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updated: 2/16/2012 5:23 AM

A religious war out of thin air

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At ease, Christian soldiers. There is no "war on religion," no assault on the Catholic Church. A faith that has endured for thousands of years will survive even Nicki Minaj.

It never occurred to me to evaluate the Grammy Awards show on theological rectitude, but apparently we're supposed to be outraged at the over-the-top "exorcism" Minaj performed Sunday night. The hip-hop diva, who writhed and cavorted amid a riot of religious iconography, is accused of anti-Catholic bigotry -- and seen as an enemy combatant in an escalating "war on religion" being waged by "secular elites," which seems to be used as a synonym for "Democrats."

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Seriously? Are we really going to pretend that Christianity is somehow under siege? That the Almighty would have been any more offended Sunday than he was, say, in 2006, when Madonna -- who could sue Minaj for theft of intellectual property -- performed a song during her touring act while being mock-crucified on a mirrored cross? While wearing a crown of thorns? Even at her show in Rome?

The "war on religion" alarmists are just like Minaj and Madonna in one key respect: Lacking a coherent point to make, they go for shock value.

Among the loudest voices, predictably, are those of the Republican presidential candidates. Guess who's to blame for the attack on all God-fearing Americans who go to church every Sunday to hear sermons about the sacrifice and triumph of Jesus Christ. Hint: He got in trouble four years ago, during his presidential campaign, for going to church every Sunday to hear sermons about the sacrifice and triumph of Jesus Christ.

President Obama is indeed waging a war on religion, Mitt Romney claimed last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Romney promised to rescind every "Obama regulation" that somehow "attacks our religious liberty."

Newt Gingrich said at CPAC that Obama plans to "wage war" on the Catholic Church if he is re-elected. Those who don't see this coming are not familiar with "who (the president) really is." Apparently, the real Obama is about to come out of hiding, any day now.

But it is Rick Santorum who wins the award for histrionics. Progressives, he said last week in Texas, are "taking faith and crushing it." From that ridiculous proposition, he went on in truly hallucinatory fashion:

"When you marginalize faith in America, when you remove the pillar of God-given rights, then what's left is the French Revolution. What's left is a government that gives you rights. What's left are no unalienable rights. What's left is a government that will tell you who you are, what you'll do and when you'll do it. What's left in France became the guillotine. Ladies and gentlemen, we're a long way from that, but if we follow the path of President Obama and his overt hostility to faith in America, then we are headed down that road."

Wow.

Just how has this "hostility to faith in America" manifested itself? Obama issued a rule requiring some church-owned or church-run institutions to provide health insurance that pays for contraceptives, which are outlawed by Catholic doctrine -- and used by the vast majority of Catholic women. Obama subsequently altered the rule to placate Catholic bishops, who responded by declaring themselves implacable.

In his speech at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, Obama cited New Testament scripture in arguing for economic and social justice. Conservatives blasted him for, um, quoting the Bible.

This is a war? This is a march to the guillotine?

Romney and Gingrich know better; they're just cynically pandering to religious conservatives. Santorum, at least, is sincere in his pre-Enlightenment beliefs. But rejection of the intellectual framework that produced not just the French Revolution but the American Revolution as well does not strike me as an appropriate philosophy for a U.S. presidential candidate to espouse, much less a winning platform to run on.

The Founders wisely decided to institutionalize separation of church and state. The references to God, the Creator and Divine Providence in the Declaration of Independence mask the fact that the Founders disagreed on the nature and existence of a Supreme Being. They understood the difference between faith and religiosity.

Within our secular governmental framework, religion has thrived. No other large industrialized nation has nearly so many regular churchgoers as does the United States.

And just as faith somehow survived Nicki Minaj's burlesque at the Grammys, it will survive the attempt by Republicans to create a religious war out of thin air.

Eugene Robinson's email address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

g 2012, Washington Post Writers Group

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