Monday, May 14, 2007

Religion in the Public Square

How it goes.

A mayor's race that began with high-minded debates and polite candidate forums has degenerated in its last hours to harsh personal attacks between the two perceived front-runners.

While Tom Knox depicted Michael Nutter as a compromised political insider, Nutter railed against Knox as "a scumbag." Nutter made the comment after flyers were distributed outside at least two Catholic churches early yesterday accusing Nutter of changing his religious beliefs for political reasons.

It was a sharp departure from a day in which all but one of the five candidates vying for the nomination in tomorrow's Democratic primary acted in typical candidate fashion: scouring the city, especially its voter-rich African American churches, for votes.

"Remember that Democrat Tom Knox is a practicing Catholic," the flyer reads. "Michael Nutter? He was Catholic when it was convenient for him, so he could get a quality Catholic education. Now? He quietly left the Catholic Church to become a Baptist, probably because his polls told him it would be a smart move."

All this is perfectly fine. I'd prefer a world where religion was considered to be rather a personal thing, but lots of people seem to think that the religion of politicians is something which should more front and center in campaigns. Religion can't simultaneously matter and not matter.

...adding, you put religion on the table as campaign fodder and it will become... campaign fodder, fair game for the same sorts of political attacks as any other issue. It isn't always nice, pretty, or fair, but campaigns aren't always nice, pretty, or fair. People seem to imagine that the politicians/faith issue simply boils down to religious politicians incorporating religious language and giving stirring speeches about their faith. In reality it involves explicitly exploiting yet another brand of tribalism. We don't live in a happy can't we all get along ecumenical service.