By Rob Schwarzwalder
There are no less than eight stories dealing with the religious beliefs of President Obama and his Republican challengers on RealClearReligion today. By historical standards, this is extraordinary: In no previous election season have the faith-related convictions of presidential candidates been so scrutinized.
The scrutiny comes primarily from a secular media mystified, and in some cases, plain disturbed, by the notion that personal faith might affect public policy decisions. In a much-discussed op-ed, The New York Times Executive editor Bill Keller claims that “Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are both affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity — and Rick Santorum comes out of the most conservative wing of Catholicism — which has raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction.”
“Fervid subsets?” Does Keller envision Mrs. Bachmann handling rattlers, or Gov. Perry levitating? “Raised concerns” where, and who has raised them? Certain residents of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, whose understanding of the role of faith in American life is defined not by experience but the occasional PBS documentary? Certainly, if a politician claims to hear audibly the voice of God and asserts divine direction for highly specific policies (e.g., liberal Democrat Woodrow Wilson’s astounding comment that to oppose U.S. entry into the League of Nations was to oppose God), any reasonable person – believer or non-believer – would be justified in feeling uneasy. Yet to assert, as Keller does, that the faith of a Bachmann, a Perry, or a Santorum might be “a Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed” is both to mis-comprehend orthodox Christian faith and also to disparage the beliefs of most of one’s fellow countrymen.
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Perhaps Mr. Keller and his jittery colleagues in the Fourth Estate should reflect on something then-Sen. Barack Obama said in a speech in 2006:
“Americans are a religious people. 90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians … the discomfort of some progressives with any hint of religion has often prevented us from effectively addressing issues in moral terms. Some of the problem here is rhetorical – if we scrub language of all religious content, we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice … to say that men and women should not inject their ‘personal morality’ into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.”
I agree, for the most part; however, the discomfort of liberals with religion goes beyond the scrubbing of language. It goes to the heart of one’s philosophical basis for life itself: Is there, or is there not, an infinite but personal God who has communicated truth in understandable ways to human beings? Christians say yes; the irreligious cultural elite would say, “You’ve got to be kidding.”
In 2004, then-The Times ombudsman Daniel Okrent – a liberal with an honest conscience – penned these lines about the Gray Lady; they could have been written about much of the “mainstream” press and, much more so, the shrill complainers of Left-wing blog sites and editorial commentary generally: “Is The New York Times a liberal paper? Of course it is … These are the social issues: gay rights, gun control, abortion and environmental regulation, among others. And if you think The Times plays it down the middle on any of them, you’ve been reading the paper with your eyes closed. But if you’re examining the paper’s coverage of these subjects from a perspective that is neither urban nor Northeastern nor culturally seen-it-all; if you are among the groups The Times treats as strange objects to be examined on a laboratory slide (devout Catholics, gun owners, Orthodox Jews, Texans); if your value system wouldn’t wear well on a composite The New York Times journalist, then a walk through this paper can make you feel you’re traveling in a strange and forbidding world. Start with the editorial page, so thoroughly saturated in liberal theology that when it occasionally strays from that point of view the shocked yelps from the left overwhelm even the ceaseless rumble of disapproval from the right.”
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In his second inaugural address, which is more of a meditation on the sovereignty and justice of God than a political speech, Abraham Lincoln observed, “if God wills that (the Civil War) continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether’.”
In 1865, The New York Times praised Lincoln’s speech for its “calmness, its modesty, its reserve,” and said, “We have a President who will be faithful to the end.” What would Mr. Keller say of them, and of Lincoln himself, today?