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Saturday, May 14, 2005

Got Religion?

After reviewing data from a new Pew poll that says Americans are largely in support of putting the ten commandments in public buildings, both Matthew Yglesias and Kevin Drum argue that Democrats would be well advised to abandon this particular fight in favor of ones that matter -- namely, reproductive and gay rights, economic issues and foreign policy. Now, if I thought trading off one would guarantee the other, I might buy it. But consider:

Of Americans polled,

. Less than 50% can name the first book of the Bible (Genesis)
. More than a third think Billy Graham delivered the Sermon on the Mount
. 25% don't know why Easter is celebrated
. 12% think Noah's wife was Joan of Arc
. 80% of born-again Christians (including GWB) think it is the Bible that says "God helps them that help themselves" (it was Benjamin Franklin)
. 64% say they are too busy to read the bible
. 80% say the bible is confusing

I'm just not convinced that sacrificing an important principle like separation of church and state by pandering to Bill and Ted is a good idea -- I don't believe Americans hold this particular belief that deeply. The founding fathers sought to keep the government from becoming a theocracy not because they had contempt for religion, but quite the opposite -- they thought that the best way to protect religion was to keep it from becoming appropriated by politicians to further their own ends. We are an incredibly ethnically and religiously diverse nation. Attempting to turn back the clock in nostalgia for an era that never was may win a few votes for Democrats in the short term but it is no way to construct a powerful and lasting ideology that will carry us into the future.