Against anti-fundamentalist bigotry

Nonbelievers should leave religious bigotry to those to whom it comes naturally.

A reader objects to my defense of Mike Huckabee against the charge that his religious beliefs identify him as a boob. I wrote:

Huckabee’s religiosity seems to bringing out the worst sort of anti-fundamentalist bigotry among some of my secularist friends. It seems strange to me that people who find it foolish and disgusting that some Christians won’t vote for someone whose church teaches that God has multiple wives are themselves willing to denounce someone as a boob and a fanatic (I’ve seen Huckabee referred to as “the merry mullah”) because he insists on believing that men and women were made in the Image of God.

My reader writes:

Since when do you refer to “my secularist friends” as if you weren’t one? And Mike Huckabee doesn’t just think men and women were made in the image of God; he thinks women were made to serve men. I really don’t get why non-believers feel compelled to treat believers with kid gloves to prove their intellectual seriousness and tolerance.

Yes, of course I’m a non-believer, and an opponent of theocracy. So I should have said “my fellow seculars.”

The evidence for the claim that Huckabeee “thinks women were made to serve men”? Apparently, the “covenant marriage” ceremony he just went through with his long-time wife, one of the promises she made was to “submit” to him. But that seems to me far-fetched, based on a misunderstanding of the Pauline doctrine of marriage. It’s not a doctrine I find congenial, but to sum it up as “women serving men” is caricature. As to “covenant marriage,” in legal terms it means that divorce is harder to get, not an unreasonable step to take in the state with the highest divorce rate among residents. I doubt that making divorce harder benefits men over women; probably the reverse. And “covenant marriage” is entirely voluntary; Arkansans can still enter into easy-to-break marriages, and most do.

Now it’s true that Huckabee is also anti-abortion, which in practice would mean greatly limiting women’s freedoms and occupational choices. That’s a good reason to vote against him, as I would do enthusiastically were he nominated.

But that’s a different matter from despising his religion. For example: Andrew Sullivan (a believer, but an anti-clerical) links to a comedy routine Huckabee did at a Republican fundraiser, where the premise is that Huckabee gets a cell-phone call from God. I found it very funny, in a self-deprecating way. To headline it “Huckabee Talks to God” and to say that the riff appeals to “Christianism” simply suggests what isn’t true. (I can imagine Barak Obama doing a similar riff.)

It’s against that sort of attack that I think the principles of truth-telling and tolerance require us as liberals to defend those whose ideas are different from ours. And I “feel compelled” to do so because we’re us, not them. Let’s leave religious bigotry to the religious fanatics to whom it comes naturally. (if, as George Will charges, Huckabee is appealing to anti-Mormon prejudice, that would be a big strike against him, but I can’t find any direct evidence for that charge, which Will bases on what he calls the “subliminal but clear premises” of Huckabee’s campaign. Naturally Huckabee “waffles” about the question of whether Mormonism is a variety of Christianity; by the standard of historical (pre-Mormon) Christianity, and by the standards of Huckabee’s own denomination, it isn’t, but it would be rude of Huckabee to say so.)

There are resources within every religious tradition for hatred and bigotry, and resources for love and justice. “Fundamentalists” are no more a homogeneous lump than, for example, Muslims. It’s silly for Huckabee’s right-wing opponents to identify him as part of the “religious left,” but when he defends his proposal to allow the children of illegal aliens brought here by their parents to go to college by saying “After all, these are children of God,” he’s appealing to the side of Christianity that progressives ought to hope wins out over the hellfire-and-damnation side. (As Joe Klein notes, it didn’t work with a focus group of Republicans; on average, Republicans would have to improve a lot to become Christians in the Gospel sense of that term.)

There are plenty of good reasons to oppose Huckabee. (See post immediately above.) But I continue to claim that his religion and his religiosity aren’t among them.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: