One of the most interesting aspects of this political season is the extensive (re)thinking of the relationship between faith and politics on the conservative side.
Much of it has been prompted by the candidacy of Mitt Romney, who happens to be a Mormon. Many among the Washington blogging core think that his Mormonism is playing a significant role in his inability to secure the nomination (statistically), including Jonathan Chait who has penned the latest lament.
But in response, Ross Douthat offers one of the best defenses I have read of faith’s role in the public square:
It’s possible to be “aggressive,” particularly in democratic politics, without physically bludgeoning someone over the head with your copy of Letter to a Christian Nation – and calling for an entirely “secular political discourse,” and accusing those who stray outside its bounds of being “theocrats” or “Christianists” or what-have-you (I’m not fingering Chait here; just his co-unbelievers), seems pretty aggressive to me. Secularists who take this tack are essentially telling their fellow citizens that their deepest convictions, which often go to precisely the sort of just-society issues that politics is supposed to reckon with, are beyond the pale of public discussion. (Fr. Neuhaus made this point rather well in the recent Economist debate on precisely this subject.) So I can make an argument for racial inequality based on Social Darwinist theory, but you may not make an argument for racial equality based on the New Testament’s vision of the nature of man. I can invoke Paul Berman in support of the invasion of Iraq, but you may not bring up Stanley Hauerwas to oppose it. I can make an argument against income redistribution based on Ayn Rand’s Objectivist theory, but you may not make an argument for progressive taxation based on Walter Rauschenbusch’s Social Gospel. And so forth.
As Jonah Goldberg succinctly puts it, “My basic problem with liberal opposition to faith-based politics is that 9.9 times out of 10 it boils down to liberals objecting to the other guy’s faith influencing politics.”
Faith-based politics is often unwise and counterproductive, God knows. But it isn’t un-American; if anything, it’s more American than any purely-secular alternative. And so it should remain.
The traditions of faith-based politics that exists on both the right and the left are not going to go away. If anything changes after 2008, my hope is that we will all better understand the uneasy relationship between faith and politics.