May 15, 2019

When Political Candidates Talk About Their Faith

boy watching the ocean

Atheists, do you find it off-putting when a politician running for office talks about his or her religious beliefs? Does it bug you when it crosses into pandering, or do you just tell yourself that the candidate is doing what is probably necessary in order to appeal to religious voters? I find it off-putting, but I don't want to make the mistake of assuming that most other atheists do as well. I've seen more than a few atheists defending politicians who do this, and so I suspect that some might be okay with it.

What I am still trying to figure out for myself is whether I think it is worse when a genuinely devout politician talks about faith vs. one who probably doesn't believe much of what he or she is saying and is merely pandering for religious votes. The truly religious politician is more genuine in the sense that he or she is telling us about actual beliefs. This puts us in a better position to make an informed decision about whether we can stomach the thought of voting for someone with these beliefs, and I do appreciate that. On the other hand, the candidate who is mostly pandering may not be nearly as religious as he or she wants us to think. That could mean that such a candidate would be less likely to govern from a religious perspective.

I suppose almost all political candidates are guilty of pandering to some degree. Their message seems to change depending on their audience. Some are more guilty of this than others, though. And some are occasionally willing to stick to their principles even when faced with an audience who would like them to say something else. I thought that some of Bernie Sanders' recent statements about wanting people serving prison sentences for felony convictions to be able to vote while still incarcerated was an example of what this looks like. I suspect most people would disagree with him on this, and he seemed to be aware of that but stuck to it anyway.

As for the question of political candidates talking about their religious beliefs, Pete Buttigieg seems to be the one doing the most of this at present. Even though I have been impressed with him in many respects, I have found this off-putting. He strikes me as sincere when he talks about his religious beliefs, and so I assume that he means most of what he says. I have seen little evidence that would suggest he's been pandering when he talks about his faith. That raises some concern about the degree to which his approach to governing might be influenced by his religious beliefs. Even though I far prefer his brand of Christianity to that of Mike Pence, I'd much rather have secular governance than any sort of religious governance.

Buttigieg has repeatedly expressed his support for separation of church and state, and I certainly appreciate that. He does not strike me as a theocrat in any way. None of that means I do still have some reservations about giving that much power to anyone who believes in gods. I mean, how can anyone still believe in that sort of nonsense today? It almost seems like doing so would have to raise serious questions about one's judgment.

In the end, I think I'd almost prefer a candidate who was pandering to the religious over one who truly believed. I could understand pandering as an advantageous political tactic for a candidate running for office in a predominately religious country easier than I could understand believing in gods.