The God Gap

Bill Murchison
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Posted: Nov 22, 2016 12:01 AM
The God Gap
God (lucky Him!) doesn't vote. But this indisposition does not make Him a mere spectator of our electoral processes -- or their aftermath.

If you go to church regularly, the Pew Research Center says, you are likelier than not to have voted for Donald Trump. If you hardly ever darken a church door, you are even likelier still to have voted for Hillary Clinton. Neither finding will knock most of us off our pins, the so-called "God gap" in American politics having manifested itself since Pew began measuring it in 2000.

The point is not so much the existence of the gap as it is the implications it has for our life together as Americans. Some large non-negotiables require negotiating. There are things to be worked out that are not amenable to the skills of the conference room or the steady gaze of skilled bargainers.

Church attendance and non-attendance both bear on the viewpoints around which we organize government and implement government policies.

For instance: Obamacare and government-paid contraceptive devices. One of the numberless notions behind Obamacare is that personal choice in sexual relations is a very good thing, riding down objections from old-fashioned moralists with their pince-nez and pained expressions. Let's fortify, therefore, the constitutional right to copulation without consequences by compelling employers to pick up the insurance tab.

Religious orders, too? Religious orders -- the Little Sisters of the Poor come quickly to mind -- that care for the sick and suffering? Groups that, on religious grounds, view contraception as morally impermissible? Yes, according to Obamacare, these, too, have to get with the program. Religion can't get in the way. Religion's for Sunday morning and the stained-glass propriety associated with those increasingly atypical American institutions called churches. Out of our way, Sisters!

Yet theology somehow never reduces to mere politics; nor can politics be stuffed successfully into an offering plate or a pyx. The case of the Little Sisters of the Poor remains unresolved. The U.S. Supreme Court wiped out fines against the organization. But appellate courts, nonetheless, are bogged down, by high court order, in the details of how to get the thing right. In bygone times such questions wouldn't have arisen. This notion of "copulation without consequences" wasn't a political issue. It was a religious and moral issue, not meant for resolution by judges or bureaucrats.

Political attempts, generally led by secularists, to wrest moral issues from the grasp of the churches generally don't turn out well. How could it be otherwise? There's no government code of behavior adequate to the task of stilling moral disputes. There might be in Mosul, Iraq, but not here. Moral witness is, in most historical settings, the job of churches, synagogues and, yes, mosques (of the better sort), acting upon commandments and intuitions scarcely debatable on the campaign trail.

The reason for the "God gap" is the enthusiasm of the left for pushing social overhaul without God's getting in the way. Voters recognize as much -- and tend to support the side whose view of religion generally tracks their own.

Obamacare and the Little Sisters of the Poor are tips of the iceberg below the surface of present-day politics. We may call the iceberg "Belief." What's important? And how can we know? On what authority? The say-so of a blogger? That is not how moral fundamentals come to be fundamental. They root themselves in the heart before emerging as guideposts to human action.

The left hasn't much interest in fundamentals, as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat pointed out a few days ago. "It is precisely older, foundational things that today's liberalism has lost," wrote Douthat -- including the tutelage of religion, which secularists, clustered primarily in the Democratic Party, see as less compelling than an Elizabeth Warren speech.

Behold the God gap. Expect it to grow or contract in our political contests as one side or both weigh the attested proposition, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1).