Pragmatism, principle keep Huckabee in the race

Presidential candidate and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee
REUTERS/Gary Cameron
Mike Huckabee speaks to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.

So, with Sen. John McCain having all but wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination, what’s Mike Huckabee still doing in the race?

Given what analysts — and Huckabee himself — are saying, the answer seems to be a curious blend of pragmatism and principle. The Baptist minister and former Arkansas governor may want to be vice president and may figure that the best way to secure the job is to demonstrate his ability to turn out the conservative Christian voters that his party needs so badly in the fall. That’s the pragmatic side.

The principle side involves Huckabee’s apparent conviction that his brand of Christianity is embedded in the American essence, and that without it the nation would spiral downward into some kind of valueless void.

Huckabee said as much on Thursday while campaigning in suburban Milwaukee. “In many ways, the discussion over the next several weeks is not just about the next election, it is about the next generation,” he said, as reported by CBS. “It’s not just about the politics of the Republican Party, it’s about the principles of the Republican Party. It’s not just about winning and losing an election, it’s about winning and losing a culture. It’s about whether or not we will stand for something or whether we will fall for anything just so that we can beat the other guys.”

He continued, “Ladies and gentlemen, if it doesn’t matter anymore what we believe, then most of us probably wouldn’t have gotten involved in politics anyway. Because most of us didn’t get involved because of the game of it. We got involved because of the goal of it — which is to preserve, protect, and pass on a culture and a country for our kids.”

Worried about McCain’s leanings
His words resonated with voters who said they worried about McCain’s “liberal leanings” and said they support Huckabee as a way to keep McCain on the straight and narrow. Asked about Huckabee lingering in the race, one woman said: “If God wants him in, he’ll win. And even if he can’t, I’ll vote for what’s right.”

What’s right for many evangelicals is keeping their version of a Christian God in the foreground of the next president’s visibility, as has seemed to happen for them with George W. Bush. But, given the paler religiosity of Sens. McCain, Obama and Clinton, the best evangelicals can hope for now is the vice presidency. Huckabee laid some groundwork for that last week. “My wife’s maiden name was McCain,” he told MSNBC.” Almost 34 years ago, the Huckabee-McCain ticket became one. It’s worked very well all these years.”

Huckabee’s intentions have triggered more than a few smart remarks. “Just like Jesus, Huckabee won’t stay dead,” quipped a contributor to the blog 411mania.com. But the wider interplay among politics, religion, culture and science remains a potent theme of contemporary thinkers and writers. A number of essayists have weighed in recently, many of them questioning the value of Huckabee’s religion, or any religion, as a positive force in the world. Here’s a sampling:

The ‘comeback’ of atheism
Celebrated British author Ian McEwan discussed the “comeback” of atheism in an interview with The New Republic. “[It’s] quite heartening really, given that America is meant to be a secular republic with a strong tradition of upholding all freedom of thought,” he said, adding that it would be a bad idea to suppress religion.

“We have tried that and it joins the list of political oppression,” he said. “It seems to be fairly deeply stitched into human nature. It seems to be part of all cultures, so I don’t expect it to vanish. And yet at the same time, if it is built into human nature, why are there so many people who don’t believe in it? I think it is important that people with no religious beliefs speak up and speak for what they value.

“It is a bit of a problem, the title ‘Atheist’ — no one really wants to be defined by what they do not believe in,” McEwan continued. “We haven’t yet settled on a name, but you wouldn’t expect a Baptist minister [Huckabee?] to go around calling himself a Darwinist. But it is crucial that people who do not have a sky god and don’t have a set of supernatural beliefs assert their belief in moral values and in love and in the transcendence that they might experience in landscape or art or music or sculpture or whatever. Since they do not believe in an afterlife, it makes them give more valence to life itself. The little spark that we do have becomes all the more valuable when you can’t be trading off any moments for eternity.”

The quotation that seems to resonate with McEwan and others was offered in 2005 by the Nobel physicist Steven Weinberg, who said: “With or without religion, good people will do good, and evil people will do evil. But for good people to do evil, that takes religion.” Ron Csillag, explored Weisman’s observation and other questions about God and mathematics for the Toronto Star. His essay discusses mathematicians’ attempts to explain God’s probability and their observations about order and disorder in the universe.

The question of  “blind chance” in the origin of the universe versus divine creation is part of  Edmond O. Wilson’s essay in the journal New Scientist.

He finds it hard to accept that fully half of Americans — including Huckabee — disbelieve evolution while biologists unanimously accept it. Wilson discounts “biofaith,” the attempt by some religious Americans to have it both ways. That kind of synthesis may be neither possible nor desirable, he says, adding: “There is something deep in religious belief that divides people and amplifies societal conflict. The toxic mix of religion and tribalism has become so dangerous as to justify taking seriously the alternative view, that humanism based on science is the effective antidote, the light and the way at last placed before us.”

Blaming all of religion for most of the world’s problems, however, seems ridiculous to Roger Sandall.

He writes, “It’s futile to get drawn into public debates with professional atheists about the meaning of abstract sociological notions looked at in the unlimited perspective of the past 5,000 years. The real question today, as every man in the street knows, is not the anthropological seminar-room ‘What is religion?’ question. It’s ‘What should we do about militant Islamism today?’ ”

Picking and choosing
The post-9/11 notion that most of the world’s trouble stems from religious practice seems to be gaining steam — especially religious practice based on the inerrancy and the literal interpretation of scripture, or, as some call it, “worshiping a book.”  In the bestselling “Year of Living Biblically,” A.J. Jacobs tries to follow literally the pronouncements of the Old and New Testaments, to comic effect. (What’s the correct way to stone an adulterer? How is it possible to break the neck of a cow near the scene of an unsolved murder?) Jana Riess’ review in Christianity Today says: “At its heart, this is a book about all the various ways religious people pick and choose, the most famous being many Christians’ fixation on the six biblical statements about homosexual relations in comparison to what Jacobs claims are seven thousand—seven thousand!—biblical comments on how to treat the poor. All religious people do this sifting, he finds; they simply have to. The Bible, Jacobs comes to understand, is a jumble of mysteries.”

One such mystery that the secular world may not fully grasp is the concept of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not just an apology — the admission that one party was wrong — but a radical concept of mutual reconciliation and truly loving your enemies. Writing in the Times of London, Roger Scruton examines Charles Griswold’s book “Forgiveness.” True forgiveness means that blame is set aside, Scruton writes, adding that “forgiveness was planted in the heart of our civilization and runs like a golden thread through all the rules and maxims by which our ancestors were instructed. Christ taught that those who ask forgiveness must also grant it, and enshrined this maxim in the prayer that his disciples repeat each day. The love-one’s-neighbour idea, which Jews and Christians believe to be the core of morality, is unintelligible without the context of mutual forgiveness.”

For the religious and nonreligious, that’s a hard concept to swallow in the heat of political battle.

Steve Berg, a former Washington Bureau reporter, national correspondent and editorial writer for the Star Tribune, reports on urban design, transportation and national politics. He can be reached at sberg [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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