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Wednesday, October 12, 2005
 
THE POLITICS OF FEAR OF RELIGION

There are 435 Representatives and 100 Senators in Congress. We have fifty governors of the fifty states - and presumably fifty Lieutenant Governors and fifty State Treasurers and fifty Secretaries of State and fifty Attorneys General and fifty each of other elected state officials. Add in the elected officials of counties and cities and townships and other geographical divisions across the country - and the numbers are in the thousands - probably hundreds of thousands.

I’d be willing to make a bet about all of these people. I’d be willing to make it publicly and ask anyone elected to a governmental post of any kind to tell me that I’m on the wrong side of the bet.

And the nature of the bet? That if asked or challenged, each and every person who has been able to get themselves elected would describe themselves as people of faith. Each and every one - if asked - would say that they practice or follow a religion of one kind or another and that they believe in God.

And some of them - maybe a great many of them - would be bald faced liars. There isn’t any question that among the nation’s elected officials there are atheists. People who just plain don’t believe in the idea of a "God." I don’t have to be a statistician to make such a statement - but if you don’t believe that it’s a statistical truth, you’re probably among the people who think that we’ve never been to the moon and that Neil Armstrong’s comment about a small step for a man and a giant leap for mankind was delivered from somewhere in the Arizona desert.

Apart from atheists, there are likely hundreds or thousands of elected officials who actually do belong to some organized religion but who don’t believe 99% of what their religion preaches. But as I’ve said before on these pages, you’re not going to get elected dog catcher in this country if you reveal anything like that. A majority of voters aren’t going to endorse a "Godless" candidate.

I doubt that too many people would admit to a pollster that religion and belief in a deity was at the top of their list in what they looked for in a candidate for public office, but if they were asked the direct question - who would you vote for between a highly qualified candidate who is a confessed atheist and a less qualified candidate who professes a profound belief in God and attends church services every day and twice on Sundays - you’d get a lot of red faces and a lot of spluttering and maybe no answer at all but I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that the atheist would be going back to private life on the day after the election.

Let’s face it folks. Permeating our political landscape is the politics of fear of religion. Or fear of the influence that religion has on the voting public. Candidates for political office, no matter what their personal beliefs, are scared stiff of not appearing to be as religious as the general electorate - and certainly terrified of saying anything that might be interpreted as belittling anyone’s religious beliefs, ands so they act accordingly, professing to be as religious as the next guy if not more so.

It’s always been that way , but since George W Bush has been in office, it has taken on an "in your face" attitude by those vying for and wanting to hang on to elected and even appointed offices. Since the announcement of Harriet Miers as the President’s choice for the next Supreme Court justice, there have been obvious efforts to convince members of the conservative religious community - evangelicals and "born agains" - that she’d be someone they could be proud of on the court. Translation - she’s anti abortion and would vote to overturn Roe v Wade. But that was just with language that could be interpreted that way. No one was saying that she was being nominated because of her religious beliefs. Until today that is, when President Bush just about said that indeed it was because of her religion!!

Probably the reason that the Democrats have lost their majorities in Congress is because most have tried to keep as much separation as possible between church and state in their appeal to voters - whereas Republicans have done the opposite, appealing as much as possible to voters who want religion to be in the forefront of every aspect of life - in our schools, in our courtrooms and in our legislatures. And it puts Democrats in a difficult position. Do they maintain their approach of leaving religion out of politics - or do they adopt the approach that seems to be working - pandering to the religious majority? Substituting religious sophistry for sophistication.

Almost exactly a year ago, on October 18, 2004, I expressed my concern that Mr. Bush would appoint a judge to a high court - even the Supreme Court - based on the kind of religious beliefs that he himself holds, and now it seem that it has happened. The intrusion of religion into politics has reached new heights, from which it might be difficult to descend for those wishing to put it back where it belongs - in churches and mosques and synagogues and in the privacy of people’s homes.

But there may be hope. Perhaps this latest effort to mix politics and religion - this blatant "in your face" reason for appointing someone to the highest court in the land - because her religious beliefs will be an important if not the deciding influence on how she votes on issues coming before the court for the next 20 or 30 years - will be the springboard for a backlash against this creeping - now galloping movement toward turning our democracy into some kind of half baked theocracy.

During the upcoming confirmation hearings, Democratic Senators have an opportunity to expose this effort by the President and some members of Congress to inject religion where it doesn’t belong - if they have the guts to do it and the sophistication to do it without making the fatal error of insulting the religious beliefs of Mr. and Mrs. Joe Public. There’s been some talk of calling James Dobson to ask what assurances he got from Karl Rove and why he believes she was nominated by the President. I hope it happens It could be a seminal moment. But I’m not holding my breath . That fear of saying the "wrong" thing about religion has become ingrained in our elected officials. It’ll be the rare politician who will dare to break the mold and say what needs to be said about where religion belongs and doesn’t belong. It’ll be an even rarer politician who admits to having no religious affiliation or belief but asks voters to judge him on the basis of his abilities and integrity.

That’ll be the day.