Religious  CNN event . . . God created Republicans in His image. I know because they all said so in last night’s Republican debate when Wolf Blitzer asked about Biblical creation versus evolution (watch CNN’s Huckabee and Brownback videos). They seemed to agree with Mike Huckabee’s explanation that he’s not sure when this divine creation happened, or how long it took, but none confessed any doubt that it really happened.

Creationism can be imposed in schools, while An Inconvenient Truth or Sagan’s Cosmos can be banned, as long as it’s done, as McCain suggested, by local governments. Romney bravely insisted that no one was going to separate him from his Book of Mormon, but only Ron Paul seemed to understand that the supremely secular 1st Amendment was the inspired principle that protected Mitt from the Romans.

Given the original perfection of Eden, it logically follows that Democrats weren’t there at the beginning; I suspect they evolved later, after the fall, though it’s possible Tancredo and Brownback think they’re just aliens from somewhere, and we should weed out the ones with brown skin that don’t speak English before they pollute America’s precious bodily fluids. But despite their darker than God-like nature, Democrats are still expected to be persons of faith and to be explicit about the role God plays in their lives and prospective administrations.

Over the past three nights, CNN came about as close as the media has in my lifetime to imposing a religious litmus test on U.S. presidential candidates. During those nights, every candidate tested so far claimed to turn the religiously correct color. But it wasn’t just the debates where candidates were asked about religion versus science.

The worst was Monday night, when CNN televised an hour long forum promoted by Sojourner founder Jim Wallis in which the top three Democratic candidates were “invited” to answer questions about their religious faiths. (Others, including Republicans, will get their turn later.) John Edwards, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton spent 15 minutes each answering questions from Soledad O’Brien before a live audience and CNN’s national television audience.

Being the pious politicians they are, all three Democrats “passed.” We heard Edwards talk about how Jesus is his personal saviour, how he had once strayed but had returned to the fold, how he struggles with sin every day — that was his answer to the question, “what’s the worst sin you ever committed?” — but he uses daily prayer to deal with it. It was a chance for Edwards to showcase his commitment to helping the less fortunate, his concerns about New Orleans, and humanitarian efforts and how they were all grounded in his faith and Baptist upbringing. He seemed pleased to have the opportunity, and the crowd was in near rapture.

Obama and Clinton seemed a little less comfortable with the dunking they were getting, though both did well enough. Obama acknowledged that terrorist attacks could be “evil,” but to his credit, he reminded his audience that so was torture at Guantanamo. Both stressed their commitment to social justice and linked it to religious upbringing.

Methodist Hillary slipped in a veiled dig at Baptist John by recalling that her upbringing tended to take a dim view of those who wear their religion on their sleeves, and all the Methodists applauded. Since she was asked about her husband’s infidelity (!!), she took the opportunity to explain that without her faith, she might not have gotten through that, a response that made the CNN headline. Okay, she gave them something, but it was safe. But my eyes were about to roll out the back of my head by now.

Except for this (h/t RevDeb for this UPDATE), I like Jim Wallis and respect his efforts to reintroduce evangelical Christianists to the beatitude teachings of Jesus and their relevance in defining a just nation and humane government policies. More power to him and others who remind Christians that Jesus did not call for wars, let alone preemptive ones, and was the victim of torture, illegal detention, a phony trial, and brutal hanging as a terrorist threat to the state; he wasn’t the perpetrator. And I understand the tactical political benefit Wallis is trying to achieve and why the Dems might see this in their interests.

But I’m seriously uncomfortable with how this event was staged, because it seemed the candidates really had no choice but to appear and give religiously correct answers not just before a likely pro-religious audience but before a national television audience. They were expected to demonstrate their religion. As a confirmed non-believer, I find this incredibly offensive and ultimately dangerous to the 1st Amendment.

National candidates know that strong majorities of voters identify themselves as “religious,” and so-called evangelical Christians appear, in some polls, to make up as much as 40 percent. No candidate can ignore these numbers, but it does not follow that it is a good idea for the national media to pressure candidates to appear for what is little more than a religious examination at an event organized by religious leaders — and it doesn’t matter that the organizer here is perceived as “liberal.” Given CNN’s sponsorship, no candidate could risk saying “heavens no, what are you thinking?” But I wish they had.

Beyond that, what are we to think of these presumably devout professions of exclusively Christian faith from candidates who, less than 24 hours later (or before) calmly told the American people that Americans killing innocent Muslim civilians is acceptable “collateral damage” (Clinton) if bin Laden is the target, or nuking Iranian cities is just fine (most of the Republicans) or should at least not be taken off the table (almost everyone) while we continue to rain unspeakable horror on civilians with our expanded bombing campaign in Iraq and Afghanistan? Excuse me, but if I can find someone who will condemn these actions and promise to stop them, it’s just fine with me if they get booed off the stage for renouncing this demeaning assault on reason or simply refuse to appear at CNN’s next religious inquisition.

For more on the Republican debate, read digby. UPDATE: C&L has more on Giuliani’s embrace of preemptive war.

CNN photo from Monday’s religious forum.



John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley