I’ve been thinking some more about the following passage from Nicholas Kristof’s column this morning:
John Green, of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, says that about 10 percent of Americans believe we may be in the Book of Revelation’s “end times” and are on the lookout for the Antichrist. A constant barrage of e-mail and broadcasts suggest that Mr. Obama just may be it.
It’s one thing to charge a presidential candidate with being an atheist, as some Federalists charged Thomas Jefferson in 1800; or with taking orders from the pope, as some Protestants charged John F. Kennedy in 1960. Those are both propositions capable of being discussed according to what the philosopher John Rawls called public reason–the common reasoning of all citizens in a pluralist society. We all can weigh the evidence for and against Jefferson’s atheism, for and against Kennedy’s obedience to the pope. But the claim that a presidential candidate is or may be the Antichrist is subject only to nonpublic reason–reasoning among the particular religious community that happens to believe that the End Times are upon us, or could be. It invites the rest of us into a discussion of something that is, for us, unreal. For us, there’s literally nothing to discuss.