Religion and Politics, Shaken, Not Stirred

So what do you say when someone tells you, as John McCain told beliefnet, that the United States of America was founded on Christian principles?

I know what I’d say: name three. And I’d have a copy of the Buddhist Five Precepts in mind just to keep him or her honest.

The problem is that you can’t name one specifically Christian principle upon which the United States of America was founded. We’re sick of hearing glib nonsense. Twenty-seven years of public religio-babble has led many Amerricans to say “So shut up already with the religion talk. It has NO place in public conversation!

Arianna Huffington shares some sharp insights today comparing the Buddhist monks in Mynmar Burma with John McCain’s controversial comments in the beliefnet interview. There is a place for religion in public, and Huffington draws the lines clearly.

You have to read to the end of her longish essay to get to the main point. She writes an extended McCain bash-o-ree beforehand, but goes on to say:

None of which is to suggest that religion and matters of faith should have no role in politics. Contrast McCain’s unseemly position shifting with the resolute actions of the Myanmar monks. Their growing protests were sparked by a rise in fuel prices but have since grown into a widespread uprising against the country’s military dictatorship. As Seth Mydans notes in the New York Times, Myanmar has as many monks as it does soldiers, about 400,000 in each group. “The military rules by force,” Mydans writes, “but the monks retain ultimate moral authority.”

The monks are using religion to unite and inspire people against a brutal regime; McCain is using it to divide people for transient political gain.

And McCain is not the only one wielding religion as a campaign weapon. I’ve been hearing whispers from a variety of political insiders that efforts are well underway in a number of GOP campaigns to use Mitt Romney’s Mormonism to undermine his candidacy.

Of course, candidates and their campaigns are not wholly to blame here. This kind of ugly pandering wouldn’t work if the electorate refused to allow it. Until then, we’ll just have to be treated to the incessant, depressing and profoundly cynical spectacle of presidential candidates not talking about their religious views — repeatedly and vociferously.

Thank you, Arianna.

 UPDATE: Christian Coalition blogger Jim Backlin wrote today:  “Comments like ‘America was founded on Christian principles’ by Senator John McCain just might make him president.” So I guess you can’t tick off all the people all the time. 

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