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January 31, 2012 8:45 am

The Amend Corner: God and government

Written by Don Amend

If you want to have a friendly conversation, avoid politics and religion.

So goes an old social admonition, and there’s a very good reason for it. Start talking about the nature of God, for example, and you can get into a real nasty argument.

Of course, this year being a presidential election year, you can’t avoid talking about politics or religion. We’ve been up to our hips in Republicans who thought they should be the president, and there have been religious implications surrounding most of them. At least two of them, Rick Perry and Herman Cain, said God told them to run. Both of have since dropped out, indicating they either misunderstood God, who was really telling to them run for president of the local Chamber of Commerce, or they were listening to someone else they mistook for God. Rick Santorum is running — without a lot of success since Iowa — to make this country moral again, and Newt Gingrich is a Baptist turned Catholic who has had some particular difficulty with one of the Ten Commandments in the past, making him a poster child for what Mr. Santorum thinks is wrong with the country.

Mitt Romney, of course, is a Mormon, a religion that has a few beliefs that aren’t quite in sync with most other Christian denominations, so much so that there are those who insist Mormons aren’t Christian at all.

Then there’s Ron Paul, who doesn’t talk a lot about religion, but apparently developed some of his ideas from reading Ayn Rand, an atheist whose philosophy holds that “Man’s first duty is to himself,” a statement somewhat the opposite of the “I am third” (after Jesus and everybody else) philosophy I learned in Sunday School.

And it probably won’t change much after the election. Somewhere between 20 percent and half of Republican voters think Barack Obama is a Muslim trying to impose Sharia law on us, or maybe  the anti-Christ, who’s out to tattoo three sixes on everybody’s forehead. Others still question his faith because his former pastor back in Chicago said some pretty mean things about our fair country. Consequently, I’m sure we’ll hear more religious rhetoric during the campaign.

The reality of the race, though, is that the real issue in the race for most people is not religion, but the economy, especially job creation. Every one of those candidates, with the possible exception of Mr. Santorum, is running because he thinks he knows how to create jobs, get the economy running again, and save the country from the evils of European Socialism.

That’s pretty much the normal election issue. The main theme in every election I’ve paid attention to has almost always been the economy, unless there was a war going on.  Even when the economy was doing pretty good back in the ’90s, Bob Dole’s presidential campaign was telling us it wasn’t good enough, for example, and  I’m pretty sure that, had a Republican been making the State of the Union speech last week and the economy was in the same shape it is today, the president would have said much the same thing Barack Obama said. Some things don’t change much.

What it boils down to is that, if evangelical Christians think Mr. Romney can improve the economy, they’ll put aside his religion and vote for him. And they’ll overlook Mr. Gingrich’s Seventh Commandment issues if they think he can do it, exactly as they did in South Carolina last week. And if, by chance, the economy starts recovering, Mr. Obama will get the votes despite the fears of those who think he’s a Muslim.

That’s natural, because when we vote for the president, we are voting for a secular office, not a spiritual one. The government’s concern is worldly matters — the economy, for one — while, as Jesus insisted, his kingdom “is not of this world.”  And though most of us won’t admit it, we are much more concerned with our economic situation than we are with our relationship with God.

Regardless of his religion, the  president, no matter who he is, can’t change that.

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