Gary Hart talks about God and Caesar in America: An Essay on Religion and Politics, published by Fulcrum Publishing.
In this new and sure-to-be controversial book, Hart takes the religious right to task for their assumption of political power, noting that they are both defining faith too narrowly and failing to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. In the process, Hart identifies the proper role of religion in democracy.
Gary Hart is an author, lecturer, teacher, scholar, attorney, and former US Senator from Colorado. A candidate in 1984 for the Democratic Party's nomination for president, during 1970-1972 he managed Senator George McGovern's presidential campaign. He has also served as an appellate attorney in the Justice Department, a special assistant at the Department of the Interior, and senior counsel to the international law firm Coudert Brothers.
He co-chaired the US Commission on National Security/21st Century as well as the Council on Foreign Relations' Task Force on Homeland Security. In the Congress he founded the Military Reform Caucus, served on the Senate select committee to investigate the intelligence agencies, and introduced a collection of environmental measures for energy independence.
On his blog, Gary Hart includes a quote: "The people--not elites or powerful interests--are sovereign." I am wondering if this is an expression of hope, because during this speech, Gary Hart describes exactly how much the "special interest" of Fundamentalist Christianity is coming to influence the way this country operates. I'm not against Christianity, but it seems to me like Hart has described exactly how a "special interest" is becoming increasingly controlling over our government. Great speech.
Okay, well, good afternoon. Oh, you think I'm loud, wait'll you hearGary. Speak up, he says, indeed. I'll speak away from the microphoneGood afternoon, and it's good to see you all, welcome to The BookPassage, my name is Timothy Pearson, and this afternoon we have a very,very special guest for you. Gary Hart first achieved national prominenceas the manager of George McGovern's presidential campaign in 1972, and following hisown election to the Senate in 1974, he ran for the Democratic nomination in1984 and 1988. He has since remained active in politics, most notableserving on Bill Clinton's 1998 National Commission on Terrorism, and he ishere with us today to bring us his latest book, it's called God and Caesar inAmerica, it's a meditation upon the place of religion in American societyand politics, and I will leave the rest of it to the Senator. So if I could pleasehave your warm welcome and join me in a round of applause please for Senator Gary Hart.Oh, he needs a microphone. You need the microphone, okay. Who are you?Sorry... Days of NSA wiretaps, you never know. I am deeplyindebted to Book Passage for the opportunity to be here. The store, as youobviously know, is about as legendary as A Tattered Cover in Denver, someof you may have run across one of the great independent bookstores in thecountry, in my city, and Book Passage, I think, is one of that hopefully notdying breed, so I would, I am a great promoter of independent bookstores,so I think you need no urging from an itinerant writer, but do all you can tokeep this store going, it's very, very important for book lovers such as youand me to have stores like this. So I would urge you to keep frequenting thisbookstore. I am very happy to be here tonight, thank all of you for takingtime out. The publisher of this essay, long essay, is from Golden, Colorado,Fulcrum Books, and one of their representatives, Michelle, and I are kind oftouring Northern California. I bet there would be eight people here, and Isaid we could just get a round table and have a conversation, so I'm mightilysurprised to have this kind of turnout on an afternoon... Why aren't you atwork? I won't tell your bosses, I promise, or your, your own stores. First ofall, let me qualify myself in California. I first came out here as a very younglawyer from Denver, trying to organize California for George McGovern inthirty, a third of a century ago, believe it or not. I was back ten years, twelveyears after that campaigning on my own behalf, and I'm very proud to saythat I won the California primary, most people don't know that. It didn'tultimately boost me over the top for the Democratic nomination at theconvention in San Francisco, but it's one of my successes and that I'm very,very proud of, it's not an easy state to campaign in, and to win the primaryagainst great odds... I felt very good about it. Now, the story's even furthercomplicated by the fact that there is another Gary Hart, some of you I hopeknow, who served honorably and well in the California State Senate and wasfor a time Commissioner of Education, or I don't know what the title is, inthe State Cabinet, but he was in charge of education. Former schoolteacherhimself, very, very nice man, he has suffered unbelievably by the namecoincidence in ways you can only imagine. One of those ways was everytime I came out here and gave a speech, the L.A. Times would run hispicture and vice versa. We campaigned together a few times, and you canimagine the banner was Hart to Hart. In any case, he's a terrific fellow. Anold and dear friend, Gary Robinson, is here. Gary and I have workedtogether over the years in a variety of campaigns and capacities, and I'mvery happy to see him again. One of the few benefits of politics are thefriends you make and the supporters that you have, and I've been more thanfortunate in the kind of people that I had working for and with me, andmany of us have stayed in touch with each other over the years. Politicianscome and go, but the friendships you make in common causes don't endhappily... I mean don't end. Happily, they don't end. I write better than Ispeak... So I'm just gonna read this to you today, and we should end upabout five o'clock... no. Now let me qualify myself to write this. I think it'sclear to most of us that the discussion of or debate, if you will, of religionand politics in America has been notably one-sided for the last five or ten ormore years, and some of us on the other side of this issue, if you will, havebegun to be heard from belatedly. My only regret about writing this essay isI didn't do it sooner. I think many of you are familiar with the fact thatPresident Carter has a book out on religion and politics, a bestseller... But Idon't, I don't bear any grudges, I mean, he was President of the UnitedStates, I'd just like to learn how people write bestsellers, that's all. I guess itwould have helped to become President. A very terrific religious leader inAmerica, Jim Wallis, had a book out a year or two ago, the name of whichescapes me right now. If anybody can remember it, speak up. God andPolitics... yeah. Very, very good book, Jim Wallis, head of Sojourners...Point being, that some of us who have some background in religion andpolitics who don't share the doctrine of the religious right are now enteringthe fray for better or worse, and I hope for the better. Now let me talk aboutthis book by just going through the essay, really, by just going through thechapters. This, in case you hadn't gotten the point, these fit in your pocket,and your purse, and you can carry them on an airplane, they don't weigh...they're not 800 pages, and they don't weigh 800 pounds, and you can readthis basically between Denver and Washington D.C. So if you're flyingcoast-to-coast, pick up, and the publisher now has a series, GeorgeMcGovern was here recently with his on the reason for preservation of thesocial security system, others on public policy issues are coming out, so it'sa new publishing format, and I congratulate Fulcrum for leading the way.Hopefully we'll see more of the essay format, which was very popularin the 1930s, in the Depression, students and thenacademics and ordinary people used to buy these for ten or twenty-five centsand read them, and so forth and so on, and so the return of the essay... WhatI say here in this book is, first of all, the current religious revival is notwithout historic precedent. It is different, and I'll talk about the ways inwhich it's different, but the history of America, I think most of you know,has been characterized by periodic religious revival, starting perhaps withJonathan Edwards, the Great Awakening pre-constitutional era, late 17th-early 18th century, Horace Bushnell in the early 19th century, various kindsof revivals leading up to a period of revival of Billy Sunday, a preacher inChicago, kind of pre-Billy Graham, Billy Graham himself. What is differentabout the current religious revival is two things, I think. One is, it's prettymuch confined to one wing of Protestantism, and that wing is basicallyknown as the fundamental, fundamentalist wing of Protestantism, so it isn'teven just, it isn't Christianity, it isn't even Protestantism, it's one element ofProtestantism, and there's a difference, by the way, between, as I'm sureyou know, between fundamentalism and evangelicalism. Evangelicals aremore concerned about saving souls, fundamentalists want to adhere to thebelief, rightly or wrongly, that Jonah was swallowed literally by a whale,God created the heavens and the earth in six days and rested on the seventh,and so forth, the biblical, literal biblical meaning. What is different aboutthis religious revival is it's very political. It's not only one part ofProtestantism; it is more political, I think, than any of the previous revivalsin American history. The religious right, or the fundamental wing ofProtestantism decided that to achieve its objectives it had to get itselfinvolved in politics and chose the Republican Party as its vehicle. Now,there was no date certain where this began, I think it's certain that it waspart of the success of President Reagan's two elections, so I think we couldprobably date this movement, if you will, the politicization of the religiousright, to the mid to late seventies. And I discuss in here the reasons for this,and I think it had to do in large part with the social revolutions of the 1960s,the infamous age of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, all of which took place inSan Francisco... Just kidding... And the threat that that represented to veryconservative elements in our society, the sense that America was on the roadto hell and if not, had already reached there. Then, that was followed withthe movement, or accompanied by the movement of civil rights, women'srights, and all of these revolutions were occurring in that period of thesixties and seventies, which is very disquieting to traditional conservatism inAmerica. And along with the liberation of women came the whole issue ofchoice versus no choice. And that central, that issue, which we seem unableto have finally resolved and move on, was, I think, the principal motivatingforce for the religious right to insert itself into politics, dominate theRepublican Party's domestic agenda, and insist on reversing Roe vs. Wade,taking away the choice element. Now, let me say as I say throughout thisessay: There is nothing wrong with, and I am not critical of people ofreligious faith being involved in politics. That's fine. Just because, in fact, Ithink there was a period of time where people who were, had strongreligious faith, wanted to stay away from politics. It was dirty, it was nasty,it was corrupt, and they didn't want to be polluted by involvement. But onthe other hand, if you insert yourself into the political process, you are notentitled under our system to impose your beliefs on others. You canadvocate, you can argue, you can debate, all of that is well and good. But thechurch cannot impose itself on the state. The Constitution of the UnitedStates says that. It's not my saying; it's the First Amendment of theConstitution. There is a separation between church and state, and ourfounders knew what they were doing because they came out of the Europeancondition where popes used to pick kings and kings used to pick popes, andit was a mess. Religious wars were created because of this, no one was quitesure who was running the government, whether it was ministers and rabbisand priests, or whether it was political figures. And our founders did notwant the recurrence of that, because it led to conflict, it led to wars, it led tominorities imposing their beliefs on majorities, and they didn't want thathappening in our country. Now what is, when I talk about politicization ofreligious belief, we're talking about tests for occupying elected positions,people being pre-interviewed by clerics as to their position on choice andother death penalty, and all kinds of other things before they are even able torun for office. Even more to the point, we're talking about the appointmentof judges who pass a certain litmus test with certain clerical figures. Now,I'm, no one here is old enough to remember but I remember the election ofJohn Kennedy. And I remember the fact that a lot of these same religiousfigures were warning America against electing a Catholic to the presidencybecause, the phrase that was used from the pulpits, and I heard this myselffrom the church that I belonged to, "If you vote for John Kennedy, the Popewill be in the White House." That was the warning. Now, we voted for JohnKennedy, and I don't remember the Pope being in the White House. Maybehe was, but I never, it somehow got by us if he was. But let's suppose in1961, this actually happened, a vacancy occurred in the Supreme Court, andPresident Kennedy told Ted Sorenson to call the Pope and ask him if theappointment of Byron White from Colorado is O.K. Now, can you imaginethe reaction of religious conservatives if that had happened? They wouldhave gone berserk, but that is exactly what happened with Harriet Miers andwith Judge Roberts and Judge Alito. They had to pass muster with religiousfigures, including some in my state, James Dobson, and others. There's nosecret that weekly phone calls are made by Karl Rove and others, to ahandful of influential conservative, Protestant, political, religious leaders togo over public policy, to go over the appointment of judges, to go over theappointment of Cabinet officers and ask their approval. That is coming verydangerously close to a theocracy. Theocracy, obviously, is the domination ofa government by some kind of religious organization or individuals, and thatis the danger of this, of the not obeying the First Amendment of theConstitution. I...I try to qualify myself in this essay for even commenting onthis. I grew up in a small farming town in Eastern Kansas, a member of theChurch of the Nazarene. The Church of the Nazarene broke off from theMethodists about a hundred years ago, almost exactly a hundred years ago,because they felt the Methodists were too liberal. And the Nazarenes had avery strict code of conduct: No smoking or drinking... I kept one of thosepledges... No movies, no dancing, no card playing, no adornment of womenby makeup or jewelry, and so forth. No movies. And then I went to thischurch's college in Oklahoma, Bethany, Oklahoma, and I've told this storybefore, but it may or may not have happened, but it kind of illustrates thepoint. This was quite a number of years ago. The dean of students, as heactually did on Saturday night, went around the campus peering into darkcorners with his flashlight just to make sure the students weren'tmisbehaving in ways that you can imagine, and he goes into the darkenedgymnasium and sees a couple down in back in the corner, boy and a girl,and of course, we were all taught also not to lie. So he says, "What are youdoing down there?" The young man is terrified, he says, "Dean, we'remaking love." The dean says, "That's okay, I thought you were dancing."So it was kind of the tyranny of the rigid rules. I talk about the fact of... theuse of language in politics, faith and values, and all of us have rememberedin the last three or four elections a lot of talk about faith and values, and thewhole point was: If you have faith and values undefined, you will vote ourway. But the people that talked about faith and values in the abstract neverdefined those terms. What faith? Faith in what, specifically? What creed,what faith, and what values? Well, clearly what this was meant to say toconservative people: No right to abortion, no choice, promotion of the deathpenalty... By the way, I've never understood the... almost all the people whoare anti-choice are pro-death penalty, all under the umbrella of the culture oflife. If anyone here can rationalize that for me, I'd appreciate if because Ican't do it. The fact of the matter is, even during the Terri Schiavo fiasco in2004, four countries in the world carried out more than 90 percent of thestate-sponsored executions of prisoners. Those countries were North Korea,China, Iran, and the United States of America. Now, two of those countriesare, the last time I checked, members of the Axis of Evil. So we're not invery good company in terms of the death penalty, and we're certainly not ingood company where the death penalty is carried out by people to claim tobelieve in a culture of life, anyway. And those same people are not talkingvery much about the 50,000 or more civilian casualties in Iraq in the cultureof life. So we ought to define faith, and what, what values are we talkingabout here? Let's get it all, let's put the cards on the table. Mr. Dobson, orany Mr. Falwell, or anybody else. Define the faith that you're talking abouthere, and the values, so that people can know what they're voting for, andthey may or may not want to vote for your faith and your values. The otherproblem with the insertion of religion into politics in the way that it's goingon now is it permeates our foreign policy. Right now, a lot of the people inthe Arab world are opposed to violently opposed to the United States' war inIraq, but they also think it's the cutting edge of the importation of Americanpopular culture, movies or music, or hamburgers and all the rest, and theimportation of our religion, and there have, in fact, been religious figuresboth inside and associated with the administration who have talked aboutChristianizing of the Middle East, and the President used early on, I think, inthe fall of '02, or early '03, the fact that we were going on a crusade, untilsomebody got a hold of him and said, "That's not a very good word in theMiddle East", because they have some bad memories of about a thousandyears ago Christians slaughtering Arabs, and so the President didn't use"crusade" anymore. But for the first time in my lifetime at least, morallanguage is being used with our foreign policy, and we ought to be verycareful about that. First of all, if you hold up a high standard for yourself,for your country, you better live up to it, and we don't always live up to it.We didn't during the Cold War, we're not doing so now, so to say that we'renot only bringing democracy to the Middle East and elsewhere, we're alsobringing good in opposition to evil... Now, I don't remember, certainly,Hitler was evil, and we went to war against Hitler, and tyranny, andeverybody understood that. But the kind of evil that we're now saying thatwe're good and others are evil is so ill-defined and so unclear, it's not justSaddam Hussein, there is evil in the world and the President has sort of saidit's our job to get rid of evil in the world. Well, the default justification forthe Iraq war was we're getting rid of an evil dictator. The last count, time Icounted, there are thirty-nine other evil dictators in the world, so what was itabout Saddam Hussein that set him apart from Robert Mugabe or Kim JongIl in North Korea, or a whole host of others? If we're in the evil dictatorremoval business, we've got a very long century ahead of us, and the loss ofan awful lot of American and other lives. So, America was not created to bethe world's avenging angel, and we shouldn't set ourselves up that way. Ithink we've got a long way to go in terms of achieving a very high moralstandard ourself before we begin to instruct other countries on morality. Icontrast the teachings of Jesus with the practices of the religious right today.They are divisive, they are intolerant, they are dogmatic, they are orthodox,but none of those words describe the gospel of Jesus. The Sermon on theMount had Jesus blessing peacemakers, not warriors, peacemakers. Thosewho hunger and thirst after righteousness, not those who claim to berighteous, but hunger and thirst. The merciful, the meek... None of thosecategories seem to characterize our current government, and yet thereligious right is saying, "We're good, and everybody else is evil." I thinkthey ought to go back and re-read the gospels, because Jesus preachedtolerance, preached inclusiveness, preached understanding, preachedforgiveness, preached mercy, preached justice, none of which is beingdiscussed by those figures in American politics today. I talk about the awfulwarmth oft he gospel of Jesus, because it is a totally different set ofteachings than we're hearing from the pulpits of the religious right. Peoplehave said that there's a war on liberalism on this country, and by the way,since we're in a bookstore, on your way out the door, pick up a dictionaryand look under 'liberal' at the definition. It's not what Rush Limbaugh issaying. Liberal means tolerant, inclusive, inquisitive, willing to learn, open-mindedness, enlightened... Now I can understand why Mr. Limbaugh andothers would not want to be called liberals because none of these qualitiescharacterize them, so that's why they're angry at liberals, because they'renone of those things that the definition of liberal includes. What is going onhere isn't an attack on liberalism, it's an attack on the enlightenment. Thiscountry would not have been founded without people who were products ofthe English and Scottish enlightenment: Jefferson, Madison, all the rest ofthem. It was that sense of human reason that is central to the creation of thisrepublic, and right now we've got a president who is against science,doesn't believe in global warming, doesn't believe in stem-cell research,doesn't want to learn about any of these things, he simply retreats into a pre-Enlightenment period, and those around him seem to encourage that. I endup with a quotation, a chapter quoting a late prophet, Micah. Micah 6thchapter, 8th verse: "What does the Lord require thee, but to do justly and tolove mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." Justice, mercy, andhumility. These are indeed values by which to live, they're even bettervalues by which to govern, but each is in short supply these days. Somehow,we can assume that the prophet Micah did not have in mind legal justice. Todo justly seems to suggest living fairly and decently and treating all withrespect, and likewise loving mercy and walking humbly with God. I don'tthink it's too much to ask our religious leaders or political leaders to focuson mercy, and justice, and humility, but again, all are in great, are in shortsupply. I'll conclude if I may by just reading two other passages at the end.By the way, the title, as you know, comes from the skeptic questioning Jesusabout whether he was opposed to the Romans governing his region at thetime in most of the world, and was he loyal to Caesar or not, and of coursehis response was, "Render under Caesar that which is Caesar's, and renderunto God that which is God's." Someday, God and his wisdom may decideto govern the human nation. If so, he will decide which one and how it shallbe governed. If he needs any help, he knows how to reach us. My guess is, ifhe does require our help, it will not be in the form of the religious figuresseeking political power in America today. If, however, I am wrong, and heselects them to govern America, he will surely understand if a few of us goin search of a democracy in which to live. That means that no man orwoman can tell me what to believe. No minister, priest, or rabbi can dictatemy political principles. No religious figure or organization can claim controlof my government. No sector church can replace the constitutionaldemocracy that countless American patriots have given their lives to protectand preserve. I believe America still has a destiny. Whether that destiny isdivinely dictated neither I nor anyone else can ever say or ever know. I dobelieve that America's unrealized destiny has to do with achieving socialjustice in our own society, leading the world through a time of greatrevolution, setting higher standards for the protection of our earth, raisingthe standard of human rights for all, and calling forth the better angels of ournature. God's work is never done, and as John Kennedy said here on earth,"God's work must truly be your own." The words of our republic's greatesthymn: "Our God is marching on," and so is the United States of America. Thank you very much.Q & A