Tuesday, September 24, 2013

False Religion

The hits just keep on coming from the Republican Party, both in Washington DC and, apparently, in Richmond.  Virginia plays host to the only competitive Governor's race this year and as things heat up national attention is focused in on the race between Ken Cuccinelli (R) and Terry McAuliffe (D).

As weird as that race is shaping up to be -- Cuccinelli is actively under investigation by the FBI and McAuliffe is featured in almost every Cuccinelli doing what looks like a shot -- it's nothing compared to the race for Lieutenant Governor featuring Republican E.W. Jackson and Democrat Ralph Northam, who's name I actually had to look up because he's so irrelevant to the race.

Northam is an unmemorable candidate and his presence or absence in the race will likely not move the polls one point in either direction.  Jackson, on the other hand, is a loose cannon, espousing all manner of highly controversial, almost theocratic, views on a wide range of social issues.  The most recent, though far from the most outrageous, of these was given voice in a sermon he gave at the Restoration Fellowship Church in Strasburg, VA in which he described non-christians as "engaged in some sort of false religion."

Now Jackson is a pastor and pastors say this kind of thing all the time.  From a Christian point of view other faiths are "false."  Linguistically that word is interesting; grounded in faith, it attempts to lay claim not to subjective opinion but objective reality.  To describe another person's faith as "false" presumes the ability to speak on matters of faith with absolute conviction and certainty -- to be able to attest to the trueness of your God and your religion as a verifiable and reproducible truth of the universe on par with "things fall when you drop them" and "water is wet."

And of course no one can do that; that's why we call it faith.  If faith were incontestable it wouldn't be faith anymore; we'd just call it science.

Religious officials often use this phasing because it drives home a dogmatic point and no one really faults them for it.  From their point of view and within their role as a religious leader faith must rise to the level of certainty but while Jackson hail from exactly such a professional career, his new role as a politician is one which can not afford such pronouncements.

True, Virginia is majority Christian -- roughly three-quarters of Virginians identify as Christian with just over a quarter identifying as Baptist -- but going out of your way to make enemies is a risky political strategy.  Jackson's victory in the Lt. Governor primary depended heavily upon highly motivated evangelical voters who swung the ballot his way, but as the Virginia Governor's race heats up and draws national attention the influence of that small cadre of highly motivated voters will fall away, dwarfed by the larger tide of casual moderates.

While Cuccinelli is himself a polarizing candidate, Jackson makes him seem moderate by comparison and, in so doing, makes McAuliffe's campaign message an easy one to craft.  "Vote for me, I'm not that guy."

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