Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Party Politics and Theology

According to a recent article, Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party, recently told a gathering of Jewish leaders, "This country is not a theocracy."

Although some may disagree, I believe that Dean is stating a non-controversial truth. I wouldn't begin to criticize that statement. However, he continued on...
"There are fundamental differences between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party believes that everybody in this room ought to be comfortable being an American Jew, not just an American; that there are no bars to heaven for anybody; that we are not a one-religion nation; and that no child or member of a football team ought to be able to cringe at the last line of a prayer before going onto the field."
I realize that Howard Dean is not a theologian, but I find the statement curious. In one breath, he proclaims that we are not a theocracy, and then in the next he states that the Democratic Party has a view on who can get into heaven. Religious doctrine and party politics rarely mix well.

Many people believe many different things about God in the United States. We are "not a one-religion nation" in Howard Dean's words. The United States government does not endorse one particular Christian denomination or even one particular religion.

At the American founding, there was a belief that fervent religious faith could be supported and even encouraged when the state took no official position on matters of religious dogma. Government, the argument went, was limited. Religious doctrine was outside of its purview. Over the years, detractors have suggested that no official religion meant an official endorsement of agnosticism or perhaps universalism. Is religious liberty antithetical to a faithful life? I would argue no, but Howard Dean sure likes giving ammunition to the opposition.

I do not begrudge Howard Dean his own personal faith. In fact, I would hope that it influences the political positions he takes. Moreover, I am not even bothered by politicians lecturing me about faith. They have that right. Still, I would argue that the two-party system is not the best place to pick up your theology.