Religion on the Stump: Politics and Faith in America
10 a.m. – Noon
Keynote presentations and discussion with
Governor Mario Cuomo
Congressman Mark Souder
Moderated by Forum Co-chairs
E.J. Dionne Jr.
Jean Bethke Elshtain
MELISSA ROGERS: Good morning. Welcome to Religion on the Stump: Faith and Politics in America. I want to thank each of you for taking time in your day to join us.
I’m Melissa Rogers. I’m executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The Forum serves as a town hall and a clearinghouse of information on issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs. It’s supported by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, and we’re very grateful for that support and also grateful that Luis Lugo and Kimon Sargeant of the Trusts could join us today.
I also want to express my deep gratitude to Governor Mario Cuomo and Representative Mark Souder, who will lead the event today, as well as a number of distinguished members of our advisory board who have joined us. They will be given proper introductions in just a few minutes.
Representative Souder called this morning to let us know he’s having to take a couple of votes on the Hill this morning and he will join us a little bit late. So what we’ll do is introduce Governor Cuomo, listen to his remarks and have a bit of conversation before Representative Souder arrives, and then when he arrives, let him make his remarks.
I hope that as you entered each of you picked up the Pew Forum’s most recent publication entitled Politics and the Pulpit: A Guide to the Internal Revenue Code Restrictions on the Political Activity of Religious Organizations. We hope that this will be a helpful resource, particularly for congregations, as they begin to face some sticky issues during the election season. I want to express my thanks to Deirdre Dessingue, a leading expert on the taxation of religious organizations, for drafting this publication describing current law.
Well, as you know, today we come together to discuss religion and politics, particularly the role of religion in American campaigns. These issues have been with us since before our country’s founding. Before the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution, the Constitution mentioned religion only once, and it was in the context of religion in politics. As you recall, Article VI of the Constitution states that officeholders must pledge to support the Constitution, “but that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification” for public office in the United States.
Today, as then, many candidates have religious convictions, and, for some, introducing themselves to voters naturally includes introducing voters to their religious ideals and identities. In our last presidential campaign, for example, religion may have been discussed more widely and often than it had been in any recent presidential campaign.
We all remember when then-candidate George W. Bush replied to a question in a debate by saying that his favorite political philosopher was Jesus Christ, “because he changed my heart,” Bush said.
His opponent, Al Gore, embraced the motto, “What would Jesus do,” while his running mate, Joe Lieberman, often talked of religion and connected ideas like his position on medical care for seniors with the biblical commandment to “honor thy father and mother.”
These statements raise questions like, How can a candidate reveal particular religious commitments in ways that tend to support, rather than cast doubt upon, that candidate’s commitment to uphold the Constitution’s direction of equal religious liberty for all, including those who have no religious faith? How can a candidate connect faith and policy in a manner that is authentic, and yet at the same time doesn’t suggest that there’s only one straight line from, as they say, the Bible to the ballot box? We hope to address these issues, as well as many others, including the rights and responsibilities of religious citizens in the political process.
I’d like to introduce the two co-chairs of the Forum very briefly at this time. I can’t do justice to all their great achievements in such a short time, so I will just give the briefest of introductions of them now. The Forum very much considers itself fortunate to have these two leaders in religion and public affairs as leaders of the Forum.
First, I will call on E.J. Dionne, who is senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a columnist at The Washington Post. Jean Bethke Elshtain is our other co-chair, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago.
I want to thank each of them for their leadership of the Forum, and I also just want to take one quick moment to recognize the current and former Pew Forum staff members, who have worked so hard to bring this event together today. Many of them are standing at the back of the room, but I want to particularly thank Sandy Stencel, Staci Simmons, Heather Morton, Kirsten Hunter, Grace McMillan, Kayla Meltzer Drogosz, Christina Counselman , Amy Sullivan, John Carlson, and our interns Clair Burton-Lang and Lenora Fisher. I would ask that you join me in a round of applause for our staff. (Applause.)
Well, let me now ask E.J. to come and to introduce Governor Cuomo. Thank you again for coming.
E.J. DIONNE: And thank you all very much for coming. As many of you know, we’re competing with an event just down the street where Al Gore is giving a speech on economics. As I was walking this way, a friend was walking that way, and he said, “Aren’t you going the wrong way?” And I said, “No.” (Laughter.) But that’s not a comment on poor Al Gore, who gets trashed far more than he deserves.
But Governor Cuomo asked me to make clear that he is not here today in preparation for the 2004 election, giving an alternative set of remarks. (Laughter.)
I also want to acknowledge Kimon Sargeant and Luis Lugo of The Pew Charitable Trusts, the organization that has made all of our events possible. And I want to thank the Brookings Institution, which has strongly supported this work. Luis has heard me say this many times, but he is involved in so many projects on religion and public life that I have often said that wherever two or three are gathered in his name, there is Lugo, and he is with us again today.
And I want to also thank my friend Jean Elshtain. One of the great things about doing this project has been simply the chance to hang out with and learn from Jean and Melissa and all the good people at the Forum, and I’m grateful for that.
Just to give you a sense of the morning: As Melissa said, Congressman Souder, who is a very, very thoughtful man, who’s been at several of our events – he was at our founding event, in fact, a couple of years ago – will be late because of some votes he has to cast. If you don’t have 100 percent voting record these days, you’re subject to negative political ads, so we can be sympathetic to his problem. But he will come later.
What we will do in terms of the discussion is after the governor speaks, I’m going to turn to Jean, who will ask the first question, and then I will go to the audience. Because I have some sympathy for the fact that you all have work to do, I would encourage my friends who are journalists, if we can call on you at the beginning, in case you have any questions. But before I do that, I will introduce the many people from our advisory board. We are very, very grateful that so many of you could show up here, both for this event and afterwards, to give us guidance about what we should do in the future. So I’m going to turn to members of the advisory board. Then I will turn to folks in the press, and then we will go on to a general discussion.
It’s a great pleasure to introduce Mario Cuomo. I realized, while sitting here, that I met the governor 25 years ago this fall, when he was running for mayor of New York City. And he had a slogan in that campaign that was always one of my favorite slogans. It was “Put your anger to work.” That’s an intriguing idea, and it’s a good way to look at politics, although many years later, the governor gave a speech attacking anger in politics. I called him up, and he won the exchange, I’m sorry to say, as you’ll see. I said, “But, Governor, weren’t you the guy who ran on the slogan, ‘Put your anger to work?'” And he replied, “Yeah, but who won that election?” (Laughter.) So you’ve got to be careful. If you take him on, be very careful.
Let me just read a quotation. “The purpose of government is to make love real in a sinful world.” Now that sounds positively Niebuhrian, but it’s actually something Mario Cuomo said a very long time ago. I think we could have a whole conference around that sentence: “The purpose of government is to make love real in a sinful world.” And I think that is a reflection of Governor Cuomo’s deep knowledge of this subject and the fact that he’s been thinking about it for a very long time.
On the other hand, I don’t want to make Governor Cuomo look too pious. He also understands the practicalities of the subject we are dealing with today. He once gave a sermon at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which is the Episcopal Cathedral in New York, and he got up and looked at all those Episcopalians and said, “I knew I was not in a Catholic Church because there was no second collection.” (Laughter.)
You are all familiar with Governor Cuomo’s record. He was secretary of state in New York. He was elected lieutenant governor in 1978. He was elected governor in 1982, in a campaign I also got to cover. I skedaddled out of town when he was elected. And he was reelected by very large margins in 1986 and 1990.
It’s worth noting that Governor Cuomo used to have a painting of St. Thomas Moore in his office. And I went back and looked at some of the clips from 1982 – as you remember, Thomas Moore lost his head – and, up to 1982, Governor Cuomo had not won an election running on his own. And his staff was overjoyed when he took down the picture of St. Thomas Moore from his law office. The governor said at the time that he just thought it made him look too pious, but his aides figured now he finally wants to win instead of losing his head, and, indeed, he won in 1982. Then he gave the picture of St. Thomas Moore to his son Andrew. (Laughter.) And just remember, Cuomos usually lose elections before they get around to winning them.
The last point I want to make is this: Anyone who’s a journalist who’s covered Governor Cuomo knows about those late-night phone calls or early morning phone calls. When you write something about Governor Cuomo, if he takes issue with it, he lets you know that he’s taking issue with it. If you write a column, you learn that, too. I always say the favorite e-mail I ever received was from a reader who said, “Dear Mr. Dionne, are you as dumb in person?” (Laughter.) Whatever you may gather from what I say today, you’ll at least be able to answer that question for yourself.
I had written a favorable column about a proposal that Governor Cuomo had made during his 1994 campaign to have a referendum on the death penalty. He proposed a referendum in which one of the alternatives would be life without parole, which has been Governor Cuomo’s position all his life. And I had one line in the piece that said that perhaps Governor Cuomo was doing this, in part, for political reasons. So my phone rang and I picked it up, and before I had a chance to say anything, there was this voice on the other end of the phone that said, “What do you mean I did it for political reasons?” And, of course, it was Mario Cuomo. And we went on, and I said, “But, Governor, has anyone else written positively about this idea of yours?” And he said, “Of course not, that’s why I called you.” And I realized that Governor Cuomo was saying thank you. (Laughter.) And that was his way of doing so.
What I want to say is thank you, Governor Cuomo, for joining us today. We are very blessed to have you. (Applause.)
MARIO CUOMO: Thank you very much, Melissa, Jean, E.J. I must tell you, I’m off my game immediately because I was prepared to say something about E.J. before he got up and went through that litany of false stories about me. (Laughter.) I was going to say I’ve known him for a quarter of a century and more, and he has all the gifts he would need to be a really great politician. He’s as bright as they come. He works hard. He writes like an angel and communicates brilliantly, except he lacks the one thing perhaps more important than any other attribute, and that is the ability to convince yourself you’re telling the truth even when you’re not. (Laughter.) And I can’t say that anymore, because he got up here and gave you a list of events in my life that never occurred, believe me. (Laughter.)
I’m going to be very careful about my remarks here until I get to the Q&A, when you’ll hear the real Cuomo. But I’ve written them out, as a matter of fact, which is unusual for me, because the subject is one that means a lot to me, and it’s a difficult subject for me, and it’s given to nuance and confusion, and I’ve dealt with that for a lot of my career whenever I’ve tried to talk about this.
But I will tell you that there was one political figure in the history of New York who said something on the subject of religion in politics that I’ll never be able to eradicate from my memory, and I’ve used it over and over. His name was Fishhooks McCarthy. Now, Fishhooks McCarthy – this is an actual person, he was the right-hand man to Al Smith; he was the political persona in the Smith group. And Fishhooks – incidentally, he was called Fishhooks for the effect his hand had in his pocket when it was time to pay a bill. (Laughter.) And Fishhooks McCarthy, in Albany, would start every day of his political life the same way, in St. Mary’s Church, that magnificent little Catholic Church, E.J., behind the Court of Appeals in Albany, on his knees, uttering the same prayer, “Oh, Lord, give me health and strength; I’ll steal the rest.” (Laughter.)
That’s the beginning of my attempt to answer the question put to me as follows: Will you share with us your reflections upon the experience of elected officials who try to reconcile personal religious conviction while serving a pluralistic American constituency? And that’s what I’ll try to do.
In discussing the matter, let’s make it clear I don’t pretend to be a theologian, certainly, or a philosopher. I speak only as a former elected official and as a Catholic who was baptized and raised in a pre-Vatican II Church, attached to the Church first by birth and then by decision.
And I speak mindful of the fact that time constraints threaten to make my attempt at simplifying this subject, which I’m going to try to do, an exercise in simplistics. That’s a very slippery slope, and I’ll do my best to avoid that, but I will try to keep it plain.
Catholicism is a religion of the head as well as of the heart, and to be a Catholic is to commit to dogmas that distinguish our faith from others; and, like most religions, it also requires a lifelong struggle to practice the faith day to day. The practice can be difficult. Today’s America, as we all know, is a consumer-driven society filled with endless distractions and temptations for people struggling to live by spiritual, as well as material, impulses.
Catholics who also happen to hold political office in this pluralistic democracy, and therefore commit to serving Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and atheists and Protestants, as well as Catholics, undertake an additional responsibility. They have to try to create conditions under which all citizens can live with a reasonable degree of freedom to practice their own competing religious beliefs, like the right to divorce, to use birth control, to choose abortion, to withdraw stem cells from embryos or even to fight the belief in a God.
Like all other public officials, Catholics take an oath to preserve the Constitution that guarantees this freedom. And they do so gladly, not because they love what others do with their freedom, but because they realize that in guaranteeing freedom for others, they guarantee their own right to live their personal life as a Catholic, with the right to reject birth control devices, to reject abortions and to refuse to participate in or contribute to removing stem cells from embryos, if they believe their religion requires them to.
Now, this freedom is perhaps the greatest strength of our uniquely successful experiment in government, and so must be a dominant concern of every public official. There are other general legal principles, which affect the official’s decisions operating at the same time. The First Amendment, of course, which forbids the official preference of one religion over others, also affirms one’s legal right to argue his or her religious belief, and to argue that it would serve well as an article of our universal public morality, that it is not just parochial or narrowly sectarian, but that it fulfills a human desire for order or peace or justice or kindness or love or all of those things – values most of us agree are desirable, even apart from their specific religious priority.
And so I can, if I choose, argue as an official that the state should not fund the use of contraceptive devices, not because the pope or my bishop demands it, but because I think that for the good of the whole community we should not sever sex from an openness to the creation of life. And surely I can, if I’m so inclined, demand some kind of law to prevent abortions, to prevent stem-cell retrieval from embryos, not just because my bishops say it’s wrong, but because I think that the whole community, regardless of its religious beliefs, should agree on the importance of protecting life, including life in the womb, which is, at the very least, potentially human and should not be extinguished casually. I have the right to do all of that.
But again, and crucially, the Constitution that guarantees your right not to have to practice my religion, guarantees my right to try to convince you to adopt my religion’s tenet as public law whenever that opportunity is presented, and it’s presented often.
The question for the religious public official becomes, Should I try? Or would the effort not be helpful? Would it produce harmony and understanding, or might it instead be divisive in a way that weakens our ability to function as a pluralistic community?
And so for me as a Catholic former official, the question created by my oath, by my Constitution and by my personal inclinations was, When should I argue to make my religious value your morality, my rule of conduct your limitation? As I understood my own religion, it required me to accept the restraints it imposed in my own life, but it did not require that I seek to impose all of them on all New Yorkers, Catholic or not, whatever the circumstances of the moment.
So having heard the pope renew the Church’s ban on birth-control devices, I was not required to veto the funding of contraceptive programs for non-Catholics or dissenting Catholics in my state if I did not believe that to be in the interest of the whole pluralistic community I was sworn to serve.
Now, my Church understands that. My Church understands that our public morality depends on a consensus view of right and wrong. Our religious values will not be accepted as part of the public morality unless they are shared by the pluralistic community at large. The plausibility of achieving that consensus is a relevant consideration in deciding whether or not to make the effort.
Catholics have lived with these truths of our democratic society fairly comfortably over the years. There is an American Catholic tradition, a clear one, it seems to me, of political realism. The Church, the Catholic Church, has always made prudential, practical judgments with respect to their attempts to interpolate Catholic principles into the civil law. That was true of slavery in the late 19th century. It’s true of contraceptives today. And it certainly appears to be true of stem-cell retrieval.
I haven’t heard any proposal from, incidentally, the president either, who took such a hard stance on this subject, or the Church, that there should be a law condemning stem-cell retrieval even by people willing to spend their own money on it because it constitutes the taking of a human life, which was, as I understood the president’s stance, his position – that we can’t take stem cells from embryos because that’s human life, which is essentially, I guess, the Catholic position as well. That’s not being argued any more than the position on contraceptives is being argued, any more than the question of slavery was argued in the 19th century.
I conclude that religious convictions, at least mine, are not a serious impediment to efficient and proper service by a public official in today’s America. In fact, I’m convinced that some of the fundamental propositions common to all of our religious convictions actually enrich, instead of inhibit, public service, and they make public service especially inviting to people who are trying to be religious. Let me explain that in the six or seven minutes I have left.
Religion’s place in our government is obviously an elusive topic. The legal precedents and social attitudes that attend them are complex, shifting, sometimes plainly contradictory. Even trying to define the basic words can be an adventure. Most non-lawyers, maybe even most lawyers, would assume that the word religion necessarily implies a belief in God, perhaps even monotheism. Not so. The word religion has been defined by the Supreme Court quite clearly to include belief systems like secular humanism, Buddhism, ethical culture, belief systems, which, by and large, reject the notion of God. God is an even more difficult word. Try finding it Black’s Law Dictionary. They don’t even attempt a definition of the word God.
If I may, just to break the tedium of these carefully written sentences, tell you a true story about Eli Wiesel. Now, you all know Eli Wiesel. He’s a great saint of a man, great philosopher, not as assiduous about his religious beliefs as he is about philosophy but he’s a wonderful, wonderful human being. And I was asked by the 92nd Street Y – for those of you not familiar with our magnificent culture in New York, that is a lecture hall. That is a once in a lifetime experience that gets a thousand, two thousand people to listen to almost anything. (Laughter.) And they decided that they wanted to do a lecture on God: Who is God? What is God? And why? (Laughter.) And they called me and said it’s going to be Rabbi David Woznica from Los Angeles, whom I knew from some work I’d done in Los Angeles, and Eli, with whom I’ve been on the platform a number of times talking about things – sensible things like hate and things you can relate to and talk about – and myself. And we were going to spend an hour and a half, and this was going to then be beamed to the Jewish community, largely, in Canada and other parts of the world.
Now, I had been through this with Roger Rosenblatt, and said this is not a subject you can talk about. It’s very hard to define. And he said, “No, we’re going to do it for an hour and a half,” and we did. (Laughter.)
The thing sold out, incidentally, the moment it was announced, because when you said Eli is going to be there, that’s it, it’s all over. You could introduce a chimpanzee next to him; and it wouldn’t make any difference; everybody would come and listen to Eli.
And so the rabbi and I and Eli – I was the last of the three speakers, and, as a matter of fact, in the introductions, when they got to me, and I looked out at two thousand largely Jewish people from the neighborhood, with a collar here and there, mostly spies, I thought, from the diocese – (laughter) – and it got to me and the rabbi said, “And, you know, we have one goy.” And I said, “You know, I wondered why I had come here, but then it occurred to me that I learned very early that a large part of our religion has been borrowed whole from Judaism, and I thought maybe we left behind some scraps, and I could pick them up listening to you guys, and so I look forward to the discussion.”
An hour and a half later, the rabbi asked us to sum up. It was Eli’s job to sum up first, and this is exactly what the man said. He said, “We were asked to talk about who is God, what is God and why.” He said, “My answer – and I heard Cuomo’s, good man, and I heard the rabbi and, of course, I heard myself – my answer is: Who knows?” (Laughter.)
So you can’t find a definition of God in Black’s Law Dictionary.
And some authorities say, Gary Wills and others recently in talking about it, say that God is just too big a reality to be literally embodied. I mean, the word is endless, and you’re talking about an infinite power, infinitely powerful and effectual, et cetera, et cetera, and we are a couple of hundred thousand years old perhaps, still within reach of our animal forebears, just learning to reflect, learning the meaning of civility with tiny, tiny intellects. It’s no surprise that people would conclude that it’s too big a reality to be literally embodied, and maybe that’s why it appears nowhere in the law of the land, the Constitution. Maybe that’s one of the reasons they didn’t use the word God. And in the Declaration of Independence, which was not a law and therefore wouldn’t be subjected to rigorous interpretation and enforcement, the word appears only in the context of the natural law. The reference we all remember is to the laws of nature and nature’s God. And it has always seemed to me that language deserves more attention than it has received, especially now.
Two of the most basic principles of the natural law, as I understand it – the natural law roughly being a law derived from our nature and from human reason without the benefit of revelation or a willing suspension of disbelief – it’s the law, as I perceive it, that would occur to us if we were only 500,000 people on an island without books, without education, without rabbis or priests or history, and had to figure out who and what we were. And we looked around and saw that some of us looked similar in the way we behave, and call us human; but we were different from the fish and different from the trees and different from the rocks and different from the other things that lived. And we seem to talk and be able to communicate, and if that’s all we could conclude, except for the second part of it, which would be: We don’t know where we came from, what we are and what we should do with this relationship we have of similarity. Well, we should probably try to make the place as convenient as we can make it, and as useful and as good. Because we can’t figure it out, let’s just not punish ourselves.
That would be natural law principles.
Well, the two most basic are shared by most, if not all of our nation’s religions, whether they include God or not. Look at the earliest of our monotheistic religions, Judaism. Two of Judaism’s basic principles, as I understand it, one is tzedakkah, the obligation of righteousness and common sense that binds all human beings to treat one another charitably and with respect and dignity. Of course. What else would you conclude if you’re on that desert island, and if you saw other like kinds and you knew you had to protect yourself against the beasts and you knew that you had to raise children, and you knew that you had to produce crops so that you could eat? You would say that we should treat one another with respect. You wouldn’t need a whole lot of influence from on high or anywhere else to conclude that.
And the second principle is tikkun olam, the principle that says, now having accepted the notion that we should treat one another with respect and dignity, we come together as human beings in comity and cooperation to repair and improve the world around us.
Tikkun olam. Well, that’s Christianity. That’s Christianity. That’s the essence of Christianity, founded by a Jew, built on precisely those principles. His words, approximately, were, “Love one another as you love yourself, for the love of me. And I am Truth.” And the truth is, God made the world but did not complete it, and you are to be collaborators in creation.
That’s the message. That, in a lot of places, in the old books and the new books, is described as the whole law. And it’s described in Judaism as the whole law, without need of ornamentation, elaboration, et cetera. And on a desert island, it would work. Incidentally, it would work on this island, the globe, before we make it a desert.
All the great religions that I’m aware of share those two principles. The Koran, I’m informed, honors that principle. It seems to me, as it did to de Tocqueville and to many others, that these two basic religious principles are a great benefit to our nation, and can be even more beneficial if focused on and stressed.
If I had my way, one of the 9/11 monuments I would build – and they have to build memorials and monuments – and I wouldn’t know how to do it, but some artist surely could find ways to express it – I would want to take a statue of an ethical humanist, a Jew, a Catholic, a Protestant, of all the different religions you could think of, and take those two principles of tzeddakah and tikkun olam, charity and love, whatever words are used, and just reduce them to aphorisms in the particular vernacular of that religious person’s specific orientation, all of them saying exactly the same thing. And just put them up there, especially remembering that some people thought of 9/11 as Muslims killing non-Muslims for reasons that derived totally or partially from their religion, and remembering all the wars that came out of religion and all the hate and all the hurt that came out of religion.
Wouldn’t it be nice to find a way simply to announce at once to the whole place that before you argue about the things that you differ with, why don’t we concentrate on the two things we all believe in? We’re supposed to love one another, and we’re supposed to work actively together to improve this mess we’re in, because that wasn’t done for us. That was the mission that was left to us. I can’t think of any better guidance.
Nor do I think it’s terribly difficult to nail down these two grand natural law, religious principles to the procrustean bed of reality of day-to-day affairs. I don’t really believe that I’ve slid all the way into simplistics yet on this point. I don’t think it’s so tough to do it in a complicated world like ours, politically and otherwise.
And I think, as usual, Abraham Lincoln, not surprisingly, certainly provides the simplest and most useful instruction in how to reconcile the two virtues that seem to compete when you talk about religion. And what are the two virtues that compete? E.J. writes about this a lot and talks about this a lot, I think, or used to. Individuality and community. If you were looking for a simple but not simplistic way to break down politics, it comes pretty much down to individuality, personal responsibility, et cetera, et cetera and community.
Well, how do you reconcile those? Here’s how. Lincoln did it. Government is the coming together of people, tikkun olam. Let’s collaborate in creation, the coming together of people through government, to do for one another collectively what they could not do as well or at all individually and privately. Perfect. That’s the end of the discussion. Don’t ask me if I’m a conservative, if I’m a liberal; that is the law. And now all I have to do is apply it to each individual set of facts as they occur, and that’s not hard. I mean, you can argue about it, you’ll differ about it, you might even fight about it, but it is not complicated intellectually.
You say education, you want to do it all privately, terrific. We did that for a long time. I don’t think it works. I think you need to do it collectively, because some people won’t be able to pay and we have to educate everybody and that’s why we have free public schools.
Healthcare. It wasn’t until 1965 that you did Medicare and Medicaid, and so you decided, according to Lincoln’s prescription, that we don’t need collectivity here.
Unemployment insurance, worker’s compensation. When my mother and father came from Italy and ran right into a Depression and lost their youngest child, there were none of these things. And so the decision we made for the first hundred years or so was, you don’t need any, you’re fine. Not complicated. Maybe primitively stupid, but not complicated, and it’s still not – it’s still not.
Should you be in the stem-cell business or shouldn’t you? Do you need government for this or don’t you? I won’t quarrel about it, and how much government you need; that’s easy. That’s easy. There’s no problem in reconciling these two things, or at least that’s the way I see it. So all we have to do is apply the simple test of the facts of a changing world as they confront us.
What our religious principles urge upon us comes down to this: We need to love one another, to come together to create a good society and use that mutuality discretely in order to gain the benefits of community without sacrificing the importance of individual freedom and responsibility. In these concededly broad terms, that would be good government and it’s frankly also inviting to people who think of themselves, or want to think of themselves, as religious, who want to believe in something bigger than they are, which is the basis of all of this. I know I do; I know I do desperately want to believe in something better than I am. If all there is is me in this society, then I’ve wasted an awful lot of time, because I’m not worth it.
I’m going to quit now before I proceed any further down that slippery slope. (Laughter.) Thank you very, very much. (Applause.)
E.J. DIONNE: Is Mario Cuomo a theologian and canon lawyer disguised as a politician? Who knows? I just want to thank you for that talk. And I want to say one quick thing. I went back and looked over some of the clips from that 1982 campaign. It was really an extraordinary campaign, because when Governor Cuomo was first elected, he ran against a gentleman called Lou Lehrman, who was also very serious in what he thought, and it was almost precisely a campaign that matched kind of an individualistic view versus a communitarian view. It was an extraordinary debate.
And I wrote a piece the weekend before that election, which ended, “Through their relentless emphasis on fear of crime and joblessness, the candidates have sometimes obscured the richness of their positions, and a campaign of ideas has not precluded personal attacks or ethnic appeals. Still, many voters seem to be relishing the chance to choose between these two candidates. The latest New York Times poll gave both Mr. Lehrman and Mr. Cuomo very high approval ratings.” Imagine that: At the end of a campaign, both candidates have high approval ratings. And my last line was, “Suggesting that even in politics, there are worse things to be than intellectual.” So, thank you, Governor. (Laughter.) We really appreciate that.
I’m going to turn to Jean, but first I want to introduce the members of our advisory board who are here today. These are great folks, and it’s been very kind of them to join with us. I’m going to do it very briefly, because if I listed all the things they’ve done, I would be engaging in an old fashioned Strom Thurmond filibuster, and I don’t want to do that.
So I will just start. The Reverend Joanna Adams, who is co-pastor of the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Mr. William Aiken, the Public Affairs Director and Associate National Director of Soka Gakkai International; it’s the USA Buddhist Association. Dr. Azizah Al-Hibri, Professor of Law at the University of Richmond. Dr. Robert Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Christ in the United States, formerly a Democratic representative to Congress from Pennsylvania. I also met him on a campaign for the first time. It’s a good way to meet people, at political campaigns. Dr. Robert Franklin, President of the Interdenominational Theological Center. Dr. Bill Galston, Director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at the University of Maryland. I once said that Bill wears so many hats that he could found a high-class haberdashery, but I won’t go through all his hats. Dr. James Davison Hunter, William R. Kenan Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. Dr. Donald Miller, the Leonard K. Firestone Professor of Religion at the University of Southern California. Dr. Alan Mittleman, Associate Professor of Religion at Muhlenberg College. Dr. Sulayman Nyang, Professor of African Studies at Howard University. Dr. Cheryl Sanders, who is senior pastor of the Third Street Church of God in Washington, D.C. Rabbi David Saperstein, the Director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, and Dr. William Schambra were supposed to be with us. I think they couldn’t come at the very last minute. Dr. Schambra is Senior Director of Programs at the Bradley Foundation and former senior advisor to Attorney General Ed Meese. Dr. Ron Sider, founder and president of Evangelicals for Social Action. Mr. Manjit Singh, co-founder and executive director of Sikh Mediawatch and Resource Task Force. And, finally, Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, Peggy Steinfels, the editor of Commonweal Magazine.
Now, I’m going to turn it over to Jean, but also we’re going to turn to our panel, and partly because I believe Peggy Steinfels has actually edited Mario Cuomo, at some point, I may ask her to join us. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1960 wrote that the kind of Catholic who could get elected in New York was a Catholic who wrote for Commonweal. And, lo and behold, Daniel Patrick Moynihan got elected to the Senate in 1976, and Mario Cuomo got elected governor in 1982. So if any of you wants to get elected in New York, see Peggy afterward or write for her magazine.
But I want to turn it over to my friend Jean Elshtain.
JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN: Thank you very much. Thank you, Governor Cuomo, for your eloquent remarks.
Before I pose the first question to Governor Cuomo, I do want to say a word or two about my co-chair. I’ve been trying to think up some laugh lines, but I don’t think I can trump E.J. in that category, so I’m not even going to try. But I did want to mention one item that is actually relevant to what we’re doing here today: E.J., before I met him, first came to my attention when he was on the “pope beat” for The New York Times, and he did such a superb job of capturing the complexity and the nuance of John Paul’s positions and his engagement with modernity that I decided this guy must know a thing or two about religion just by contrast to the vast majority of people covering religion for the media. So I was delighted when I met E.J. and, in fact, confirmed that that was the case.
Again, I don’t think I’d actually met him when I decided to take a chance on asking him to comment on a book that I had just completed, called Democracy on Trial. This was back in 1995. And I had read his Why Americans Hate Politics and I thought, well, I’ll take a chance. Who knows; it will probably just disappear and I’ll never hear from him again, and the manuscript will just go into some wastebasket someplace at The Washington Post.
And a week or so after I’d sent it off, I got this call from E.J. and he said, “I have a blurb.” He said, “I’ll read it to you over the phone.” And it was some very encouraging, very wonderful words, and he asked me if that would do. And I said, “Yeah, I thought it would serve pretty well.” He had no idea what he had unleashed, because ever since, everything that I write sort of makes it to his desk in hopes that he once again will say some generous words in my behalf.
So it’s an honor, to say the least, to be co-chairing this with E.J., and I, too, want to thank our wonderful staff and thank Melissa for the extraordinary job that she has done and is doing.
Okay, here’s my question, Governor: In the course of your presentation you noted concerns about making my religious faith the value of the wider community, and you also indicated that in attempting to do that, or a process along those lines, a trajectory along those lines, might, in fact, be divisive, that rather than creating or sustaining civic harmony; it might do quite the opposite.
So the question I have for you is whether, in fact, you believe there are times when the best thing for a public official who also is a deeply committed person of faith to do is, in fact, to deepen divisions that may be there in the community. What kinds of issues require that kind of clarification where, in fact, important values are at stake, there is already a division within the community and both your responsibility as a public official and the values derived from your religious faith tell you that this division is a good one, because a debate is occurring that wouldn’t otherwise occur, and that your job is, perhaps, to deepen that debate and to extend the debate in a direction that is consistent both with your religious values and with what you hope will be, although they may not be at this particular point in time, the values of the wider community at some point?
If that question made sense to you, I would like to get your reflections on it, if, in fact, it would be appropriate to say the values that I derive from my religious faith, in fact, would lead us – were they the values of the wider community and they are not now – to a more generous and capacious understanding of that political community than the values that now govern it.
So this is a puffball, right, that I’ve thrown your direction? All right, there you go.
MARIO CUOMO: No, I thank you for making the question as long and complicated as you did. (Laughter.)
JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN: That’s what academics are supposed to do.
MARIO CUOMO: Well, you succeeded admirably. Of course, now you’ve allowed me the luxury of being able to answer without anybody knowing whether or not I was answering the question. (Laughter.)
But, seriously, I think I understood what you were saying, and it came down to, if I interpret it correctly: Give us some examples, or tell us under what circumstances, you would risk rejection, et cetera, for a greater good.
I don’t think that’s a question that you should limit to religious issues. That is a question that occurs all the time. Now, our position on the death penalty, for example, confuses a lot of people. In debating it against Ed Koch, which I did for years and years, he loved to get up and say, “Well, Mario is against the death penalty because he thinks it’s a sin,” which was a kind of deprecating way to characterize my position. I have been against the death penalty all of my adult life. For most of my adult life the Catholic Church did not express an opinion against the death penalty. Notwithstanding, I wrote to the Vatican when I was governor and said, “Please, please, please speak on this subject.”
And as a matter of fact, I spoke against the death penalty, never once suggesting that I was doing it as a moral issue. Now, everybody I know, super intelligent people like Nino Scalia, will say moral is over here and there, and I don’t know exactly what moral means to him, and so I very, very seldom talk in terms of moral issues. I will talk about religious issues; I don’t talk about morality. And I never talk about the death penalty as being a moral issue. I said, “I am against the death penalty because I think it is bad and unfair for society. I think it is debasing. I think it is degenerate. I think it kills innocent people. I think it eclipses other more significant issues that you should be addressing when you’re talking about murder and how to do away with it, et cetera.”
And so my point was made on the basis of reasons that you could fairly say were not religious, not questions of morality; they were questions that are perfectly appropriate in this pluralistic society, what’s good for you, what’s fair, what’s reasonable, what works, what doesn’t work, and I made a very, very strong case, and I got, pardon me, murdered, especially in 1994 when the exit polls showed that I lost 7.5 percent of the votes. And considering I only lost the election by 2.5 or 3 points, that was a lot.
And all the while, and I remember very, very well the circumstance E.J. was talking about in a referendum, et cetera, which some people thought made my position more equivocal than it had been up until then, and that pained me deeply, because that’s how hard I tried to keep the fore. I would bring the subject up with my political handlers, arguing all the while you can’t do this, because it was never good in any campaign. Well, why did I do that? Well, I did that because I believe it was better – I hate to sound noble, even if I were to lose the campaign – I thought it was better to make that point and to make it as loudly and insistently as I could than to walk away from it.
Why? Because it was an issue that went way beyond executing somebody at Sing Sing. And, incidentally, before I was a governor I did pro bono of three murder cases that were capital cases, where they were sentenced to death, and I had all three of them commuted in the Rockefeller years. I was in Sing Sing and saw the death house, and had the second to last person ever to occupy that room.
I pushed it because I believed it went far beyond the death penalty itself. It was a question of how you viewed life. It was a question of how you viewed human beings. It was a question of how you dealt with your own anger. Because my understanding of why people were for it was because they were angry and because they wanted revenge. There wasn’t any other reason that I could find for most people, and I thought that was corrosive, that was bad and it had to be objected to, and so I did.
So when do you do it? When you think you should. When will you push an issue? Stem cells: Should you do it with stem cells now? Why shouldn’t we make a big case on stem cells and go forward and say, Look, whatever your religious position is, the Catholic Church obviously, and I’m not a theologian, I certainly don’t speak as an authority on the Catholic Church, but my understanding is there was a time in the Catholic Church where people like St. Augustine and people like Aquinas said that life begins after 40 days, not at conception but after a period of time. Now that has changed.
Should we now, as Catholics, be arguing that there should be a law that declares anybody who withdraws a stem cell from an embryo a murderer? Should you forbid it? Should you make it part of the penal law? That is the logic of it, isn’t it? That’s the logic of it with abortion too, isn’t it? If you’re going to say it’s a human and it’s a person, well then you should say that there should be a law punishing it as murder. No, I don’t think so. Why? I think that would be divisive. I think it doesn’t work. I think people wouldn’t understand it, and I think you wouldn’t make your point.
And so you have to take these things ad hoc. Why are we not arguing contraceptives? Now, as I understand the Catholic position, contraceptives is as basic as abortion, though I know the glib distinction is, oh no, one thing we’re talking about life, the other thing, you’re talking about life with contraception. You’re talking about aborting life, not allowing it to be created. Well, why aren’t we out there making that argument? Why aren’t we saying this is terrible and all take a stand on contraceptives? In my judgment, that wouldn’t be a good thing to do overall. It wouldn’t work on abortion.
I made the point at Notre Dame in 1984 as a Catholic. I said, “Look, if we want to convince people that abortion, our position on abortion, demonstrates a respect for life, that would be good for all of us, let us start by doing it by example.” And at that point, the statistics available to us were that Catholics were having abortions to the same extent that everybody else was. And how can we expect to convert this community to our point of view unless we lead the way by example and with love?
So it’s not an easy question but it goes way beyond religion. It goes to all your positions. Here, one of my unhappinesses with the Democratic Party at the moment is that on both Iraq, until recently, and the tax cut issue – you want to talk about morality – the tax cut issue we have basically taken a pass, the Democratic Party. Now, without beating this to death, and I’ve already taken more time than I should, but let me say very quickly on the tax cut – that’s a tax cut that was passed when you thought you had the largest surplus in American history. That was a tax cut that was passed with the rational: “We don’t need the money.” That’s an exact quote. It was passed on the assumption that, look, we don’t need the money, they gave us the money, we should give it back, and so most of it will go back to the rich people, because they gave us most of it. And somehow that got past the American people, despite the fact that in 2000, when the question was first raised, it didn’t appear to have won a majority of the votes.
But, anyway, over the next few years, you will have $500 billion going to 1,120,000 taxpayers, more or less. They are the richest people in America who will get $500 billion. This is with deficits there, with deficits threatening the states and local government, which I’m telling you, whatever numbers you read in New York state, they’re now talking about a $10 billion state deficit. The mayor of the City of New York is talking about 5 billion – this is Bloomberg – which probably will be 6 or 7. That’s $15 billion in deficits, which means, nationally, when you add California, and you add Nassau County and Westchester, you may have $100 billion of deficits coming next year. You know what that means? That means increases in real estate taxes, property taxes. You know what they are? Regressive taxes. You know whom they hurt most? Yes, the working people and the poor people.
Now, with all of that, with the lack of money for prescription drugs, with a war looming that they say will cost $200 billion, with the social security money being used up in this process, should you go forward with a $500 billion distribution of money to people who are so rich they can’t reasonably be said to need it, and it wouldn’t even be invested in the economy?
If you wanted to invest it in the economy, if you’re going to switch your rational now to say, Well, we had a great surplus then. We had a powerful economy then when we first passed it. Now we have a lousy economy. Now we want the tax cut because it’s good to stimulate, well, then don’t give it to me and my clients at Willkie, Farr and Gallagher because we’re not going to buy automobiles or anything with it; we’re going to invest it. Give it the way you gave the 600, give it the way you gave the 300; give it to people who are going to spend it right away. So take $250 billion of the $500 billion and give temporary revenue sharing to avoid those tax increases that are inevitable next year at the state and local level for poor people. Tell the rich people to wait four years.
Tell me why that isn’t a totally moral position and fairer than our current position, which is, We dare not talk about it because if we do they’ll say we’re raising the taxes and we’ll lose an election.
Well, why did we take a pass? Why did we take a pass? Here, on Iraq, just a moment on Iraq. (Laughter.) No, no, we’re talking about morality and when you go forward and when you don’t, right? That was the question. I can go anywhere with her question. (Laughter, applause.)
So, just very quickly, look at Iraq. If you imagine Iraq without 9/11, now just for a moment try to imagine there was, if only it could be so, no 9/11. And so a year and a half or so into the presidency, without 9/11, the president suddenly announces we’re going to attack Iraq. What would have happened? Well, after the laughter stopped, people would have said, “You have to be kidding, right? Make the case. You didn’t say this in the campaign in 2000. You haven’t said it for a year and a half. Why are you saying it now? What happened now? Did you learn something? Maybe you know something that you can tell us, you found something, the Israelis found something, because they’re better at finding things than you are.”
No. So what’s happened is this issue was caught in the draft behind – well, not caught; they shoved it into the draft created by 9/11 and that great surging current of emotion, et cetera and we didn’t even ask about Iraq but now we’re beginning to come to our senses, and now we’re beginning to ask questions like, “Look, he’s a bad guy. He’s Adolf Hitler. We want to get rid of him. We understand that. But isn’t there a way to do it without sending the 200,000, 300,000 people there, some of whom will be killed, and all those innocent people you’re going to kill? Isn’t there another way to do it?”
Why aren’t we making that argument the way we should? I think we’re not making it because a lot of politicians have said, “No, they won’t understand. The polls are against us, it’s the sanctification of popularity.”
Now, isn’t that a good example of when do you go forward and when do you not go forward? It doesn’t have to be a big religious issue. It could be something that you don’t think of as a religious issue. Don’t even call it a moral issue. There are some things you believe in your heart are absolutely wrong, but you don’t say anything about it. Why? Because you want to stick around and you tell yourself, “Look, it’s more important that I serve here, because in the long run I will do many good things that are heavier in weight than the good thing I might accomplish here,” or, “I can’t accomplish anything good here; I’m doomed, and so as a matter of prudence and pragmatism, I decide to sit back and not make the point.”
Is it a sin to do that? Well, the God I trust in, I hope, is more supple than that. I’m not sure I’d call it a sin. But the question comes up all the time, and you have to decide it by your own lights. (Applause.)
E.J. DIONNE: I want to thank Jean for that great and manifestly provocative question. (Laughter.) I want to welcome Congressman Souder. Before he has to run back and vote again, if Jean could introduce him – we really appreciate your being here, Congressman Souder.
JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN: This is Religion on the Stump, so we just had an example, a brilliant example.
We want to welcome Representative Mark Souder, who is a congressman from Indiana, first elected in 1994. You have some bio material in your package, but there’s a very interesting profile of Representative Souder in CQ that a few of the sentences might interest you. We are told that Representative Souder’s great, great-grandfather was one of the first Amish settlers in Allen County in 1846. That’s the particular background that he emerges out of and brings to bear.
We’re also told that, and let’s see if Representative Souder agrees with this or not, the district’s long tradition of social conservatism begins in the large Amish communities to the northwest, which are not overtly political active, but both form and reflect the area’s traditional values.
That probably is a rather simple way to put a very complex set of issues and to characterize someone’s background, but Representative Souder himself has said, or at least he’s quoted as saying in here, “If you scratch behind any of my positions, you find my religious beliefs.”
So with that, let me turn the podium over to Representative Mark Souder. (Applause.)
CONGRESSMAN MARK SOUDER: Thank you very much.
Well, first, let me acknowledge that I’m no orator like Governor Cuomo. It’s an honor to be present at the forum with someone of his stature. It’s clear we absolutely agree on one thing, and that is that most views are moral issues. If taxes are a moral debate, it’s clear we have a pretty wide berth here to talk about how our moral views impact our life. And I also think that we are, to many degrees, products of our background. I’m obviously not from New York. I’m from rural Indiana. And that doesn’t mean there isn’t diversity in each of our areas, but you do tend to reflect the beliefs, if you share those beliefs, as I do.
I’d like to lay out a little bit, before I get into some of the particulars – and I know there will probably be some additional questions – of some of the background that would shape a conservative Christian’s view on how to approach public life.
First off, I want to begin with a quotation from John Adams, which is kind of an assumption quote that conservatives base on: “Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people; it is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Now, that didn’t used to be a controversial statement. It’s a little more controversial today.
In Russia, I would argue, and in other countries where we’ve exported capitalism without the moral foundation, what we wound up with was greed. When we export liberty without a moral foundation, you wind up with license.
I’m on the board of the Russian-American Christian University. The goal is not to teach theology; it’s to teach economics with a moral foundation. When I had dinner with the head of their stock market, the struggle was that 75 percent of the assets initially in any bank statement weren’t real, and they just assumed that’s what you do. If you don’t have some sort of a premise, it is very hard to make our type of system work.
Faith institutions are the key to developing such a moral foundation. The government may foster it, encourage it, nurture it, or it may discriminate against it, harass it or undermine it, but it is not the job of the government, nor should it be, to replace the church and its people as the primary moral agent of society.
People, especially in a pluralistic society like the United States – the Founders clearly wanted no part of a sectarian religion. But this has also been translated in, as we had a debate again last night, on the so-called “wall of separation,” which was a court opinion down the line, not in the Founding Fathers’ opinion. That was sectarian religion, and it was predominantly, although it protected many groups, to protect evangelical revivalists coming out of Whitfield and Wesley and Virginia who didn’t want to pay to the state church of Virginia because it was state sponsored religion, not moral views in the society.
A moment of silence in the classroom, posting the Ten Commandments, as long as other expressions are also posted, or a Bible on a teacher’s desk is not state-sponsored religion, and that’s one of the reasons we’re having the debates we have today. Quite frankly, I believe the extrapolations some people are making are downright ridiculous, particularly when anchored in this so-called wall of separation argument.
Conservative faiths, even sects within these different faiths, differ on how involved the City of God should be with the City of Man. But this much is true: Conservative Christians as individuals do not separate ourselves into a private and a public life.
Let me give you another quote: “Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life.” That’s what Lord Melbourne said in opposing the abolition of the slave trade when Wilberforce and others tried to argue against slavery. They said religion should not come into the public arena.
Devoutly religious individuals have led almost every major social reform. Why? Chuck Colson and Nancy Pearcey in their important book, How Now Shall We Live, clarify a key basis of the Christian worldview: “Creation, fall, redemption. There is no salvation if there is no fall. There is no fall if there is no intelligent design. Those who believe in intelligent design and order, rather than some sort of random chaos and the survival of the fittest, have a fundamentally different view of the world.”
Listen to what famous evangelist John Wesley wrote to William Wilberforce after he had his second defeat or third defeat on the slavery argument: “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? Oh, be not weary of well doing. Go on in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery, the vilest that ever saw the sun, shall vanish away before it, that He has created you from your youth that you may continue strengthening in this and all things.”
Now, if you believe you are specifically designed, if you believe, in fact, that you are not part of some random, inevitable progression of life, then you believe not only can you change things, you believe that you have an obligation to change things.
When you serve in government, as I do, every day, every hour you make moral decisions, new laws to restrict cheaters like Enron execs. Why? It’s a moral decision. Why restrict cheating? That’s a moral premise we have. When we deal with laws against rape, for child support enforcement, war, how do assist juveniles in trouble with the law, why not let them just fight it out and the strongest survive? It’s a moral premise that we have in our country. Even national parks – I serve on the National Parks Committee – why preserve them? Why do we say preserve our heritage? Because we believe we’re trying to create and pass on, and so there’s a logical order and a moral order to what we should preserve.
Now, what I find is that as a concerned Christian, it seems okay when I speak out on national parks, and it’s okay when I speak out on spouse abuse, but when I speak out on homosexual marriage, pornography, abortion, gambling, evolution across species, then we are supposed to check our personal religious views at the public door. It’s okay in some moral views, but not other views. No matter how deeply I hold these and other views, no matter how vital these views are to our fundamental faiths, somehow they’re different.
Now, to again quote Colson and Pearcey, “Genuine Christianity is more than a relationship with Jesus, as expressed in personal piety, church attendance, Bible study and works of charity. It is more than discipleship, more than believing in a system of doctrines about God. Genuine Christianity is a way of seeing and comprehending all reality. It is a worldview.”
To ask me to check my Christian beliefs at the public door is to ask me to expel the Holy Spirit from my life when I serve as a congressman, and that, I will not do. Either I am a Christian or I am not. Either I reflect His glory or I do not.
Some time ago, a trendy evangelical expression was WWJD – I saw a lot of the bracelets and all that – What Would Jesus Do? A better question, given that we are not God, would be: To the best of my limited capability to understand, what do I believe Jesus would have me, as a humble sinner, do? That is a legitimate question.
All this said – and you can hear my passion – how do you implement this in a pluralistic society? It is not easy. Some of this is how to handle defeat in the public arena – violence, civil disobedience, working to elect different people. Do you respect those with whom you disagree deeply? Can there be a civil debate on abortion or not?
Few decisions were ever as hard for me as voting against three counts of impeachment of Bill Clinton, the only conservative in Congress to do so. I found his moral behavior abominable. I cannot tell you how disgusted I was at a personal level. But I also swore to uphold the Constitution. And as Chuck Colson told me the night before I voted – and he did not agree with my position, but based on how I interpreted the Constitution, having studied all the arguments with it, far beyond looking for a way to vote yes, I concluded I couldn’t on three of the counts – and he said, I took an oath to uphold that Constitution. If I didn’t vote my conscience, if I felt the political pressure coming from my base in my district, then I would be committing perjury just like the allegation against Clinton. So I had a choice either to resign or vote my conscience.
Now, the only more difficult question than that is war. As you heard, I come from an Anabaptist background. The book of Romans, however, clearly states that individual Christians have a responsibility for peace; it is the job of government to punish the evildoers. Now, that is why many Anabaptists do not belong to government, but there are some roles that are different in individual and government.
But, that said, a vote even for a necessary and just war will never, ever be easy for me, because of my fundamental beliefs. I believe it should be exercised with grave caution.
Now let me wind down here with another story. Sometimes we behave as though being a minority whose views did not triumph is terrible, especially for children. The church in which I grew up did not believe in attending movies. I did not grow up in the Amish faith; I grew up in another fundamental faith. The school decided to attend – I’m old, so this is a long time ago – but they decided to attend The Sound of Music. They knew what my moral views were, my church’s views were, and they did not adjust the majority view because of my personal minority view. I got to go sit in a classroom all by myself. The ACLU did not come in to defend me.
On this and other issues the school did not adjust around the minority view within that school or try to accommodate my moral view. For that matter, they still don’t around many conservative minority views.
But if I found something that was particularly offensive – and mind you I wasn’t persecuted, I wasn’t intimidated. In fact, at the time, it didn’t even particularly bother me, but what bothers me in the public arena today is that if I was offended, I had to leave. That is not, apparently, required for those who object – and it still is required, by the way, if, as a parent, you object to certain things in sex education – as a conservative, but if you’re on the other side when issues come out the other direction, if a liberal objects or something of a different view than a conservative Christian objects, then we’re supposed to stop the action. There’s not the same representation on minority views.
Now, one of the things would be to say that a liberal may argue that these are not, for example, in evolution, a debate about facts; they’re debates that are religious. They are not. They are fundamentally different scientific viewpoints of the world anchored in your view of how the world came to be and your worldview. It is not a science versus– That is insulting to those of us who have different worldviews. It’s one thing to say that we’re going to have a debate, but it’s an unfair debate for some to assume that their moral views are above reproof and above debate and that other people’s moral views are merely their personal views.
Well, I believe our society discriminates against the moral views of dissenting conservatives as opposed to liberals; in my case it, at least, had a side benefit. Without a doubt, it built the character that enabled me to stand up and be able to dissent. That is one of the benefits that you get from learning to defend your belief.
I want to wind up here by, first, saying these kinds of forums help us to understand each other’s points of view, and that the point of view I represent often is not heard in Washington. And part of this viewpoint is that, and it makes it complex, is the diversity of our country is clearly increasing, in my district as well as elsewhere. We’re getting more religions, more people in those religions. It’s more complicated in the schools, and it presents huge problems. But it also has an additional challenge to leadership. A significant percentage of this country is evangelical, charismatic, fundamentalist or conservative Catholic or conservative Lutheran or Orthodox Jewish or fundamentalist Muslim, and we hold passionate views that are essential to our very being. We will not, and it is unfair to ask us to, check those beliefs at the public door. It’s not going to happen.
So how are we going to work this through? Diversity has increased. Our challenge is how to continue to allow personal religious freedom in America, as guaranteed by our Constitution, but how to work through the differences in the public arena in a fair manner. In a republic, disagreements are decided in the public arena. At different times in American history, different moral views may prevail. Abortion may be legal in some periods and illegal in other periods. Will dissenters resort to violence or protest or the ballot box? Sex with minors: moral view. Marijuana use: moral view. Date rape: moral view. Spanking of children: moral view. All moral judgments and the worldview that’s in charge of the legislature, the worldview that’s in charge of the presidency, the worldview that’s in charge of the courts, will decide that.
So I would put forth that our two unique things in America that we have to work through is: One, we resolve, in general, to resolve these moral disputes peacefully; and, secondly, while we may restrict the actions of citizens based upon moral decisions of government (inaudible), how do we resolve those things. (Inaudible.) Sometimes the laws override how we resolve that, those margins, and how we protect as much as possible the rights of the City of God, personal belief and the rights of churches.
Our civil discussion has been strained and will be strained when either of those things – resorting to violence or restricting the religious sector – is most pushed. The rest, basically, in a republic, is resolved through public debate.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN: Thank you very much. I’m going to extend to E.J. the courtesy he extended to me and ask him to put the first question to Representative Souder, and then perhaps we’ll have an opportunity for our two wonderful speakers to engage one another, as well as to engage your questions. Because E.J. isn’t an academic he can probably do a shorter question than I did, so, E.J.
E.J. DIONNE: I’m tempted to say, where do you stand on the tax cut, but I’ll resist that temptation. (Laughter.)
First of all, thank you for a wonderful, wonderfully clear and, I think, very helpful talk. I just want to focus on what you said about a worldview that is a minority worldview. I think one of the confusions in this argument is that non-Christian Americans look at Christianity in general as the majority faith, and they are therefore fearful of the injection of this majority faith into not just the public square – I think, personally, there should be no argument about the right of people to bring religious arguments to the public square – but in public policy. Many times, these fights actually do break down along the lines where not only secularists, but also members of minority communities, worry very much about the injection of Christianity into public policy. On the other hand, your perspective is actually potentially very helpful because you are defining a group of Christians – broadly speaking, Evangelical Christians – as part of yet another minority in the society.
Could you talk about the extent to which you see this as an adequate description of your view, and about what I think are the legitimate fears of religious minorities, of non-Christian religious minorities, that their rights could be violated?
CONGRESSMAN MARK SOUDER: That’s a good and complex question, but it does get to the heart of one of the fundamental reasons that liberals and conservatives pass each other, and it also shows up some differences inside what would be called Christianity or even conservative Christianity. Let me first deal with the idea that some maintain that America was a Christian nation, that to the degree that you use that term, in its founding or still, you’re taking a broader definition than the way I defined it. I was very precise in saying conservative Catholics and Lutherans or traditionalist Catholics, conservative Lutherans, charismatics. If you define America or another country as a Christian nation, you pretty well define the word out of existence, because Christian is so broad in its interpretation and so broad in its application that, as we’ve dealt particularly with the faith-based issues, it doesn’t really have meaning. Yet for those who don’t consider themselves Christians, they view the Christian movement as monolithic, and, therefore, they see a danger of the majority uniting.
Now, let me try to give you another example, because I can tell that this is a hard point to make.
I grew up in a very fundamentalist church. Let’s just say that many people in my denomination felt that when John Kennedy got elected, there would be a red phone to the pope, and they thought that the Catholic Church was monolithic and every Catholic was alike.
When I went to grad school at Notre Dame, what I found were no two Catholics that agreed on anything. There were Sunday Catholics, daily mass Catholics, holiday Catholics, Catholics who believe in the Trinity and those who don’t. The idea that they were going to somehow unite and crush us was absurd, and that’s the way many Christians feel when we hear others say we’re all going to unite.
Shoot, we’ve killed each other in history. I remember – this was jocular; don’t take it literally, but one time in Dan Coats’s office, where was I a staffer, we were arguing about whether to fund drug-free school programs. And one of our staffers, a professor now, who’s pretty well know, I won’t say his name, who’s Calvinist in background, told me that the reason I was advocating these programs is I was one of these dissenting, free-will Pelagian types who believed that people could be changed. And I argued that, in fact, people could be changed. And he said, he just stood up and said, “And that’s why my people killed your people 500 years ago.” The idea that we’re going to unite on a church-state type of thing is just not even in our horizon.
Now, let me give you one more specific example of how this played through. I grew up in the conservative movement. I mean, I heard Ronald Reagan’s speech for Barry Goldwater when I was 14 and formed one of the first Young Americans for Freedom chapters in the country. I mean, I’m one of those people that came in here in ’94 and took over Congress.
In that process, when I first got involved in the conservative movement, there weren’t evangelicals and fundamentalists in politics. The leadership was Catholic and Jewish, and the intellectual leadership in the conservative movement are of those traditions. In ’76, when Jimmy Carter said he was born again, that was really the rise of evangelical action. He won as he picked up the southern evangelicals. As they started to apply that in ’80, it led more to the rise in the Moral Majority and a change, and much more Republican activity, as we know, with the new Right today. But that’s a relatively new phenomenon in American political history.
The point being this: When it came down to faith-based, we had a very interesting debate. Those of us, like John DiIulio, who came out of a Catholic background, those like Don Eberly [the former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives] and myself, who are Anabaptist in background, had a different view than more the mainstream Protestants did on how much we wanted the state, and where those divisions were going to be. So it was easier for us to accommodate the concerns of Bobby Scott and Chet Edwards than it was for those who are more kind of general Christians, who assume, well, everybody is exactly the same.
Those who belong to religions that have been persecuted in the past, whether you’re Jewish, whether you’re Anabaptist or a member of a basically pacifist denomination, noncombatant – but in Europe, Hitler killed my denomination before he went after the Jews and the homosexuals and others, because we were the ultimate insult to the state. My denomination has been persecuted by every religion in the world. Catholics, some Orthodox, depending on whether they’re minority Armenians, for example, get persecuted pretty much wherever they are in world history, and when you look at that, they have more skepticism, and healthy skepticism, of how they do it, or even forming coalitions with other Christians. And that’s why we don’t see the liberal distinction of, “Oh, well you guys are the majority; therefore you can’t have something that respects your rights because you’re monolithic.”
And what’s funny is down deep, most liberals really know this because every time we talk about a biblical quote, usually one of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle say, “And which translation of the Bible are you talking about?” They know we don’t even agree precisely on a Bible, so how would we exactly enforce it.
E.J. DIONNE: Thank you so much. From now on, the transcript will refer to him as Mark Souder, not Republican of Indiana but Pelagian of Indiana. (Laughter.)
Jean, if it’s okay, I’d like us to go to the audience. I had told Peggy at the beginning that I would start with you. I’ve already put you on the spot, and then anyone else, and then Bill Galston, and then if people – we’re going to have mikes, Christina’s got one mike, we’ve got two mikes going around. What we might do, if it’s okay, is accumulate some questions, just to give people a chance. You folks can take notes and then respond, if that’s okay. Peggy Steinfels.
MARGARET O’BRIEN STEINFELS (Editor, Commonweal Magazine): Hi. Governor Cuomo actually has the distinction of having written the longest letter to the editors at Commonweal ever received, which was published without cutting. He may not remember this. It also had a very long reply from the editor.
MARIO CUOMO: What was that?
MARGARET O’BRIEN STEINFELS: But that’s not my question today.
MARIO CUOMO: What was the letter, Peg?
MARGARET O’BRIEN STEINFELS: On abortion. I’ll send you a copy.
MARIO CUOMO: I remember that. (Laughter.)
MARGARET O’BRIEN STEINFELS: One of the issues that has emerged certainly in New York state recently, and in California as well, are fights and arguments about things that are called conscience clauses. And these have allowed institutions within religious traditions to operate in a sense as individuals and allowed them to abstain or avoid practices that violate their moral strictures or religious values, and in New York state there was a big battle this past legislative season over insurance policies offered to people who are employees of Catholic institutions, and the legislature voted to require contraception.
Now, I was interested that what seemed to me primarily a conscience issue for the church was really very much treated as a doctrinal issue, and the church imposing its views on people who worked for it.
I’m just wondering whether you think there is any merit to the conscience issue here, and whether you think there’s another way to put it?
MARIO CUOMO: Which conscience issue specifically, the one in New York state where the church took the position that –
MARGARET O’BRIEN STEINFELS: Well, why don’t we do that one.
MARIO CUOMO: Yes. You want to describe it, please, again.
MARGARET O’BRIEN STEINFELS: Well, I mean, the church has apparently never provided, as part of its insurance coverage for its employees or for people who get insurance from Catholic companies, contraceptive coverage, and this year, the legislature voted to require all insurance companies in New York state, including Catholic ones, to provide contraception.
And it seemed to me that one could make an argument about conscience here, which was not the way the New York State Catholic Conference, I think, argued it, but it seemed to me – like the abortion issue, like contraception, like serving in the armed forces – one could make a case that violating the conscience of a religious institution by requiring it to do something that was against its stricture did merit some discussion and further thought.
MARIO CUOMO: Yeah, the question is the question of how far we will go to accommodate religious liberty; that’s really the question you’re talking about. There are Catholic hospitals that won’t do abortions, and we allow them the privilege of not providing abortion services, even as we give them a whole range of government services that we give to other hospitals, and we don’t insist that they surrender their reluctance to do abortions.
So the question really comes down to, To what extent would you accommodate the Catholics’ reluctance to cooperate materially in the distribution of contraceptives? And I don’t see that that would be terribly punishing to the rest of society to allow them that exemption and to allow them that conscience clause, so in that case, I, personally, wouldn’t see a problem.
Now, what the courts would do with that is an entirely different subject. And on this whole question of to what extent you will give people exemptions so that they can practice their religious liberty, as you know, the law is very far from being clear, and the Boerne decision didn’t help a whole lot in that area either. I’m not sure there’s a whole lot of logic to it at the Supreme Court level. It’s a matter of how you feel about that subject at the time, and sometimes they’ve been more willing to give room to the religious groups.
My answer, personally, at this moment, would be, I can see allowing the conscience clause in that case in New York state with respect to contraceptives.
JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN: A comment by Representative Souder.
CONGRESSMAN MARK SOUDER: A brief comment: We just passed legislation in the House because we were concerned, there’s an Alaska ruling on a hospital case that the preeminent right of the state overrode the conscience clause at the state level. New York has an HMO question as well. And these are difficult issues. If it was purely private, there would, I believe, be little dispute. The problem comes as public money moves in, and with the question of the dependence on public money, it moves more in the realm of public debate.
I believe there should be a conscience clause, and I believe there are plenty of options for people, and that since it’s a voluntary association, and there are, in fact, choices in hospitals, particularly in big cities, you can use the premises of it’s a voluntary association of the healthcare plan, then there’s another healthcare plan, if there’s more than one hospital. But it does get to be kind of what we’ve been talking about here, a much more difficult question if there’s only one choice of a hospital or one choice of a healthcare plan and government funds pay for a portion of that. That’s when the issue really gets tougher.
E.J. DIONNE: Just very briefly, isn’t there also a problem here when there was a fear about this kind of legislation that insurers, say, for economic reasons, might want to cut contraceptive coverage, not because they had a moral objection but because they were trying to make the policy cheaper or make more of a profit on the policy, whichever way you want to look at it, and so then you get into the fine distinction of, How do you make sure that a conscience clause really is about conscience and not about an economic decision. Is that a fear, a concern here?
CONGRESSMAN MARK SOUDER: Yes. It’s a fair concern, and those of us who have more faith in the market would say that if there is a demand for coverage of birth control pills, which are not a right anyway, that the market will respond. I would like to have my eyeglasses covered, and I would like to have my son’s braces covered. I did not choose to take a policy that would cover them because the cost of covering those two things almost is the cost of the glasses and the orthodontics. There’s a question, and I believe a different question on contraceptives and abortion, abortion where it’s viewed as an absolute right, which I absolutely disagree with, but which the court has ruled is a little more complex than contraception.
JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN: Could I just very quickly note that, apropos of Governor Cuomo’s response to Peggy Steinfels that, Governor, when you talked about Catholic hospitals being allowed the privilege of not performing abortions, of course, there are others who would cast that in a different political language and say they have a right, not that we’re going to allow them the privilege, but they have a right, not to do that, as part of religious liberty, as part of free exercise.
So I think you’re going to get a slightly different way that that issue is refracted, depending upon your rhetorical choices. But let’s go to another question from the floor. Bill Galston, right, Bill?
E.J. DIONNE: Right, and then Bob. If we could accumulate some questions, because otherwise we’re going to shut the audience out, and I don’t want to do that. So Bill, and then pass it over to Bob Edgar.
WILLIAM GALSTON (Director, Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy): Well, let me first say, standing before you as a Jew, I have to say that I’ve witnessed a miracle this morning: The greatest thinker in my tradition, Moses Maimonides worked all of his life to reduce 613 commandments to 13 articles of faith. The governor of New York, without working too hard, has taken that 13 down further to two, and, with more work, we can probably take it down to a single unitary article of faith, but, in a way, that leads to the question that I want to pose.
The question before the house, as I understood it, was how to reconcile personal religious views with the practice of politics in a pluralist democracy. And before Congressman Souder came in, Governor Cuomo gave a very interesting and, I think, clear answer to that question: The God who ought to enter the public realm of a pluralist constitutional democracy is nature’s God, and the religious arguments that ought to enter the discourse of a pluralist constitutional democracy are the religious arguments that are the common property, not only of all religions, but of all mankind, a classic, natural law argument.
To put it very simply, that portion of religion, according to Governor Cuomo, that ought to enter the public realm is that portion of religion that is accessible to the natural reason of mankind.
My question to Congressman Souder is whether you agree with that formulation, and if you don’t, what portion of faith that is not accessible to the common reason of mankind has a legitimate role in the public realm?
E.J. DIONNE: Thank you. And, just to give you time to formulate an answer to a question about natural law, Bob Edgar?
ROBERT EDGAR (General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Christ): Just a quick response to your giving sainthood to Governor Cuomo, I think Jesus got it down to two, if we look at least at loving neighbor as yourself.
I have a question, and I want to say, first, a thank you to the Pew Forum, and I think both of the speakers have been helpful in articulating a clear response to the fundamental question that’s there. My question has to do with a concern that is growing in me as a former congressperson, as someone who has watched as Communism has frittered away and as capitalism has become, in a sense, a religion that has been lifted up high and honored, particularly by the conservative tradition.
I look at the fact that 80 percent of the world’s population lives in substandard housing, that 70 percent of the world’s population can’t read or write and that 50 percent of the world’s population will go to bed tonight hungry, and I see the rise in children being placed in factories, particularly offshore, to produce products that we profit from in our society, and I wondered, given both of your perspectives on your faith statement, how might our faith statements critique capitalism in a constructive way so that an economic system can be shaped for the future that’s not based on having a percentage of our population poor? And as I understand it, all of our religious traditions fundamentally care about the least of these, our brothers and sisters.
E.J. DIONNE: Thank you. And, Ron?
RON SIDER (Founder and President, Evangelicals for Social Action): Yeah, Ron Sider, and I want to add to the natural law discussion. It would seem that simply taking the two principles, especially the second, working to repair and improve the common society, simply doesn’t work at all because you’ve got secular humanists and a certain kind of fundamentalist with very different worldviews and very, very different public policies that flow from those different worldviews, views about the nature of persons, et cetera, et cetera, that propose fundamentally contradictory public policies, and they both claim to be working to improve society.
So that general principle, it seems to me, is simply so general and innocuous that it’s virtually useless, so you’ve got to move somehow to a lot more specific content, which is what Mark Souder does. But then the problem on the other side is that, yes, we have the right to bring our full-blown religious views into the public debate, but then we’ve got to convince a much broader range of people, and that forces us to use some common language, which pushes us back somehow in the direction of something like the governor’s position.
So I’d be interested to see how both of you wrestle with that.
E.J. DIONNE: Do you want to start? Congressman Souder can talk about natural law, Governor Cuomo can defend the utility of his own comments, and if both of you could comment on the question about capitalism at this moment.
CONGRESSMAN MARK SOUDER: I attempted to answer the question, as Ron more or less alluded to, by saying that I believe that this natural law of things common to all religions is, in fact, a moral worldview that is a different moral view and worldview than a Christian worldview and is unacceptable to me. So the question is, How do I reconcile in the public arena, because I believe, for example, Who’s nature’s God? I believe the Holy Trinity is nature’s God; God created it. Therefore, the concept, I can’t relate to.
If you say, What’s common to all religions? Well, what if child abuse is? What if some religions allow date rape? What if some religions allow 12-year olds to have sex with adults? Does it have to be common to all, or just major ones? And what if major ones disagree on the role of women? That nature’s God and natural law can mean, whether you read Michael Novak or (inaudible) or whoever you want to read, hey, it’s a hotly debated subject what nature’s God and natural law would be, and I don’t believe there is a common denominator that’s workable in the American political system.
What I was trying to say is, part of this comes down to: How do we respect one another? How do we work to resolve those differences? In other words, what’s built in the City of God realm and what’s in the City of Man realm? But that’s what we work through in the public arena.
Let me give you one more concrete example. One of the early fights that I had was with a school board in my home district, because they decided that because there was an assembly at school where there was an altar call – which, by the way, Youth for Christ had told the principal not to allow this group, because clearly you can’t do an altar call. It’s one thing to talk about religion; it’s another thing to do an altar call. I think we would all agree that that is one step beyond where you could go in talking about even your religious faith.
But that led to a series of rules by the school board that said no religiously affiliated concert could come on school grounds, you couldn’t have a prayer baccalaureate, you couldn’t have Youth for Christ, Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting as one of the activities at school, and a whole range of different things that we had a public objection to.
Now, an interesting thing happened in my school district. The evangelicals, particularly Anabaptists, agreed with – I remember at one point when I told my story about the movie, and our position was, if there are different faiths in school, then you ought to rotate the prayer. If there are different faiths in school, then different people ought to be allowed to participate in the faith. We’re not trying to impose any one; it’s not a sectarian solution.
And one of the news reporters, who was Jewish, came over to me and said, “You have more in common with me than some of the mainline people who actually start out with, ‘We’re all Christians here.'” Because they had a secular humanist view of the debate, they kind of had this generic American brand of loosely defined Christianity, with remnants of Judeo-Christian beliefs, but not really precisely defined. And those of us who have distinct faiths often wind up more in agreement and figure out how to accommodate in the public arena those intense disagreements.
One of my standards in the faith-based thing that really was difficult is if there is one senior distribution point for food in La Grange County – well, let me give you an example. In San River Apartments in Fort Wayne, half of that apartment complex is now Bosnian and half are Armenians. If that neighborhood gets a senior food aid station, how would I feel if my mom lived in the neighborhood, but they either did a Buddhist or a Muslim prayer as part of getting your food? That’s the standard we have to have: How, in the public arena, would we like to be treated? And if we work through that, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t going to be absolutes where we have to come to those differences.
On abortion, because there isn’t a particularly middle standard, if you believe it’s human life, and I would argue there it comes really as a life question, not a moral question; it’s how you define life, and we have a public debate over how we define life. And those are the kinds of things we have to work through peacefully, and one side or the other on occasion is going to win.
The poverty question is difficult. It wouldn’t surprise you, probably, for me to say, look, I’m more of a neo-con than libertarian. However, all conservatives are really fusionists in the political arena, because that’s how we get elected. So we have business support, we have all sorts of others. I have more faith in the free market than many others would have in the free market, but I have always believed that there is a corporate responsibility to be active in their community. I am equally angered by Enron as any liberal was angered at Enron, because I believe they are a shame to capitalism when you try to hide things off books. I believe in openness and honesty. I believe they violated tons of laws already, insider trading and other things, and we ought to go after them. They shook confidence in the whole capitalist system, the system that I believe helps the poor the most.
Now, that said, we’ll never eliminate the poor because it’s a relative term. What we want to do is make sure that there is opportunity to move and a decent standard of living for the poor. Eliminate, as Nicholas Eberstadt at AEI says, not relative poverty but absolute poverty, where there are certain decent standards in your country. I believe we have, and that’s why I supported my former boss Dan Coats and Frank Wolf and Tony Hall and Food to the World. I think that while I might have different solutions than Ron Sider would advocate in the evangelical movement, I think he has helped call attention in the evangelical movement that we often get into too much “me want now, my little fingernail is more important than anything else in the rest of the world.” And we have obligations to that as a Christian.
I’m an American. I’m proud. I think this is a beacon to the world. But I also think we’re part of an international community, and I believe, ultimately, Christ talked more about the poor than he did about the rich, and that we’ll be measured by how we help those who are hurting, not how we help those who are powerful, and that in the public arena, however, that means we can differ over capital gains cuts and how capital gains cuts will impact the poor.
E.J. DIONNE: Governor Cuomo?
MARIO CUOMO: Yes, if I heard you correctly, you said that the natural law principle that says we’re all in this together is too general to be useful. Well, that’s, of course, true of the American Constitution as well, right? We have the Articles of Confederation, 13 states, and they decided this doesn’t work because we’re interconnected and interdependent and we ought to create, we ought to come together to tikkun olam, to repair this situation. And they created a Constitution that has soaring general language about “for the common welfare,” “to create a more perfect union.” Talk about generalizations.
But it’s the first principle: Do you believe that our solution to the problem of 9/11 and dealing with hate from all over the planet, a billion or so people out there who some people think are committed to our destruction, do you think that suggesting a principle that says, “Look, let’s start with the proposition that we’re interconnected and interdependent and they’re part of our world,” as the congressman just said, wouldn’t be useful? Don’t you think that when the president announced his new strategy for defense – which, I was heartened to read in one place, said, “I acknowledge the importance of dealing with poverty in parts of the world where there is apparently hostility to us, and that until we help them to rid themselves of the problem of oppression and poverty, we will continue to have a problem.” I think that is specifically a recognition of interdependent interconnectedness.
Those, of course, were Gorbachev’s greatest words. They were Vaclav Havel’s greatest words. They were the contribution they made, that we’re all in this thing together. It’s the difference between isolationism and getting involved.
And, no, I don’t think it’s too general at all, any more than the Constitution is too general. The Constitution said get together for the sake of the whole place, and you states give up some of your power, throw it into the pot so that we have a commonality here. We’ve worked it out for a couple of hundred years, as I pointed out earlier. The first hundred years we didn’t do a whole lot of the commonality aspect of it, and we were believers in rugged individualism, and we moved into a new phase, thanks to the Depression.
Too general? I don’t think so. I think it is the heart of the matter, two principles, we’re supposed to treat one another with dignity. That means that people in Africa who are dying from AIDS are just like the people here who are dying from AIDS. We don’t treat them that way, not nearly. We’re not doing anything like what we would do for them if they were in our family. That’s a violation of the principle that I’m annunciating. You have to apply it from moment to moment, as the congressman says, and, in the end, it’s always a matter of fashioning it to meet the practical situation.
But too general? It’s the whole game. It is the whole game. Unless the United States particularly understands that, we’re finished. We’re talking about now changing the accounting irregularity rules to make it accounting regularity, and we have Sarbanes-Oxley and we have the SEC and we have all sorts of specific rules.
Unless you go the European Union, which is going to have 380 million people and its own set of accounting principles by 2005, unless we put our new regulations and improved system here with their principles in 2005, we’re going to chill the growing globalization in financing that’s so important to them, and so important to us. That’s a simple principle. They’re too general? No, of course not. You work with the principle and you apply it to the situation, but in all cases, you work to cooperate.
If you took it – I hate to say evolution, but if you took it from an evolutionary point of view, we’re going from the slime to the sublime. We’re going from a big bang to gas to liquid to fish to humans, who reflect, who get brighter and brighter and increasing civility. (Inaudible.) When you finally have perfect civility, then we’re home, and the key to that is integration not disintegration, not fragmentation.
Maybe it’s too general for you but it works very nicely for me. (Laughter.)
JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN: We started a few minutes late so we’re going to continue for another 10 or 15 minutes or so, and I think we’d like to group a couple of questions once again. I see a hand here. Would you please rise and can we get a mike over there?
QUESTION: My name is Mary Mullen and I work with the Bosnia Support Committee.
But I just wanted to talk about the Middle East for a moment because –
JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN: Could you speak up just into the mike just a bit more?
E.J. DIONNE: And if I could ask, if everybody could keep their – on behalf of everybody else – if people could keep their comments brief, so we could include more folks, I’d be grateful. Thank you.
QUESTION: I just wanted to say that there are Catholics and there are Catholics, and there are Jews and there are Jews, and there are Muslims and there are Muslims. I mean, the religion and how it has built the character of the person and how the person relates to his environment is not always the same, and I think that should be taken into consideration.
And I’m not talking about Iraq, because that’s already been talked about, and I really think Saddam Hussein should be considered or indicted as a war criminal, in my opinion, by the United Nations. But I’m talking about the money and the arms we’re giving to a man like Ariel Sharon. I mean, I realize that Arafat has not done much for his own people, but I wonder what Ariel Sharon is actually doing for his people, and I’m just saying, on both sides, I’m sure there are better Palestinians with better character, better leadership, and on the Israeli side, the same.
JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN: Thank you.
Azizah Al-Hibri, in the front here.
AZIZAH AL-HIBRI (Professor of Law, University of Richmond): Thank you. I’d like to stay domestic with my comment. I’ve been listening very carefully to the two speakers, and (inaudible) I agree on most of what they said.
But I do want to say that as I listened to you, I noticed a very rudimentary knowledge of Islam and the Muslim community. I’m speaking as a Muslim. And I’ll give you some examples. In some cases, I think Islam could have been included in describing positive attitudes in this country, and it wasn’t because we just don’t know enough. And in other cases, assumptions were made about Muslims that are inaccurate, and I’ll pick one of those simply to show that just like minorities fall into the trap of talking about Christians as one lump, the same is true of minorities, that we cannot talk about all of them as one lump; there are differences between the various minorities.
For example, in talking about bringing religion to the public square, it’s often assumed that minorities do not like that, because they will be the losers. In fact, Representative Souder, I wrote an article, and Jean knows it because we published in the same book, where I said that Muslims would rather live in a Christian state than a godless state. So that might come as a surprise to you, but it was after a lot of discussion with a lot of Muslims in my community. These are good things to say about Muslims.
My concern is since we are very concerned about people bringing their faith to the public square, we have noticed recently – and, sure, since 9/11 that some of us have been left in the class alone and that, in fact – a lot has been said about Muslims, which renders them powerless and voiceless.
If you bring religion to the public square, is there a responsibility on the part of people that we view as a majority to stand up, to make sure that certain minorities, even in the most difficult of times, are not rendered voiceless and are not being condemned in unfair ways?
JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN: Let’s take – yes, I see a hand, there are a number of hands. Back in the back there. I saw your hand first. Yes? You’re holding the program. The gentleman there, yes. And then, Joanna, I saw your hand go up, and, then, I think we’re going to have to turn to our two distinguished speakers, and our time will probably be up at that point, but go ahead, please.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Mike Griffith, representing the National Clergy Council.
And my question basically deals with democracy in general: When the people of your district in Indiana, Congressman, when they chose you and they chose to make you their congressman, their representative, they chose you with full knowledge of who you were as a religious man, and you’ve said that religion to you, your Christian faith, is more of, if you were to think of it as tea, you would think of it as hot tea when you put the sugar in, because it would mix, and it wouldn’t ever fall to the ground, as opposed to cold tea, where the sugar mixes and falls to the ground. But they knew who you were when they voted you in, and so if you were asked to come to Washington to represent, and then asked to leave your belief in Christ at the table when you came into your office, would it not be a misrepresentation to your people in Indiana who elected you?
I don’t understand. It seems like when you come to Washington they expect you to leave your religion at the door, check it at the door, as you’ve said, but don’t we lose democracy if that’s the case?
JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN: All right. Thank you and, Joanna Adams, a member of our advisory board, here in the front, and then we’ll turn to Governor Cuomo and Representative Souder.
Oh, I’m sorry. I can’t see you from behind the podium. I apologize. And then we’ll go to you, Joanna.
QUESTION: I’m Brent Walker with the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, and, unlike our Anabaptist cousins who are pacifists, we Baptists like to fight with one another all the time.
I wanted to offer something that my Baptist sister, Barbara Jordan, once said when asked the same question about how she went about integrating her faith with her public service. She said something like this: “You would do well to pursue your cause with vigor while realizing that you are a servant of God, not a spokesperson for God, and realizing that God may well choose to bless an opposing point of view for reasons that have not yet been revealed to you.” I think she spoke a lot of wisdom there.
And I would like for the governor and the congressman to comment briefly on the role of humility as exemplified by Jesus and taught by Jesus in an otherwise ego-ridden arena of politics and public service?
JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN: Joanna Adams.
JOANNA ADAMS (Co-pastor, Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago): I will ask one brief question with two parts. Do our panelists sense a growing religiosity in the United States, or is the United States becoming increasingly secular in its values? And secondly, if the conclusion is that we’re becoming increasingly religious, clearly we are becoming increasingly religiously diverse. Is this diversity a hair-shirt, a problem that we must bear up under and figure out how to respond to, because it is a negative, or is it, in fact, a blessing, I would use that word, a great opportunity for our democracy?
JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN: All right. Governor Cuomo, would you like to begin? You can pick and choose emphases, obviously, in your response.
MARIO CUOMO: Well, I’m going to resist the temptation to say I’d like to answer the humility question since I’m an expert at that. (Laughter.) So I’ll skip that, and leave that one to the congressman. You can handle that one.
About the religiosity, though, this is a truly intriguing question and a very good one. My own personal sense of it, and I have a big advantage over you because I’ve been around a lot longer than you have, and what I’ve seen over my span is an increasing desire to be able to engage this world in spiritual terms, as distinguished from material terms. And I think, without making it too complicated, that’s not always religion qua religion. It is a growing desire to find an explanation that goes beyond yourself.
And this has always been true of humanity. You’ve always wanted to find an explanation that goes beyond your own me-ness and that is larger and more beautiful and will sustain you in all the confusion of this place, especially after things like 9/11, where the biggest question that you’re left with is not why did your religion fail, why did your intelligence fail, but why did any good God allow this to happen. And that’s the question of the Holocaust and that’s the question when a child dies in the crib without explanation, and it’s the question that troubles religious people most. And you read Rabbi Kushner’s book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, et cetera, and it’s never enough, no matter what you read.
And most people conclude at one point that the only thing I’m sure of is the value of the next breath I’m going to draw, the value of my life and making more of my life. And then they fall back to either two possibilities: One, you see yourself as a basket of appetites and you’re going to run around filling up your basket as fast as you can because you know you’re liable to be extinguished at any moment; that’s what 9/11 reminds you of, and so you do sex or food or power, whatever it is.
But I think a larger number of people know that that’s foolish, because you get older and the basket falls apart, and you look for something really meaningful. And what is it? It’s the people you love and the people who love you. It’s your children, your home.
Incidentally, that’s part of the real estate thing I am convinced over the last year. You ask people who sell curtains, you ask people who sell videocassettes that you can watch at home at night: All those businesses are up. People are more and more turning into the home.
So this desire for something to believe in is growing. Now, it’s always been there, and if you take your own life, I take my own life, if you’re fighting the fight for survival, if you’re desperate and you’re hungry, you’ll think about it once in a while, but you’re more engaged with putting food on the table for your kids or finding a job or staying out of jail and you don’t get philosophical about it. But when you get as rich and comfortable as we are, you know, and you can see it in the generations of children, their options grow, their ease grows, and they have this problem more and more. I see it in the summer associates at our law firm who come from Yale and Harvard, some of the brightest people in America, and from some of the best families, too. And they’ll come in after a year or so and say, “You know, Governor, you were lucky you were in public service. There’s got to be something more than Willkie, Farr and Gallagher and making all this money and living this way.”
So the short answer: Spirituality, yes, a great desire for spirituality, but the sophistication, and I’m using it as a negative now, that comes with a lot of education, et cetera, makes it a little bit harder to keep the religious tradition and making it a religious commitment, because more and more of the people think they’re wise enough to challenge it: I can’t prove it, I don’t understand it, and so I’m going to reject that, and you give then any provocation to give up on their so-called faith and they’ll lapse, they’ll say, well, I’m spiritual.
And if you go to Barnes and Noble, in the bookstores, and you ask them what are the big sellers, financing is still a big seller, but self-awareness books, books on spirituality generally are very, very popular. Now, is that a good thing or a bad thing?
E.J. said that I spoke at St. John the Divine. I did again recently. The new dean of St. John the Divine – this is Episcopalian, the largest cathedral in the world. If you ever go to New York don’t leave New York without seeing this place; it’s just fantastic, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. And the new dean is a fellow from Connecticut, by the name of Dean Kowalski, and they asked me to take the pulpit and to give a sermon, and I did.
I went to the week before Rosh Hashanah to Temple Israel in the Five Towns, from the bima they asked me to give a sermon at the end of it to the Jewish people a week before Rosh Hashanah, when they have their Selichot, I think it is, the forgiveness service.
I went to a bishop in Illinois who is the leading bishop, I forget his name now, for a drug addiction program, and gave a sermon.
It was all the same sermon. I went to Baptist churches all the time for the last eight weeks, until three weeks ago, and gave sermons every Sunday morning, and it was always the two very general principles.
And you can do it a thousand different ways. In a Baptist Church, you know – look there are two ideas, individuality and community. Paul to the Thessalonians, “Take care of yourself, learn to take care of yourself.” Paul to Timothy, “But when that fails, make sure you help one another.” That’s individuality and community. And those principles work like magic everywhere.
So if you get a population that’s trying more and more to be spiritual, more and more to find some truth, that’s what the natural law is. It’s a truth that appeals to your reason, that doesn’t have the benefit of bureaucracy and carefully etched, specific rules for specific situations, but that has the fundamental principles that make you believe in something bigger than yourself, and what’s bigger than myself is the world that I’m part of and the contribution I can make is making it a little bit better. Now, I’m not smart enough to figure out anything else. I’m not smart enough to figure out heaven and hell and why any good God would burn you eternally for making you vulnerable, and all of that – this is not me; this is the people that we’re talking about who are spiritual but not religious. That I detect and that’s a very good thing, people looking for something more to believe in. That’s what religion is supposed to do for you.
Now, is it good? Bad? I think it’s good because I think what we desperately need is something to express a willingness to be a community, because we are going from the slime to sublime, and the only way you get there is through integration, and that means we’ve got to learn better than we know now how to come together, so I think it’s good. (Applause.)
JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN: Representative Souder.
CONGRESSMAN MARK SOUDER: I’ll give a couple fast answers to the questions, and then I want to zero in on the two related to the Muslims. I have some agreements and some disagreements about the religiosity question. I believe, in fact, we’re losing a lot of the middle, that we’re simultaneously becoming – more people are moving to traditional faiths, and those are growing, and more people are moving away from any organized religion at all in the sense of church attendance, or a rule that mandates something other than their own will.
I agree that 9/11, particularly, sparked this – our people looking for something bigger than themselves. But, often, if there’s not a standard with that that has a tradition, it merely becomes looking for something that enables me to do what I want, or it becomes really arbitrary, like a diamond crystal or how the stars align or something, and that, in my definition, I believe the purpose of religion, at least in Christianity, is, Do you accept Jesus Christ as your savior? Because without him, you would be lost in hell forever. And then you honor and obey him, and other religious faiths would have variations of that, but to me, that would be what religion is, not what our personal desires are, and how to cope with it. It’s how to honor the creator.
So I’d have some differences, but I agree there’s a hunger, but I don’t believe that we’ve had a precise solution of that.
The humility question is very difficult. First off, it’s hard to run for office and be overly humble. Obviously if you’re running, you believe you have something to offer. Anabaptists do fight, we just fight with velvet gloves and different phrases, that I believe the word of God, the Bible, is the word of God and Christ and God made flesh, that Christ is God made flesh, the Word is Him continuing with us. Therefore, as a fundamentalist, I believe it’s a literal guidebook. Now, it doesn’t give precise guidance, which is why there can be debate, and you ought to be humble the more it’s interpretive rather than clear out of the Word of God.
And much of what we deal with, possibly 80 percent in public arena, is not clear, and arbitrary, but fundamental people who read the same Bible can disagree, and that’s where the humility comes in, and the respect for one another. (Inaudible.) I mean, the Ten Commandments are relatively clear, but even then, is it “kill” or “murder” in the Ten Commandments?
So you should have, as I said, in regard to What Would Jesus Do – it’s as a humble sinner trying to reflect, and that should be reflecting the public attitude.
And I think, to take democracy – or the republic, as I would prefer to say it, it’s a democratic republic – that I believe my obligation is to make my views clear to my district, and then if they know those views, it’s to represent those views, and they can throw me out if not.
I have name ID in my district. It’s 97 percent. And the last pollster said more than any other congressman in America that he’s ever polled, people not only knew my name, they had an opinion about me. And The Chicago Tribune, when they came in to the last election, said that every single person they interviewed said pro and con about my moral views, and that it was either, “Well, I don’t like Souder because he’s this.” “Well, what do you mean?” Well, it actually came down to a fight over a play called Corpus Christi in our district, and that was reflected in different worldviews.
That said, in transitioning to the other two kind of questions that are only somewhat related, that I have even as a conservative Republican – I just had a tough primary race with a friend of mine who’s a more liberal Republican, who disagreed with some of my moral stance – I have a far more diverse base than establishment liberals or the Democrats do. My campaign chairman is Armenian. I have a large Indian, Asian Indian, community in my district that actively supports me. I have never in any sub poll – I’m not saying this is actually how they vote but in any sub poll – pulled less than 67 percent of any minority sub group, including African-American or Asian or Hispanic, and it’s partly because by my nature, I’m non-discriminatory, and that’s because I believe I have strong views, but respect other people’s strong views, they sense that.
Part of trying to deal with the Middle East, however, becomes much more problematic, and let me illustrate a couple points with that. Even Sonny Callahan asked me if I was an official paid lobbyist of AIPAC. He heads the Foreign Operations and Export Financing Appropriations Subcommittee, or did. I’m a very strong supporter of Israel. That, however, does not mean that I believe that somehow Palestinians or Arabs or Muslims are subhuman, or that I have a disrespect, or do not want to try to work out the complexities both international and domestic with the Muslim faith.
I’m a strong supporter of Israel, and I resent, quite frankly, when there are moral equivalents made between Israel and other countries. Whether or not you may agree with particular policies of how Sharon has reacted, the fact is, Palestinians can vote in Israel, they can’t in Saudi Arabia, they can’t in Jordan, they can’t in other countries. In some other countries they can’t even stay overnight. Yes, there have been excesses that I would not necessarily have practiced, but Israel is responding in a defensive mode; yes, in an offensive way in a defensive mode, but I am a strong supporter of Israel.
That said, it’s not that I don’t understand the diversity of the Muslim community in my district. Just Monday afternoon – I forget which day I came in, Monday afternoon, I met – we have now 200 Iraqi in my district, and in meeting with them and discussing this through, about half of them came in before Saddam, that about another half of them are Shi’i Arabs from the southern part of the country, another half are Sunni – Kurds basically. That Christians or others, particularly at this time, do not try to understand the complexities and the differences in the Muslim community is wrong.
The bad news for the Muslim community is that the potential war in Iraq and the terrorism question has exposed them to more vulnerabilities for prejudice and discrimination in our society and, in fact, that’s happened.
The good news for the Muslim community is people are trying to understand and learning how many are in America, how many are among us, are in our communities and understanding that they aren’t all one. Just like I said about the Catholic Church, it’s clear there’s a wide diversity in the Muslim community, even in a country, and even as the Iraqi Shi’i were trying to say, “Well, the Iranian Shi’i aren’t Arab.” That is something that most Americans don’t even necessarily, including many in our government, understand the distinctions inside the community.
Now, understanding the differences and common traditions is going to be slower, and there are still substantive differences, but how we work through those is important. The ultimate question is, Do I think that the diversity will strengthen or weaken America? It depends on how we react. In fact, we’ve absorbed one wave after another of immigrants, and each wave of immigrants has felt some form of discrimination: Asians did, Irish did, Germans did, Mexicans do currently. And the question is, How do we assimilate? And that goes both directions: How much does American society expand to tolerate and understand the new people who have come in and what things can’t be assimilated in the public arena? And how much do those who assimilate accept the values of America in the public arena? And to the degree that they don’t support free elections, we have difficulty in common languages, and I understand this takes a while. One of the things I constantly say in my district is, Look, we had two daily German newspapers up until Hitler in Fort Wayne, for a hundred years, so don’t complain about how slow some of the people are in getting off Spanish because our 80 percent German population had a lot of German publications.
So assimilation can take a while, but there still has to be assimilation of certain values that you came to America for. And the fundamental challenge, and this comes back some to this first question of the fact that we at least had a rubric of a Judeo-Christian framework, loosely defined, as we absorb the Asian religions and the Muslim religions in larger numbers than we have before, How in the public arena do we accommodate a legal system and an ethical system that’s anchored in those traditions? And how much are the people who are coming in going to assimilate that, and how much do we have to change that? And to do that, I fundamentally agree with your point, we have to be far more understanding of the differences to work out how that’s going to work in the public arena.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
E.J. DIONNE: I think Congressman Souder just described another excellent conference for us, because that is a question, in fact, we’ve been kicking around.
When Governor Cuomo used the phrase “from the slime to the sublime,” I thought he was contrasting the average political campaign with the kind of thoughtful and civil dialogue that he and the congressman had today. We are very, very grateful to them.
When I was preparing for this, I went through looking for some “quotations” from Chairman Mario, since I had to introduce him, and another one I’ve always liked is, “We can’t make it perfect; we can make it better,” which implies, I think, that humility is not the enemy of hope or action. I think our two distinguished speakers here have made the dialogue on religion and public life a little bit better and I’m grateful to them and grateful to Jean.
(Applause.)[END OF EVENT.]