Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Review: "The Holy Vote: The Politics of Faith in America" by Ray Suarez

The Holy Vote: The Politics of Faith in America by Ray Suarez is a good introduction to policy discussions with religious claims in the United States in 2006, the time of the book's publication. Some of those issues have waned and new ones have arisen, and, if you've read other books I've reviewed on this blog under the tag Establishment Clause, you may not find these chapters exciting.

Mr. Suarez's style, in this age of bombastic partisanship, is frustratingly documentarian. He includes lengthy quotes from people whose positions he opposes. He avoids snarky rejoinders. Maybe his long years at the United States Public Broadcasting System, which depends on funding from the government and thus must garner support from many diverse sectors of our nation, have increased his ability to listen respectfully to others beyond that of those who publish in ideological Internet news sites, corporate media and crazy, egotistical bloggers like myself!

If you can suppress your ideological commitments enough to read these chapters, you'll find benefit in each one, even if the issue seems dated. But, if you can't afford the time to read the entire book, start at Chapter 9. The last four chapters are more thematic, and Mr. Suarez's ideas replace the reporting of the earlier chapters.

Chapter 9 is an examination of three different Catholic candidates for President: Al Smith, John F. Kennedy and John Kerry. Al Smith ran for President in 1928, when the Roman Catholic Church's latest official proclamations on Liberalism were rejection. Some of his detractors used this and other texts to claim that one could not be a good Catholic and a good American at the same time. Does that sound familiar? Later, John Kennedy had to address less intense questioning of his religious affiliation and beliefs. Finally, John Kerry failed to win some Catholics' support because they did not see him as Catholic enough.

Chapter 10 is devoted to ethnic minorities' religion and state entanglements, a topic often overlooked in other books which ignore or minimize the history of United States white supremacy while discussing separation of religion and state.

Chapter 11 has a chapter describing Alabama's failed attempts to govern according to Christianity.

Chapter 12 talks about Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, a politician of whom I'd never heard until Secretary Clinton selected him for Vice-President this year. Kaine won Virginia campaigning with religious values with which a broad cross-section of Virginians could either agree or tolerate. By talking about his religious values, he succeeded in persuading enough people who nominally identified more with those values his Republican evangelical opponent expressed to consider his secular political positions. And enough of those voters voted for Kaine. In 2016, I wonder if Mr. Suarez is thinking to himself, "Hey, I wrote about this guy 10 years ago."

In flights of fancy, I think about running for political office, but I am utterly stumped by how I would get past questioning about my religion, Islam. This chapter would provide some good ideas. Voters challenge the candidate of a minority religion, not to see if his or her theology is up-to-snuff, but simply to see if the candidate has values. Once the voters believe the candidate has values, most seem to be willing to evaluate the candidate on bases of experience and policy positions.

I have no idea if there are plans for a second edition, but I'd love to hear Mr. Suarez discuss the seemingly swift (incomplete, I know) change in the USA towards acceptance of gays and lesbians and a comparison of Muslims and Catholics in the USA. Another important topic would be the impact of the changes in Popes from John Paul to Benedict to Francis on USA Catholics' political positions.

Use worldcat.org to find the book in a library near you. I've listed my copy on BooksFreeSwap.com and Paperbackswap.com.