Do religious conservatives operate far outside the American mainstream and represent a serious threat to our pluralistic democracy?
Bill Keller, outgoing editor of the New York Times, raises that basic challenge in a wildly controversial recent column that appeared under the heading “Asking Candidates Tougher Questions About Faith.”
Actually, his specific questions for GOP contenders don’t seem tough at all, and the fact that Keller considers them so formidable demonstrates his dismissive, condescending attitude toward religious believers of every stripe. After all, he begins his piece by explicitly comparing faith to claims “that space aliens dwell among us.” While allowing that belief in extra terrestrial visitors might not disqualify a “candidate out of hand,” Keller sensibly insists that he “would certainly want to ask a few questions. Like, where does he get his information? Does he talk to the aliens?”
Does the columnist here suggest that praying to God regularly (as more than three-quarters of Americans say they do) seems to him just as suspect and delusional as conversing with imaginary inter-stellar invaders?
In any event, he doesn’t mean to challenge GOP contenders on supernatural communication (since none of them have yet made the claim that God, or angels, or giant reptiles from Alpha Centauri have recently provided campaign advice) but he does want to pin them down with queries that he considers a fiendishly clever trap.
According to the logic of his commentary, Keller assumes that any straightforward answer to his questions would either alienate the candidates’ fervently religious (and presumably knuckle-dragging) core supporters, or else render the contender unacceptable to the well-educated, suburban and secular voters any Republican needs to defeat Barack Obama. The anticipated failure of the candidates themselves to respond to the questionnaire will only encourage the enlightened opinion-shapers of the New York Times to harrumph in supercilious indignation, secure in the notion that simple challenges posed by their august editor count as unanswerable for the simple-minded rubes of the religious right.
Let me therefore resolve this impasse and provide precisely the answers that Keller and Company demand, writing in the (wholly unauthorized) name of Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and other candidates who powerfully appeal to “values voters.” I would assume that each of these politicos would feel generally comfortable with the responses provided below.
The three questions posed in Keller’s column demanded to know: