During yesterday's Democratic presidential candidate debate, the most interesting exchange, in this observer's opinion, came in the form of responses to a question on religion. The man who posed the question, Seth Ford of South Jordan, Utah, e-mailed: "My question is to understand each candidates' 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?"
The most relevant portions of each of the candidates' responses follow in the order in which they were delivered:
CLINTON: "I am very dependent on my faith and prayer is a big part of that."
DODD: "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."
EDWARDS: "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."
GRAVEL: "What I believe in is love. And love implements courage. And courage permits us all to apply the virtues that are important in life."
RICHARDSON: "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."
BIDEN: "...No, all the prayer in the world will not stop a hurricane. But prayer will give you the courage to be able to respond to the devastation that's caused in your life and with others to deal with the devastation."
OBAMA: "What I pray for is the strength and the wisdom to be able to act on those things that I can control. And that's what I think has been lacking sometimes in our government."
KUCINICH: "Now, the founders meant to have separation of church and state, but they never meant America to be separate from spiritual values. As president, I'll bring strong spiritual values into the White House..."
In this observer's humble opinion, a national leader's belief that his (or her) policies are sanctioned by God or perhaps driven by God's will should be viewed as prominent a danger sign 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 Al Qaeda, the Taliban. In the case of the current White House occupant, it can be argued that Bush's faith-based 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 will and God's approval to invade Iraq—a disastrous decision with widespread and long-term costs to the U.S.
This is not to criticize a country leader's belief in God. But he/she errs greatly when using that belief to justify human-made policy decisions, such as launching a war. President Bush has allowed religion to creep into federal policies to an extent Americans have not witnessed since before 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 include in that agenda a promise to rebuild the now-wrecked wall between church and state as well as a pledge to keep their own religious beliefs close to their hearts, but out of government policy-making.
Up next: parsing each Democrats' response.