Anna Quindlen‘s latest Newsweek column is as earnest as ever, but there’s a refreshing edge brought on by a letter writer’s assumption that Quindlen’s liberal politics are a symptom of atheism. “Five of the seven sacraments (they won’t give me holy orders, and I’m not ready for last rites),” writes Quindlen, “10 years with the nuns, a church wedding, three baptized babies, endless fights as they grew over why they had to go to mass on Sunday and a fair amount of prayer, and it’s all wiped out in a single assumption about the nexus between left-leaning politics and atheism.”

She’s justly ticked. “Left-leaning politics” (a bit of a hyperbole for Quindlen’s safely Democrat views) have, if anything, more of a claim to religious roots than do “right-leaning politics.” They arise from a staunchly Christian progressive view of the world and God’s plan for it (or, sometimes, from a more complicated but equally potent Jewish theological stew). “Right-leaning” politics are nearly always infused with a strong dose of libertarianism — humanism in the extreme.

Of course, there’s just as strong a case to be made for Republicans and their further-right brethren as soldiers of the Lord, but it’s worth remembering that religion in American politics has always been a double-edged sword, and one wielded by all parties.

Quindlen states the current conflict over who’s doing God’s work well: “the new wedge issue is religiosity, not to be confused with faith.”

She is on shakier ground when she charges toward the great refuge of “reaonable discourse” in American politics: “Most voters neither go to church several times a week nor never set foot in one. American life takes place somewhere in the middle, and there the worship gap narrowed, if not downright disappeared.”

This is a reformulation of the old “We’re all basically the same under the skin” thesis, and it’s as wrongheaded as the alleged “God gulf” beloved by all those who think the “red state/blue state” theory is sophisticated political analysis.

American life, whatever that is, does not take place in the “middle”; it takes place wherever Americans are. Their religious life is just varied. Quindlen does us a mitzvah in debunking the religious right monolith, but her theology of the mountain in the middle is bad geography.