BECOMING SECULAR

churchDictionary.com offers five definitions, but this is supposedly what is meant by the word “secular”.

secular  adjective
of or pertaining to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred; temporal: secular interests.

Despite the definition, “becoming secular” is in fact a religious choice. Don’t think so? Then explain these lines from different news articles.

Do Americans lie about how much they go to church, even if they don’t belong to one? Do people lie when they ask us to take the results of polls too seriously? Do we have satisfactory answers for all our questions?

What should matter to each of us is our own personal choices and the example we set for others, particularly our children. Becoming secular, ignoring God, is a choice. Becoming secular is a choice that says the belief in God simply does not matter, that the subject of God is unimportant. That’s a fool’s choice. If eternity awaits us — eternal life or damnation — then lazily choosing damnation is a fool’s choice.

Consider this passage.

Matthew 25:31-46 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Final Judgment

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Observe why the Son of Man, the King, condemns the goats. Was it because of anything they did wrong? No. He condemns them because they did not care about His brothers and sisters. He condemns them for a sin of omission. He condemns them for indifference, their indifference to the suffering of others.

Indifference to God: is that what it means to become secular? Isn’t the point of secularism indifference to the existence of God? Doesn’t that choice have profound religious significance? If God does not matter us, if we cannot see evidence of His handiwork in Creation, feel Him at work in our hearts, hear His voice in the Holy Bible, then what could possibly arouse us to love and care for one His brothers and sisters? If God does not matter to us, if through indifference we allow ourselves to become secular, doesn’t that make us one of the goats?

35 thoughts on “BECOMING SECULAR

  1. This post makes no sense. You pick which definition you’re going to use, and call people liars. As the old saying goes, if you have to lie to prove your point, your point is invalid.

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    1. “This post makes no sense.” Well, when someone takes the time to offer serious criticism, I try to take it seriously. Nonetheless, serious criticism does take time and effort. A hit and run does not. So please elaborate.

      1. Was I arbitrary when I picked the first definition in the list?
      2. Did I not give several examples of how the word “secular” is actually being used?
      3. Has it occurred to you that the dictionary is actually a political document?
      4. Who exactly did I call liars? Please explain.
      5. What point do you think I am trying to make?
      6. What is the nature of your disagreement?

      BTW – I am puzzled. You say the post makes no sense. Then you take the time comment and “like” the post. If the post makes no sense, what is the sense of doing that?

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  2. Did you choose to believe in your particular god? Did you consciously say “this is the god I’m going to believe in”? I never consciously said to myself “I don’t want to believe in god anymore. I guess I’ll risk hell and say I’m an atheist.” I do’t believe because I can’t believe. I see no sense in believing in a divine power. Nothing has convinced me that one exists. I’m not a fool because I disagree with you, I’m just someone who disagrees with you.

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    1. Are you truly so helplessly intelligent and wise? I think not. Otherwise you would simply say you believe what you believe to be true.

      From the time I was 17 until I was in my fifties I chose not to believe. That was a conscious choice. I thought about what I had been taught and what I had read. Finally, I allowed Thomas Paine to persuade me that Christianity made no sense (https://citizentom.com/2007/11/13/thomas-paines-profession-of-faith/).

      In retrospect, I did not choose wisely. I chose ignorantly, and I was old enough to know better.

      We live in a society that places little value upon the Bible. Because it takes disciplined effort, we do not read it. We are too lazy. Hence, even though I had never read the Bible, I believed Paine’s condemnation of it.

      The most important man who ever lived said the Bible is true. That man claimed to be God, and hundreds witnessed His death and resurrection, and they refused to recant their testimony. Since Jesus’ return to heaven, thousands upon thousands have died as martyrs to the truth of the Jesus’ claim to be God. That’s the choice they made, and I knew that too.

      Unfortunately, until I was in my fifties, I did not make any serious effort to study the Bible. When I did finally make that effort, I understood I had chosen wrongly. With that admission and with repentance for my sinfulness, I believed. I was born again in Christ Jesus.

      Do some people read the Bible and still refuse to believe? Yes. Some make that choice. Are these liars, fools or both? That’s not for me to decide, but I can see that a great many more people are simply indifferent. Because they choose to remain ignorant, these become more secular, all the while thinking they know what is in the Bible without ever making the effort to study it. And from personal experience I know that’s a fool’s choice.

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      1. Your first paragraph is a tautology. Yes, I believe what I believe. Reading something in the bible is not proof of the bible. Show me writings of Jesus’ miracles written by other people from the same time in sources other than the bible and I’d be ore willing to believe the claims. Nothing has been found yet. I’m not a liar. I do not believe the bible because it is not convincing. I am not a fool either. I have done the research. I do not believe in god.

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        1. Did I call you a liar or a fool? Are you either? That’s between you and God, it is useless to drag me into it. I am not your judge.

          Have you done the research? They are four Gospels, Paul’s writings, and those of others. When we try to date these documents, we find all are more or less contemporary. However, if you want a certified CNN news report, you ask too much. What we have instead are the deaths of martyrs dating from the earliest days of the church. And to me that seems better than carbon-dated manuscripts. We also know that much of Roman world converted to Christianity just because they believed. Even when they were punished they believed, and you don’t think that so incomprehensibly odd as to be inexplicable. Inexplicable without God?

          Look around you. Because our people ignores the Bible, we risk becoming once again what our ancestors were, savage pagans. And that’s your real and contemporary proof. Jesus changes hearts. Those who believe in Jesus try to love their neighbors, and they try to be just with them. Those who believe only in their desires render lip service to Christian virtues, but their own gain is what they care most about.

          And what is in your heart? How would I know? I just know every man, woman, and child wants to believe in something. Even an atheist wants to believe in something. And I just know that if in our hearts we treasure something besides a desire to know our Creator, we risk worshiping an idol that can only destroy us.

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        2. You implied it. The only judges I have are human. They are the only ones determining my value.
          Do I expect a television report? Of course not. I’m a historian: I expect an unbiased (non-christian) third party writing. Paul doesn’t count, his works are in the bible and he converted to Christianity. Zealots don’t count as proof. People die for what they believe all the time, that doesn’t make them right. In Jesus’ time there were a lot of so-called Messiahs. The rose up, they led people in revolt, they were killed, and their followers disbanded. I don’t find it odd that people would convert to a new religion. There are many reasons that people convert. Having your country’s (or empire’s) leader say “okay, we’re going to believe this now” seems to be a great way to encourage conversion.
          Morality came long before the bible. The bible did not create a moral code. It borrowed the moral code from the society it was founded in. And I don’t really find the bible all that moral. How hard is it to figure out it’s probably not a good idea to murder someone and take their stuff? We live in groups. We depend on one another. We can’t destroy the trust of other people hope to be okay. Personally, I don’t think it’s okay to offer up one’s daughters to be raped or beat a slave to death so long as they live a couple of days. In fact, I’m not okay with slavery. People can have morality without god, or with different god’s from your own.
          What is in my heart? Blood. Tissue. All my thoughts are in my head. I hold many beliefs. I try to make sure that my beliefs are based on evidence and are thus justified. I don’t worship anything, natural or supernatural.

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        3. So you are a historian? And you think writers are unbiased? With respect to their belief in God? How would you go about “proving” any man, woman, or child is unbiased?

          Anyway, we have a three-day weekend. I expect to reply to your comment in a post on Tuesday.

          Thank you for your comments.

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        4. In Jerusalem, at the time of Jesus, you expect to find a traveling scholar who is neither christian/jewish nor roman? And you expect the writings of this unlikely soul to have survived 2,000 years too? 🙄

          Don’t you realize Luke was a Greek? He wrote one of the four Gospels and Acts, and he believed. So he became a Christian. Thus, you disqualify him.

          Effectively, what you ask for is proof that is logically impossible to produce. Why would anyone who believed Jesus was God not become a Christian? The answer is that that person refuses to believe. They count the cost of becoming a Christian, and they refuse to pay that cost. Hence, they ignore any evidence that requires them to believe. And that, effectively, is the type of report you demand.

          Anyway, its bed time. We can continue on Tuesday.

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        5. Impossible? No. To be a Roman citizen you had to be born in Rome. There would have been a lot of non-Romans around. And if the Jews truly lived in a land of non-Jews, then finding someone who didn’t believe in their god would also be easy. Travelling scholars were common too. The task would not have been hard at all.

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  3. Tom – if the point of your post is that the phrase “becoming secular” is inartful, I would agree with you. Things are secular or they are not. A bowling ball has no religious (at least for most of us) significance. It can accurately be categorized as “secular”, in that it has no religious content. It didn’t “become” secular. It is worldly and of this dimension only. A communion chalice, on the other hand, has a religious purpose and, properly employed, has no secular function whatsoever. One can think of many examples.

    But the post seems to go off the rails (for me, at any rate), where it equates secular content with an active decision to ignore religious issues (or God Himself, as you appear to say). At that point, I think you begin to mis-use the term “secular” and are confusing it with concepts such as atheism or agnosticism. There are many religious people (I count myself among them) who view the religious/secular distinction as an extremely important protection of religious life. Keep the base and the worldly in their appropriate context. Let spiritual issues, issues that are not of this world prosper in their appropriate sphere. I view this distinction as important, as a practical matter, to protect religion and religious expression. In this country, it was part of the great genius of the Founders that they permitted that distinction to take root and thrive, thus avoiding the debasement of religion by political leaders such as had occurred in Europe in their times and continues in many places today. The distinction also has strong Scriptural foundation for Christians, although other religions also benefit from observing clear distinctions between secular and religious activities.

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    1. Scout – I think debating semantics unprofitable. What a word means depends upon how we use it and the meaning we intend to convey. Because speakers and hearers never entirely agree what a word means, we never quite convey the message we intend. So I will focus on the substance of my message — my meaning — not semantics.

      As it is, I believe you understood my usage of the word “secular.”What I observe from your going off the rails is primarily disagreement, not misunderstanding. That I cannot correct merely by rephrasing what I said before with different words.

      What is religious and what is secular — even which spheres are religious and which are secular — depends upon whom we ask. In fact, if one is a Christian, then one seeks to view everything: every thought, word, and deed, from the perspective giving honor to our Creator. Thus, when Christian Americans created a secular government they did so to the glory of God. Because God gives each of us our rights, we honor each others rights. And those Christians respected the right of their neighbors to freely exercise their own religious beliefs by refusing to use the government as a means of establishing a religion..

      Therefore, I think that with one important omission the distinction between secular and religious spheres has become largely as you described. No longer do we define those institutions as secular that do not exist for the spread of religion. Instead, we define institutions as secular by trying to eliminate from them all Godly influences. Thus, those who prefer the “secular” and abhor the religious have learned how to spread their comfort zones by abusing the power of government.

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  4. I read your most recent comment again this morning, and it makes more sense to me on a second and third reading. I was struggling with the last paragraph. I don’t see that the secular/religious dichotomy is all one thing or the other or represents a decision by a person to be religious or irreligious. It is simply a categorization of things and objects. Obviously, no two people will make those distinctions exactly the same way for all things, but there is a remarkable objectivity about the distinctions – so much so that an atheist and a religionist might categorize 100 things and agree on 98 or 99 as to which are secular and which are religious. I doubt very much that the founders saw their work on the Constitution as a religious exercise – the creation of something “to the Glory of God”, as you describe it. I think they saw a need for and wisdom in crafting a Government that did not interfere in religious matters and one that would not invite meretricious and ambitious men to use religion to enhance their ambitions. There nonetheless remain (and probably always will) politicians and government officials who attempt to invoke religion to advance themselves. However, the structure the Founders left us limits the damage that these types can do both to governance in a free country and to religion itself.

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    1. @scout, who wrote:

      However, the structure the Founders left us limits the damage that these types can do both to governance in a free country and to religion itself.

      This obviously did not work with Obama, who has used a compliant and complicit media and left to cover his faking Christianity and Christian positions in order to get elected. Obama is religious by convenience, as he has explained in his books. It put him in the right social and political places, and he noted that the particular communist-inspired theology that he joined and stayed a very active part of for nearly a quarter century did not ask much of him.

      So he pretended to positions in 2008 to appeal to the masses, and abandoned them later. (Others, who shared his stated position in 2008, have been punished for their views by Obama’s people. This punishment does not apply to Obama himself, who the left and the media knew never believed his own stories. It does apply to those who are discovered to have held those views privately but not made a public issue of them.

      Barack Obama, perhaps the most infamous member of the group who “invoke religion to advance themselves” as you put it, got utterly free reign to do what he did, Constitution or no. The Constitution says nothing about this, though it does explicitly proscribe many of Obama’s actions regarding both religious and secular matters. And it is evidently toothless, now, to prevent these transgressions. I’d like to fix that.

      ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

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      1. I still remember how the Libs went ape when George W. Bush named Jesus as his favorite philosopher.

        Texas Gov. George W. Bush, a Methodist who leads the Republican race in opinion polls and fund-raising, gave the most personal testimony in Monday’s debate. Each candidate was asked what “political philosopher or thinker” he identified with most. (In an interview Tuesday morning with Des Moines Register reporters and editors, Bush said he understood the question to be, “Who”s had the most influence on your life?”)
        http://archives.cnn.com/1999/ALLPOLITICS/stories/12/15/religion.register/index.html

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      2. Keith – pols of all stripes in this country use religion as a marketing gimmick. Obama, for all his defects, is probably less prone to this than many. And, frankly, I see more of this religious posturing from my conservative side of the aisle than I do from liberals. Obviously, there is a demographic explanation for this. Superficial invocation of religious references works better with likely conservative voters, many of whom are actively religious in their spiritual lives, than it does with liberals, many of who reject traditional religious orientations. Obviously, these are gross generalizations, and I apologize in advance for offending religious liberals or non-believing conservatives. But, to return to my earlier point upon which you commented, I have a low opinion of any politician, of any orientation on the political spectrum, who drags down religion by using it as a campaign meme.

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        1. To scout, who wrote:

          And, frankly, I see more of this religious posturing from my conservative side of the aisle than I do from liberals. Obviously, there is a demographic explanation for this.

          Of course there is. You are in the demographic of liberals posing as conservatives.

          The standard scout technique is on full display in your comments on this post:
          1. Pretend ignorance. (You are perhaps too practiced at this.)
          2. Comment in a way that says “I’m really smart, so my pretend ignorance is really sarcasm, and you’re the stupid one.”
          3. Use your pretended ignorance to utterly mischaracterize Citizen Tom’s statements.
          4. Inject throughout all of this bits of your argument for leftist positions, from “big government is good” to “conservatives are religious bad guys.”

          I think that your method acting approach to pretended ignorance is affecting you poorly, sir. But you’ve argued this way for years; it would be very difficult to make a limited-government conservative out of you at this point.

          ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

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        2. I think this rates as one of the most “American” conversations I have ever seen. Here we have a pretend Conservative condemning religious posturing from “my conservative side” and a non-theist condemning Obama’s “faking Christianity and Christian positions.”

          Real life is so strange who save God can imagine such things?

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    2. Thank you for reconsidering.

      When we are asked to think about an unfamiliar subject or about a familiar subject in an unfamiliar way, we strain our mental faculties. So it goes.

      When we are asked to challenge cherished assumptions, I think we strain our mental abilities most grievously. For example, because it seem so weird to me, I unconsciously rejected the whole idea. So I struggled to learn what I needed about the Internet protocol. Similarly, when challenged on your beliefs about secularism and absence of distinct secular and religious spheres, you struggle.

      Here is a useful term that may help you, “compartmentalization.” Because it allows us to separate our lives and our problems into smaller, more manageable problems (or compartments), compartmentalization has some utility as a coping strategy. Nonetheless, unless we wish to become hypocrites, we must use the same beliefs and ethics in each compartment. God will not excuse us. He does not approve of situational ethics.

      Consider the examples given here.

      Some examples would be: a doctor who is religious, but has to separate her belief system from her practice at a women’s health clinic; a man who leaves his office at 6pm, and refuses to think about work for the rest of the evening, so he can enjoy his time with his family or, at its extreme, soldiers who need to file away the trauma of horrific events in their minds, so they can continue operating in battle.
      http://www.forbes.com/sites/ryanblair/2012/06/26/5-steps-of-compartmentalization/

      If she thinks what she is being asked to do is unethical, why would a doctor work in “women’s health clinic.”

      Leaving work at work can be perfectly appropriate, but if one’s work is unethical, robbery, for example, it eventually comes home in the worst way.

      Some of the Nazi prison guards compartmentalized their lives. At “work” they tortured and murdered; at home they kissed their wives and played with their children. God only knows what they dreamed.

      Because they don’t believe in situational ethics, whenever their numbers become sufficient to dominate, Muslims begin trying to institute Sharia Law. Because they did not believe in situational ethics, the Founders practiced brotherly love as public servants. Thus, they created a government that respected people’s God-given rights. A few of the ancient European pagan societies took a third approach. In spite of their strange myths about “the gods,” they felt the need to treat the people they lived with with a certain degree of decency. Somehow, perhaps because they did not take their myths too seriously, they separated their religious beliefs from their philosophy of life. So it is they managed to create a few, rare, embryonic republics.

      It seems to me your approach to secularism has parallels with what those ancient pagans did. Situational ethics, however, are exactly that. When the situation changes,……

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  5. OK, Tom – this last comment from you really is incomprehensible to me, and I am reading it in daylight, I’ve had my coffee, and I’ve read it carefully more than once. It seems you’ve jumped the tracks again.

    Compartmentalization is absolutely essential to getting through a work day. It really means thinking about and concentrating on one thing at a time. It has no particular religious content unless an individual elects to apply his religious views in a very limited way. And it has nothing to do with what you call “situational ethics” (and offer, in your role as God’s spokesman the declaraion that God doesn’t like them).

    But what the blazes does “compartmentalization” have to do with my comment and why do you so solicitously suggest that it is a concept that “might help” me? What is the link between the example of Nazi guards and my comment that the distinction between secular and religious is largely an objective assessment or that the Constitution was not created as a religious work by the Founders? Are you saying that everything is religious (including the bowling ball in my first example) and that nothing is secular? Are you suggesting that people who hold my view that there are useful demarcations between the religious and secular activities would make good Nazi camp guards? Are what you refer to as “situational ethics” the same thing (in your mind) as a distinction between religious and secular categories? Could a non-religious person have an internal ethical code which is rigidly non-situational (i.e., one that does not vacillate in its application depending on external realities)?

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    1. scout, would you make a good guard at a Nazi concentration camp? I hope not. What I think more appropriate to consider is why anyone would make a good guard at a Nazi concentration camp.

      There but for the grace of God, go I. — John Bradford, perhaps (http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/there-but-for-the-grace-of-god.html)

      As I told hessianwithteeth, we have a three-day weekend. I expect to reply in more in same post I reply to hessianwithteeth on Tuesday.

      Until then, please look up the term “compartmentalization.”

      Thank you for your comments.

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  6. I am aware of the meaning of the word, Tom.

    As to the banality of evil (Nazi atrocity) issue, the reasons are complex and varied. They don’t have much to do, I submit, with the subject of the post or anything in the comment thread.

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    1. @Scout: Pretending ignorance and making false assertions regarding my position, hmm?

      You do not REALLY believe that I am “confusing you for someone else”; it is one of your standard rhetorical gambits. I won’t bother looking up your “big government” arguments. You know you’ve made them, even here, and you are neither forgetful nor ignorant. “Deceitful” is closer to the mark.

      ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

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  7. I always value your rigid adherence to the principle that we discuss ideas, and avoid casting personal aspersions on other commenters, Keith. Keep to the high road, pilgrim.

    The comment that activated your ire was fairly straightforward. I offered up the idea/opinion (in response to an earlier comment from you suggesting that the current President had run as a phony Christian) that I don’t recall him really hammering religious themes in 2008 or 2012, and that, as a generalization, I see far more religious insertion into politics from “conservatives” (although I don’t consider the intermingling of politics and religion a particularly “conservative” trait) than from liberals. I also allowed as how this unfortunate tendency to drag religion through the public square occurs across the political spectrum, and no element is entirely free of it.

    If one looks back at the comment that led to your response, you will see that I didn’t “feign ignorance” (I am ignorant of many things, but try not to express hardened opinions in areas of ignorance, for fear that I might quickly be shown to be truly ignorant), directed my attention fairly to your comment, didn’t make any claims to being “really smart” (I am a person of average intelligence who reads a lot – nothing special about that), have never argued that “big government is good” or that “conservatives are religious bad guys.”. Hence my assumption that your comment reflected confusion on your part.

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  8. Thanks, Tom, for reinforcing my point that either end of the spectrum (and all the bits in the middle) can fall into the bad habit of invoking religion in politics. The link is a good example of that. It is understandable that if a candidate decides to engage in a public interview with a religious leader as visible as someone like Rick Warren, he/she will be prepped to but a bit of a religious tinge on things. So I am a bit indulgent in that context. Nonetheless, as a political calculus, “liberal” (whatever that means) candidates or even Democratic centrists like Clinton and Obama (which is essentially what he campaigned as, particularly in 2008) don’t get as much mileage out of religious references these days and have fewer incentives to drag religion down into politics than do “conservative” (whatever that means) candidates. My point on demographics in my 24 May 0839 comment holds up pretty well. We can test it in the upcoming 2014 mid-term Congressional elections and survey where religious themes are injected into campaigns, and which candidate raises them. I think it’s fairly well acknowledged that Republicans (many of whom fancy themselves to be “conservative”) are trying this time around to avoid the disappointments of the past couple of cycles by finding governance themes to run on for a change. I consider this a step forward for the Party. I suspect, however, that some people just won’t be able to help themselves and will reach for the cheap invocation of religious issues into the debates. We can see how it plays out and talk about it in November.

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    1. Rick Warren actually provided each of the candidates an opportunity to express themselves on important issues without the childish antics that too many reporters insist upon. On the whole, Warren staged one of the most dignified presidential debates in history, but we must step forward. 🙄

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  9. I agree. I thought Warren did a good job with that. The usual media-sponsored debates generally are not, because of the format, a particularly good way to measure the candidates. I think I would prefer something a bit more (although not entirely) like the Lincoln/Douglas debates, debates that you resurrected a few months back. Have a theme (e.g., foreign affairs, tax/budget policy, social welfare etc). Give one guy a long bloc of time for opening, the other guy a chance to respond, and then rebuttal. Alternate who goes first from one debate to the next.

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