Monday, January 05, 2004

Still I Look to Find a Reason to Believe

Give Up the Ghost on God, Howie!

The more I listen to Howard Dean talk about religion, the more uncomfortable I become.

It was less than a week ago--wasn't it?--that I took on his critics for citing Dean's apparent lack of religiosity as the latest qualifier for the "unelectable" label the anti-Deanies seek to pin on the Democratic frontrunner.

But did Dean take my advice? Oh, no! Instead, he listened to the people who want to stop him, putting himself at risk for giving them all the "proof" they'll need of his heathen status. And so we have the "Dances with Job" incident.

To refresh you: I suggested that Dean should decline to discuss his personal beliefs, and invoke Jefferson and Franklin in so doing. However, reminding his audiences that the denomination he adopted descends directly from the Puritans--the original religious dissenters to land in New England--well, that might not be such a bad idea.

At first, the Dean campaign seemed to be dealing with the issue well. The campaign issued a pamphlet touted as being in the tradition of Thomas Paine, the founder who declared that the only church he needed was the church of his own mind. Dean discussed the actions of Jesus of Nazareth, the human being, as inspirational. It seemed appropriate to the kind of personal theology one would expect Dean to have.

Then, in an interview with Newsweek's Howard Fineman, Dean veered off course, comparing himself to Job, the figure from the Hebrew Bible who loses all he owns--and suffers the deaths of all his children--because of a wager between God and the devil. Let's see--Job suffers boils and pestilence and loses everything for no apparent reason; Dean gives up practicing medicine and may become president of the United States. (Sure, I see the comparison.)

Dean is apparently feeling put upon because the long knives are out for him now that he's the frontrunner. While I find most of the attacks on Dean by Democrats pretty nasty and just plain embarrassing, they hardly come as a surprise. (However, one does wish that the Almighty would tap Joe Lieberman on the shoulder and send him back to the promised land of New Canaan, Connecticut.)

To make matters worse, William Safire writes that Dean cited the Book of Job as belonging to the New Testament, or the Christian addition to the Bible. (The Hebrew Bible is known by Christians as the "Old Testament".) And the old gem, of course, had a field day with it--using it as an occasion to show off all that he knew about the Book of Job. (For the purposes of full disclosure, I must admit that I used my blogged advice to Dean, "Getting Religion", to show off what I know about Ralph Waldo Emerson and Jonathan Edwards, which is, in toto, the two sentences devoted to these figures in that piece.)

Thank God that, in his chat with Fineman, Dean nearly redeemed himself when asked if he believed in "Jesus Christ as the son of God" and as "the route to salvation and eternal life".

"I certainly see him as the son of God," Dean replied. "I think whether I'm saved or not is not gonna be up to me."

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