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Issue Date:  October 27, 2006

From the Editor's Desk

Faith in the political realm

Here’s some backstage info: We had a far different issue planned until early this week when Religion News Service moved a package about Democrats getting religion. It was well-reported and timely, given the season and the continued interest in where the volatile combination of religion and politics will next take us.

If Democrats are late coming to the realization that religion is an important component in the lives of many Americans, even those well beyond the fringes of the far right, they at least have the benefit of hindsight. And they ought to see a huge warning flashing in the rearview mirror. It is one thing to shape a position from moral conviction and principle that has its roots in one’s faith. It is quite another to drag God into partisan politics or argue from religious conviction that there is only one way to vote on a given issue or one political strategy or one political candidate and to hold a church’s sacraments up as an instrument of blackmail. God doesn’t wear party buttons or endorse candidates.

That goes for using popes, too. As I’ve said elsewhere before, if we’ve gotten to the point where Rep. Nancy Pelosi is quoting Benedict XVI, as she did recently in support of some measure, we’ve reached new heights of both political and religious absurdity.

It would be a welcome sight to see not only Republicans but also Democrats comfortable in their religious skins, as it were, able to converse about faith without using it as a sign of their spiritual bona fides for political gain.

Religion has a great deal to say to power in the political realm; it just has to be careful not to become so enamored of the power game that it becomes co-opted. To keep a sense of perspective, the newcomers to religion need only look at the religious wreckage behind them, the results of holy hubris and a certainty that God blesses war, greed and unbridled individualism.

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It has taken six years, but it appears now that the American public has grown weary with the rationales that have been put forth to justify unilateral projection of American power. A survey, the results of which surfaced too late to include in the body of the paper, claims that a significant majority of Americans are concerned that the world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place because of U.S. foreign policy.

Given the reluctance of even our major news outlets to seriously question U.S. policy at the outset of the administration, the findings are jolting. Seventy-eight percent of Americans believe their country is viewed as arrogant around the world; 87 percent, according to an Associated Press report, believe the threat to national security is made worse when others view the United States in a negative light.

“On a grading system, fewer that one in three respondents gave the U.S. government an A or B in achieving its objectives in Iraq or Afghanistan; and fewer than one in four graded A or B on becoming less dependent on other countries for energy and having good relations with Muslim countries,” the report said.

The survey was done by Public Agenda, the nonpartisan public policy institute, in cooperation with Foreign Policy magazine, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

While 52 percent of those surveyed believe democracies reduce conflict and violence, 64 percent believe democracy can’t be imposed, countries have to be ready to accept it.

The grind of failure, grimly highlighted by the growing body count and an increasing sense of unease, is beginning to have an effect. It’s all part of the wreckage in the rearview mirror.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, October 27, 2006

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