Religion and public life

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on December 26, 2007

I'll probably be writing about the place of religion in public life for the rest of mine. While I'm generally opposed to the efforts of the radical left to scrub the public square of all religious speech -- and even more opposed efforts that seek to single out Christianity for special cleansing -- there is a line the government shouldn't cross. Unfortunately for those on the left, it is a line and not a wall.

For the record: I'm amenable to author Gregory Boyd's argument that government oppression could be a boon for Christian evangelism in the United States. However, I don't believe that the government has the legal right to create such an atmosphere.

Getting back on point. There are a couple of things in the news that prompt this post on religion and public life.

The first is this whiny column in The Washington Post by Sally Quinn, one of the co-hosts of that paper's "On Faith" discussion forum.

Quinn decries a meaningless House resolution saying nice things about Christians. Granted, there's plenty that the House could and should have been doing rather than passing this resolution, but Quinn's hysterics are out of all proportion.

How could this happen, in what will soon be 2008, in a pluralistic, multicultural, multireligious society, a society based on the concepts of religious freedom and separation of church and state? What were they thinking?

This resolution was as anti-American as anything Congress has ever passed. It disenfranchised and marginalized millions and millions of men and women, reducing them to second-class citizens.

Except that it didn't reduce them to second-class citizens. Saying something nice about Christians doesn't take away the voting rights of Jews. As Ramesh Ponnuru snarkily remarked on the claim that the resolution was "as anti-American as anything Congress has ever passed": "So much for the Fugitive Slave Law, then."

As one commentator noted, this sort of meaningless thing happens all the time. A House resolution passed in March had similarly nice things about the festival of Diwali, "celebrated annually by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains throughout the United States."

As for Quinn's childhood story of why she is an atheist -- let's just say that if that is the extent of her thinking on religious issues then she really is woefully underqualified to host anything pertaining to religious issues. C.S. Lewis' "The Problem of Pain" would do wonders for Quinn's education.

The second item is on the other end of the spectrum from Quinn's position -- and it involves GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee. From Ramesh Ponnuru:

In his speech before the Family Research Council — a speech that played an important role in his rise this fall — he touted himself as someone who “speaks the language of Zion [as] a mother tongue and not a recently acquired second language.” One of his ads described him as a “Christian leader.” He does not explicitly say that evangelicals should vote for him because he is an evangelical. He just comes very close.

That's the line at the other end that shouldn't be crossed. Americans shouldn't vote against Mitt Romney because he's a Mormon and they shouldn't vote for Mike Huckabee because he's a Christian. Candidates should feel free to talk about how their beliefs -- religious or otherwise -- impact their thoughts and policies.

But the kind of identity politics that Huckabee is peddling is beyond the pale. Appeals to voters based on Christian faith is as odious as appeals based upon race.

0 comments on “Religion and public life”

  1. Susan Estrich's column today (printed in my local paper today anyway) has enormous fun with the notion that the mother of Britney and Jamie Lynn Spears was writing a book on 'Christian parenting.' It must have been the 'Christian parenting' angle that attracted her; I don't recall Estrich wringing her hands over the illegitimacy rate in America's inner cities in a recent column, nor have I read reports of her interrupting a Democratic Party fundraiser by yelling 'Slut!' at an unwed actress. (Yes, she does apply the word 'slutdom' to the Spears's sisters lifestyles.)

  2. I support Huckabee's right to make this appeal. In fact, I'm glad he did.

    From what I can see, he's a nanny stater, a compassionate conservative, without Bush's sincerity. He has all the appeal of Mike Bloomberg, which is to say that of a nasty Doberman.

    Is the nation stupid enough to be taken in by this grifter? I doubt it. His record speaks for itself. He might win Iowa, but then I might win Iowa.


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