Why Evangelical Presidential Candidates Make Me Nervous

I’m offended by evangelical actions, but I’m not offended by their opinion. They believe in a sky god who’s going to suck them up into the sky with a vacuum cleaner. What’s there to get offended by? That’s funny! That’s hilarious! Have at it, Hoss, I’d love to see it. Cenk Uygur

I’m with Cenk. If the evangelicals kept their beliefs and actions to themselves, if they let the rest of us alone, what’s there to worry about?

Ah, wouldn’t that be lovely? Alas, it’s not happening. Christian activists have not kept their beliefs and actions to themselves, not since the Reagan years. They want political power. They want policies and laws that support their beliefs and actions. They want to legislate policies and laws that requre the rest of us to conform to their traditions, beliefs and actions. They can’t help themselves – evangelicals think they are called to proselytize. They are convinced that God needs them to spread the word.  They believe they can’t keep their beliefs to themselves – God wants them out there selling. To not do so is to risk missing out on the heavenly lottery and all that eternal exuberance winning it supposedly brings.

A new book details what politicians like Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry mean when they talk about their personal relationship with God. Entitled, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God by T. M. Luhrmann (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), the author describes evangelical Christian communities (known as renewalists) that comprise as much as 26% of the American population. These people believe that they have had a direct revelation from God of one kind or another. Both the Gallup and Pew polling organizations report that renewalists also claim to have heard a voice or had a vision on one or more occasions as a result of prayer. Rick Warren sold 30 million copies of his book, Purpose Driven Life describing how to become best friends with God.  It would appear that God or at least Rick Warren have been friended by 30 million or more evangelicals. Talk about social networking.

If this kind of thinking helps people deal with stress, avoid loneliness and otherwise get on with their lives, I say, bully for them. Or, have at it, Hoss.

But what, exactly, does a Christian renewalist get out of the friendship with God, besides eternal bliss in the next life? According to Mr. Luhrmann, having God as a pal offers a friend, imaginary or real, who can be asked for practical advice (e.g., when getting dressed, whether God prefers the black shirt or the blue one). In an Opinion piece about his book in the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Luhrmann wrote: They didn’t treat God as different from the stuff of the material world—tables, chairs, other people. They talked about God saying, telling, prodding, encouraging, as if he were right there at the dinner table. And sometimes they put out a place setting. (See When the Almighty Talks Back, WSJ, April 6, 2012, p.A11.)

To a secular infidel rationalist heretic freethinker like me, this is total batdoodoo. It seems incomprehensible that anyone capable of functioning outside of an institution without supervision could possibly take such beliefs seriously. Yet, as noted, at least a quarter of the population behaves accordingly, assuming Pew, Gallup and author Luhrmann are not having us on. The optimist in me recalls Aristotle for small comfort: There is a foolish corner in the brain of the wisest man and hopes that the rest of the space in there is more or less rational. But then I remember what Leo Rosten had to say on the topic: Everyone, in some small sacred sanctuary of the self, is nuts. 

Once again, I want to emphasize that bizarre religious beliefs and inexplicable actions give no offense when practiced harmlessly. If such were the case, I would not protest or be alarmed. But, when politicians get godly, I get nervous.

And that’s precisely why I do very much worry about Republican presidential candidates who make explicit claims that their candidacy is based on a directive from an imaginary friend. No fewer than four contenders for the GOP (God’s Own Party) claimed that God told them to run for president. The four would be Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry. Good riddance, all. (No, I’m not making this up. For details on each candidates heavenly endorsement, see Dan Amira, Every Candidate Endorsed by God Has Now Lost to Mitt Romney, in the April New York Magazine.)

It should be obvious why a new rule (thanks Bill Maher) is needed here. Presidents have to make important decisions that affect us all, nearly every day. On some days, presidential decisions can affect the fate of the nation. Think of it – do we want a president under extreme pressure to react to say, North Korea or Iran’s immanent use of a nuclear weapon by consulting the National Security Council and dozens of other key advisers, or falling on his knees in prayer, asking God to tell him (via a little voice only he can hear) what to do? Holy crappola – Frankenstein seems warm and cuddly compared with the prospects of an evangelical president.

Like Ingersoll (The Gods, 1872), We are looking for the time when the useful shall be the honorable; and when reason, throned upon the world’s brain, shall be the King of Kings, and God of Gods.

One thought on “Why Evangelical Presidential Candidates Make Me Nervous

  1. Nice post, Don. I love Cenk Uygur’s mockery: the Sky Hoover is hilarious, but (a) it is not a harmless belief, and (b) they hold other beliefs that are more disturbing than funny—by far. I am frequenly offended by evangelical actions. Enraged, even. When it comes to their beliefs, however, the words that best describe my feelings are contemptuous and terrified.

    It is the belief in an afterlife and post-death judicial system of eternal rewards and punishments that enables a whole host of other destructive beliefs, from anti-environmentalism and climate denial, to martyrdom. And that would be bad enough, if it stopped there. But of course it doesn’t.

    Evangelical beliefs about women and reproductive rights are a direct threat to my life and wellbeing. Their beliefs about gays are the direct cause of, among other tragedies, an epidemic of gay suicides. Rick Warren is a cruel, deranged liar, proving once again that evangelical Christianity is clearly not an influence toward moral goodness (unless we would argue that Rick Warren would be even more cruel, more deranged, and more dishonest if he were not an evangelical Christian, but Occam’s Razor minces that right up). These people are, by definition, not rational. In believing they have a direct line to the desires of “god,” they are free to act in any way, no matter how morally grotesque.

    Beliefs have consequences. Evangelical Christian beliefs have evil consequences.

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