When last I left you (before going into a vacation hibernation) I had written in admiration of Sen. Joseph Lieberman--especially his fidelity to his religious values. Since then Lieberman has triggered a national debate on the role of religion in politics. I still admire the man, but fidelity to my own values compels me to say I wonder what in the world he's talking about.
I wonder the same thing about many other politicians who make very public expressions of faith and implore us all to do the same. Theirs is a very sunny religion, one that seems to ignore not only much of recent history, like the Holocaust, but a good deal of what is happening right now--everything from abductions and decapitations in the Philippines to the mutilation of children by Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front. For those events, I can only echo what Robert F. Kennedy was overheard crying out when his brother, John, was assassinated: "Why, God?"
My own continuing crisis of faith is beside the point. But the marriage of religion to politics is another matter. I thought it was in bad taste for Lieberman to go on and on about religion. But I thought it downright smug of him to suggest that God somehow favors America above all nations. The United States is a fortunate and exceptional nation, which I love dearly, but it is no more divine than any other.
"Our nation is chosen by God and commissioned by history to be a model to the world," Lieberman told the annual convention of B'nai B'rith late last month.
Is that so? Did God choose slavery, which persisted in this country long after it was outlawed elsewhere? Did God choose to nearly eradicate the American Indian? Did God choose to incarcerate the Japanese during World War II? Where was God when blacks were being lynched and bigots planted bombs in southern churches, killing innocent little girls? Are these the models God wanted for the rest of the world?
Lieberman's statement is preposterously false and lacks humility. In these and other statements, he and like-minded politicians not only have had God virtually raising a hand at a naturalization ceremony, but they have imbued religion with a power it does not have. They suggest that if only more people were religious and allowed to pray before football games or whatever, we would be a far better nation--and, surely, all games would end in a tie.
The punchline? The statement Cohen attributed to Lieberman was actually said by candidate George W. Bush.
Correction: In my column of Sept. 6 I mistakenly attributed the quotation, "Our nation is chosen by God and commissioned by history to be a model to the world" to Joseph Lieberman. In fact, the quotation was from George W. Bush.