Religious beliefs may prove the difference

18:03, Oct 18 2012
FINGER POINTING: Mitt Romney and Barack Obama spar during the second presidential debate.
FINGER POINTING: Mitt Romney and Barack Obama spar during the second presidential debate.

The United States presidential election can and does throw up sharp divisions among the populace, particularly along Right and Left lines - lines that have become a little more blurred in New Zealand.

In a recent debate between President Obama and Republican hopeful Mitt Romney, Left and Right personified, the latter came out as victor, according to observers at the time.

Obama, by his own admission, was a little late out of the blocks, which put him unexpectedly behind in the race.

So when it came to the baton change, attention was refocused to see whether, in the following vice-presidential confrontation, Joe Biden could make up ground. That he did or didn't, as always, is open to debate itself, but some pundits were calling it a tie.

However, in an article printed in Britain's, The Times, recently (reprinted in the Waikato Times, Oct 12), the Right and Left divide was intriguingly examined in relation to its religious context, since no US election can ignore the strong church-going constituency that makes up the citizenry.

Biden and Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate, are both Catholic and of Irish-American heritage. No edge there one would think.


It would seem to put them on an equal footing, with no advantage or room to manoeuvre.

However, the Right and Left divide charges straight through the middle of this seemingly homogenous god-fearing body, separating out, as it were, the sheep from the goats inside an institution that presents a unified moral voice and demands unswerving loyalty on matters of belief and values from its parishioners.

Biden and Ryan embody this disconnect, finding themselves at opposite poles on ethical and value matters related to issues such as abortion, birth control, homosexuality and how to treat the poor.

Ryan, on the Right, for instance, proposes cutting social programmes, while Biden, on the Left, drawing on a different Catholic tradition, supports more socially just moves.

Romney, devoutly religious himself and of the Mormon persuasion, ever vigilant to spot a theological difference and score a political point, described Ryan, when introducing him at their National Conference, as a "faithful Catholic".

The British columnist was quick to point out that that was a dig at Biden, who Romney was trying to characterise as a "cafeteria Catholic" - that is, one who picks and chooses what to believe and practise with regard to their faith.

What becomes interesting when one examines the ramifications of this bi-play a little more carefully is that in this particular matter, all Christians and religious affiliates tend to pick and choose when it comes to what they believe or what they do in relation to their church's teachings. Even conservative Catholics like Ryan, one would think, would be reluctant to choose the more graphically savage and violent descriptions of his deity or align himself with the practice of slavery as endorsed by holy writ.

But these subtleties are easily lost in the political hurly-burly of the hustings trail.

That such considerations play no or little part in our own electoral practice, which might otherwise muddy the waters, is probably a blessing, but it makes for fascinating viewing as we look across at a superpower embroiled in a political struggle, whose machinations can cut a swath through devotional callings and claims to spiritual value.

It reminds us that the liberal-conservative divide is bigger than even specific religious allegiance, while at the same time raising the question of ethical hegemony, and causes us to ponder how the church in general can claim any moral monopoly with regard to judgments of right and wrong in the world at large.

Peter Dornauf is a Hamilton artist, writer and teacher.

Waikato Times