Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Democrats' Religion "Debate"

In case any of you missed it, like I did, here's a transcript of the April 13 "religion debate" between Clinton and Obama. (Actually it wasn't a debate; they answered questions separately.)

Like the ABC debate more recently, little of substance flowed from this media creation. Questioners asked about the candidates' beliefs and how they might influence their decisions, but they clearly knew there was little to gain that night and everything to lose by a verbal slip-up or perceived insult to the faithful. If either candidate harbors any doubts or anti-religious beliefs, they certainly weren't going to air them on the road to the Presidency.

The fact that a much lower portion of Congress admits to being non-theists (just over zero percent) than the general population (around 12 percent) probably doesn't mean that Congress is more religious, but that for politicians, the stakes are higher for coming out of the secular closet.

So both Democrats carefully walked that wide line between not appearing as blindly religious as President Bush and not saying anything significant that might offend (or challenge) the assumptions of anyone.

Clinton's answers seemed more vague and focus-group tested ("I think it's important that we make clear that we believe people are people of faith because it is part of their whole being..."), yet both candidates' answers seemed rather incredible and inconsistent with a belief that I would suspect both Clinton and Obama hold - that human suffering suggests the absence of a loving God, and an hour praying for mercy is less fruitful than an hour working to relieve the suffering that persists regardless of his existence.

Though the audience laughed during some of the lighter moments - e.g., Obama: "And should it be part of God's plan to have me in the White House, I look forward to our collaboration." - no one laughed at one of the truly amusing moments.

The questioner asked how Obama would respond if one of his daughters asked whether God really made the world in six days. Obviously aware that the idea of a six-day construction timeframe for the Earth is preposterous, he hedged that they might not be true "24-hour days." Yet he saw nothing fantastical about telling his child that an invisible lord created the entire universe.

Of course, Obama also said that the story of God creating the Earth "is fundamentally true." I didn't see the video - perhaps when he said the word "fundamentally" there was a twinkle in his eye.

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