Monday, September 08, 2008


“God is my dictator”

Maybe you’ve seen the recent New York Times article, In Palin’s Life and Politics, Goal to Follow God’s Will. Maybe that doesn’t scare you as much as it should. Maybe you figure that following God’s will is a good thing, and that such a goal speaks well for one. So maybe you’ll disagree with my take on it:

Such a statement should result in 100% disqualification from public office.

Yes, that’s severe. But here’s why:

When one takes public office, one works for the people; one swears to serve the people and to abide by the constitution. If “God’s will” and the people’s will and the constitution intersect, following the first might work for a while. But there will come a time when they diverge, and by ignoring the will of the people and the constitution because one follows a higher power, one is reneging on one’s oath and responsibility as a public servant.

“The churches that Sarah has attended all believe in a literal translation of the Bible,” Ms. Kincaid said. “Her principal ethical and moral beliefs stem from this.”

There will come such a time because no two people agree completely on what “God’s will” is. Different people believe in different gods. Different people read and believe different scriptures. Even of the Christian Bible, there are differing translations and differing opinions about what it means — there are many, many interpretations. There is no “literal translation” without interpretation. When one says that God’s will is in control, one actually says, “My interpretation of what God’s will is, that’s what’s in control.”

In the address at the Assembly of God Church here, Ms. Palin’s ease in talking about the intersection of faith and public life was clear. Among other things, she encouraged the group of young church leaders to pray that “God’s will” be done in bringing about the construction of a big pipeline in the state, and suggested her work as governor would be hampered “if the people of Alaska’s heart isn’t right with God.”

And there’s a great deal of confirmation bias in one’s interpretation. One tends to interpret God’s will in support of one’s own sensibilities. That’s fine in many contexts, but it doesn’t work at all for developing public policy. The rigidity of a “what’s right with God” argument is not appropriate here. One must be willing to debate and compromise, to take other opinions into account. No supreme master can be involved, not in a democracy.

She also told the group that her eldest child, Track, would soon be deployed by the Army to Iraq, and that they should pray “that our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God, that’s what we have to make sure we are praying for, that there is a plan, and that plan is God’s plan.”

Taking that beyond honest attempts at conforming to God’s will, one can also manipulate any situation to one’s own will by invoking God’s. For any situation, there’s something one can quote and use to claim that God’s will supports one’s own plan.

When one works from God’s will, one is protected from influence by public opinion, by science, by advice from legislators or judges, by discussion with other world leaders, by new information of any kind or from any source. One is protected from influence even by the constitution, as when Mike Huckabee said that we need to change the constitution to conform to God’s standards. One has the answer, a priori, and no other answer is possible.

If you still think it’s a good thing for public policy to be set according to God’s will, I suggest that you consider a time — a time which has already come for many, over the last seven and a half years — when God’s will as interpreted by those in power differs dramatically from how you see it. Will it be a good thing then?

“God is my dictator," does not a democracy make.

An additional note: this is quoting from the article about Sarah Palin, because that's what was in the NY Times, but it is not about Ms Palin in particular. It applies in general to the intrusion of religion into government.


Frisky070802 said...

Contrast this to Biden's interview on Meet the Press this week. He said he's a Catholic, and he believes life begins at conception, but he doesn't impose this on others.

RBV said...

I'm in total agreement. It seems as if we learn history without learning from our history. It's an extreme example, but, helloooo!!! Shih Huang-di? He was ordained by god to rule as a god, and that turned out fantastically! (Yes, an over-simplification, but you get the point.)

breakerslion said...

“The churches that Sarah has attended all believe in a literal translation of the Bible,” Ms. Kincaid said. “Her principal ethical and moral beliefs stem from this.”

At least Ms. Kincaid is smart enough to know that "Literal interpretation" is an oxymoron. I doubt you could say the same for Sarah. So much of the Babble is written in "fortune cookie" language that trying to define "God's" will without busting a gut laughing at the stupidity of the attempt is impossible for those of us with operating brains. Of course, once you see that it is a patchwork of various clerics' wills, and wholly dependent on the circumstances, it all starts to make a disturbing and disgusting kind of sense. Still, it's a great how-to primer for bullshit artists, control freaks and demagogues everywhere....