Question: What does Ronald Reagan have in common with my grandmother?

Answer: They are both religious bigots.

It was my grandmother's conviction until the day she died (and if she was right about these matters, she holds it still) that anyone not of her religion was less than human. She ascribed to that person all sorts of animalistic qualities, specifically a total lack of respect for either life or property, particularly hers.

It is not, I think, going too far to say that our president holds the same views. When compared to my grandmother, though, he is a somewhat broader thinker since what seems to matter to him is not his particular religion, but just plain religion. Once past that, though, he thinks very much like my grandmother.

Time and time again, the president has gone into this business that the difference between "us" and "them" is that we have religion and they don't. We, of course, is the United States of America and "they" is any communist country and any communist or communist sympathizer--regardless, I might add, of religious affiliation.

It must be comforting to think this way, undeterred by either common sense or the facts, but it cannot be easy. Just recently, for instance, a journalist interviewed an unrepentant former Nazi who boasted from his sanctuary in Spain that among the things he does every day is go to church. The man has plenty or religion. What he lacks is morality.

On the other hand, we have the example of the Jesuit priests who serve in the Nicaraguan government and who have neither renounced their church nor their faith. To the chagrin of the pope, they manage to combine God and (Godless) Marxism, apparently unaware of the Reagan dictum that the two cannot coexist.

The fact is, of course, that a belief in either God or religion says nothing more than that the person believes in either God or religion. Some Nazis believed in both, some humanists in neither. In the name of God, people have been tortured and burned at the stake. In the name of atheism, clerics have been executed. The Argentine junta is deeply religious. It murders in the name of God. So does the Ayatollah.

All of this is apparent to many people. Somehow, though, it escapes the president. He likes to see things in black and white and so he has enlisted God on our side in the Cold War. He understands that we all have different ways of worshiping God, so the president makes no endorsements of the manner or the methods of worship--just the Deity himself (herself, Ron?). In his mind, he would love to establish an amorphous state religion--a kind of parade-ground God who, among other things, is on our side in El Salvador.

He has cited this God in many of his recent speeches, specifically those aimed at student audiences. He wants him worshiped in the schools, thinking this will improve the moral timbre of the nation's students. In previous speeches, he has talked of this God as one of the prime differences between us and the communist states, although it was when one of those states (Russia) was deeply religious that my grandmother became understandably intolerant of other people's beliefs. In the name of God, they were forever trying to hit her over the head.

The trouble with the president's theology is that not only is it so amorphous as to be almost vacuous, but it is both hostile and insulting to people who differ with him on the matter. Americans who are either agnostics or atheists (or who think that whatever they are, it is no business of the school's), are thrown into a category that includes the amoral, the immoral, and--at the risk of being what the president would consider redundant--the communistic. As in the good old days, religion determines almost everything--not only how you worship God but, maybe more important, your patriotism. Without one, you cannot have the other.

But of course you can. One has nothing to do with the other, just as religion or the lack of it does not necessarily have anything to do with morality. The president is proof of that. He's got religion.

What he lacks is tolerance.