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PostWatch: An irregular correction to the Washington Post

Brought to you by Christopher Rake


Monday, July 01, 2002
10:24 PM

What do you mean we, Kemosabe? Author Gary Wills wrote Sunday about the disconnect between religion in the U.S. and public discussion of it. From Book World's The Writing Life:

It is one of the deep paradoxes of our culture that we are a deeply religious country yet we are often deeply embarrassed by that fact.

I can't go out there and count everybody, but rather doubt most Americans are deeply embarrassed by that fact. Most writers in elite media, yes. And in fact this is what Wills writes about. It's really interesting and I recommend it:

In the first primary I covered as a journalist (1968), reporters were too embarrassed to ask George Romney probing questions about his Mormon faith, which was considered kooky. I have heard David Broder say that he had a Rolodex with names to consult for almost anything about law, economics or history, but not a single person to call up about Mormonism. Some were shocked when I told them about one interview I conducted in that same race. I had asked Nixon's poll expert at the time, Kevin Phillips, what he thought a Nixon administration would look like. "The same as his law firm," Phillips answered, "Jewish and Catholic." Our politics is not supposed to be keyed to religious factors.

Wills says he's written as much about religion as anything else, and recalls incidents in which he was the only writer around who did. He thinks that's changing--"I would bet that David Broder currently has religious entries in his Rolodex"--and unlike many of his colleagues sees a reasonable connection between belief, morality and political choices:

It is one of the deep paradoxes of our culture that we are a deeply religious country yet we are often deeply embarrassed by that fact. I have in the past asked students whether they think church and state should be kept separate, and almost everyone says yes. Should religion and politics be kept separate? At least as many, sometimes more, say yes to that. Well, then, should morality and politics be kept separate? Definitely not. Yet most people's moral concepts are strongly influenced, if not mainly shaped, by their religious upbringing. I think that is why a majority of people have told pollsters, on various occasions, that they would not vote for an atheist as president. Some take this as a sign of bigotry. I think, rather, that people who connect their own morality with belief do not feel confident in assessing the views of anyone who has not experienced that connection.

Incidentally, Wills has taken heat for not retracting in print his earlier ecstatic praise for Arming America: The Origins Of A National Gun Culture, by Emory University's History Professor Michael A. Bellesiles, now seen to be a travesty. Here's a summary of Will's review, though I hesitate to link. The title suggests an unhealthy persistence: Michael A. Bellesiles: Mega Anti-Gun-Nut -- Part XXXV

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