"The Americans combine the notions of religion and liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive of one without the other."
Alexis De Tocqueville, 1835 (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/alexisdeto402216.html ).
"Sincerely wishing that, that as men and christians, ye may always fully and uninterruptedly enjoy every civil and religious right; and be, in your turn, the means of securing it to others; but that the example which ye have unwisely set, of mingling religion with politics, may be disavowed and reprobated by every inhabitant of AMERICA." (Author's italics).
Thomas Paine to American Quakers, 1776, "Common Sense", Thomas Paine, Pelican Books, 1776, 1976.
I thought of De Tocqueville & Paine when reading an eye-opening piece by Geoffrey Wheatcroft in Tuesday's Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/oct/21/religion-christianity-palin ) on the stranglehold that religion (primarily the Christian religions) exert over political life in the US. He illustrates its control over Presidential debates by referring to an event at an "evangelical megachurch" in California earlier this year, at which Obama & McCain were asked to bare their souls & "confess" to past mistakes in their private lives (something that would, thankfully, be unthinkable anywhere in western Europe). Rather than dismiss such a gathering as a fundamentalist, Talibanesque rump, both candidates seemingly felt obliged to attend the event & tell all.
However, any notion that this farce has always been a feature of US political, civic & social life was roundly disabused by Wheatcroft. He notes, "For Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt to have taken part in any such event during the 1932 presidential campaign would have seemed quite absurd, or Harry Truman and Thomas Dewey in 1948. Four years later, Dwight Eisenhower had so little religious upbringing that he needed to be discreetly baptised before he reached the White House."
Wheatcroft goes on to highlight an aspect of the religious Right's fervent belief which the US media normally ignore. It is every bit as crazed, irrational & unscientific as any edict from Bin Laden:
"[Sarah] Palin's convention speech was held for a time to be the height of feisty wit, but much more revealing is what she and her pastor have said about 'the end of days', an idea in which millions of American evangelical Christians sincerely believe. According to [Palin's pastor Ed] Kalnins, the Jewish people must be gathered into the Land of Israel as a preliminary to Armageddon. When the vast conflict comes the Jews will be converted, or possibly annihilated, and it will be followed by the Rapture."
Given that the Jewish vote (a distasteful piece of US political shorthand) has moved increasingly to the Republicans since the Reagan years, almost exclusively because of the Israel issue, it's no surprise that this perverse neo-con conviction is either denied or downplayed by the Republican leadership. It could also be political dynamite if, as has already been suggested, McCain's likely defeat leads to a Palin candidacy in 2012 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/oct/23/sarahpalin-uselections & http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2008/oct/23/sarah-palin-evangelical-christian ).
As one whose value system derives from an altogether different source (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/oct/23/atheist-bus-campaign-ariane-sherine ), I find the US fixation with Faith both unfathomable & depressing.