Pope Francis has been making waves even after his first few months as leader of the Catholic Church — as much for what he is saying as what he is doing; while some critics point out that there’s nothing “technically” revolutionary about his statements, the cardinal rule of rhetoric has never applied with more force: It’s not what you say, but how you say it. Indeed, a large percentage of the reaction to Francis has had to do with the nonverbal aspects of his rhetoric.
Item 1: Coming down off the pedestal. Francis has made a habit of mingling with the common people, to the chagrin of his security detail (and Brazilian traffic cops).
Item 2: The popemobile. First he rode the bus to work. Then got rid of the bulletproof glass on the Benz. Then he started driving a Ford Focus. Deciding even that was too snazzy, he recently accepted (as a gift) a 1984 Renault with 186,000 miles on it.
Item 3: The chair. Compare Benedict’s throne to Francis’s seat of choice.
To be sure, it’s also about what he’s said, including his first appearance before the faithful, where he pretty much said “Hi folks, here I am!” And then all of the comments about how the Church needs to stop “obsessing” over homosexuality, abortion, and birth control. He even seemed to say that he’s OK with atheists. His wide-ranging interview with the Jesuit magazine America triggered raised eyebrows as well. (Needless to say, this caught Bill Maher’s attention…)
Some observers have suggested that Francis’s words (and actions) could even have implications for American politics — threatening to peel off typically conservative Catholics from the rest of the (increasingly extreme) religious right.
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Thoughts here today on POLITICO about the ongoing MidEast flareup with its supposed roots in an amateur YouTube video, and a Cairo embassy tweet that Mitt Romney treated as a presidential pronouncement.
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Posted in Campaign Trail, Political Rhetoric, Conservatism, Religious Rhetoric, tagged rhetoric, Republicans, Controversies, Michelle Bachmann, POLITICO, Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Mormonism, Religion on October 10, 2011 |
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There has been a boom of chatter in the media today, coming on the heels of comments from prominent Texas Pastor Robert Jeffress over the weekend. Jeffress, who is closely associated with Rick Perry, referred to Mormonism as a “cult” and explicitly said he does not consider Romney a Christian. And that while he considers Romney a “moral man,” he would prefer a Christian president to a non-Christian one. Jeffress is not backing down, continuing a media barrage and not issuing backtracking “clarifications.”
So here we go.
Comment was solicited promptly from the other candidates, including Perry, whose only response thus far was to answer “no” when asked if he believes Mormonism is a cult.
Michele Bachman refused to answer any questions in a CNN interview. Herman Cain, on ABC and then CNN later Sunday morning, revealed a bit more. Candy Crowley: “Is Mitt Romney a Christian?” Cain: “He is a Mormon. That much I know. I am not going to do analysis of Mormonism versus Christianity.”
Versus. This was not a dodge.
So what’s the upshot going to be? On POLITICO today, there’s an interesting debate over whether the anti-Mormon rhetoric could create a Romney sympathy vote. I said no — at least among hard core evangelical Christians. After all, isn’t it the position of the right wing that squishy moral-relativistic ideas like religious diversity are destroying civilization? And if Romney wants to play the victim-of-intolerant-theocrats card, the most he should hope for is a cameo spot in Bill Maher’s sequel to Religulous.
Maher had an insightful (and of course irreverent) comment on the matter on his most recent HBO program. In typical fashion, he asked: What is the difference between accepting latter-day revelation (e.g. Joseph Smith) and earlier-day revelation (e.g. Moses)? In the interest of intellectual consistency, there are only four positions one can take on the matter: 1) Accept the concept of religious revelation and allow for its variation across time and among faiths; 2) Accept religious revelation and do not allow for its variation; 3) Reject the concept of religious revelation; 4) Reject the relevance of the question.
Unfortunately, presidential politics places a limited emphasis on intellectual consistency. What we are witnessing and will continue to witness is a rhetorical criss-crossing of these four positions, particularly among those competing for Romney’s front-runner status. As epitomized in the Cain interview, people will take position 4 (the question isn’t relevant) but implicate positions 2 (Pastor Jeffress).
And wait for it: Just as some on the right respond to the Obama-is-a-Muslim conspiracy theories, “If he says he’s a Christian, I take him at his word.”
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