this a bit too late at night. I was sure I was still in the Hillary Clinton section when I encountered these quotes, but the post I linked to does have them in the Joe Biden section.

[Update: Actually, I think I wrote all three of these posts during the day, and I think I kept getting distracted by the kids. I probably thought I was coming back to the Clinton section but was coming back to Biden, whose section I'd already begun without remembering it, and I was so focused on the content that I was tuning out the names. As I was rereading it, I noticed that the interviewer changed from candidate to candidate, and I hadn't been aware of that at all the first time I read it.]

Well, it's been fixed. It was the content I was interested in and not the person speaking it. The fact that it's Joe Biden makes it less surprising. After all, he regularly does put his foot in his mouth, and he's got far less direct experience of evangelicals than Hillary Clinton does. But it still seems inexcusable, and it's pretty stupid for someone running for president to say it.

I'm a little puzzled by what Andrew Sullivan says in linking to this post. Aside from the weirdness of the misattribution, he thinks he misread the transcript, but he doesn't say how. Here's what he says, though:

Isn't the point of self-evident truths that we do not need God to perceive them?

But of course Biden didn't say anything about our perception being dependent on God. All he was trying to say is that the "all men are created equal" line demonstrates that the founders believed in a creator. Is that what he misread? If so, how does a misreading get him something warranting his response? I'm just curious what that was all about, because it's what seems to have drawn his attention to this quote to begin with.

Even more puzzling, of course, is what this has to do with anything remotely resembling armed, violent action on the part of Christians to enact a forced, worldwide Christian government and to kill anyone who resists. At least that's what the term 'Christianism' implies. (To anticipate an objection: The fact that Andrew Sullivan seems to have coined the term doesn't give him the right to use it analogously to 'Islamicism' while referring to a non-analogous group. You can coin a term and use it to mean whatever you want, but it's rhetorical sleight of hand to go on to treat the term as analogous to another one already in use when the two groups you're treating as analogous simply aren't analogous.)

I think Sullivan regularly abuses the term "Christianist," using it in situations that don't really fall under his original definition as "the view that religious faith is so important that it must also have a precise political agenda." Like here, all Biden says is that America is a spiritual nation and that it was founded by people who believed in God. I'm not sure what the "political agenda" is in those statements that Sullivan sees.

But even his original definition isn't remotely parallel to Islamicism, at least not to what most people consider definitive of Islamicism. It's thus like comparing Singaporeans, who love an orderly society and have some restrictive rules as a result to the Nazis, and then when people object you point out that the Nazis likes an orderly society too, and they thought Jews and blacks would prevent that, thus providing a parallel.

Here's the full quote in which Sullivan defines what he sees as Christianism. He specifies pretty clearly, I think, both the similarities and the differences between Christianism and Islamism.

So let me suggest that we take back the word Christian while giving the religious right a new adjective: Christianist. Christianity, in this view, is simply a faith. Christianism is an ideology, politics, an ism. The distinction between Christian and Christianist echoes the distinction we make between Muslim and Islamist. Muslims are those who follow Islam. Islamists are those who want to wield Islam as a political force and conflate state and mosque. Not all Islamists are violent. Only a tiny few are terrorists. And I should underline that the term Christianist is in no way designed to label people on the religious right as favoring any violence at all. I mean merely by the term Christianist the view that religious faith is so important that it must also have a precise political agenda. It is the belief that religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike.

Jeremy, I pretty much agree with you. I was just pointing out that even if we ignore any analogies to Islamism and only take Sullivan's minimal definition, he still often misuses it.

THS, yes, that indeed commits the rhetorical fallacy I was specifying. In fact, it's a prime example of it. There is a sense in which the term 'Islamicist' is parallel to those who want to Christianize the world politically. That is in fact its classic meaning. However, it's not how anyone uses it anymore in political discourse.

And, most importantly, it's not parallel to what the religious right wants to do. The theonomist movement is only as very small portion of the religious right, and most of them would never vote for a Republican to save their lives. Even out of theonomists, the really worrisome group is a smaller minority called Reconstructionists. More healthy theonomists hope to convince people to become Christians and then to seek to implement Christian views once convinced, until then biding their time by praying for people to be converted and presenting reasons in favor of Christianity.

But most religious right types simply think that a number of moral truths are important enough that our laws should reflect them, which is pretty much what everyone thinks, including Andrew Sullivan, who wants to impose his view of marriage on the country based on his moral conviction that allowing gay marriage is morally better than not allowing it. For more on that, see my post last week at Right Reason: Religious Motivations in Politics.

While everyone segued smoothly from Clinton to Biden I am struck by the gullibility of those who are ready to assume the worst about Clinton. Not much different from some people on the right: Malkin? And we jump on the MSM.

Alan, this wouldn't be entirely out of character for Hillary Clinton. She's had problems in the past trying to appeal to both sides as if she's on their side. This has happened with abortion, where she has tried to say some things pro-lifers might like while so clearly taking a pro-choice stance that pro-lifers will never give her the time of day. She's done it with the war, refusing to admit that she was wrong to authorize it while also insisting that it was a mistake that's Bush's fault, even though plenty of Democratic senators had the same information Bush had and agreed with him but later reversed themselves on it.

She's also not above saying offensive things, although she's not as bad as Biden (who is?). Remember that Apu comment? Her saying something like this wouldn't surprise me that much. It's just that Biden surprises me less saying it than the idea of her saying it did. I don't think she understands evangelicalism at all. She's just been exposed to it more than Biden has from having lived in Arkansas for so long, and it struck me as the sort of thing she might be a little more likely to see as politically bad.

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