No Way to Separate God and Politics

Partisan media stalwart Helen Thomas is just the latest in a long line of commentators to argue that religion and politics don’t mix. Like the others, she is woefully misguided.

Commenting on this year’s presidential election, Ms. Thomas wrote, “Let’s keep religion out of the presidential election campaign. Or is it too late?” Religion, according to Thomas, hasn’t played such a major role in a national election since John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism became an issue in the 1960 race. But Kennedy, noted Thomas approvingly, dealt with the issue squarely by advising protestant leaders that, if elected, he would not serve as an agent of the Vatican.

Thomas seems offended by the recent decision of Roman Catholic bishops to empower priests to deny communion to pro-abortion politicians such as Senator John Kerry. She says that Kerry has defined himself as a “secular politician who doesn’t want to be viewed through a religious prism.”

Kerry himself said, “I am not a spokesperson for the church, and the church is not a spokesperson for the United States of America. I’m running for president, and I’m running to uphold the Constitution, which has a strict separation of church and state.”

The idea that John Kerry is running to uphold the Constitution is ??¢â???¬ ¦ well, interesting. I guess it depends on what your idea of the Constitution is. But it is amazing that liberals like Kerry cling to this superficial notion that our religious liberties are dependent on a radical separation of church and state.

Even if the First Amendment mandated a strict separation of church and state — as opposed to prohibiting the establishment of a national church — it is difficult to see how a reasonable person could interpret the separation principle as requiring office holders not to infuse their governance with their worldview.

Indeed it’s hard to imagine how anyone with the slightest grip on reality could believe that any human being, politician or not, could separate who he is from what he does. If our religious moorings, or lack thereof, don’t largely define who we are, then nothing does.

But that’s the extreme degree to which irrationality has captured the secularist psyche today. The secularist not only advocates extending the separation principle to the point of smothering religious liberty. He demands that religion — at least the Christian religion — be privatized (relegated to churches and homes).

Actually, it’s worse. He sometimes doesn’t even want the church to be free to express itself on religious matters if such expressions could be construed to overlap into politics, as they inevitably do, especially on social issues.

But as Thomas illustrates, the secularist has now taken the wrongheaded concept of religious privatization to a new fringe. He doesn’t merely want public officials to keep their religious views to themselves — but from themselves. He insists that their religious convictions be divorced from their deliberative process in governance. This would be way too absurd to believe if it weren’t so tragically true.

Ms. Thomas might be shocked to discover that she is only giving us part of the story on President Kennedy’s view of the relationship between religion and statecraft. Kennedy said, “The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the Hand of God.”

Thomas seemed to infer from President Bush’s statement to writer Bob Woodward “There’s a higher Father I look to,” that Bush “is on a Messianic mission.” Is it possible Thomas is so oblivious to American history that she is unaware that many of our presidents, beginning with Washington, made explicit their reliance on “Providence”?

Alas, Thomas represents the modern secularist mindset. And there is no better way to understand the much-discussed schism in our body politic that separates us into the blue and red states than to contrast Thomas’s view of religion and politics with that of Russell Kirk, widely regarded as the father of modern conservatism.

Thomas wrote, “It will be a sorry state if the voters have to decide which candidate is holier than thou, rather than which candidate stands for the best policies.”

Kirk wrote, “Now perhaps it would be very convenient for us all if the several great divisions of knowledge could be tucked neatly into separate cells, never to meet. But the world does not work that way. Politics moves upward into ethics, and ethics ascends to theology. ??¢â???¬ ¦ There is a bond between religious conviction and order in society. I trust that none of us shall become political Christians; but I hope that we shall not be afraid to infuse Christian faith into politics. A society which denies the heart its role becomes, in very short order, a heartless society.”