Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Shorter David Brooks

Get religion or get lost.

Mr. Brooks’s point seems to be that if you portray yourself as a person of faith, you can win the election, and since John Kerry doesn’t appear to be outwardly a man of faith, he’s in trouble.

What a steaming pile. In the first place, Senator Kerry is in hot water with some bishops of the Roman Catholic church because he chooses to exercise his faith by taking communion even though he is opposed to some of his church’s dogma. Forty years ago John Kennedy had to prove that he wasn’t at the beck and call of Rome; now John Kerry has to prove that he is?

Second, unlike some of the more lively denominations, mainline churches – both Catholic and Protestant – are not outwardly expressive of their faith. Religious beliefs, after all, are a highly personal matter and a lot of people are uncomfortable with open displays of religiosity. Unlike many evangelicals (as well as prominent political figures) who keep their faith close to the surface and speak of their personal relationship with Jesus Christ as if he was their insurance agent, Senator Kerry chooses to keep his private feelings and devotion private. That may be due to his personal feelings, or perhaps, like the New England stereotype, he’s tight-lipped about it because talking about religion with strangers is just not something people from that part of the country do.

Mr. Brooks seems to think that it’s a political asset to be boastful of one’s faith. If that were true, Jimmy Carter, our first self-proclaimed “born again” Christian president, should have defeated Ronald Reagan, whose church attendance was spotty at best. Bill Clinton attended church every Sunday and was the chief target of Religious Reich fundraising. Richard Nixon was a Quaker who never attended meeting, and no one really kept track of where LBJ or Ike went to church.

I don’t think most people base their electoral choices on religious faith – or the lack thereof. It may, in some parts of the country, be a political advantage, but it’s countered by the fact that there are parts of the country where it’s a liability to be overtly religious. And any politician who adjusts his church attendance because it would be politically advantageous would be instantly seen as pandering. And if so, he wouldn’t have a prayer.