NY Times staffer (and retired point guard for the ABA Indiana Pacers?) Bill Keller has made a splash recently for his list of questions about religion to be posed to (Republican) presidential candidates.
As a service to the candidates, we here supply answers of the SWNIDish variety. So the questions are Keller's, the answers are ours.
Q: Is it fair to question presidential candidates about details of their faith?
A: You betcha! It's a free country, we're running for office, the content of faith shapes the consciousness of the individual, always influencing and often determining choices. It's silly even to ask that question, isn't it, since it is itself a question about the details of one's faith?
Q: Is it fair to question candidates about controversial remarks made by their pastors, mentors, close associates or thinkers whose books they recommend?
A: Again, yes it is. People have a right to know whether I agree with this or that thing said by someone who has influenced me. But please believe me when I say that something hasn't had influence. Everyone knows that one can be influenced without arriving at rote agreement.
Q: (a) Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that America is a “Christian nation” or “Judeo-Christian nation?” (b) What does that mean in practice?
I agree if by that they mean that the nation was founded on and continues to be influenced by principles that have their origin in Christian thought or are consistent with it. I agree if by that they mean that the predominant religion in the nation has always been Christianity. Unlike some Christians, I expect that to be the reality for some time to come.
I disagree if by that one means that our nation's founders were all orthodox, practicing Christians, or that Christian theology ought to have an explicit, deliberate, protected role in shaping public policy. While I will always be influenced by my faith in my thinking, I won't say that any policy is right because it is Christian. I'll make my case to the public on the basis of values on which people widely agree.
In practice, that means that I will be honest about being influenced by my faith but never appeal to it as the reason the public should support my policy decisions. I will explain policies on their public merits.
Q: If you encounter a conflict between your faith and the Constitution and laws of the United States, how would you resolve it? Has that happened, in your experience?
A: In such a case, I will work to change the law or the Constitution, whatever is in conflict. But I will do so on the merits of the position, not simply asserting authority for a faith-based decision.
Of course, this has happened in the experience of most Christians, who find abortion to be immoral. While I believe that the Supreme Court erred in Roe v. Wade in finding a constitutional right to privacy that demands abortion's legality, I will continue to work within our constitutional system to change that outcome, as have countless Christian citizens and elected officials in the past.
Q: (a) Would you have any hesitation about appointing a Muslim to the federal bench? (b) What about an atheist?
A: I will appoint anyone with outstanding qualifications and a judicial philosophy congruent with my own view of the Constitution and the judiciary's role. That is, I have no hesitation appointing a Muslim or atheist who understands that the law and the Constitution must be interpreted according to the sense of the text as it was written at the time it was written. I would regard judges like Justice Roberts, Justice Alito, Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas to fit this criterion very well, and I would not hesitate to appoint Muslims or atheists with their views. The fact that they are all Roman Catholics has nothing to do with it.
Q: Are Mormons Christians, in your view? Should the fact that Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons influence how we think of them as candidates?
A: Mormons are Christians in the sense that their faith derives from Christian roots and continues to employ language and characters from Christianity. Most Christians, however, do not regard Mormonism as a legitimate form of Christian belief because Mormonism denies the eternal deity of Christ and the tri-unity of God. Mr. Romney and Mr. Huntsman are honorable men with outstanding records of public service, and they should be respected and taken seriously by all other candidates and all voters. If America does not elect me, the country would be well served by either of them.
Q: What do you think of the evangelical Christian movement known as Dominionism and the idea that Christians, and only Christians, should hold dominion over the secular institutions of the earth?
A: Dude, this question is either part of a flaky conspiracy theory or is a dumb joke. I've been in high-end Christian circles all my adult life, and I have never once heard anyone talk about "Dominionism" until someone accused Michelle Bachman of being an adherent. If there are people out there who say what you say they say, they have no influence over anyone that I know of. There's no "movement" out there.
But maybe there are some web sites and self-published books and the like. OK, so evangelicals have to answer for every kook in their neighborhood. We're used to that.
So here goes: "Dominionism" is not good Christianity and it's not good governance. I reject it categorically. I condemn it. I pass gas in its general direction.
Q: (a) What is your attitude toward the theory of evolution? (b) Do you believe it should be taught in public schools?
A: As a Christian, I find no essential conflict between what we know about evolution from science and what the Bible teaches about creation. I know that many Christians do, and while I disagree with them strongly, I respect the convictions that lead them to their disagreement.
I believe that evolution should be taught in schools, and I do not believe that it needs to be taught alongside other "theories." However, I believe it should be taught in a context that considers the larger questions of existence raised by questions of origins. That can include both that a god like the Christian God may have deliberately caused the very process that we observe for the very outcome that we see, and that evolution by itself is powerless to explain why something exists instead of nothing, why life exists and not just non-life, and why self-conscious, purpose-seeking humans exist, not just creatures that reproduce without the disadvantage for survival of self-consciousness.
Q: Do you believe it is proper for teachers to lead students in prayer in public schools?
A: I do not. As a Christian, I will find almost all such prayers to be inadequate to the point of embarrassment. I also object as a Christian to people who aren't Christians being coerced into religious observance. While I do not think that the first amendment is necessarily violated by teacher-led prayer in schools, such a thing is unnecessarily divisive and offensive to far too many people to be embraced. That having been said, I encourage schools to permit and encourage student-led faith activities, to welcome faith groups to rent their facilities and provide services to their students like after-school tutoring, and to study issues of faith as they arise in the study of history, literature, behavioral science, and, as I discussed above, natural science.