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Religion as style

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles ) | Dec 30, 2003

In a New York Times op-ed column, David Brooks points out that President Bush was once Episcopalian, then Presbyterian, now Methodist. Howard Dean was Catholic, then Episcopalian, now Congregationalist. Wesley Clark has identified with the Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, and now Presbyterian churches.

Brooks sees a lesson here, about orthodoxy in politics and faith:

So we have this paradox. These days political parties grow more orthodox, while religions grow more fluid. In the political sphere, there is conflict and rigid partisanship. In the religious sphere, there is mobility, ecumenical understanding and blurry boundaries.

That's one way to look at it. Here's another:

American political leaders today, as a class, have a remarkably superficial approach to religious faith-- perhaps because they put their ultimate faith in politics. If government holds the answer to every important question, then religious doctrines can't be terribly important, and confessional differences should be downplayed in the interest of sound public policy.

Today I'm wearing a plaid shirt. Yesterday I was wearing a blue shirt; the day before it was yellow. There's no real pattern to my selection of shirts, because, frankly, I don't take the issue very seriously. When a presidential candidate (Clark) says that he's a Catholic who goes to a Presbyterian church, I wonder whether he gives that question any more thought.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Jan. 05, 2004 10:25 AM ET USA

    Brooks is a classic neoconservative sellout, and thankfully a subpar intellect.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Jan. 02, 2004 10:59 AM ET USA

    Dear Phil, I have a different way of looking at it. First, I believe that Mr. Dean should be commended for his honesty. As far as the President goes, that is none of my business, he was never Catholic. Mr.Dean, like the prodigal son, at least had a minimal degree of respect for the "father" (that is the Church) at least to leave "his" presence so as not to sin before his very face.According to the way the Church is run today, it seems to be the greater sin to "leave" the Church than hypocrisy.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 31, 2003 1:15 PM ET USA

    Many politicians view religion like a restaurant - if I don't like the service I will take my 'business' elsewhere. Very egalitarian, very market-driven; in short - very secular. But then should we expect strong convictions and an unshakeable faith in those who change their tune when a piper with deeper pockets shows up? But while I think a George W. is sincere and seeking the truth, many others are just seeking votes...

  • Posted by: shrink - Dec. 31, 2003 8:34 AM ET USA

    Church hopping may be as much a function of the lack of seriousness of the pastors as of the congregants, who are simply imitating the attitude of their preacher. For example, when priests & bishops speak with as much reverence for the beliefs of Buddha and Mohammed as they do their own, is it any wonder that parishioners would feel that the boundary between the Roman Church and the rest of the world is--shall we say--rather fluid.