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.
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?
It doesn't to Jim Wallis, who leads the District-based evangelical social justice organization Sojourners -- the recent sponsor of ads stating, "God Isn't a Republican . . . or a Democrat." The Bible, Wallis points out, contains "2,000 verses citing God's and Jesus's deep concern about the poor."
The same Good Book has fewer than a dozen passages dealing with homosexuality, he continues. "So why is gay marriage the religious issue?"
Because sex is a force with which virtually all humans reckon. Its power can expose us, strip us literally and figuratively. If intimacy in even familiar, traditional forms is frightening, why wouldn't sex that many of us don't understand be unnerving?
And poverty? It's ugly, deadly, unnecessary -- and we're used to it. How else could a wealthy, mostly well-fed nation allow 30,000 children worldwide to die daily from hunger without making it a campaign issue?
People must "decide what they think the religious issues really are in this election," Wallis says. "Are they only gay marriage and abortion?"
"Or are poverty, protecting the environment and the war in Iraq religious issues, too?"
The 200 theologians who signed Sojourners' just-released statement, "Confessing Christ in a World of Violence," remind us of what our politically steeped religious discourse ignores:
Allegiance to Jesus Christ commits believers to a "strong presumption" against war and the exploration of its every alternative. "The distinction between good and evil does not run between one nation and another," it states.
"It runs straight through every human heart."
Humans' selective spirituality allows us to focus on whatever issue grabs us and to minimize others. I completely respect that some people's horror over abortion consumes them -- and that they might vote for George W. Bush.
Can such believers respect others' just-as-sincere choice? God, we believe, doesn't have sex on the brain -- humans do. The Creator of all life would have us help, not demonize, the poor, work to keep His earth pristine, and safeguard Iraqi and American citizens. The pain of the not-yet-born concerns us.
The well-being of the already-here consumes us.
One thing, however, we agree on: enough with spin.
We're disgusted by how Bush's reasoning for taking us to war twirled from destroying weapons of mass destruction to a "preemptive strike" on terror. We're annoyed that Kerry's objection to war revolved to politically prudent acceptance before spinning back again.
But religion is spun a thousand ways, too. Warmongers cynically spin the loving God who made us in His image into one reflecting our worst characteristics: being fearful, vengeful, self-obsessed.
But who's scarier: The few who believe a politician is chosen by God? Or the millions more "reality-based" voters who ignore proven facts?
Despite extensive publicity of the report to Congress that Iraq had no significant WMD program, 72 percent of Bush supporters still believe that Iraq had either actual weapons of mass destruction or a major program for developing them, according to a study by the nonpartisan Program on International Policy Attitudes. Seventy-five percent still falsely believe that Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda. Kerry supporters, who hold opposite beliefs, are hardly spin-proof.
Whether devout or atheists, we choose what we believe. Why are we surprised that some people have chosen to see a politician as God's choice?
We're perfectly capable of spinning ourselves.