NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"What Would Moses Do?" About Religion In Politics

September 13, 2000

Does the Fifth Commandment's injunction to honor one's parents require voters to support Al Gore's prescription drug plan, as Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) has implied?

Europeans are perplexed by the way American politicians wear their piety on their sleeves and allow religion to influence public policy, say knowledgeable observers.

They aren't struck by the fact that the Democrats have nominated a Jewish vice presidential candidate -- after all, a Jewish leader is not new for Europe or the United States.

  • France had a Jewish prime minister in 1936, England in 1868, and Spain in 1835, but none of them -- Leon Blum, Benjamin Disraeli or Juan Alvarez Mendizábal -- were devoutly observant, as Lieberman is.
  • Indeed, Disraeli had been baptized as an Episcopalian, just like the late, ethnically Jewish Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), a candidate for president in 1964.

The United States is the only advanced industrial country in which religion thrives -- with a remarkable 40 percent of Americans claiming to worship in various churches, synagogues and mosques. In Europe, institutional religion is on the point of collapse.

  • For instance, fewer than one French person in 10 goes to church even once a year, and the Roman Catholic church has never been less influential in the life of the nation.
  • The Church of England is "by law established," with the queen as its supreme governor, but services are now regularly attended by a mere 2 percent of the population.

Europeans are uneasy that Lieberman calls on the Almighty and asserts that religion is the only true basis for morality, say observers. And among English commentators George W. Bush excites derision when he says God is his favorite philosopher, and so does Al Gore when he says he asks himself, "What would Jesus do?"

Source: Geoffrey Wheatcroft, "In Europe, Politics Without Piety," September 9, 2000, New York Times.


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