The former Vermont governor and Democratic frontrunner says that he'll be talking a lot more about religion and faith in his presidential campaign as he now tries to woo Southerners. According to the Washington Post, "Dean said frequent trips to Bible Belt states such as South Carolina, where evangelical Christianity flourishes...are prompting him to more candidly discuss his faith." Now there's a man of conviction for you, bringing G-d out of the closet in order to attract voters.
But it does make you wonder which is nuttier, to suddenly become religious in order to get votes, or to be stupid enough to admit it? "Faith is important in a lot of places, but it is really important in the South--I think I did not understand fully how comfortably religion fits in with daily life...The people there are pretty openly religious, and it plays an ingrained role in people's daily lives," he said.
What? He just discovered that faith is important in the South? What did he think "Bible Belt" meant? A clothing store where old pieces of scripture are turned into an accessory that holds up men's pants?
It gets better. "Dean was reared an Episcopalian, but left the church 25 years ago in a dispute with a local Vermont church over efforts to build a bike path." Certainly a profound reason to chuck one's faith. Jews died for the law of Moses, Christians were eaten by Roman lions over their faith in Jesus. Dean dropped his Church for the Tour de France.
If I sound cynical, it's intentional. To be sure, any man or woman prepared to speak openly about religion should be applauded. In this age of rampant materialism, where women covet $800 shoes and men worship sports heroes, a politician who is prepared to mention G-d--however belatedly--deserves applause. So why am I so tough on Dean?
First, there are areas of life, like telling a woman you love her, that are convincing only when they are sincere. Religious faith is one such area. You can't just start talking about G-d artificially. It will appear canned and capricious and people will see you for the faker you are.
G-d because he follows Him. Joseph Lieberman speaks of G-d because he walks with Him. They couldn't stop themselves even if their pollsters ordered them to do so. In the 2000 presidential election, Lieberman was widely criticized--even by Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League--for making faith such a central issue in the campaign. Still he persisted because he is a man utterly animated by faith. Telling him not to talk about G-d would be like telling him not to campaign with his wife Hadassah.
It is better for Dean to first sincerely find G-d than to artificially plug him into a campaign message that is geared to a specific audience.
Which brings me to my second objection.
By now you are thinking, "Shmuley, you arrogant, judgmental Neanderthal. How dare you say that Dean must first find G-d. How do you know what's in his heart?"
But I know that Howard Dean hasn't sincerely found G-d, and here's how.
From time immemorial philosophers have debated what the primary determinant of religious faith is. How do we know when someone's religious conviction is sincere? Some say it is evidenced by a love of G-d's creatures. But I have met legions of confirmed atheists who are sincere humanitarians and lovers of the human family. Others argue that it is martyrdom and a readiness to lay down one's life for G-d. But suicide bombers--who are as distant from G-d as Hugh Hefner is from fidelity--die for their "god" every day of the week. Still others argue that faith is judged principally by ritual observance, but we all know religious people who are devout church- or synagogue-goers but who may not be ethical in business.
Which brings us to this conclusion. The most accurate standard in judging people's attachment to G-d is the extent to which they hate evil and fight against it. Secular humanists can be good people, but they usually find some way of excusing the actions of a Chairman Mao or a Marshall Stalin. A man as enlightened as George Bernard Shaw called Hitler a great man, and look how many people on the left--honest and good in their daily lives--object to the war in Iraq and find compelling reasons why Saddam should have been left in power. They may love good people, but they don't hate evil people. The phrase "hating the sin but not the sinner" applies only to sins where the crime is not heinous. Something as horrible as murder cannot be purged from the sinner. They become one with their crime.
But the truly religious hate murderers because they see them as the arch-enemies of the G-d who created life. They despise the heartless because they are the opponents of the G-d who created love. A person who is sincerely attached to G-d will manifest his or her faith first and foremost in loathing cruelty and abhorring mercilessness.