Michael Medved hops, skips and jumps to a conclusion:
Now that we’ve broken barriers with history’s first viable female and African-American candidates, opponents of organized religion hope for a new campaign in which a brave politician makes a credible run for the highest office even while proclaiming his non-belief.
Aiyee! What was the high-pitched noise that just pierced my eardrum, yet remained on the periphery of frequencies I can consciously perceive? Whatever it was, I’ve suddenly developed a sneaking suspicion of dark-skinned presidential candidates who don’t believe in God and wear skirts.
Just as the Queen plays a formal role as head of the Church of England, the President functions as head of the “Church of America” – that informal, tolerant but profoundly important civic religion that dominates all our national holidays and historic milestones.
Uh, please explain?
For instance, try to imagine an atheist president issuing the annual Thanksgiving proclamation. To whom would he extend thanks in the name of his grateful nation –-the Indians in Massachusetts?
Ha ha, good point. Like, what did they ever do to deserve thanks?
Then there’s the significant matter of the Pledge of Allegiance. Would President Atheist pronounce the controversial words “under God”? If he did, he’d stand accused (rightly) of rank hypocrisy.
Indeed, it’s quite plausible that President Atheist would spontaneously combust if he lolled the word “God” around his filthy mouth and let the syllable drop from his blister-scarred lips. This sort of thing happens to Hitchens all the time during television appearances.
And if he didn’t, he’d pointedly excuse himself from a daily ritual that overwhelming majorities of his fellow citizens consider meaningful.
Damned if he does, damned if he — Wait a second. Do presidents — including our current president, a fellow who’d certainly hold no objections to reciting every word to the Pledge of Allegiance, even those somewhat more recent addenda — actually take part in this ritual every day? Does anyone actually do this, besides elementary school children? Heck, do they even do this anymore, as a general rule?
The United States remains a profoundly, uniquely religious society: “a nation with the soul of a church” in Tocqueville’s durable phrase. A president need not embrace one of the nation’s leading faiths … A president with a mandate doesn’t have to be a regular church-goer, or even a convinced believer; but he can’t openly reject the religious sensibility of nearly all his predecessors and nearly all his fellow citizens.
Shorter Medved: All we ask, as people of faith, is that you go through the motions — for our sake, if not yours.
A leader who touts his non-belief will, even with the best of intentions, give the impression that he looks down on the people who elected him.
And isn’t that what religion is for, is improving self esteem? (“The LORD preserves the faithful, but the proud he pays back in full.” Psalms 23:13) Or not, perhaps.
The remaining half of this column bogs down somewhat predictably in technical jargon about psychic warfare (“…the ongoing war on terror represents a furious battle of ideas and we face devastating handicaps if we attempt to beat something with nothing”) and speculative foreign policy (“President Atheist says he believes in nothing, so it’s easy to assume that he leads a war against belief itself”), before finally returning to more practical concerns:
[E]ven if an atheist president agrees that the well-being of the nation benefits from the spread of vigorous, non-fanatical religious faith, his own status as an openly proclaimed non-believer presents formidable handicaps for the encouragement of those values and institutions. For instance, Dr. Billy Graham has brought tens of millions to Christian commitment, but how could an unabashed atheist honor this achievement?
Hell, I dunno. Send the vice president?