Mark Edward Manning begins his latest article at Blogcritics Magazine with a question:
“I’m sorry, but is it just me, or does being associated with religion in an American election seem contentious to the point of stupidity?”
A very good question; and a perfect word to describe the state of religion in America and in American politics in particular: contentious. Unfortunately in today’s America that association is automatic.
There was supposed to have been a time when religion was a very personal thing — the widely circulated rumor was that if you “believed” and behaved according to those beliefs, you had a chance to save your soul to spend the eternity after this mortal existence in a paradise. On the other hand if you rejected religion or misused it there was the promise of ‘brimstone.’ By some standards, those must have been the good old days.
Now it seems that the quest for personal salvation is no longer a ‘top shelf’ concern; we are to be more concerned about the moral character of our politicians and the humanity of our foreign policy. Religion has hit the big time! “Ladies and gentlemen,” said the preacher to his flock, “religion has just left the building.”
BTW: Thanks, by the way to Jerry Falwell and all those other swell folks at the original Moral Majority for designing and installing V.1 of this religious retrofit.
The specific question Mr Manning is asking in his article is ‘what’s a politician to do?’ A combination of two factors has made the politician’s quest for office considerably more complex:
The first factor is, many religious leaders are now as visible and as media-aware as rock stars and most every one of them has a vision of a religion-centered government and a personal revelation of the sad fate of the world if that vision doesn’t reach fruition.
The second factor is the media. One of the first concerns of today’s media (at least this is the way it seems) is not a politician’s views on the important issues, it is who is supporting his or her candidacy and THEIR views on important issues. It is here that the religious “rock stars” enter the picture and here where the controversy starts.
Two well-known cases in point are Barack Obama and John McCain. Both are religious fellows, both Christians, and both have controversial preachers who have latched onto their presidential bandwagons. Obama is being nearly mortally wounded by his very controversial, long-term pastor the Rev. Jeremiah Wright who has, quite illogically, become the media doppelganger for Obama himself. Obama’s constant battle to disassociate himself from the Rev. Wright’s inflammatory rhetoric, while maintaining his personal friendship, has a wearing effect on his candidacy. In many minds he is guilty by association — not surprising! How many of us grew up hearing the slogan: “birds of a feather flock together” and how many of us still have a tendency to believe it.
John McCain has his own religious anchor around his neck and, while it has not been as well reported as Obama’s, it has still raised some eyebrows among the still powerful Christian Right. McCain’s friendly nemesis is a televangelist named John Hagee who has endorsed McCain and who, it is said, believes that the only good Catholic is one that has converted to Protestantism. McCain has managed to keep his distance from the controversial Hagee and the media has not found any reason to raise the issue to scandal status.
What make this whole situation interesting and a bit ironic is that every year, around the holidays, we hear cries from the Christian community that religion is being discriminated against by evil sectarian influences in our society; but then every fourth year religion seems to makes a dramatic comeback and is suddenly one of the most important factors in the selection of a president. If, by the way, you think I exaggerate on that last point, you might ask yourself why that nearly perfect Conservative, Mitt Romney, is not now the Republican standard bearer.
Blogcritics Magazine: And the Yoke Shall Deliver You from Evil?
Political Night Train: What Did Obama Know About Jeremiah Wright, & When Did He Know It?
Dr. Jim West: John Hagee Takes the Smacking He Deserves