Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Absence of Religion from Public Life Leaves a Gap for Many

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Absence of Religion from Public Life Leaves a Gap for Many

Article excerpt

It's easy to dismiss Pat Buchanan's recent electoral showing as evidence of the bigotry that still abides in the land. Too easy, perhaps.

Buchanan, the gloves-off political brawler, does appeal to an array of bigots - racists, xenophobes, gunophiles and white-America-firsters. His campaign co-chairman, Larry Pratt, has stepped down after allegations that he was a participant in meetings organized by white supremacists and right-wing militia leaders.

But Buchanan also appears to be making headway among those designated as the religious right - and maybe some of the religious not-so-far-right as well.

It's the last group that prompts these thoughts. I have in mind the people who may be pretty much middle-of-the-roaders politically but who worry that America is losing its way morally. Where are such people, who tend to take their religion seriously, to turn for affirmation? Where but to the right-wing politicians - Buchanan, Pat Robertson and others - who, whatever other baggage they bring, do acknowledge the importance of religious belief?

The fascinating thing is that some of most decent and thoughtful moderates and progressives I know are also religious. And they used to take for granted that their religious beliefs would influence their politics.

What I mean is not denominational specifics or born-again litmus tests. I have in mind what might be called public religion: the routine acknowledgment of a greater power, of overarching principles, of the fundamental sacredness of humanity.

There are still those left of center who believe these things. But you wouldn't know it from their public political expression, and the politicians they tend to elect do not talk about such things.

It is not merely a matter of civility - of respecting the religious beliefs of others - or of fealty to the "separation" idea of the First Amendment, though that is part of it. A bigger, more worrisome, part is, as British social scientist Os Guiness once put it:

"To many Americans, especially the thought leaders, the question of religion in public life has become unimportant. It is viewed as a nonissue or a nuisance factor - something that should be purely a private issue, which inevitably becomes messy and controversial when it does not stay so, and which should therefore revert to being private as quickly as possible. …

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