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The many gods (and not) of the U.S. Congress

The Pew Forum reports on the religious make-up of the 113th Congress, including a none (doubt that it's the first). Does the religious make-up of the Congress really make any difference? Does party affiliation trump religious affiliation?

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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Does one's religion, religious beliefs, or one's expereince of religion determine political values and priorities or simply give a rationale for them? The forever questions about "religion." Obviously, the contrast between John Boehner and Paul Ryan's "Catholicism" is expressed differently from Joe Biden. Religion influences, but other factors - political and expereince - determine.

Even when one responds to Christian leaders complaints politicians respond according to how those leaders can affect their reelection campaign. JFK called it the necessary compromises of political life. If you do not compromise you will not get reelected and therefore you will not do any good at all. Flawed reasoning but it probably applies to close to 100% of politicians. Obama certainly used it when he let the Republicans control him in many things in the first term. Bill Clinton was able to overcome Republican opposition so well that their only alternative was to go after his sex life which was a major political mistake. (Who is Kenneth Starr?). This is why Obama chose Clinton to speak at the Democratic convention. Obama clearly lacks those leadership skills that Willie had.Like the bishops politicians are deeply flawed people. Honor is more in their words than in their deeds.

I believe I've commented on this before ... I am not sure that "Protestant" is a particularly helpful category, except insofar as it communicates, "not Catholic or Jewish or Muslim or ..."It would be more interesting (at least, to me) to distinguish between Evangelical and Mainline. Although I understand that the two sets are not mutually exclusive, so perhaps that distinction would bring a whole new set of categorical problems.

Jim, I agree. And even within those two categories, Evangelical and Mainline, a breakdown might be illuminating. Do Episcopalians and Lutherans see things the same way. I doubt it, at least in some cases. It is always inspiring, at least to me, to see how faithful Jewish politicians are to the Democratic Party. Milton Himmelfarb of Commentary once wrote, "Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans." Unlike many Catholic pols, they remember their own struggles as poor immigrants.

"Does ones religion, religious beliefs, or ones expereince of religion determine political values and priorities or simply give a rationale for them?"Ask the good "Catholic" members of SCOTUS.

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