Columnist Suzanne Fields offers an interesting perspective on how religiosity is viewed differently in performers (e.g. the late Johnny Cash) and politicians (e.g. G.W. Bush). You should definitely read her column before proceeding as I’m not going to reiterate all she said.
While I think she is correct that Born-Again politicians tend to frighten people whereas Born-Again performers do not, I think she is missing a crucial point. It is not that these people are guided by a religious based code of ethics and morals that freightens people. It is that they (often) believe that they get actionable instructions from God.
In one case, Johnny Cash was attempting suicide to escape his drug habit and had a vision of God speaking to him and telling him to get his life in order. That’s a heart-warming story regardless of your religion, and people admire his strength in having lived up to that vision. But the impact of Cash’s vision was limited to Cash’s life. At the other extreme, had Cash’s vision told him to buy an automatic weapon and take out the local Wal-Mart, he would have been seen as a deranged criminal and not a hero. The impact of his vision suddenly would have forced itself into the lives of those around him. But as a performer (or most any other walk of life), as long as the vision doesn’t inspire criminal behavior, the person is harmless to our lives if we choose them to be. I can choose to not listen to Cash’s gospel songs.
And that brings us to the very reason why politicians of the same ilk scare us. Their “visions” are much more likely to result in actions which impact us all. No one vilifies Bush for having turned his wild and reckless youth around through religion. No one is intimidated because he has a firm sense of Christian morality. Those are admirable qualities. What scares us is the perception that he is acting on orders from God, not just in his personal life, but in his professional one. That is intolerable behavior for a political leader. It is abdication of control to an unchecked authority. It’s one thing for political opposition to challenge a man’s ideas or opinions. It’s quite another for them to challenge what is being positioned as the Word of God. We quickly become a theocracy where dissent is seen as blasphemy. That’s a scary and slippery slope.
So yes Suzanne, politicians are held to a different standard – and they should be. It’s one thing to have ideas pop into your head. It’s quite another when you start assuming they are the unquestionable will of a deity. Pardon me if that makes me nervous.