It seems to me that Kerry understands, as Bush apparently doesn't, that while it's fine to use faith to guide and inform one's political positions, religious doctrine alone is not sufficient justification for creating legislation. Kerry may in fact be out of step with the Catholic Church on abortion, but that's between Kerry and his priest, and certainly not for unserious little punks like Goldberg to condemn Kerry's "God talk" as "morally and religiously empty," especially given the God-talk of Goldberg's own candidate, George W. Bush (and of course the crowning stupidity of "Kerry's not a good Catholic" arguments is the implication that it should somehow then be more acceptable for Catholic voters to cast their ballot for a heretic Protestant, but I digress...). I see it as a positive that Kerry seemed to strugle to thoughtfully and accurately describe the role that faith plays in his politics.
I've been dubious about Bush's professed faith ever since his response to the question "who is your favorite political philosopher?" during the 2000 GOP primaries. His glib reply, "Jesus, because he changed my heart," told me a lot about the depth of his faith, or lack of it, and his awareness of it political utility. Bush's answer was essentially a non sequitur; Jesus was not a philosopher, certainly not a political one (though he can reasonably be seen as the source of some political philosophy). It seemed pretty obvious to me then that Bush, while unable to name a single political philosopher, was at least savvy enough to provide an answer that he knew both wouldn't be challenged and would make conservative Christians purr with delight. Frankly, I couldn't have been less impressed if Bush had answered "Richard Simmons, because he helped me lose weight." Both responses are daft, but the second doesn't indulge in the transparently cheap, pandering religiosity of the first.
Bush's presidency has been rife with this sort of easy spirituality. His speeches are peppered with born-again Christian code words, references to the "wonder-working power" of "our awesome God," phrases which may not mean too much to the un-churched, but which I recognize from a childhood and young adulthood in the born-again Christian community. From what I've read as well as observed of him, I also recognize Bush as the sort of man who doesn't so much let religious faith guide his political decisions as much as use it to sanctify his preconceived political convictions. Ron Suskind's article of last week would seem to confirm this.
I'm not going to presume to guess at the genuineness of Bush's faith, of whether he actually believes what he says he believes. I will assume that he does. But I think it's reasonable to also assume that he attends his faith with about as much rigor as he's attended most other of his life's endeavors, which is not much. For example, asked what Jesus Christ would have thought of capital punishment, Bush said that Jesus hadn't addressed it. Of course, Jesus did in fact address capital punishment in one of the more famous episodes of his ministry, the pardoning of the adulterous woman. There is a debate to be had about how Jesus' words and actions in that situation relate to the right of the State to execute criminals, and various theologians have struggled with the question, but it is simply ignorant to assert, as Bush did, that Jesus was silent on the matter.
The role of religion in politics is going to be a major issue in the 21st Century. Secularism, the separation of church and state, is a major component of liberal government. It's also a crux of the conflict between Islamism and liberalism, and of political modernization that we hope to cultivate in the Middle East. As Sullivan rightly notes:
Who will win this religious war? It's still too close to call. But, in as much as people's deepest and most mysterious beliefs are being dragged more and more into the public square, America loses. It is one thing to have religious rhetoric and language in public. That is the American way. It is another to base political appeals on religious grounds - whether crudely or subtly. And it is one of the saddest ironies of our time that as America tries to calm the fires of theocracy abroad, it should be stoking milder versions of the same at home.