Friday, January 23, 2015

Why Huckabee May Have A Shot At The GOP Nomination

This kind of rhetoric worked well for Huckabee in 2008.  It could work again in 2016.

If Huckabee keeps pushing this Christian America stuff he will be competitive in Iowa, Kansas, South Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, and maybe even Texas.

Some analysis:

"We must once again become a God-centered nation."  Here Huckabee is appealing to a golden age of Christian America that probably never existed.  Was the Christian God more central to American culture in the 19th century?  Yes.  This was largely because non-Christian religions were few and far between.  But do we really want to return to the nineteenth-century or even the age of the founders? How, for example, might my African-American friends answer this question?  (I think I have a pretty good idea how they might respond).

Morevoer, Huckabee's rhetoric basically ignores the religious pluralism that came to define our country in the wake of the 1965 Immigrant Act.  How do we bring the Christian God into the center of a republic that is growing more religiously diverse by the day and still respect the founders commitment to religious freedom?  Huckabee's thoughts about the founding are more rooted in nostalgia than good history.  He does not understand the concept of "change over time." We cannot simply freeze the era and ideas of the founding apply them to 21st century America.

Did the founders believe that laws came from God?  Yes, most of them did  Even the few founders who might be called "deists" believed this.  They were a product of an eighteenth-century world in which most people believed this.  But they also believed that law came from other sources--Enlightenment sources, ancient/classical sources, and the moral sense (which most of them believed was placed in human beings by God). They thought that Christianity, and religion generally, was good for the republic, but only if it taught people to sacrifice their own interests for the common good.

For me the issue is not what the founders believed on this front. Anyone who reads the founders will find God-language.  They will also find strong statements about religious liberty.  They will find states that required leaders to be Christians and other states that rejected Christian test oaths or Christian establishments.  They will find founders with beliefs that were orthodox and others who rejected core Christian doctrines about the deity of Christ and the resurrection.  The founding era is really a mixed bag when it comes to religion and public life.  As a result, any call for a return to the age of the founders is problematic.  As I argued in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution (the two main documents in which the so-called "founders" spoke in a unified voice), do not come anywhere close to promoting a Christian nation.

I believe Huckabee when he says he rejects a theocracy.  But he does not make clear what a country with "God at the center" might look like?

Most Americans are not willing to think in a historically-nuanced way about the relationship between Christian faith and public life.   This is why Huckabee, as long as he keeps preaching these ideas, has a decent shot at the GOP nomination.