In a nation where faith-based voters can swing elections it should be noted that there are more important issues facing the country and the world than how candidates worship or, gasp, do not worship.

Most of the electorate is finally aware of how the right-wing evangelical base has influenced the course of history. With their help, our future is in the hands of a president and entourage who profess Christian beliefs, often claiming to commune with God himself. Apparently their belief system condones invading non-threatening countries and finds the ensuing collateral damage there and the cost to our own country in terms of treasure and lives acceptable.

Although it was surely never the intent of the founders chest-pounding candidates profess values writ large because of their faith and presume to instruct the rest of us on how morality is best achieved. Often these are the same people who approve torture, the death penalty and war against Islamo Faschism as they are so fond of portraying vast numbers of the Muslim world – – mostly because it sounds persuasive, not because they are able to define the term according to any rational standards.

Mitt Romney spoke this past week for the purpose of explaining his religion and his commitment to faith in general. What a pity that subjects such as this have become a focal point in our political discourse. But they have and, as a result, candidate Romney delivered his remarks in a well-constructed speech that some pundits have celebrated as an exhilarating declaration of principle as well as a brilliant political moment. If that is the general conclusion of most listeners we are further down the road of religious intolerance and constitutional deconstruction than might previously have been imagined.

Mr. Romney sought to express his religious bona fides by proclaiming his acceptance of Christ as his “personal savior” while asserting that neither the Mormon Church or “any other church for that matter” would exert undo influence over his decisions were he to become president. On the other hand he produced some of the most tortured logic ever conjured up in an attempt to touch all bases regarding ‘the religious life’. For example he attempted to suggest that the “no religious test” clause in article VI of the Constitution referred to the establishment of a specific state religion rather than the more widely accepted interpretation that religion in general should not form the basis for election to office.

More disturbingly, in appealing to Iowa voters in the upcoming caucus he made the outrageous statement that “freedom requires religion and religion requires freedom.” What absolute nonsense! But it got a big hand from the Texas audience. Not only did Romney fail to include faiths outside Christianity in any meaningful way, neither did he include mention of the fact that non-believers could be decent, law-abiding, moral human beings and not, presumably, the spawn of Satan. Of course as a Bishop in the Mormon Church it would probably have been difficult for him to suggest such a possibility. Even more unsettling, though was his portrayal of a public at its best when on its knees in prayer.

Should candidates and perhaps future presidents tell the American people how, when and if they should worship. And is the basic idea that if one has a direct connection to God they cannot be questioned about their intentions or morality? Perhaps the country would be better off right now if we had a president who knew something about stuff instead of one who convinced a nation that his religious predilections would instruct him in the path of righteousness with the rest of us just following along in prayerful obedience.

And shouldn’t we expend more of our intellectual energy determining candidates’ approach to foreign policy, health care, and the myriad of other concerns that affect our daily lives instead of focusing on how they worship? Romney’s personal savior, Huckabee’s status as a “religious leader” and all the wedge issues that pertain to personal matters should not be part of the electoral process unless we are content to substitute religious conviction for real leadership and an understanding of how best to address the global complexities that demand our attention.

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