Courtesy of the New York Times:
The six presidents elected before Kennedy’s famous breakthrough included two Baptists, an Episcopalian, a Congregationalist, a Presbyterian and a Quaker. The six presidents elected prior to Barack Obama’s 2008 victory included two Baptists, two Episcopalians, a Methodist and a Presbyterian. Jimmy Carter’s and George W. Bush’s self-identification as “born again” added a touch of theological diversity to the mix, as did losing candidates like the Greek Orthodox Michael S. Dukakis. But over all, presidential religious affiliation has been a throwback to the Eisenhower era — or even the McKinley era.
That is, until now. In 2012, we finally have a presidential field whose diversity mirrors the diversity of American Christianity as a whole.
Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum all identify as Christians, but their theological traditions and personal experiences of faith diverge more starkly than any group of presidential contenders in recent memory. These divergences reflect America as it actually is: We’re neither traditionally Christian nor straightforwardly secular. Instead, we’re a nation of heretics in which most people still associate themselves with Christianity but revise its doctrines as they see fit, and nobody can agree on even the most basic definitions of what Christian faith should mean.
This diversity is not necessarily a strength. The old Christian establishment — which by the 1950s encompassed Kennedy’s Roman Catholic Church as well as the major Protestant denominations — could be exclusivist, snobbish and intolerant. But the existence of a Christian center also helped bind a vast and teeming nation together. It was the hierarchy, discipline and institutional continuity of mainline Protestantism and later Catholicism that built hospitals and schools, orphanages and universities, and assimilated generations of immigrants. At the same time, the kind of “mere Christianity” (in C. S. Lewis’s phrase) that the major denominations shared frequently provided a kind of invisible mortar for our culture and a framework for our great debates.
Today, that religious common ground has all but disappeared.
I have seen this Ross Douthat chap show up on a number of news programs recently, and I am not always in line with his thinking. And I find myself once again in disagreement with the final premise of this article, that America is suffering from a lack of a cohesion as the result of a decline in institutional religion.
I, of course, believe quite the opposite. Essentially I believe that the removal of ALL religion from our political climate will ultimately be of a great benefit to this country, and that the fundamentally flawed premise that morality is the result of Biblical teaching, is embarrassingly outdated and unnecessarily prejudicial toward potential political leaders from other faiths, or dare I say, no faith at all.
However I still enjoyed reading this very interesting examination of religion in presidential politics and recommend that you do so as well.
Then feel free to discuss your feelings, disagreements, and revelation in the comments section.