Jonah Goldberg

The reality, of course, is that not even Sen. Feinstein believes that there should be an "absolute" wall between religion and state. If she did, she would be aligning herself alongside the legal pest Michael Newdow, who recently won a big victory in his one-man war to create a truly absolute wall when he got another court this week to rule that having the words "under god" in the pledge of allegiance is unconstitutional. But she's not. Why? Probably because she knows that would be politically stupid and because she thinks Newdow's position is stupid on the merits.

Feinstein also would have objected when John Kerry insisted during the presidential campaign that his religious faith is "why I fight against poverty. That's why I fight to clean up the environment and protect this earth. That's why I fight for equality and justice."

And she might even go so far as to denounce the Reverend(!) Martin Luther King Jr. for his entire civil rights project, which was so thoroughly rooted in religious faith that if you tried to remove it, there would be virtually nothing left.

Look: The view that the Constitution was ever intended to create an atheistic political culture is so universally recognized as ahistorical claptrap, it's become almost a cliche to debunk it.

The real issue is more complicated. In recent years, conservatives have used religion in good faith and bad, reasonably and unreasonably, to assert their political agenda. Lately, liberals have started to do the same thing, arguing that a "proper" religious attitude requires support for the welfare state, environmentalism and the like. Some conservatives are dismissive, others appalled.

But the reality is that liberals claiming God is on their side is the norm. As with Martin Luther King Jr., the liberal tradition in America has often been suffused with religiosity. When I hear self-described "progressives" talk about purging religion from public life, I wonder if they've ever even read a single book on the history of progressivism in America. If they have, it must have been one with all the chapters on the Social Gospel, Christian Socialism, Jane Addams and Woodrow Wilson ripped out. Progressives then, and today, never objected to the use of God in public arguments. They merely objected to the claim that God disagreed with them.

The most charitable thing one can say about Sen. Feinstein is that she's continuing in that tradition by claiming that religious doctrines that lead to policies she dislikes - i.e. abortion - have no place in public life. But religious convictions that support causes she likes are just fine. It's a double standard, but that's the American way.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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