Nicholas Kristof: Pols Should Stop Exploiting Religion

Roundup: Media's Take

Nicholas Kristof, writing in the NYT (Jan. 7, 2004):

Over the holidays, Vice President Dick Cheney's Christmas card symbolized all that troubles me about the way politicians treat faith — not as a source for spiritual improvement, but as a pedestal to strut upon. Mr. Cheney's card is dominated by a quotation by Benjamin Franklin:"And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?"

It's hard not to see that as a boast that the U.S. has become the global superpower because God is on our side. And"empire" suggests Iraq: is Mr. Cheney contending that in the dispute over the latest gulf war, God was pulling for the White House and fulminating at Democrats and others in Beelzebub's camp?

Moreover, Mr. Cheney's card wrenches Ben Franklin's quotation from its context and upends the humility that Franklin stood for. If you read the full speeches Franklin gave to the Constitutional Convention, including the one with the sparrow line, you see that Franklin is not bragging that God is behind him but rather the opposite — warning that the framers face so many difficulties they need all the help they can get, including prayer.

Meanwhile, Howard Dean is grasping for faith in a way that is just as tasteless as Mr. Cheney's Christmas card. Dr. Dean bragged to reporters that he knows much about the Bible — and proceeded to say that his favorite New Testament book is Job. Anyone who cites Job as a New Testament book should be scolded not just for religious phoniness but also for appalling ignorance of Western civilization — on a par with Mr. Bush's calling Greeks"Grecians."...

As we move into the religious wars, I wish we could recall how Abe Lincoln achieved moral clarity without moral sanctimony. Though often criticized for not being religious enough, Lincoln managed both of the key kinds of morality — in personal behavior, which conservatives care about, and in seeking social justice, which liberals focus on. To me, each seems incomplete without the other.

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