August 31, 2008
The Religion VoteBy Miguel A. Guanipa
I do not feel that I am alone is suspecting that most politicians, pundits, and even some theologians are loath to venture a guess as to what demographic group is being referred to when the media insouciantly bandies about the phrase "The Religion Vote". Still my curiosity was aroused when I heard that Obama and McCain were earnestly infusing their campaign strategies with pointed initiatives to court the nebulous amalgam of voters presumably enveloped in this alleged, all-inclusive compendium.
I assume (as most people probably do) that they must be alluding exclusively to that imposing block of citizens that is often chastised by the left for their unsolicited political involvement, popularly referred to as the Evangelicals or the "Christian Right". I do wonder if, when they hear that the presidential hopefuls are courting the "Religion Vote", other spiritually inclined peoples from the legion religious persuasions that have flourished in this country ask the question: Which one?; perhaps they are just as perplexed as Elizabeth Edwards is when she hears her husband declare that he has always been in love with the same woman.
But behind this random methodology lurks a veiled assumption that the diverse strands of faith woven into this country's rich religious tapestry are composed of a yet un-tallied mix of those whom the media likes to portray as either the few reasonable moderates - who are willing to "live and let live" - or the many raging fanatics, whose top agenda items include the establishment of a viable theocratic regime, curtailing women's reproductive rights, and criminalizing what is deemed the wayward bedroom decorum of some, to name a few.
This somewhat ambiguous approach is not as pronounced when it comes to defining less abstract labels like the Union vote or the Gay vote, where there is a highly responsive contingency already in place to which a well crafted message can be catered with a greater degree of precision.
Personally, I believe that in terms of commitment to their beliefs -- which I submit is the best gauge for determining one's political leanings -- there are at least two major strands of the diverse faithful toward whom candidates tend to display more than cursory interest in during election season. Though these loosely defined categories may not encompass the few vocal dissenters or agitators that do not typically warrant much attention from the candidates concerned mainly with statistical averages, most of them claim to share an identity with any one of the three most influential creeds in this country today.
There is the religious voter who sees religion as a very personal and private choice. For them it is the personal upon which religion is not allowed to impose any lasting obligation; hence privacy serves as a shield against judgment. It is also in this isolationist context that these believers view their devotion, where they are not in the least inclined to see it as something to be shared in public, but mainly as a vehicle for their own spiritual development.
When pressed, these believers reluctantly confess to what is at best a vague religious sensitivity benignly cloaked as "being spiritual", so as to avoid offending their less fervent peers, those who belong to a different faith, and -- if necessary -- those who are violently opposed to any religious encroachment into the public square.
Ironically these believers often view themselves as modern reformers, not capitulating to more traditional tenets that they deem either too impractical to be followed or too oppressive to be tolerated. They typically find comfort in the notion that they are at least part of a greater whole commonly referred to as the brotherhood of all faiths. In truth they are no more than lukewarm religious nomads, peddling a noncommittal brand of faith that exists only to procure a warm and fuzzy feeling, and a temporary assuagement of their vague -- yet gnawing -- sense of debt towards the eternal.
Not surprisingly, these devotees tend to place the bulk of their faith in human government as a principal solution to society's problems. They are also more impressed with appearances - such as Bill Clinton exiting a Church, Bible clutched firmly in hand - than with how much a candidate's life history reflects concrete manifestations of an inward religious conviction; hence Obama's tepid clarion call to unity and Religious diversity is bound to have its greatest impact on this group.
Then there are those derisively branded by the media as the fundamentalists. These traditionalists are caught between a rock and a hard place, since neither of the two candidates holds sufficiently firm convictions on what they consider to be nonnegotiable items, such as the right to religious expression and the sanctity of all human life.
Although these voters can use the occasional reminder not to entertain vain aspirations of humanity's ability to fix itself through government, they also represent the minority, and the least persuadable of the two strands, as the deeper the religious conviction, the greater the awareness of any human institution's gross inadequacy to address the congenital tendencies of even its own fallible custodians, chief among which are an incorrigible tendency towards selfish ambition and an insatiable lust for power.
But regardless of the outcome of an election, these voters are commanded to wisely obey the authorities of Government, as they understand power to be divinely bestowed -- and rescinded -- by God and God alone.
Needles to say Obama has already lost this vote, mainly because of his rather intransigent liberal views which are diametrically opposed to the views of this block of voters; but McCain fairs only slightly better as they would only deign to cast a vote for him under no small moral apprehension.
In terms of maximizing votes, Obama and McCain would do well to concentrate their efforts in luring those constituents for whom religion is a peripheral matter, practiced only up to the point where it dares to make serious moral demands on their personal lives.
Conversely, these voters should realize that they are not being courted because they are a highly desirable bunch, but strictly because the laws of providence have decreed that they be in the majority.
It is up to the candidates to decide how it is that they will craft their message to suit those voters who naively fancy themselves highly coveted by such rather uncomely suitors.