As this maddening presidential election whirls toward its conclusion, our ever-spinning candidates -- and the dizzy media tracking them -- have put God on the agenda.
The reason: The media's "discovery" that President Bush is perceived by certain Christians as God's candidate. Sen. John F. Kerry -- who for months largely avoided talking about religion -- has amplified upon his own religiosity.
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Many journalists see religion as a near-impossible subject: antagonizing to nonbelievers and offensive to those who believe differently from whoever's quoted. Our nation's founding on the wise principal of a separate church and state further discourages examination of religion's real effects.
But it's tougher to separate individuals from their guiding beliefs. A recent New York Times magazine story describes Bush's "faith-based presidency" as a "with-us-or-against-us model" that discourages doubt and discourse. I'm untroubled by a born-again president listening to his God, but I have a question:
Whom else is he listening to?
The small circle that advises the president is both "exclusive and exclusionary," according to a former adviser to President Ronald Reagan quoted in the article. A White House senior aide explained the cluelessness of people in the "reality-based community" -- that's many of us who are guided by "discernible reality" or, as some would put it, "facts."
"We're an empire now," the aide explained. "And when we act, we create our own reality."
As a believer, I understand that spirituality requires believing in difficult-to-discern realities. I can't question anyone's faith.
But I can wonder why they'd ignore the facts.
So as puzzled as I am that a candidate supposedly chosen by the God who counseled "Blessed are the peacemakers" would start a war without provocation, I know that sincere people believe it. Religion isn't just what we believe.
It's also our sense of what God believes.
Spiritual Americans have watched with alarm as the God of transcendent love, compassion and forgiveness was hijacked, dismantled and assembled into a smaller being unrecognizable even to many evangelical Christians. This God cares about plenty -- but we're led to believe that He's most exercised by human sexual behaviors.
Why wouldn't He be? Society clearly underplays sex's no-fun downside, including deadly STDs and children experimenting dangerously early. Thoughtful people agree: Abortion is often a haunting, grueling procedure. It does stop a beating heart.
Any culture that pretends that casual sex is always, well, casual is lying. But does that make God a one-issue being?