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Does religion matter in the 2024 presidential race?

In the U.S., there is no religious test for anyone running for public office. Which is not to say that at least some voters don't consider religion when judging candidates.

Faith-politicsRecent polling, in fact, suggests that many voters think the religion, if any, of the candidates for public office is an important aspect to consider.

As this USA Today story reports, "A Pew Research Center survey released last week found that 94% of Americans say it is very important or somewhat important for a president to live a moral and ethical life.

"But, of the 12,693 people questioned in that survey last month, just 13% see (President Joe) Biden as “very religious” while only 4% see former President Donald) Trump that way (Tammeus comment: which may be more proof that at least 4 percent of Americans will believe absolutely anything). Religion is a perplexing component in this year’s Biden-Trump rematch. And the more religious Americans say they are, the more marginalized they say they feel."

First, let's back up just a bit. Is it possible to "live a moral and ethical life" without being a member of some institutional religion or other? Of course it is, though whoever chooses that path must find reasons to do so unattached to religion. (It's an example of the old, old question of whether we can be good without God.)

The American religious landscape, from the beginning, has been a shape-shifter, though in recent times much of the change in that landscape can be attributed to the 1965 immigration reform act signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It opened the door for people from many parts of the world to come to the U.S. and to bring their religions with them.

Which is why today you see Hindu and Sikh temples, Muslim mosques and other houses of worship dotting the American landscape where there used to be almost nothing in the way of sacred structures but churches and synagogues.

One of the surprises -- shocks, really -- (to me) in the new Pew survey is, as the story to which I've linked you notes, that "54% of those surveyed have not heard of Christian nationalism, the belief that American government should be guided by or even controlled by Christian scripture.

"That number has remained the same since a Pew survey in September 2022, despite plenty of media coverage since then of Trump's embrace of Christian nationalism."

No matter what faith you embrace, if any, Christian nationalism is a threat to democracy and to the future of the U.S. It would radically change who we are and who we have been since the Constitution went into effect. For God's sake, if you don't know about Christian nationalism, learn about it, even if you don't believe in God.

When it comes down to it, almost the only legitimate question to ask candidates about their religion is how it might affect their views and votes on public policy.

But that's only in an America in which most people love the Constitution enough to protect it and abide by it. And I'm beginning to wonder whether that describes today's United States. Sigh.

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Perhaps it's fitting that I wrote above here about religion in the presidential race in that we've just learned about the death of former Sen. Joe Lieberman. In 2000, he became the first Jewish candidate on a major party's presidential ticket when Democratic nominee Al Gore chose him as his running mate. In my memory, that wasn't as big a deal as it might have been, and religion columnist Mark Silk picks up on that thought in this piece, which argues: "In the end, Lieberman’s promiscuous and imprecise invocations of religion did little to clarify the complex questions about religion and public life the country was facing. It was a missed opportunity." Maybe Lieberman didn't handle all that terribly well, but I'd also blame Chad -- hanging Chad.


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