But in Virginia, the focus on Kaine’s anti-death-penalty stance led to discussion of his deep Catholic faith – a rare recent instance of a Democrat who seemed to beat his Republican opponent on the faith question. Kilgore, a religious conservative, seemed reluctant to make faith a strong part of his message. ~The Christian Science Monitor

Expect to see a lot of (probably mindless) chatter about Governor-Elect Kaine’s faith and religious convictions in connection with two themes that are media favourites in recent years: 1) the election will be spun as ‘proof’ that the GOP does not have the monopoly on the religious vote (or at least not on effective religious rhetoric) and that Democrats have a chance to “retake” the so-called “faith issue” and 2) it will be taken as ‘proof’ that even “red state” Virginians are possibly moving away from the death penalty. Neither of these will be true, but this is not what interests me today.

What is noteworthy is that Kaine took the Jack Kennedy/John Roberts route concerning his Catholicism, affirming that his supposedly central and all-important faith will have no real effect on how he carries out his duties. This is the “I just happen to be [fill in the blank]” excuse, which is a rhetorical dodge that devalues the religious identity in question. This attitude is strange–Kaine claims that his faith compels him to believe that capital punishment is unjust and wrong, but also claims that it does not compel him to act upon this conviction? He can be sanguine about overseeing executions that he regards as a violation of the dignity of man and as a sin against God? How does this work?

If he is telling the truth, Mr. Kaine can somehow compartmentalise his convictions and stick the Faith into some discrete box that will never interfere with his responsibilities as governor. Honestly, I don’t find this more credible than when Judge Roberts made this claim with respect to Roe. One does not need to be a religious radical or proponent of “theonomy” to see something amiss here. A secular strict constructionist could determine that Roe was badly decided and had no constitutional merit, but it would not be immaterial to making a decision about the constitutionality of the ruling to believe that abortion is an abomination, rather than a legitimate “family planning” option.

Either the Faith informs and transforms someone in the Spirit and shapes his convictions, or his grasp of the Faith is simply an intellectual and formal one, a set of beliefs, so to speak, for religious life that need not have much to do with the performance of duties in this world. It is not an incarnate Faith, but simply a gnostic adherence. Surely one of the chief reasons why at least nominally Christian voters support and identify with avowedly Christian candidates and nominees is because they expect the candidate or nominee’s decisions to be significantly influenced by the Gospel.

Otherwise, why even mention religious affiliation or convictions in the course of elections and confirmation deliberations? Why should we be bothered knowing what a candidate or nominee believes “personally” (and aren’t all beliefs, as Mr. Sobran recently noted quite rightly, personal?) if it has nothing to do with what he believes publicly? Isn’t a conscious disjunction between personal and public confessions of faith what some folks used to call hypocrisy? If there is to be some artificial “wall of separation” erected in the minds of ostensibly faithful people, it must mean that Christianity can only enter public debate and the public square on the condition that it say nothing that secular philosophy would not have already said. This is to suppress everything in the Gospel that transcends, elevates and contradicts the dominant secular conceptions of the nature of man and society.

In any event, that may be the overall result of this schizophrenic approach to faith informing public policy, but I think Mr. Kaine’s dodge of the issue is more likely plain dishonesty. He surely would not claim that his social policy decisions will be unaffected by Catholic social teaching (or at least what he understands that teaching to be), and virtually no one would require him to make that claim (except, of course, if it came to abortion). If he is at all serious about his faith, Mr. Kaine would have to admit that his understanding of role of the state in providing social services for the poor is informed by his church’s teachings. Would he ever say that his convictions on this matter (whether or not we grant that they are the correct understanding of Christian charity) will have no bearing on how he makes decision about those government services?