Religion & Politics: Let's Not Mix the Two

By Garvey, John | Commonweal, March 26, 2004 | Go to article overview

Religion & Politics: Let's Not Mix the Two


Garvey, John, Commonweal


As we move toward the election, there has been some discussion of religion as a factor in the choices that voters will make. A few studies have shown that regular churchgoers tend to vote Republican, while less regular worshipers and secular sorts tend to vote Democratic. There have been calls for Democrats to talk more explicitly about religion.

Should we call this "the God card"? Please, let's not take this route. It's an almost classic definition of idolatry. Idolatry is not so much a case of worshiping false gods as it is a case of worshiping something other than God, and in the case of a politician, it means using God for what is perceived as a higher end ... winning. Any time any American politician mentions God I begin to feel like a European, a feeling I don't enjoy; but there is something literally obscene in the use of God to promote any political agenda, right or left. This is surely taking the name of the Lord in vain.

It is not that religion has no place in our consideration of who might be the president. It should have more of a place than it does. It should, first of all, lead us to distrust those who would use it to gain votes. And it should lead us to consider what both major parties have come to in recent years, and to look more seriously at the idea of single-issue voting.

The sad fact is that the Democrats have become the party of abortion, and both Republicans and Democrats are largely in agreement about the death penalty--they like it. It would mean the death of any candidate to denounce the American preference for killing at one end of life or the other, and some candidates (Northeastern "moderate" Republicans, for example) are happy with a both-ends policy. Our coarseness--our murderousness--as a nation and a culture should inform the way we think about who leads us. Here Europe has a point. Most European nations that allow abortion have more restrictions than the United States; all have rejected the death penalty.

But to care too much about this is called single-issue voting, and it is deplored. I think we should look at it more seriously. As long as people who oppose abortion and the death penalty are willing to bracket their feelings in an effort to do something else (beat Bush, beat Kerry) neither party can be made to take responsibility for its stands on issues that ought to be central to Christian voters.

Think of those matters that should demand that we focus on a single issue. During the war in Vietnam, I was certainly willing to be a single-issue voter. …

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