The Compassion Forum

OK. Here’s my major problem with the Compassion Forumthat it actually exists in the first place. I truly hope we are not setting a precedent for future presidential elections. From the Forum website, here is the purpose of this vacuous excuse for a national debate:

…an unprecedented bipartisan presidential candidate forum dedicated to discussing pressing moral issues that bridge ideological divides within our nation.

Who gives a shit? Who cares what the presidential candidates think about moral issues that differ from person to person in this country. We are not in the process of electing a Morality Czar, we are electing the man or woman (I love writing that alternative because of the sheer potentiality inherent in the dual possibilities, even though I favor “him”) who will lead this country for the next four, and possibly eight, years. Under Article II of the U.S. Constitution, his or her responsibilities involve acting as Commander-in-Chief of the US armed forces around the world, being the primary diplomat between our country and other nations, recommending legislation to Congress, and enforcing the laws that are on the books. Nowhere in there does it say that the President shall lead the country in matters of morals and faith.

Let’s assume that the issues that were discussed last evening are really important to our decision making process. Take abortion, for instance. We all know the opinions on both sides of that issue. When does life begin, who has the ultimate say in terminating it, at what point in the pregnancy may it be terminated, and all the peripheral notions that get sucked into that discussion. What exactly does the President of the United States have to do with that?

One might offer the obvious fact that it will not be Congress who decides this issue, should it actually be decided, it will be the US Supreme Court, and that since the next President gets to nominate (though not approve) the next couple of Justices, that it is important to have someone in the Oval Office who leans in favor of pro-choice, or if you are pro-life (an ill named term for the idea of anti-abortion, if there ever was one), one who leans in the opposite direction.

But in the Compassion Forum last evening, both candidates were pro-choice, and we all knew that going in to the Forum, so any doubt we had about either of their future choices for the Supreme Court is really a non-issue. Let’s also not forget that Harry Blackmun, the Justice who authored the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, was actually nominated by Richard Nixon, and was considered to be a very conservative Judge at the time of his nomination. So really, why should we really care what the candidates opinion on the morality of abortion is, when the President is so far removed from the ultimate decision making process, and, being human, could choose unwisely anyway?

It seems that this so-called debate was meant for two purposes, neither of which bear much relation to the legitimate process of choosing a president:

1. It was meant to distract us from the fact that there really is little difference between Tweedledee and Tweedledum. There truly are issues that effect this country that the President could have quite a lot of say about, but while we waste our time debating these non-issues that have no connection with running the most complicated government in the world, and the largest economy to boot, we might just elect another bozo like Bush who thinks that the way to do so is to seek guidance form his heavenly father.

2. It was also a piss poor attempt to either introduce or reinforce the idea that religion actually is an integral part of the makeup of what started out to be the world’s first secular form of government. The point they are trying to bootstrap into consensus is that if we are debating issues of faith and morality in the context of a presidential campaign, then it must be so, mustn’t it? Well, no. This country was formed on the express notion that religion was to play no part in governance, that religious belief was a personal matter between an individual and the best his imagination, education and training was able to conjure up, and there should be no connection between who we vote for to run our country, state or locality, and what supernatural entity we believe in. If we buy into the legitimacy of another Compassion Forum, we’re one step closer to buying into a theocracy. Lets not delude ourselves in that direction.

Here’s what Obama said last evening when asked whether he thought religion had too much influence on public life, whether the very idea of a Compassion Forum was inappropriate.

And the biggest danger, I think, for those of us of religious faith when we’re in the public sphere is a certain self-righteousness, where we start thinking that, “Well, you know, I’ve got a direct line to God.” You know, that is incompatible with democracy.

You may have a direct line to God. But, you know, that is not — the public square is not the place for us to empower ourselves in that way.

We didn’t get the science debate we should have, as it was rejected by all the candidates. But a good science debate should still be held before the election in November, and we should insist on it. While there is little difference between Clinton and Obama in many regards, there is a wide difference between McCain and whoever the democratic nominee will be, and that difference can be clearly delineated and accentuated in the context of how they will handle those issues most directly affected by science, those issues that WILL have a direct impact on our lives and those of our progeny, such as medical research, food production and supply, water and air quality, weather, natural disaster preparation, military defense and many others, not to mention where America’s place in a global technological society will be when science is actually being done elsewhere, while we attend church on Sundays and act on our beliefs the rest of the week.

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19 thoughts on “The Compassion Forum

  1. I’m delighted at what Obama said in the quote you’ve included.

    On the other hand, why didn’t he say that in response to the invitation to the Compulsion Forum, instead of waiting until the last few minutes of the event?

  2. This forum was largely a waste of the candidates’ time and energy. The Obama quote that you included is consistent with past statements he’s made. Of the three candidates still standing, I think he’s the most likely to respect church-state separation and sound scientific practices and education.

  3. I didn’t watch the Compassion Forum and only heard about it on the news and I thought, “You’ve GOT to be shitting me!” We’re blatantly abandoning our Constitution. Instead of separating church and state this forum assists in the marriage. Will we ever see a divorce once and for all?

    I’m really bummed out to know that Obama accepted the invitation.

  4. Was McCain not invited or did he not accept the invitation?

    McCain was invited and declined his invitation. Why wouldn’t he? He’s already got the conservative vote, this is just a way for Christians to flex their muscles. Funny how they’re not flexing their muscles for social justice and equality, for renewable energy, an end to poverty, and better education.

  5. Sabrina:
    I read that McCain was invited and declined the invitation. Smart move on his part.

  6. I don’t have a problem with candidates discussing morality. My problem is with this notion that you need a religious forum to discuss it.

    Look, as atheists, we have morals. And I’d certainly like to know what the moral compass of a future President is before supporting him or her.

  7. I don’t have a problem with candidates discussing morality.

    But the candidates don’t discuss morality in the sense that most of us atheists would. They discuss capital M Morality fresh from the capital B Bible handed down by the capital G God.

    “Morality” in the American political sphere is a codeword for “religion.” Any one of the candidates, asked for his or her basis of morality, would tell you that it comes from on high, not from an evolutionarily developed survival mechanism. The most broad-minded of the candidates might make some passing reference to “the great religious traditions of the world.” But no one is going to talk about morality as a result of eons of “strategies” by successful genes.

    And none of them is going to address morality as a philosophical issue absent a supernatural presence.

  8. You know if I were an atheist candidate I think I might cite more of that bible morality than the other candidates. Why? Well first of all, as an atheist, I’m probably better versed in the bible than most christians. Second, it would be an example of what Socrates said (I think it was him, or one of those egghead Greeks):
    A fool tries to persuade me with his words, a wise man persuades me with my own
    So it would be like Paine during the Revolution, you pluck those notes and make the christians dance. They object to any of your ideas and you throw bible passages at them. It would be a hoot!

  9. @ Ex

    I’m well aware of that. I still don’t have a problem with them talking about morals. We need morals, it’s important to know the moral compasses of our leaders, and if they have good morals and think they came from god, what am I going to do?

    Even you think that a smart candidate has to be able to show certain things in order to win. I would submit that they need to both convince religious people that they HAVE high morality and convince us that they won’t use morality as an excuse for laying the hammer of religion on us.

  10. Evo:

    I don’t care that much about a candidate’s professed morals. Those public declarations of “what a good boy/girl am I” are all crap anyway.

    I’d like to be able to vote for someone who doesn’t lie. That would be morals enough for me for the time being. Too bad none of the three major candidates fills that bill.

  11. Your standards are incredibly high. Humans lie. There are lies I can abide and lies I can’t.

    So I need a little more nuance and I get that from listening to candidates and contrasting what they say to what their history is. If a candidate claims that their personal morality is that doing stem cell research, with the hope that it brings to millions of human beings, far outweighs the notion of “protecting a fetus” and his/her voting record in matters of science matches up – I take that a good sign.

  12. Evo:

    Your standards are too loose. Once you’ve caught a candidate in a blatant lie, how can you trust anything he or she says?

    I suspect you’re willing to cut Democrats a little more slack on lying than Republicans. If that’s the case, that’s a lie, too — one you’re making to yourself. Why don’t you mentally review the lying promises the Dems made to the American public as recently as 2006?

  13. Ex – I know you suspect that. I don’t judge GOP candidates by their occasional lies. I judge them based on the bulk of their policies. When have you ever heard me cutting the Dems slack for their unconscionable lack of balls in facing “W”? The answer is to hold Dems feet to the fire on their pledges – not voting for people who begin the dialog by keeping their word to do the opposite of what I want done.

  14. I’m the only one in this world. Can please someone join me in this life? Or maybe death…

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