Yesterday in the roundtable discussion on ABC’s This Week George Will characterized former Pennsylvania senator Rich Santorum as an evangelical Christian. A bit later he was gently corrected by another of the panelists: Mr. Santorum is, in fact, a Roman Catholic albeit of a very conservative type (very much the sort actively encouraged by John Paul II and his successor, Benedict XVI). Back to this later.
I’m not a sports fan. I’m not parituclarly a fan of evangelical Christian denominations. I am especially not a fan of political organization from an evangelical Christian pulpit or any pulpit for that matter. I’m somewhat bemused by all of the furor surrounding Tim Tebow.
I wouldn’t even know his name if it weren’t for this furor. Commentaries on the furor frequently contrast the reaction to the treatment of Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax, and Shawn Green, Jewish baseball players who demurred from playing on the High Holidays. The commentators sometimes speculate that they aren’t particularly concerned about a Jewish theocratic takeover of the U. S. I think that’s only partly correct.
Judaism is a tribal or national religion rather than a universal one like Christianity or Islam. Although they accept converts as a rule they don’t proselytize. Christians, on the other hand, do proselytize—indeed, it’s an obligation of their faith.
Largely out of a sense of self-preservation born of a millennium of European persecution, Jews tend to keep their religion out of the public square and, although I have no specific evidence to confirm this, I suspect that they’re uncomfortable with others displaying their religions in public. I think this is less the case than once it was, at least locally. Here in Chicago, for example, it used to be the case that synagogues were virtually invisible. That’s no longer the case.
I suspect that, particularly in the national news media, that Messrs. Greenberg, Koufax, and Green avoided criticism because public anti-Semitism was no longer acceptable there. Or perhaps it was because they were baseball players, something of a national religion itself.
I’ve got to admit that I’m confused about the worries about theocracy. Of course the values held by evangelical Christians inform their political views and of course they want to see them enshrined in law. The same is true of humanists and atheists. Is it possible to have a theocracy without believing in God? If your definition of theocracy is displaying your beliefs in the public square, allowing them to inform your political views, and wanting the law to instrumentalize those views, I think it’s obvious that it is.
The constitutional prohibition of funding religion through tax dollars and protection of the free exercise of religion is not a demand to remove religion from the public square but a call for tolerance of the religious views of others. We may not agree with those others but I don’t think we can simultaneously accomplish the tolerance required while despising them. We can disagree, deny, be amused, be confused, but not despise.
I don’t know what George Will’s religious beliefs are, if any. I suspect that he’s a secularized Episcopalian. Confusing Roman Catholicism with evangelical Christianity is peculiar to say the least, particularly for someone who was an undergraduate religion major. Are all of those religious nutcases really the same?