The Godly Democrats

In Sunday’s Democratic presidential candidate debate on ABC, the most interesting yet least-publicized exchange came in the form of the candidates’ responses to a question on religion.

As wildly unpopular as President Bush now is, with approval ratings dipping into the high 20s, it should be obvious his most disastrous policy decisions were driven either by his zeal to appeal to the religious right or by his innate belief (and those of some of his advisers) that his policies were sanctioned by God.

In this observer’s humble opinion, a national leader’s belief that his (or her) policies are underwritten by God should be viewed in the same ominous light as a cross on fire. Look at those who have claimed “God’s will” as cover for violent, inexcusable bloodshed and mayhem: the Crusaders, militant Jihadists and the Taliban. Bush’s faith-based style of leadership — to wit, his 2000 campaign statement that Jesus was his favorite political philosopher — caused the president and members of his administration to believe they were acting with God’s approval to invade Iraq, a decision imposing widespread and long-term costs of all sorts on the U.S. military and on taxpayers.

On a less costly but equally outrageous level, some of Bush’s appointees used religion to distort science (on global warming) and reverse federally subsidized education policy (funding abstinence-only sex education) to a bygone era.

This is not to criticize all of the country leaders’ personal religious beliefs. But he/she leads a country backward when using religious belief as a barometer for government decision-making. Bush has allowed religion to creep into law to an extent not witnessed since World War II, if not since the birth of this nation. If the Democrats are going to make “running against Bush” a hallmark of the ’08 campaign, they must promise to rebuild the now-wrecked wall between church and state. They must also pledge to keep their own religious beliefs out of government policy-making.

Dismayingly, Sunday’s debate showed some Democratic front-runners still feel the need to cater to the religious right.

This was obvious in some of their responses to a debate-watcher from Utah who wrote in to the candidates: “My question is to understand each candidate’s view of a personal God. Do they believe that, through the power of prayer, disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the Minnesota bridge collapse could have been prevented or lessened?”

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s response displayed her prototypical propensity to put licked finger to the wind, rather than to say what she thinks. This is her signature flaw as a candidate. She can only say what her advisers view as safe and offensive to no one. By so doing, she fails to inspire confidence in anyone. Her answer to the question was, “I am very dependent on my faith and prayer is a big part of that.”

Sen. Chris Dodd mimicked Clinton’s pabulumlike response, saying, “The power of prayer I think is important to all of us. I hope it is, recognizing that we don’t do anything without his approval.”

Former Sen. John Edwards was the first in the group to break out of safe mode and into reality. He explained that he had prayed before his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and before his son died. No amount of prayer prevented those personal disasters. He added, “I think it is enormously important to look to God — and, in my case, Christ — for guidance and for wisdom. But I don’t think you can prevent bad things from happening through prayer.” With those words, Edwards showed he is a deeply religious man, so confident in the power of his convictions that he can separate them from his role as a government official. He keeps those convictions where they belong: in the personal realm and reality-based.

Space constrictions preclude me from parsing through all of the candidates’ responses. In sum, Sen. Barack Obama’s was entirely uninspiring, as were Sen. Joseph Biden’s and those of almost all the rest of the candidates. But New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s was surprisingly impressive. He answered, “I pray. I’m a Roman Catholic. My sense of social justice, I believe, comes from being a Roman Catholic. But, in my judgment, prayer is personal. And how I pray and how any American prays, for what reason, is their own decision. And it should be respected.”

Let’s hope the other candidates recognize the courage it took for Richardson to make that statement. No, prayer does not prevent or lessen disaster. It’s not magic: it’s prayer. The power of prayer is deeply personal and prayer should not be used to frame government policy.

(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)


  1. Helen Rainier

    I remember an amazing statement made by Dr. Carl Sagan on his groundbreaking series “Cosmos” many, many years ago:

    “Our Cosmos is all there is, all there was, and all there will ever be.”

  2. SEAL

    Did you ever consider that maybe god created man because she needed a portable self sustaining sperm bank?

    Just for the record, I have no religion, only reality. (The above is intended as humor) The sun is our supreme enity that, together with the earth, provides for all life. That is the reality.

  3. Citroyen

    Why can’t any of the candidates simply reply that their faith is nobody’s damn business?

    One of them might even have the temerity to quote Jesus (Bush’s “favorite philosopher”) on the matter:

    “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites. The hypocrites love to stand in the synagogues and on the street corners and pray loudly. They want people to see them pray…”

  4. JerZGirl

    Citroyen – that is the perfect verse for the current political religious arena!

    Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.

    Wisdom is knowing not to put it in fruit salad.

  5. ms.gyspy

    A lot of otherwise sane Americans don’t trust anyone whose religion they can’t identify and quantify. I think Richardson did a really good job with his answer. And Edwards did as well, but his is by now predictable. As for the rest, they apparently don’t grasp the situation. They HAVE to wear their religion for all to see. They just don’t need to wear it as the only one there is (as Dumbya seems to do.)

  6. nachthund

    Show me a man who tells you he does things in the name of God, and I will show you a fraud. Show me a man who lives his life as God would intend us to, and I will show you a man to be trusted.
    The Nachthund

  7. ekaton

    Yes. Actions DO speak louder than words. I do not think Jesus would have bombed Iraq, but then that is not for me to say, is it? Apparently Bush has a direct hotline to God, so he KNOWS God’s will.

    Kent Shaw

  8. Citroyen

    It seems that the candidates as quoted refer to God as “he” or use the possessive form “his”.
    I make no such assumptions as to gender.

  9. ekaton

    If there is an intelligent and sentient force behind the creation of the universe, then one might call that construct a “god”. If there is truly a “god”, I doubt that women or men are any more capable of understanding the nature, or super-nature, of that “being” than an amoeba is capable of understanding the nature of a human being. I concede that a “god” may exist. However, ALL religion is designed by an elite faction of humanity for the control of the common man and woman. Part of this control works to assure the poor that a greater reward awaits them in an “afterlife” in order to keep them content enough to avoid an uprising against the wealthy elite which has been ripping off the poor for eons.

    WAR in the name of GOD? Please… those wars are for controll of the “god” mammon.

    Kent Shaw

  10. Jim C

    I believe that religon is only a small part of what drives bush . He believes that he and his social class are blue bloods or aristocrats and this democracy thing is an abomination . The idea of a large middle class comprised of commoners that can challenge the upper class’s wishs , birthright and greed ( and share the national wealth ) is unatural in bush’s world view . To him we are simply uppty serfs and he is trying to put us back in our place as lower class worker units and cannon foder to serve the pleasure of the wealthy and well born . His callous disreguard for average americans is painfully obvious in everything he does and says if one pays close attention . He see’s it as his mission to get things back to his idea of a natural order ( think calvinism ) . Just apply what I’ve just said as a prizim to his actions and see if bush’s vision for america doesn’t become painfully clear . Think back to FDR being called a ” traitor to his class ” by much of the same would be aristocracy when he worked build a middle class , nothings changed except the actors .