With varied motivations, human beings tend to invoke the name of God in foxholes, in the throes of passion and in budget debates.
During the recent debt-limit showdown, Rep. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, credited "divine inspiration" for his opposition to Speaker John Boehner's initial proposal.
Democratic activist Donna Brazile tweeted, "Last time I checked, God is above this partisan stuff. But I believe (as a woman of faith) Jesus would be fair and support shared sacrifice."
It was not immediately clear if the Son of God endorses corporate loophole closings or prefers tax-rate increases.
This use of religion in politics is a source of cynicism. It should raise alarms when the views of the Almighty conveniently match our most urgent political needs. A faith that conforms exactly to the contours of a political ideology has lost its independence. Churches become clubs of the politically like-minded.
Political dialogue suffers, since opponents are viewed as heretics. And when religion becomes too closely identified with a detailed political platform, both are quickly outdated.
Yet religion is not a purely private matter. There is a reason that, two millennia after his execution as a rebel in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire, people still ask, "What would Jesus do?"His teachings on compassion and human dignity have had dramatic public consequences.
But religion helps define the priorities of politics, which include solidarity with the disadvantaged.
Two recent, dueling efforts have attempted to draw out the ethical implications of budget choices. A group of Christian leaders called A Circle of Protection asserts, "The moral measure of the debate is how the most poor and vulnerable people fare.""The Christian community," its statement goes on, "has an obligation to help them be heard, to join with others to insist that programs that serve the most vulnerable in our nation and around the world are protected. …