January 09, 2008

Jehovah Skips New Hampshire: Huckabee, Robertson and Mushy Thought

Yesterday was a long day, and because I dropped off to sleep quite early I didn't find out until just a little while ago what the results of the New Hampshire primary were. Clinton took the Democratic vote and McCain won for the Republicans. Despite my general lack of excitement for any of the candidates on either side, I'm happy that someone other than Huckabee won even though I don't support any of the Republicans at all. Try not to be too shocked about that. All in all, though, Huckabee represents a worst case scenario. Whomever gets elected president in this next election is facing a world of problems that necessitate an office holder willing to face reality and exercise real critical thought to solve them, and nothing about Huckabee demonstrates that he's that person.

In December, Huckabee spoke at Liberty University and delivered the following quote as part of his address when speaking about his surge in opinion polls at the time:

There's only one explanation for it, and it's not a human one. It's the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of five thousand people… There literally are thousands of people across this country who are praying that a little will become much, and it has, and it defies all explanation.


This is a paraphrasing of Mark 6:41; it's clear to what power Huckabee was referring. He's attributing his performance in an opinion poll to the Biblical God.

In New Hampshire, however, Huckabee didn't do so well. He finished a very distant third with 11% of the vote, far behind McCain (37%) and Romney (32%) [Source]. McCain doesn't mix religion and politics to the extent that Huckabee does and Romney is famously (thanks in part to Huckabee and many of his supporters) Mormon. Huckabee hasn't made mention of Jehovah again in the context of his defeat in New Hampshire, but I don't think it would be unreasonable for one to ask why the same deity whose support Huckabee touted in December wouldn't "make all things possible" (Mark 10:27) with a win in New Hampshire, too. After all, that quote is found in the same New Testament Gospel that contains the story he paraphrased while speaking at Liberty.

That's just the thing about post hoc citing of supernatural agency as causation. It only happens when something that the one asserting it has gotten something they wanted. We've all seen professional athletes trotting down a field with finger pointed at the sky when they've scored a point for their side; that's effectively what Huckabee was doing when he picked up points in the opinion polls. You'll never hear a baseball player, for instance, complain that Jehovah was at fault for the player's hitting into a double play, however. Assertion about God being on one side or another is symptomatic of mushy thinking. It starts with the idea that there is a causative agent that is beyond human comprehension and then invokes it into the course of purely human affairs, whether they be politics or baseball. It doesn't matter much how an athlete thinks. Nobody is every likely to pay A-Rod 150 gazillion dollars to solve real-world problems based on accepting or rejecting hypotheses based on empirical evidence. If he wants to point at the sky as he comes down the third base line, I'll still be happy to see him score the run. It's a very different matter when it comes to electing a president, though. We've already had nearly eight years of mushy, theologically-inspired thinking in the White House; it doesn't work out well. America, I would hope, has by and large developed enough wisdom based on experience to tell us that we need to avoid having another leader who thinks that Jehovah is whispering into his ear or is a "decider" who can base decisions on "what's in his heart" rather than upon the best available information. Vladimir Putin didn't, after all, turn out to have such a "good soul."

This kind of fundamentalist thinking also tends to cut humanity out of the dialog. In Huckabee's case, his statement about divine involvement at one point and his lack of one at another may just be the tip of the iceberg or it may not. There's a certain disdain for humanity in such statements, though, that gets taken to extremes by those who aren't as reliant upon public opinion as an office seeker. For example, we can look at Pat Robertson's prediction of a mass destructive attacks against the US made in January of last year based on what God told him:
...religious broadcaster Pat Robertson predicted Tuesday that a terrorist attack on the United States would result in “mass killing” late in 2007.

"I’m not necessarily saying it’s going to be nuclear. The Lord didn’t say nuclear. But I do believe it will be something like that."

Pat Robertson, 1/2/2007

When New Year's Day 2008 rolled around and no such attacks had taken place, contradicting what Robertson reported Jehovah as having told him, his reaction was:
All I can think is that somehow the people of God prayed and God in his mercy spared us.


Nonetheless, Robertson is still discussing the future with Jehovah and delivering prognostications. That he posited that human wishes could overcome divine plan as a reason that his 2007 prophesy didn't come to pass doesn't appear to have factored into his thinking about 2008 and beyond. There's always an excuse for an undetectable supernatural agent to change it's mind, after all. Maybe he won't next time. We humans can't tell what God is thinking... but we can tell what God is thinking when it lines up with what we wanted somehow. How could either Robertson or Huckabee expect that the omniscient, omnipotent invisible puppet master wouldn't have counted on believers praying extra-hard at some particular moment in the course of the events he was planning in the first place? The object of religious belief can't be relied upon to take religious belief into account, after all.

Robertson is more extreme — and probably more murderous — in his thinking than Huckabee. I don't know Huckabee's private thoughts, and Robertson likely feels freer to express what he's thinking because he's not subject to an electoral mandate. Still, Robertson's predictions and Huckabee's supernatural attribution of very human opinion polls have the same basis. Both cut out the human middle-man until things don't go their respective ways. Huckabee, for his part, offers no explanation of why the deity couldn't have swung more than 11% of New Hampshire voters his way.

It's this kind of mushy thinking that makes me glad that a Huckabee presidency became a little less likely thanks to New Hampshire voters yesterday. Rather than a continuation, or even an intensification, of the problems we already face due to similarly sloppy, inconsistent and misguided thought from the current administration, the new election should be an opportunity to put someone in charge who will take an entirely different course. It may well be idealistic of me, but I would like to continue hoping that the next chief executive will have his/her feet planted squarely in this world and act accordingly.

I haven't made up my mind yet who that person is, but I've come to some conclusions about who it isn't, and it definitely isn't Mike Huckabee.

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