Saturday, October 10, 2015

Jack Kennedy didn't run on his Catholic faith, but on running away from it

Friend of the blog Prof. "JMS" recently questioned POTUS candidate Dr. Ben Carson over his remark that

TODD: Should a president's faith matter? Should your faith matter to voters?
Dr. BEN CARSON: Well, I guess it depends on what that faith is. If it's inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem.
CHUCK TODD: So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the Constitution?
DR. BEN CARSON: No, I don't, I do not.
CHUCK TODD: So you--
DR. BEN CARSON: I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.
Well, of course that depends on what we mean by "Muslim," just as in 1960 when Jack Kennedy was running, what we mean by "Catholic." In a famous face-down with 400 years of a great American tradition of anti-Catholicism, and now face-to-face with some 300 skeptical Protestant preachers, Kennedy affirmed he wouldn't let his church get in the way of the American state, and on that level, the literal separation of church and state is hardly controversial.

But the separation of religion and politics is not synonymous with separating "church and state."

Which brings us to Denver [now Philadelphia] Archbishop Charles J. Chaput's 2010 remarks on JFK's electoral tactic some 50 years before:

After offering caveats about his remarks, Archbishop Chaput emphasized the need for ecumenism and dialogue based on truth as opposed to superficial niceties. He then remarked, “We also urgently owe each other solidarity and support in dealing with a culture that increasingly derides religious faith in general and the Christian faith in particular.”
During his talk, the archbishop noted that there are currently “more Catholics in national public office” than there ever have been in American history.
“But,” he continued, “I wonder if we’ve ever had fewer of them who can coherently explain how their faith informs their work, or who even feel obligated to try. The life of our country is no more 'Catholic' or 'Christian' than it was 100 years ago. In fact it's arguably less so.”
One of the reasons why this problem exists, he explained, is that too many Christian individuals, Protestant and Catholic alike, live their faith as if it were “private idiosyncrasy” which they try to prevent from becoming a “public nuisance.”
Recounting the historical context that led to the current state of affairs, Archbishop Chaput referred to a speech that the late John F. Kennedy made while running for president in 1960 which greatly affected the modern relationship between religion and American politics. At his speech almost fifty years ago, President Kennedy had the arduous task of convincing 300 uneasy Protestant ministers in a Houston address that his Catholic faith would not impede his ability to lead the country. Successful in his attempt, “Kennedy convinced the country, if not the ministers, and went on to be elected,” he recalled.
“And his speech left a lasting mark on American politics,” the prelate added.
“It was sincere, compelling, articulate – and wrong. Not wrong about the patriotism of Catholics, but wrong about American history and very wrong about the role of religious faith in our nation’s life.”
“And he wasn’t merely 'wrong,'” the archbishop continued. “His Houston remarks profoundly undermined the place not just of Catholics, but of all religious believers, in America’s public life and political conversation. Today, half a century later, we’re paying for the damage.”
“To his credit,” he noted, “Kennedy said that if his duties as President should 'ever require me to violate my conscience or violate the national interest, I would resign the office.' He also warned that he would not 'disavow my views or my church in order to win this election.'”
“But in its effect, the Houston speech did exactly that. It began the project of walling religion away from the process of governance in a new and aggressive way. It also divided a person’s private beliefs from his or her public duties. And it set 'the national interest' over and against 'outside religious pressures or dictates.'”
Archbishop Chaput then clarified that although “John Kennedy didn’t create the trends in American life that I’ve described,” his speech “clearly fed them.”

So yes, in this enlightened 21st century, any Muslim whose character and actions are indistinguishable from any non-Muslim's should be no less acceptable or rejectable than any other random fellow off the street.  But perhaps because since Ben Carson apparently takes his faith and religion seriously, he was extending the same consideration to our Muslim-in-theory here.

As Archbishop Chaput noted, there are currently “more Catholics in national public office” than there ever have been in American history. American Catholics established a century-long record of trustworthiness and fidelity to the Constitution. We have barely a handful of Muslims in public office now, and I'd imagine fewer than 100 in all of American history on any level, national, state or even local.

I admire the Jehovah's Witnesses, who live their faith in a way that few American Christians do. The JW's were at the forefront of groundbreaking constitutional litigation in the 1930s and 40s, and "mainstream" Christians today owe a lot to them on the religious freedom front.

Like the Amish, though, JW's don't really run for office, so it's hard to tell what would happen if you turned your city council over to their control. So too, if the subject group were JW's or Amish or Scientologists or young-earth creationists or New Agers or whathaveyous, it's highly questionable whether Ben Carson's attackers would blithely pull the lever without a serious JFK-style shakedown.

That's all Ben Carson was trying to say, I reckon, and had it been an actual discussion and not a pseudo-journalistic ambush by NBC's Chuck Todd [which hey, it's Todd's job], Carson might have been able to make that clear. 

Jack Kennedy didn't run on his Catholic faith, but away from it. If an American Muslim wants to copy Jack's act, well, I reckon he's probably not going to get Ben Carson's vote either way.

[crossposted @]


Art Deco said...

These pseudo-contraversies are tiresome. You have the reporters who cannot distinguish between constitutional requirements (Carson had the religious-test clause quoted at him, as if that were relevant) and someone's exercise of discretion regarding what are consequential properties of the candidate. You have others who fancy their quite unselfconsciously held sense of alienation and distrust (sliding into contempt and hatred) is kosher and someone else's is traafe. Partisan Democrats (and judges and prominent academics and journalists on occasion) make no bones about their opinions of evangelicals or the non-exotic working class or Southerners or gun aficionados or the provincial bourgeoisie when these elements send social signals that they will not be suborned. That's not news, but Dr. Carson's demurral about muslims in public office is.

JMS said...

Tom – IMHO you are still “spinning” what Carson said and misinterpreting what JFK stated (Archbishop Chaput’s interpretation 50 years after the fact is irrelevant – stick with the primary source).

Anyone running for president (like Trump or Carson) who recklessly and shamelessly condemns entire groups of people (like Mexicans or Muslims) are no champions of freedom, American values (conservative or liberal) or the Constitution.

As a Seventh Day Adventist, I’m surprised that Carson would not be more sensitive to the marginalization of other religious minorities in the U.S. Back in the 19th century, Adventists became a scorned and distrusted religious minority because of their Sabbath observance on Saturdays. Some Adventists incurred fines and prosecution for breaking Sunday “blue laws.”

On their website they proclaim that “Seventh-day Adventist beliefs are meant to permeate your whole life.” If that is true for Carson, then I wonder how he squares his statements about Muslims with this section of the Adventists mission statement that they say derives from Matthew 22:39 and, Luke 4:18; Matthew 5:1-12; Luke 10:30-37: “Seventh-day Adventists are called to stand for the principle of liberty of conscience for all. In keeping with our love for others, we must be ready to work on behalf of groups whose freedom of conscience is inappropriately impinged by the state [dot dot dot] in order to follow our Savior who consistently spoke for the disfavored and dispossessed.”

JMS said...

A revealing satire about Dr. Carson, which many assumed was real.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Citizens of the Roman town of Pompeii who were victims of Mt. Vesuvius’s eruption in 79 A.D. could have survived if they had “just outrun the lava,” the neurosurgeon Ben Carson told Fox News on Wednesday.