In one scene, an old former President based roughly on Harry Truman talks privately to a presidential candidate who is basically Adlai Stevenson, a rare intellectual in politics.
“Do you believe in God?” grunts the old man. “No,” says the candidate, who was played by Henry Fonda.
“Neither do I," says the President. “But in my day, we had to spread God all over everything, like ketchup.“
Well, what goes around comes around. Forty-four years later, we are back to using the deity as a flavor enhancer for the most routine speeches.
But what is worse, we now - perhaps more than ever in our history - have taken to obsessing over the religion of our political candidates. And that’s a dangerous thing.
When I was a boy, we were generally taught that it was backwards and unenlightened to care about the particular religious preferences of our public servants.
We thought it was an immense victory for enlightenment when John F. Kennedy managed to narrowly win the presidency despite being a Roman Catholic. Of course, he had to reassure Protestant America that his first loyalty would be to our nation, not the Pope.
Even then, it was a very close call. It may be worth noting that no Catholic has been elected President since.
But these days, what you might call “faith-based” voters are usually not all that interested in what denomination someone belongs to.
What they do care about is how loudly the politician bangs the drum for Jesus, and even more so, whether they stand with them on a variety of issues, supporting prayer in schools, and above all else, condemning gay marriage. Politicians who pay only lip service to doctrine, but who support the political agenda of what has come to be called the “Christian right” get lots of help from them.
But a deeply devout Christian congressman who decides that Christ would have supported a monogamous gay union will be denounced from the pulpit, if he makes his convictions known.
I do not claim to be any kind of scholar of religious texts. But to the extent you can make anything out of what Jesus is quoted as saying in the New Testament, it seems to be sort of, well, liberal. I do know that the Founding Fathers would have been appalled by the religious right. They put this in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
They weren’t into spreading God like ketchup, even in their long-ago world without antibiotics or anesthesia.
No, they would have agreed with that Irish Catholic kid named Kennedy, who said this when they swore him in: “Let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth
God's work must truly be our own.”