As it turns out, quite a lot. Beliefnet has proven a fine forum for ideas about God, gods, and goddesses, come one, come all. The miracle, so to speak, is that it has done so without alienating any but the most extreme (or most devoted, as some might say) true believers.
Steven Waldman, Beliefnet’s editor in chief, then, seems like the right person for The Washington Post to turn to when it comes to making sense of religion in electoral politics. And Waldman — a veteran of U.S. News and World Report – does not disappoint, providing in yesterday’s edition a smart critique of the coverage afforded the candidates spiritual utterances. “Uncomfortable with making value judgments about the wisdom of someone’s policy,” Waldman writes, “[political reporters] gravitate toward the measurable — signs of inconsistency or hypocrisy. So it’s no surprise that the same standard is now being applied to faith. Going from Catholicism to Episcopalianism is, in the lexicon of political reporting, a flip-flop.”
After that, though, Waldman’s centrist tendencies start to take him into confusing territory: “as journalists and commentators parse the candidates’ religious statements,” he writes, “they’re doing so in ways that can only remind those running why they used to keep quiet about such matters.”
Ah — just like they did with their mistresses.
Waldman goes on to argue that pundits who criticize candidates for switching religions are missing one of the big religion stories of the last half century — the fact that many Americans switch denominations, and even faiths, more often than they do — well, their lovers.
Or coffee shops. “This is what baby boomers do,” writes Waldman. “They shop. And serious shoppers are often quite intense. Someone who carefully weighs the differences between Starbucks and Green Mountain and Seattle’s Best may be obsessive, but you can’t say he doesn’t appreciate a good cup of joe.”
Meanwhile, back on the Beliefnet ranch, Cal Thomas doesn’t let anyone off easy. Especially notHoward Dean, who’s Christianity does not stand up to Thomas’s inquisition. I mean, inquiry.
Paying lip service to Christ’s moral teachings is not only not enough, writes Thomas, who is one of the most popular syndicated columnists in the country, it’s dead wrong. “ ‘That is the one thing we must not say,’” Thomas quotes C.S. Lewis. “ ‘A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God — or else a madman or something worse.’” That makes it simple, doesn’t it — religion in politics can be boiled down to“Which side are you on?”If there’s any question about where Thomas comes down, just read his gay-bashing kicker, the likes of which The Revealer last heard years ago in a high school locker room – “I can’t wait to see how Dean panders to Californians. Fruits and nuts, anyone?”
Now that’s theology.
Perhaps more useful is Beliefnet‘s ongoing collection of the candidates spiritual bon mots.
You can also read a transcript of Waldman’s live online conversation with Washington Postreaders here.