Faith & Politics

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I might pick up former GOP Sen. John Danforth’s book, “Faith & Politics: How the ‘Moral Values’ Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together,” when it appears in the bargain bin. Why? According to National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru, the book doesn’t do a very good job of describing how to move forward together — other than just doing everything Danforth says.

Danforth’s own policy views put him in a quandary. He was an anti-abortion senator, and he remains opposed to same-sex marriage. But he favors research that kills human embryos, opposes a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage, and disdains public displays of religion. He wants to cast the people to his right as theocratic. But why shouldn’t people to his left say the same thing about him? What counts as a violation of American principles of religious tolerance cannot be simply those policies which Danforth personally dislikes, can it?

Danforth ties himself in knots trying to devise an answer to this question. He suggests that it is all right to object to Roe, since there are secular constitutional reasons for objecting to it, but not to legislate on the “religious” question of when life begins. (That his position as an elected official went well beyond opposition to Roe goes unremarked.) Or: It is okay to vote against abortion, for school prayer, and so on, but it “is another matter to seek out these issues, to push them relentlessly, to introduce legislation, to speak often and in impassioned tones.” Is he saying that you can cast conservative votes as long as they’re insincere?

Of course, even if everyone to Danforth’s political and religious right moved to Danforth’s center-right position, it wouldn’t be nearly enough for the irreligious left. The divisiveness Danforth describes is part and parcel of democracy. To rid ourselves of divisiveness, I guess everyone — on right and left — would have to embrace the Danforth theocracy-lite.

It may take a few months, but I think I’ll be able to pick up Danforth’s book for a $1.95.

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