[OPE-L] Washington politics: a theologian weighs in

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Wed Jan 31 2007 - 14:12:50 EST

Wendy Doniger (O'Flaherty) is the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service
Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago's
Divinity School. The "On Faith" panelist also teaches in the University's
Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, and directs the
Martin Marty Center.

The Great Pumpkin Goes to Washington

I don't care a fig about our next president's personal religious views. The
candidate can worship the Great Pumpkin, for all I care, as long as he or
she doesn't assume that the rest of us do too, and that the Great Pumpkin
told him to do things such as, to take a case at random, invade Iraq.

But I certainly want to know what any presidential candidate thinks
government should and should not do to protect freedom of religion and
freedom from religion. The candidate may be a person of deep faith or a
godless atheist, but what matters to me is the candidate's willingness, and
ability, to ensure that the law protects the rights of other people to have
their own deep faith or godless atheism, and keep them from messing with one

I pledge allegiance to the first amendment, which I interpret to mean that
government shouldn't traffic with religion-neither promote it nor persecute
it-and this means that, in the public arena, the candidate should not use
religious rhetoric, which does nothing but harm, fogging over the clear
lines of argument on the issues and eliciting irrelevant and irrational
choices in the electorate.

As someone once said of objectivity in science, just because we cannot
produce a perfectly sterile environment is no reason to perform surgery in a
sewer [this is a reference to Robert Solow - JB]. In the context of the
presidential elections, this would mean that the candidates should debate
the issues entirely on their own merits, not with reference to whatever
religious (or other) feelings or beliefs may have brought them to their

Of course religious (or non-religious) beliefs will play an important part
in their judgments about such matters as abortion and euthanasia and stem
cell research and the rights of homosexuals to marry, and a less obvious
part in judgments about poverty, war, justice, and even about health care,
the homeless, and global warming. But those judgments must stand, and be
judged, on their own merits, regardless of what beliefs underlie them.

I don't care how they got to where they stand; I care about where they

This is what I think should happen. What will actually happen is, alas, just
the opposite. But let's try to keep the surgery as far out of the sewer as
we can manage.

Posted by Wendy Doniger on January 30, 2007 10:25 AM


It sounds hygienic enough. Of course, a week is a long time in politics.
Where the presidential candidate stands now may not be where s/he stands in
the future. But "How they got to where they stand" may partly determine
where they will stand in the future. Out of a certain political experience
grows a certain method or approach to solving problems, not easily separable
from beliefs.

October 2006: Sewer gas can induce 'suspended animation' in mice, say US
scientists, and may help to preserve organ function in critically ill
patients. Hydrogen sulphide, a toxic gas that smells of rotten eggs, occurs
naturally in swamps, springs and volcanoes. But in mice, it was found to
slow down heart rate and breathing and decrease body temperature, while
keeping a normal blood pressure. The results were presented at the American
Physiology Society conference. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/5412824.stm

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