The Presidential Debate and Religious Faith
I found this question and Kerry's answer very interesting:
DEGENHART: Senator Kerry, suppose you are speaking with a voter who believed abortion is murder and the voter asked for reassurance that his or her tax dollars would not go to support abortion, what would you say to that person?
KERRY: I would say to that person exactly what I will say to you right now.
First of all, I cannot tell you how deeply I respect the belief about life and when it begins. I'm a Catholic, raised a Catholic. I was an altar boy. Religion has been a huge part of my life. It helped lead me through a war, leads me today.
But I can't take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn't share that article of faith, whether they be agnostic, atheist, Jew, Protestant, whatever. I can't do that.
The first thing I noticed is that though Kerry treats this as if it is a religious question, Degenhart made no reference to religion. Kerry simply assumes that the only way a person can oppose abortion is as an "article of faith." This would be news to the Atheist and Agnostic Pro-Life League, and the Libertarians for Life, as well as here and here and here and here.
Which leads me to the second thing I noticed about Kerry's comment. Obviously, I agree that real "articles of faith" cannot be imposed on others. But articles of faith are beliefs such as Jesus is God, the Trinity, the Virgin Birth. And "imposing them on others" means forcing them to espouse the same belief you do. Opposition to abortion is not an article of faith. The above cited pro-life atheists and agnostics certainly prove that. But Kerry seems to equate "article of faith" with "any belief affected by religion." Is he suggesting that if someone's perspective is influenced by their religion that it cannot influence their politics? By saying that his views on abortion are an "article of faith" that he cannot impose on others, Kerry answers that question with a clear yes.
This is a disturbing idea. Christians have just as much right to vote their conscience as do atheists and agnostics. So too with Muslims and Jews. Otherwise we are placed in the awkward position of saying that Christians cannot vote pro-life but atheists can. Or would it be that Christians who can vote pro-life based only on atheistic morality can vote pro-life but the rest cannot? Or are atheists not allowed to vote pro-life because other people who share the same belief are motivated by religious belief?
Kerry would tie himself in knots if he had to actually give consistent answers to these questions. But in my opinion, a politician should be able to vote their conscience even if that conscience is informed by their religious beliefs, though they cannot require that others share their conscience or adopt their religious beliefs and practices.
Two of the noblest political movements in American history were the result of religious conviction informing political conscience. The first is the abolition of slavery. Most of the leaders of the abolitionist movements were expressly motivated by religion. Indeed, many of them -- such as the Rev. William Garrison -- were members of the clergy. The second is the civil rights movement of the 60s. Most prominent was the Rev. Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In fact, throughout his "I Have a Dream" speech, King stressed repeatedly that we are "all God's children" and ended with his memorable "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
Would Kerry tell Garrison that because his abolitionists views were a result of his religious beliefs that the slaves would have to stay in chains? Would Kerry have told King that because his civil rights views were a result of his religious beliefs that the his people would have to continue suffering oppression? I suspect not. So why does he take the position uniquely on the issue of abortion?
It is possible that Kerry simply has not thought this through. This is possible, though Kerry does not strike me as a man who does not think such things through. It is also possible, and perhaps more likely, that Kerry wants to be able to claim the nice slogan of being "pro-life" while also being "pro-choice." In other words, it's a crass attempt to keep the Catholic vote without losing the feminist vote. Perhaps not surprising from either party in an election year, but it is frightening if people start taking such rhetoric seriously.