By Valerie Tarico
Sunday, 14 October 2012
Are the devout more likely to speak the truth, base policy on objective evidence and demonstrate integrity in public life? It turns out, many religious have nuanced definitions of integrity, and some faith leaders have used that as a license to deceive.
Mitt Romney may be a member of a religious minority, but conservative Christians are working hard to think of him as “one of us.” Romney himself is hoping that they will take his religious devotion as a sign that he is a person of integrity, someone to be trusted even if he won’t share his tax returns or details of policy proposals. Does religion make people more trustworthy?
Most religious people like to think so. In fact, many Christians believe that when they are taken up to heaven and the rest of us are Left Behind, the world will descend into an anarchy of deceit, exploitation and violence. In the words of the New Testament writer, Christians are the salt of the earth, a shining and uplifted light – a beacon in an otherwise vast moral void. In this view, nonbelief is associated with moral bankruptcy, but the right kind of religious devotion makes people honest and good. In the United States, a confession of atheism can bias voters against a political candidate more than many other factors. By contrast, a Jesus fish in a business logo says, “We are to be trusted.” Even people who think that religion isn’t true often think that it’s a good moral influence. That is why Chris Rodda’s book title, Liars for Jesus, had a particular bite.
It is also why scenarios like the following can make maligned nonbelievers feel downright righteous:
- A Catholic Archbishop in Kenya tells the laity that condoms help spread HIV, and priests spread the word that rubbers actually are laced with the virus.
- Gordon Hinckley, president and prophet of the Mormon Church, faces a national audience and an awkward question: Do Mormons teach that God was once a man? “I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it,” he told Time Magazine in 1997. A year later he tells Larry King that polygamy is “not doctrinal.”