As you all are likely aware, Barack Obama left his church this weekend. While the pulpit of his church has certainly served as a stage for some rather incendiary statements over the years, this move by Obama is about more than just politics. Similar to John McCainâ€™s recent renunciation of controversial pastor John Hagee, Obamaâ€™s decision to flee religion rather than face controversy is another sign that secularism in America is gaining strength.
I know in recent years itâ€™s become trendy to talk about American theocrats (even American Taliban), as if our nation is just one step away from descending into medieval theocracy. But the truth is, America has become increasingly secular over the last fifty to one hundred years. So secular, in fact, that politicians of both parties are finding themselves running away from rather than embracing religion and religious leaders.
Now, Hagee and Jeremiah Wright have both said some pretty horrible things that would have likely garnered at least some coverage in earlier eras (although, with the monopolistic media of yesteryear, thatâ€™s not a given). But I find it hard to believe that any presidential candidate of an earlier era would find themselves having to make a choice between religion and the presidency â€“even if that religion is controversial. I mean, John F. Kennedy never renounced the Pope, even if he did have to publically promise not to put the interests of Rome before the interests of America.
In todayâ€™s political climate, those on the right tend to be the most vocal defenders of religionâ€™s place in the public square. But it was voices on the right who most heavily pounded the Rev. Wright issue which, in turn, heightened the leftâ€™s shouts about Hagee (in the usual eye-for-an-eye political street-fighting style). The result is that both candidates have distanced themselves from religion, thus pushing religion further out of whatâ€™s acceptable in the public square.
For adamant proponents of the separation of church and state, this is a victory. For those who believe there is room for religion in our secular society, this is a defeat â€“ even though the specific religious figures involved are poor representatives of religionâ€™s positive potential.
In America, when politics and religion tangle, itâ€™s religion that usually loses.