Carly Fiorina says people of faith make better leaders, rattles off list of secular values

Now that Carly Fiorina’s gotten her bump in the polls after managing to out-debate Jim Gilmore and Rick Perry in the first Republican primary debate, more people are tuning in to what she has to say. And they are quickly being reminded that this is a person who is best known for being fired and for pouring a ton of her own money into a losing Senate campaign in a favorable year for Republicans.

One need look no further than her attempt to wax theocratic yesterday, telling an audience in Iowa that people of faith make better leaders. Said Fiorina, from the Des Moines Register:

Carly Fiorina, screenshot via Des Moines Register

Carly Fiorina, screenshot via Des Moines Register

I think people of genuine faith, whatever their faith is — I’m a Christian — but people of genuine faith, I believe, make better leaders. And I don’t say that with disrespect to anyone, but I’ll tell you specifically what I think faith gives a leader. I believe faith gives us empathy. A person of faith knows that no one of us is any better than any other one of us. Each of us are created by God. And that empathy permits us to see in someone’s circumstance possibilities. Faith gives us humility. Humility is really important in a leader, because it is humility that causes a leader to say, “Sometimes I must be restrained. Sometimes this is not something I should do. Sometimes this is something I don’t know. Sometimes I need to seek wisdom and counsel of others,” perhaps, for example, the citizens of this great nation…And finally, I think faith gives us optimism. And you cannot lead effectively — which, in the end, leadership is about unlocking potential in others — you cannot lead unless you know that people will rise to the occasion. That there is a brighter future in front of us if we do the right things.

The whole answer was a hot mess with a smiling face. Let’s review:

I do not believe for a second that Fiorina’s serious about that “whatever their faith is” kumbaya-ing. At least, the people listening definitely didn’t take it to really mean whatever faith a person happens to hold. To Iowan evangelicals, “faith” means Christian and mayyyybe Jewish faith, but only if Israel has already been brought up. However, as a followup, I’d be curious to hear Fiorina specify — to a room full of Iowa Republicans — who she thinks is more unfit for leadership: non-believers, or Muslims?

And spare me that “I don’t say that with disrespect to anyone,” hand waving. If you have to preface a statement with any variant of “I don’t think less of anyone, but…” you’re about to articulate why you think less of someone. Own it.

Now, as for the values that Fiorina says faith gives you, she’s not wrong! Plenty of faithful people are empathetic, humble, optimistic and so forth. But since when are non-believers less likely than believers to be any of those things?

This is an especially important question given how remarkably secular the checks Fiorina’s supposedly humble believer put on themselves. Fiorina’s ideal leader is willing to say to themselves, “Sometimes there is something I do not know,” to which the non-believer would say, “Yes! That’s the whole point! No one knows everything! Evidence matters!” Fiorina’s Godly ramble then became even more secular when she suggested that good leaders sometimes “seek wisdom and counsel from others,” with those “others” being people, not God.

Again, that’s great! I’d rather have a President Fiorina conferring with public opinion and perhaps a decent Cabinet than with an invisible wizard who lives inside her head. But again, how, exactly, is faith necessary in order to make that happen? What if the wizard tells you to do something that the public, and your Cabinet, all agree will be awful? WHAT DO YOU DO? HOW WILL YOU LEAD?

In the end, Fiorina’s answer shows, again, how religious moral appeals are cherry-picked from the secular set of moral values the speaker already holds. And in the 21st Century, it’s positively insane that secular morals have to be wrapped in religious bacon in order for a mass public to digest them.

For all of the racial, sexual and other forms of social injustice in this country, lack of a belief in God remains one of the only things that truly disqualifies one from seeking elected office. You may suffer at the polls if you’re African-American, female, LGBT or even Muslim, but there is at least one person who fits each of those descriptions in Congress. There are no atheists in Congress. At least, none who will say so publicly. The American Humanist Association claims to have been told by 24 members of Congress that they don’t believe in God, but every single one of them remains closeted. The Secular Coalition puts the number at 28. There are likely more who haven’t expressed their non-belief even in private.

And every time a major presidential candidate repeats the philosophically and morally incoherent meme that people who don’t believe in God are inherently immoral and unfit for leadership, it makes it harder for those twenty-something members of Congress to express their beliefs without disqualifying themselves from office.

Even though faith is by no means a prerequisite for leadership.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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