Who needs coffee when you can hear about this on your drive in to work?
Rick Perry, the longest-serving governor of Texas, is a Methodist by tradition who, with his wife Anita, now attends an evangelical megachurch in Austin. He is open about his deep Christian faith.
On Saturday, Perry, who is widely expected to enter the race for the White House, is hosting a religious revival in Houston to pray for what he calls “a nation in crisis.”
Late last year, shortly after he won his third term, Perry, a Republican, began to envision the event that is now called “The Response.”
“With the economy in trouble, communities in crisis, people adrift in a sea of moral relativism, we need God’s help,” he said. “And that’s why I’m calling on Americans to pray and fast like Jesus did.”
No, we don’t.
It’s tempting to trot out my religious bona fides, as though doing so will give me some additional authority to criticize Ricky Perry’s nauseating theocratic tendencies. But that’s ridiculous. This event should offend the values of everyone, from observant Christians to the most ardent Dawkins devotee.
America is not a Christian nation. America is a secular nation in which the majority religion is Christianity. The Constitution is not religious scripture, and the founding fathers were not prophets. Anyone who does not understand this is unfit for high office, as far as I am concerned. That the governor of any state would claim a religious solution to civic problems is an appalling disgrace, and it gives me vertigo to consider this man’s presidential aspirations.
And that’s before I consider some of the dregs he’s invited to attend.
Other participants include:
—John Hagee, a San Antonio evangelist whose endorsement was rejected by John McCain in 2008 because of Hagee’s anti-Catholic statements.
—Mike Bickle, a founder of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Mo., who’s called Oprah Winfrey a “pastor of the harlot of Babylon.”
—Alice Patterson, founder of Justice at the Gate, in San Antonio, has written that there is “a demonic structure behind the Democratic Party.”
—And then there’s John Benefiel, head of the Oklahoma-based Heartland Apostolic Prayer Network, who once said this about the Statue of Liberty: “You know where we got it from? French Freemasons. Listen, folks, that is an idol, a demonic idol right there in the middle of New York Harbor.”
You organized this event, Gov. Perry. You own the guest list. And choosing to fraternize with morons like this is as clear a disqualification for national office as almost anything I can think of. Any political belief that posits the involvement of demons deserves nothing but our shared contempt, and yet a man who could plausibly run for the presidency is giving these beliefs his tacit endorsement. We should all be horrified.
And so I’d really like to vote for an atheist sometime soon, thanks. Not because I believe there’s anything inherently superior about atheism. For my part, I’m a Christian (albeit one whose beliefs are so amorphous that I would hardly qualify in the eyes of most evangelicals) who attends church more often than not. All else being equal, a candidate’s personal religious beliefs should be wholly irrelevant when consider her fitness for elected office.
But all else is not equal. Religious extremists continue to hold disturbing sway over one of our major political parties. Beliefs that would have been commonplace before the Renaissance are proclaimed proudly by several of its presidential contenders. In that light, a candidate who ran without apology as an atheist would be contributing a positive good to our civic life. Given two candidates who were otherwise equally qualified for the presidency, I would prefer the atheist at this point. Doubtless said candidate would be villified by the same people who kowtow to the likes of Hagee and James Dobson, but we need to rid ourselves of the de facto religious test for higher office, whereby some gesture toward religious belief is necessary in order to be considered fit for office. Even if said candidate were to lose, I would be grateful to hear a candidate publicly repudiate the idea that we must seek divine intervention in solving our political or economic problems.