In Whose Tongues?

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9 Responses

  1. an interesting use of church attendance…so maybe you can appreciate some of our concerns when we look at Senator Obama’s

  2. JP says:

    I suppose this is an instance of confirmation bias, but where you hear Palin supporting conflation of church and state, I hear an affirmation of the principle of separation of church and state. As I see it, she is distinguishing her job (governing, striking deals) from the students’ job (reaching people, praying for God’s will).

    I also disagree with your interpretation of her view of God’s will. I think the pipeline remark should be interpreted consistent with the Iraq war remark: a request for prayer that government officials and others are acting in accordance with God’s will. Notably, she makes policy arguments for the pipeline (energy policy, job creation, etc.), before noting that “God’s will has to be done….” In other words, even if it’s good policy, it won’t happen if it isn’t God’s will. This certainly isn’t the only way to interpret her (apparently unplanned) remarks, but I think in context it is more likely than insisting that Palin is a theocrat.

    Finally, the idea that reference to God’s will makes “knowledge-based, content-dependent reasons” unnecessary ignores a few millenia of religious philosophy (from diverse traditions) on the importance of reason to understand or follow God’s will.

  3. JP says:

    My interpretation of Palin’s views (again, which may be wrong; I don’t think we can tell from this speech) suggests they are similar to Senator Obama’s:

    “The prayer that I tell myself every night is a fairly simple one: I ask in the name of Jesus Christ . . . that I am an instrument of God’s will. I’m constantly trying to align myself to what I think he calls on me to do.”

  4. I think it comes down to this: legitimate concerns about “knowing” candidates were tossed when Obama was given the nomination of his party. Second, scrutiny of Palin’s religious beliefs amounts to a religious test for office – something not allowed by the Consitution. If, on the other hand, we are going to actually get to “know” Obama (is there anyone anywhere that know what he organized in communites and what level of success he enjoyed in the process?) and scrutinize his religious beliefs, what a great day that would be for us all.

  5. TJ says:

    Something missed (it seems to me) in the comments section here is context. Surely, for instance, we are not placing Sarah Palin at the end of “a few millenia of relgious philosophy” (though we might mark in her the end of that rich and diverse tradition). Political conservatism has a rich and diverse tradition of learning at its back, too; but I’m not so sure I’d see any key figure in the Republican party pairing well with Edmund Burke.

    Beyond this, is it really difficult to characterize the political and intellectual environment in which we are living? We have political leaders who trust their beliefs (their guts, as Crocker says) over information – over knowledge. The Bush Doctrine of which Palin seems ignorant is a good example. It is possible to argue that the US (or any other country) has the right to anticipatory defense if a threat is imminent. I don’t necessarily subscribe to this notion but I can see how it might be argued. But how was it implemented? Phony evidence, repeated false assertions, and an overwhelming sense of (national) belief that Iraq posed such a threat. From the perspective of political or economic reasoning, hindsight has shown the invasion to be thoughtless at best, disastrous at worst.

    And let’s not forget about global warming and creationism. Is the jury really still out on both? Forgive me if I find it hard to believe that anyone reading a blog written by a bunch of fancy law profs could possibly think so.

    Within our present context, in other words, Crocker’s remarks strike me as spot on. Stupidity and feeling from the gut have become national virtues (values?). “This is water,” as David Foster Wallace said (in a different context). And we are fish. One does not have to imagine the seriously scary set of beliefs someone like Palin brings to the Republican ticket to ask – loudly and repeatedly – for political leaders to make decisions based on knowledge and information rather than belief.

  6. KO says:

    After the roasting that Obama received for Wright, who can call Palin’s church and her own beliefs off limits? This is quite different from a religious test for office. Can we ask her if she has spoken in tongues? Doesn’t seem fair, but Obama’s opponents started this food fight.

    As for separation of church and state, if you are familiar at all with the culture war wing of the evangelical and pentecostal church, then her language fits clearly within a worldview that integrates the two. Obama comes from a very different tradition. Both are Christian, but they parted ways with Constantine, and again in Philadelphia in 1787.

  7. JP says:


    I certainly agree with you regarding context. I think the biggest point is simply that with regard to Palin, we don’t have much context. Neither you nor Thomas have much support for the inference that Palin makes decisions based on unreasoned, gut-level religious belief. You, Thomas, and KO all seem to start with the belief(!) that all conservative Christians want to integrate church and state, and you interpret the evidence to support that belief.

    Contrary to P.S., I think it’s important that we find out. TJ, you misstate part of the “Bush Doctrine,” but I think another aspect of the Bush Doctrine (of which Charles Gibson seems ignorant) is a good example. Wilsonian democracy promotion is a bad idea, particularly when it is religiously motivated (as in the Wilson and Bush administrations).

    I want to know whether Palin thinks she has a divine mission to promote democracy or free-market ideas, or defeat terrorists, drill ANWR, or anything else. I just don’t think the speech Thomas cites indicates that she does.

  8. TJ says:

    Hi, JP –

    Thanks for the comments. I certainly hope that I’m not starting from the belief that all conservative Christians want to integrate church and state (I don’t “believe” that and have no evidence to suggest it). I didn’t really mean to hit on that particular point at all, in fact. What I wanted to introduce by discussing context was the point that there is a certain trend in politics right now (anti-intellectual, anti-“elitist”) that seems to denigrate reasoned opinion (by which I simply mean here – for argument’s sake – opinion based on evidence and analysis rather than on belief and on what one feels to be right. Much of such feeling seems based on religion: doctor’s not wanting to prescribe the morning-after pill, for instance; financial support for faith-based clinics abroad – even when evidence suggests, for instance, that abstinence-only programs do not work. The way this gets discussed it’s not about, say, scientific evidence regarding a patient’s health or well being but rather about said health worker’s beliefs regarding what is morally right or wrong).

    I agree with you and others that we simply do not know much about Palin’s opinions because there is very little out there yet. But I also agree with Crocker that we need to ask certain questions because the little she has said (in the speech referred to, in her Gibson interview, in her Repub. convention speech) seems to go along pretty well with the whole anti-intellectual trend. I don’t think I’m being overly-cynical if I suggest that one shrewd reason for choosing Palin as a running mate for McCain is how well she plays to this trend in American politics (part of the Repubs base).

    So in other words, I’m not sure if Palin has any divine mission. But I don’t need to know whether she does or not to understand what she has said thus far as playing to the lowest common denominator of American politics. This frightens me not simply because she will erode the boundary between church and state (though she might), but because I think she represents a continuation of what we’ve already had these last eight years (I’m not a Democrat, by the way) – of which the pile of evidence is growing by the minute. I’ve had quite enough of the god-fearing, war-mongering, hypocritical type. In this regard, Palin is not the context. American politics is the context.

    PS: how did I “misstate” the Bush Doctrine? I only stated part of it!

  9. JP says:


    I apologize for unfairly attributing to you the automatic “belief” most evident in KO’s comment. Nevertheless, I think you’re still creating a false dichotomy between “reasoned opinion” and moral belief. An opinion can be both! The morning after pill implicates a moral question of when society should begin to assign basic rights to a (potential?) human life, and how those rights are balanced against women’s rights. Reasonable people (often drawing from religious teachings regarding the sanctity of life) might conclude that (innocent?) human life is simply so inviolate that it must be protected from the earliest possible moment. [I think they’re wrong, but I don’t have the moral certainty displayed by many elite intellectuals that I believe drives much of the “anti-intellectual, anti-elitist” trend that you decry). A similar argument can be made for abstinence-only education, and I’ll point out that people ignore evidence that sex-ed programs do not work (though that argument is in the comments of a different post).

    Granted that the Palin pick was designed to appeal to religious conservatives, I think Palin is still something of a blank slate that people are projecting their hopes or fears on to. (McCain is my fear, so that doesn’t really work for me, other than a vague and small hope that Palin could represent some far-off future rehabilitation of the Republican party).

    Re: the Bush Doctrine — “the right to anticipatory defense if a threat is imminent” 1) was Palin’s answer to Gibson’s question, 2) is pretty uncontroversial, and 3) has basically always been U.S. policy. Bush proffered a policy of preventative war; attacking any “enemy” with WMD’s regardless of whether a threat was “imminent.”