On the matter of Gov. George W. Bush's favorite political philosopher: To some extent, one's reaction is a matter of taste and tradition. Many people prefer not to wear their religion on their sleeves; they consider it an unseemly and even offensive form of showing off.

There is considerable biblical justification for this stand. Matthew 6:5-6 specifically warns against making a great show of faith and advises us to go quietly into a closet to pray. And again, when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, he made the same point.

But many other Christians are raised in the shout-loud-the-name-of-the-Lord school, believing that witnessing and celebration are proper components of their religion. And there is much to be said for that point of view as well. Many of these folks say our public life has become a secular desert--that we are so careful about the separation of church and state that we are in danger of losing all moral perspective on public affairs.

Just as an aside, from a political point of view, I have been amused by a couple of Republican candidates who seem to think that the way to our electoral affection is to tell us all what moral lepers we are. They announce that we are sunk in sin from sea to sea, a nation of moral depravity, set to outdo Sodom and Gomorrah, rotting from the weight of our collective turpitude, and that we should therefore vote for them. I doubt it will sell.

Besides, my own observations lead me to conclude that Americans, as a bunch, are actually remarkably nice people. A little odd, a trifle comical, to be sure, but by and large a decent set of folks.

I truly believe that dragging Jesus Christ into partisan politics is a grave mistake. It will do Jesus no good at all to be seen in the company of politicians--apt to ruin his reputation, if you ask me.

If you add religious passion to what are now merely public policy debates, you promptly add an element of fanaticism that can only destroy democracy.

I'm going to give you an example of what happens when you mix religion with politics from my point of view, and let all you conservatives see how you feel about it.

We are all agreed that God is nonpartisan, but I have long believed that Jesus is a liberal. The original bleeding-heart liberal, in fact. And you can't weasel out of this by saying Jesus didn't intend for his instructions to be carried out by government; you are the very people who have been complaining about not enough religion in government. So taking Bush at his word that Jesus Christ changed his heart, I would ask him the following:

* Why did you fight to keep 200,000 poor Texas children from getting medical insurance through a program that would not have cost the taxpayers of Texas a bean--and this in the state with the highest rate of uninsured kids in the country?

* Why did you veto the bill that would have ensured poor people being held in jail a chance to see a lawyer within 20 days? Is 20 days too soon?

* Why did you oppose the James Byrd Jr. hate-crimes bill to give protection to Texans who are attacked because of their race or sexual orientation?

* Why does the state of Texas discourage people who qualify for Medicaid from applying for it?

* Why have you signed more than 100 death warrants--including those of people who were clearly insane or profoundly retarded, and including that of Karla Faye Tucker, whose heart was also changed by Jesus Christ and who was a walk-the-walk Christian?

* Why did you oppose the bill that would have stopped the execution of the profoundly retarded, even though it has wide public approval in your pro-death-penalty state?

* Why have you never even met with Valley Interfaith, the most effective Hispanic organization in the Rio Grande Valley (the poorest part of America), about which you have done essentially nothing?

* Why did you support the cruelest and most retrograde welfare reform regulations, punishing entire families for the minor offense of one member?

* Why have you consistently favored the interests of big corporations and big polluters over the interests and health of Texans?

What would Jesus Christ have done in the same circumstances?

Okay, right-wingers, get it now?

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

(c) 1999, Creators Syndicate Inc.