Religion and the Republican Debate


Daniel McCarthy at American Conservative has some interesting thoughts on attitudes about religion shown in last night's GOP debate:

Political Christians today have a hard time understanding the religious configuration of the early United States. The difficulty is that the least conventionally religious Americans of the day were often political allies of people we would now identify as ancestors of the Religious Right. Deists and Baptists alike did not want to be taxed to support established Anglican or Congregationalist churches, and there was a strong strain of anti-clericalism and emphasis on individual judgment among both the philosophers and the extreme Protestants. Total disestablishment and liberty of conscience were policies that appealed to both types; each was absolutely confident that within a generation it would inherit the earth if the marketplace of religious ideas were left free.

Most Americans did not take as hard a line on church-state relations as Jefferson, Madison, and the devout among their allies did; the poles of opinion back then were those who saw establishment in anything less than a "wall of separation" and those who thought that a vague but public Christianity was an indispensable prop to civil order. Even those poles did not always attract the alliances you might expect; a doubting Unitarian like John Adams was quite firmly on the side of a civil — but certainly not established — Christianity.

It's fair to say that Ron Paul is very much in line with Madison and Jefferson. (Indeed, one suspects a President Paul, like Madison, would have reservations even about declaring a day of thanksgiving and prayer — where does the Constitution say the president should do that?) It would be interesting to see a politician who could articulate the civil Christian point of view in anything other than a rote manner. Alas, instead we have Gingrich, Romney, and Santorum.