Politics should be informed by science

I’ve been heartened many times, though fleetingly, by stories on National Public Radio.

None of your blathering about “liberal bias,” please. In an era when almost no “news” source spends more than necessary or looks further than required to find out what’s going on, NPR will invest the bucks to poke at least around the edges of a story, if not to crawl behind it. Its coverage of the recent earthquake in China is a model for the world.

By contrast, stories that begin “The White House said today” or “The Governor’s office announced this afternoon” are pretty sure tip-offs that you’re being spoon-fed what somebody wants you to believe. You don’t hear a lot of those on NPR.

So I was listening a while back, when Mitt Romney still thought he could be president, and there was a segment indicating, in apparent surprise, that half of all Americans said they’d be reluctant to vote for a Mormon for president. It’s been nagging at me ever since.

I wasn’t surprised at the finding. I know Mormons who say they’re reluctant to vote for Mormons.

“I grew up in the church,” one of them told me in a discussion of Romney. “When he says his religion won’t influence how he governs, he’s absolutely lying.”

I take no position on that. I’m just reporting what I was told.

Similar findings kept popping up when Joe Lieberman (Selfserver-Conn.) was running for vice president. Some pundit was always pointing out that many Americans would be reluctant to vote for a Jew. Gee, you think?

The NPR announcer and reporter discussed the Mormon issue for a few seconds, arriving at no conclusion. Then, as they left the topic, the announcer dropped in something that cheered me up: 45 percent of Americans also say they think evangelical Christians have gone too far in promoting their views.

Hallelujah! Maybe Democracy has a future after all.

In the matter of religion, I have no preference. I don’t care what you believe or what you preach, though I’ll be obliged if you don’t preach creationism in the schools. This nation is far enough behind in the sciences without digging that hole any deeper.

Where elected officials are concerned, though, I want decisions to be made on pragmatic grounds. I have friends, for instance—OK, acquaintances—who see no reason for conservation, because Christ will come back and carry us all away before everything runs out. Use up the oil, cut the old-growth trees, foul the water—makes no difference, because soon there will be a flash of light, a burst of music, and we’ll all grow wings and flutter off to Heaven (I may have some details wrong, but that’s the gist of it).

Certainly they can believe that if they choose. But I don’t believe it, and I don’t want a politician who believes it making decisions that affect what the world will be like after he or she is gone.

We shy away from talking about religion in politics, unless we believe God has spoken directly to us (too much of that going around these days, by the way). That’s a mistake for a couple of reasons:

First, it drives the conversations underground. If we don’t trust Mormons or Jews or evangelicals, wouldn’t it be better to discuss that in daylight? “Say, Mitt—I like some of what you say, but I’m really worried about your church’s position on blacks and women. What’s up with that?”

And second, now and then it lets a wacko sneak into office. Too much of that going around lately, too.