I was reading an old entry from 2008central.net that I'd saved in my RSS reader until I had more time. It includes some of the Democratic presidential candidates' discussions of religion. I have a few comments on three of the candidates, but I'm going to treat them in separate posts, starting with John Edwards.
O’BRIEN: What do you say to all the people — and there are millions of people who go to church every Sunday and who are told very clearly by their pastors that, in fact, the Earth was created in six days, that it’s about creationism? Are those people wrong? Are their pastors wrong?
EDWARDS: No. First of all, I grew up in the church and I grew up as a Southern Baptist, was baptized in the Baptist Church when I was very young, a teenager at the time. And I was taught many of the same things. And I think it’s perfectly possible to make our faith, my faith belief system consistent with a recognition that there is real science out there and scientific evidence of evolution. I don’t think those things are inconsistent. I think a belief in God and a belief in Christ, in my case, is not in any way inconsistent with that.
Is that even coherent? I mean everything after the "No" is coherent, but given the question asked, and his initial answer, can he coherently say what he goes on to say? I'm having trouble imagining how unless Edwards is a relativist about religious truth such that these people are correct in their six-day creationism while he is correct in his acceptance of evolution as consistent with his faith.
One reason I worry that that's going on is his answer to the question about gay marriage. He goes on to say that he has a personal belief against gay marriage but doesn't think he could as president enforce his personal religious views. I'm sure that's how many Christians will view these statements, but I think it's a mistake.
As Edwards goes on, it's clear that his worry isn't that there are different truths for different people. He thinks the role of the president is to show respect to all faiths in the country (even Islamicist terrorits?). His problem isn't relativism, according to which all these views are true for those who hold them. It's a confusion between respect for those of different faith systems and embracing different faith systems. He seems to use the terminology of respect as if it's synonymous with the terminology of embracing.
But this is a very bad idea. Why should I embrace views that I think are completely wrong? In certain contexts and to a certain extent I should tolerate them. I should recognize that, while people holding such beliefs are wrong, they have that right. I should allow for their practice to a certain extent (when it doesn't involve flying planes into buildings, for instance). If I had a position that represents people from various faiths, it might be nice if I acknowledge that publicly in some way and not assume that all people I represent have the same views I have. But surely I should embrace those views as if they are true or all equally good. That's not what tolerance is.
So I wonder if this confusion is what lies behind his original answer to the evolution question. He does personally disagree with six-day creationists, but is he just saying that he respects and tolerates them and therefore has to embrace that view also? But then why does he go into all that stuff about how he was raised among people who believed that? Maybe it's just to indicate that he was taught all that and yet realized that he can retain his faith while accepting evolution. But I don't think he's being very clear about what he means, and I'm not convinced he has a coherent view. There's at least the confusion betwen tolerance and embracing that's at work here.
I'm suspicious about many politicians at that level who speak about their faith. Edwards certainly seems much more sincere than John Kerry or Howard Dean, but this sort of thing makes me wonder, especially from someone as well-educated as John Edwards. I do have to say that I'm in agreement with Edwards' fairly strong view of divine sovereignty. That's refreshing to hear from a politician, since only a faker who has been completely immersed in something like evangelicalism might think to spout it off insincerely. But for now I'm happy to treat him as a thoroughly confused evangelical who also happens to be way on the other end of the political spectrum from me.