Christianity and the Politicians


If conservative politicians in the United States
wish to connect their politics with conservative religion (and why shouldn’t they?), they should at least take the trouble to become religiously informed. I say this because of an astonishing bit of religious ignorance I came across the other evening.
This past Monday, I happened to be watching the Hannity & Colmes show on the Fox News Channel, and one of the guests was the former Republican Congressman John Kasich of Ohio. Kasich, an otherwise intelligent man, was defending the proposition that the United States is a “Judeo-Christian” nation. Persons of other religious faiths (Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc.) are welcome here, he said, but there’s no denying the fact that American culture is founded on Judeo-Christian principles. And then to clinch his argument he said: “George Washington prayed to God Almighty; he did not pray to Mohammed.”
Somebody should tell the honorable Mr. Kasich that it isn’t just George Washington who didn’t pray to Mohammed. Nobody prays to Mohammed, not even Muslims. Mohammed is not the God of Islam. The God of Islam (what a coincidence!) is “God Almighty.” Muslims of course are in the habit of calling God Almighty by the name “Allah,” which is simply the Arabic word for “God,” just as “Dieu” is the French term and “Deus” the Latin.
When blunders like Kasich’s happen, can anyone be blamed for getting the impression that some conservative politicians really don’t care about religious issues? That maybe they talk about them simply because there is a political advantage in doing so? I mean, how can a grown person who takes religion seriously imagine — as Mr. Kasich seems to — that Muslims pray to Mohammed instead of God? Even if one’s early education included nothing about Islam, it’s been nearly seven years since 9/11. Isn’t that long enough for an informed person to become acquainted with the basics of Islam?

 

Almost as egregious a blunder is made by those who insist that the Founding Fathers of the United States were all Christian believers. If Thomas Jefferson — who by the way did not play one of the lesser roles in the founding — was a Christian believer, then I’m an Olympic athlete. He was a believer in Deism, a philosophy very commonly found among the intelligentsia of the 18th century. True, he had a high regard for the life and morals of Jesus Christ (or “Jesus of Nazareth,” as Jefferson preferred calling the famous man whose divinity he rejected); so high was this regard that during his years in the White House, Jefferson put together a redacted edition of the life and teachings of Jesus. This version omitted all the miraculous elements of the story, including the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection; for one of the Deistic articles of faith was that there are no such things as miracles. Hence virgins don’t have babies, and dead men don’t rise from the grave. And thus the need for a redacted version of the Gospels, which obviously, from Jefferson’s point of view, contain large draughts of myth, delusion, and perhaps outright fraud.
If conservative politicians wish to be the friends of the Christian religion and get political mileage out of that, that’s fine with me. Christianity, which is nowadays under very serious cultural attack, can use some political friends. But please let these friends be religiously literate. More, let them not embarrass those religious conservatives who have taken the trouble to read more than one book (even if it’s a Good Book) by talking as though the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were taken directly from the Bible. Let them acknowledge that the Enlightenment, which was to a considerable extent an anti-Christian movement, played an important role in the founding of our nation. The cause of Christianity in America is not served by falsifying history.

 

But it’s not just conservatives who make me cringe. I wince for a different reason when I hear liberals proclaim their religiosity. Take Senator Obama, for instance: he’s now in the habit of ending his speeches by saying, “God bless America.” It’s not that I have any objection to divine blessings being bestowed on our nation. Quite the contrary: the more the better. But among Obama’s strongest and most influential backers is a demographic group — upper-middle class secularists — whose goal, whether intentional or not, is to diminish the importance of religion in America. These are the people who are strong believers in abortion-on-demand, same-sex marriage, and sexual liberalism generally — all of which are radically contrary to traditional Christianity. (It must be admitted that they are compatible with “liberal” Christianity. But if liberal Christianity is real Christianity, then I am once again an Olympic athlete.)
If you are Obama, and if your agenda includes the undermining and ultimate destruction of Christianity, wouldn’t it be more honest to say so? Of course you wouldn’t get elected if you did. (At least not today. If we continue to make moral “progress,” maybe candidates for president will be able to say it 50 years from now. Who knows?) And so — very deceptively — Obama says, “God bless” and gives other indications of being a friend of Christianity. His anti-Christian supporters tolerate this because they realize this is what you have to say if you hope to win the votes of the little people (AKA the “bitter” people).
As for Obama’s personal beliefs, I don’t know what they are. He may well be a sincere Christian — and John Kerry four years ago may well have been a sincere Catholic while nonetheless strongly defending abortion rights. Just as 60 or 70 years ago many a sincere liberal was a “dupe” of the anti-liberal Communists, so today many a sincere Christian is a dupe of the ideological party of anti-Christianity secularists.
If we mean to have a serious public discussion of religion in America — and we very much need one — it would be helpful if liberals would be honest and conservatives intelligent.

By

David R. Carlin Jr. is a politician and sociologist who served as a Democratic majority leader of the Rhode Island Senate. His books include "Can a Catholic Be a Democrat?: How the Party I Loved Became the Enemy of My Religion" and "The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America." Carlin is a current professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island at Newport.

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