Just when you think it is safe to move on to more temporal subjects, politicians become increasingly religious and religious leaders become more and more political.
The latest examples are Pat Robertson, the former presidential candidate and religious broadcaster, and Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean (again).
Robertson told his television audience he believed he had "heard from the Lord" that President Bush was going to win in a "blowout." The Lord has blessed Bush, said Robertson, and "it doesn't make any difference what he does, good or bad. God picks him up because he's a man of prayer and God's blessing him."
It is hard to know where to begin to challenge this line of thinking. Not since God appeared directly to Moses in a burning bush and to the Old Testament prophets and early New Testament apostles has any sane person claimed this kind of direct revelation. In fact, God told Moses he could only look at His back since no human could face God and live. The light of His glory is too powerful.
Robertson doesn't claim a face-to-face with the Almighty. He hears His voice. No one else hears what he does. This is subjective religion. If one "feels," it's "real." Religious feelings supplant objective truth and make the individual a high priest unto himself, above mere mortals who apparently are not on the "A" access-to-God list.
There is another problem with Robertson's theology. Cliff Bjork of the tiny "Searching Together" ministry (www.searchingtogether.org) in Minnesota wrote to me after reading Robertson's remarks. Bjork says Robertson's comments "betray the false premise that God cannot accomplish His will for a nation unless the people elect men (or women) of high 'moral' convictions to positions of authority - especially, of course, when it comes to the U.S. presidency and congressional leadership. I guess the rise to power of men like Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Manasseh, Jeroboam, Herod, Nero, Stalin, Hitler, Castro, Amin, Ceausescu, (Clinton?), not to mention (Pontius) Pilate, Herod, et al. must have represented a failure on the part of the citizens of their respective nations and a setback for God's purposes."
The idea that God would reach down and prophesy an election outcome to one man, who then says President Bush could even do wrong and God would keep him in office, offers joke material to Leno and Letterman and brings the Christian Gospel into further disrepute before unbelievers. It could also put a lot of pundits out of work!
Then there is Howard Dean, who recently revealed his intention to talk more about Jesus (saints, preserve us). Campaigning in Iowa, Dean was asked his favorite New Testament book. "Job," he responded, joking that he has recently identified with Job's travails (he didn't say if he identified with Job's loss of his children, property and farm animals or Job's boils and sitting on a dung heap).
After apparently discovering in his hotel room Gideon Bible that Job is not in the New Testament, but in the Old, Dean corrected himself. Matthew, Mark, Luke and Job? Sounds right, doesn't it? Hey, we're not talking Dan Quayle and potatoe vs. potato here. Most reporters don't care about religion, especially when a Democrat is theologically off base. Even the New York Times columnist William Safire, of Jewish background, weighed in on this one, saying some rabbis believe the end of Job was "added" later to make God look just. This is getting too deep for me.
Could we please return to the issues and put everyone back in the camp with which he is most familiar? Otherwise, politicians and religious leaders are asking for jokes like the one from Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who said, "Maybe Pat (Robertson) got a message from (Bush political advisor) Karl Rove and thought it was from God."
The best political joke of the season (so far) comes from Mark Russell, who observed that Saddam Hussein emerged from his hole and saw his shadow, which means we will have four more years of George Bush. That is a far more believable and defensible "prophecy" than Pat Robertson's dial-a-prayer "answer" from the Lord.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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