This ran as an article in the Washington Post "On Faith" section in response to their question: Vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin will debate this week. What would you ask them about their religious beliefs and why?
If Joe Biden and Sarah Palin aren’t asked about religion in their upcoming debate, that would be healthy. The fact that the right wing has profited handsomely from the religious issue doesn’t make it fair or even constitutional. Nor does it offset the harm they have done. The Constitution kept God out of politics in order to avoid the inflamed conflict that has mired this country since the Reagan revolution. But as long as religion does play a part, voters will keep casting ballots for their favorite brand of God. Therefore, I’d like to see the moderator for the next debate ask Sarah Palin if she gained the governorship of Alaska by exorcising witches at the behest of an African minister who prayed over her.
The YouTube video that shows that event is embarrassing enough, but my intention wouldn’t be to embarrass Palin further. My intention would be to point out the absurdity and wrongness of turning religion into politics. As a Catholic, Joe Biden is entitled to hold beliefs that would disturb practicing Buddhists, Muslims, and atheists. Whatever position he takes on Jesus as savior of the world should be private. Sarah Palin should also be allowed to throw chicken bones in the privacy of her living room. But Palin, riding the crest of right-wing fundamentalism, insists that religion become a litmus test. Having done that, it’s her own fault if she is exposed for her primitive beliefs. Being as far out of the mainstream as she is, the public should find out the truth.
Getting God out of the voting booth is a process, and hopefully that process took a step forward with the revelations about Palin and her belief that the Almighty awarded her the governorship as a kind of gold star for church attendance. The drawbacks of such a view are enormous, but most people don’t see them.
— If success in this world means that God loves you, then he must be punishing those who aren’t successful. Poverty, for example, means you have offended God. Armed with that logic, there’s no reason to pass social legislation to help the disadvantaged.
— Since many people are unsuccessful or have various troubles, they must need conversion. As a result, enormous pressure gets put on them to believe in God. Using this logic, the Bush administration has tied aid to Africa to an ulterior motive, making the recipients accept Christianity.
— It’s clear that many people do succeed without going to church or holding strong religious beliefs. These people become alien and threatening because they expose a weakness in your belief system. Using this logic, the God-fearing condemn atheists and liberals as Godless. They war against Communism for the same moral failing.
Once intolerance toward unbelievers becomes God’s will, true believers can oppose and harm their opponents as much as they want. A loving God becomes a God of exclusion and social division. It goes without saying that we’ve been seeing a lot of that over the past few decades.
In the end, my innate desire to leave Sarah Palin in peace is something she wouldn’t accord to others — Communists, Muslims, atheists, probably Catholics — if she had her way. Should she land in the White House, she’d have her way as never before. The bottom line is that we have been tolerating her ilk, including George Bush, for a long time, and yet they proudly march under the banner of intolerance. If we can back away from using God as a political propaganda, we will also see a decrease in the number of intolerant religionists who manage to reach the corridors of power.