Sunday, March 11, 2007

There are no atheists in foxholes, as any dogface soldier could tell you, and neither are there any atheists in presidential politics. Looking death in the face, whether in a foxhole or at the polls, makes a believer of almost everyone. You could ask almost any Democrat. Democratic office-seekers are walking the sawdust trail to the mourner’s bench, drenching their campaigns in religiosity if not necessarily authentic religion. Be prepared to hear a lot more about the “Religious Left.”

Hillary Clinton has come a long way from her days as first lady, when she held seances with the long-dead Eleanor Roosevelt and praised the squishy “politics of meaning.” She speaks now of her personal faith as a way of connecting with “values” voters. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, might not recognize her “do-good” social gospel nostrums to erase poverty, her call for an energy policy to prevent tinkering with “God’s creation,” but she invokes her Methodist upbringing in nearly every speech. She concluded a sermon at a Baptist church in Selma, Ala., commemorating the Voting Rights Act with a quotation from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due seasons we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”

Barack Obama is the natural preacher, whose exhortations are rich in the language of the Bible. In Selma he delivered a sermon in the tradition of Martin Luther King, alluding to the civil rights warrior as the Moses who led the Israelites through the Red Sea but didn’t get to see them all the way to the Promised Land. He challenged his audience to be “the Joshua generation” to carry on the work of Moses. “Like Moses, the task was passed on to those who might not have been as deserving, might not have been as courageous,” he said. “The previous generation, the Moses generation, pointed the way. They took us 90 percent of the way there. We still got that 10 percent in order to cross over to the other side.”

John Edwards, running behind Hillary and Barack in most polls, is no slouch in the pulpit, either. He was baptized a Southern Baptist, but drifted away from his faith in college. Faith became important to him again when his 16-year-old son was killed in an automobile accident and his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. “It’s important in my case to have a personal relationship with the Lord, so that I pray daily and I feel that relationship all the time,” he told an interviewer for “And when I’m faced with difficult decisions, which I regularly am, I very often go to Him in prayer.”

Liberals who snickered at George W. Bush as a God-fearing president open about his faith will no doubt refrain from similarly mocking these Democratic believers. The Washington Post, which once sneered at evangelical Christians as “poor, uneducated and easy to command” (and months later apologized for the slur), will surely refrain from applying the slur to the Religious Left.

Other Democratic partisans will have to adjust their contempt for the faithful, too. After the 2004 elections, novelist Jane Smiley described voters in the red states as ignorant and unteachable. “Listen to what the red state citizens say about themselves, the songs they write, and the sermons they flock to,” she wrote in Slate, the Internet magazine. “They know who they are — they are full of original sin and they have a taste for violence.”

Suddenly sinners have never looked so good. Secular prophets have proclaimed the death of God for centuries, citing the injustices of man claimed in God’s name, but recent scholarship analyzes the danger lurking in the nostrums that seek to replace religious faith. Winston Churchill, with an eye on Nazism and communism, observed: “You leave out God, and you substitute the devil.” Revolutionaries of the ‘60s counterculture often replaced religion in their own lives with touchy-feely mumbo-jumbo. Modern environmentalists sound like either Old Testament doomcriers or New Age missionaries, worshipping nature as if it were a wholly benign force, a veritable Garden of Eden threatened only by human snakes in the grass.

Now the God-deniers are not even getting good press in the liberal publications, mostly because they’re woefully ignorant of what they rage against. The Bible Literacy Project exposes how illiterate most Americans are about Biblical imagery. But that’s changing. There are potholes aplenty in the road to the White House, and maybe even a few foxholes, but you won’t find an atheist in any of them.

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