In addition to Susan Jacoby, there were lots of religious left responses to the Saddleback forum at the Washington Post‘s “On Faith” column. For example, there was Jane Holmes Dixon, the former Episcopal bishop of Washington:

My concern is whether both Senator Obama and Senator McCain will have the same type of events at a synagogue, a mosque, a gudwara and an ethical society. And whether CNN will carry those events live. I am eager to know how both men see themselves governing in a pluralistic country for those whose belief system may differ from their own. I hope people of other religions or no religion get the same clarity.

An “ethical society”? They’ll get big-time votes there. The fact is, that if they were asked to appear on a big stage (and that’s the key–these guys aren’t running for school board or county commissioner, after all), and they appeared together, even the way they did at Saddleback, I don’t doubt that it would be covered by the mainstream media. So, how many ethical societies or gudwaras have sought to put together a presidential forum?

Then there’s the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance. He appreciated Rick Warren’s civility, and agreed with Warren’s opening statement that faith and politics shouldn’t be separated. He objected, however, to faith and politics not being separated:

However, as the forum continued, primal distinctions between faith and politics became blurred and, in some instances, were erased. A question about a candidate’s commitment to Jesus seems of little relevance to a religiously pluralistic nation made strong by a secular government that appreciates religion but gives no preference to religion over non-religion. For the most part, I found Pastor Warren’s questions creative and helpful and his attitude a refreshing encouragement of all that is civil. However, his inquiry about personal faith and his citations from the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures well could have left the wrong impression. Many people in this nation do not turn to those scriptures for wisdom or to faith for guidance. Questions essential in a church are not particularly helpful in a conversation a church sponsors to help educate diverse voters in the nation.

In fact, a candidate’s faith can be of direct relevance to a “religiously pluralistic nation.” If a Wahhabist Muslim were running for president, we’d all want to know whether that means that he sees the state’s role as one of enforcing sharia law. If an atheist were running, I’d want to know if that person thinks that religious believers are all dolts whose opinions on everything else can be pretty much discounted, as is the case with a Richard Dawkins. If a person is a fundamentalist Baptist, I’d want to know if he thinks that we should return to the age of blue laws and Prohibition. Whether I agreed with the individual in question or not, knowing stuff like this is of real significance to me as a voter.

As for the references to the Bible, it apparently didn’t occur to Gaddy that while lots of citizens don’t care about them, lots of them do, and what’s more to the point, Obama and McCain supposedly do. How they read them can say a lot about a person, not in doctrinal terms but simply in terms of how much of a part their faith might play in their decision-making. That means it should matter to all of us.

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite of the UCC’s Chicago Seminary was worried that when Rick Warren said that we shouldn’t separate faith and politics, that meant only one kind of faith:

But what this event obscured, right from the opening statement that “We believe in separation of church and state, but not faith and politics,” is that separation of church and state and faith and politics are related.

Separation of church and state (which is not in the Constitution) is based upon is the anti-establishment clause of the First Amendment (which is in the Constitution). “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

What the framers sought to do was to guarantee that one faith would not be privileged over another; in their era, what that meant was prohibiting financial support of any religious institutions by the state (i.e. establishment). But in the age of mass media, what establishment can come to mean as well, in my view, is identifying only one faith voice as the voice of faith. And that is what Rick Warren, I believe, was trying to re-brand in this event.

In addition, it became clear that literal establishment is on the table for Warren and for McCain. This connection was plain in the tenor of the questions about faith-based initiatives. Obama said he would support providing federal funds for faith-based programs, but not support faith-based hiring in those programs that receive the federal funds. McCain and Warren were on the side of allowing faith-based hiring in federally funded faith-based programs for social welfare. And that, my friends, is establishment by any other name.

Rick Warren seems very sincere. God save us from the harm sometimes done by the sincere.

Right. So I guess this means that the Faith in Public Life forum that was held at Messiah College back in April, the one that featured Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, was also an invalid attempt to identify only one type of faith (liberal, regardless of the religion) as the voice of faith. I wasn’t able to find any viewing-with-alarm about that event in the Thistlethwaite archives. Maybe she expressed it elsewhere. In any case, I’m sure she was sincere in her fear-and-loathing of those theocratic evangelicals.

Finally, a word from a couple of non-Christians who stand firmly with the left. Deepak Chopra descended from the eighth dimension, or whatever astral plane he normally inhabits, to demonstrate his ignorance of how America works:

For me, the God quiz that Barack Obama endured with barely concealed sweaty palms and that John McCain breezed through with seasoned casualness has no place in American politics. Rick Warren is a feel-good preacher who softened the interrogation and administered no canings, but that’s irrelevant. To claim that “faith and politics” is different — and more acceptable — than “church and state” is semantic sleight of hand.

BUZZZ!!! That’s wrong, but thank you for playing. In fact, faith and politics have been intertwined, sometimes in good ways, sometimes in bad, since the beginning of the Republic. Think Lincoln’s ruminations on divine providence and the Civil War, William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech, the influence of the churches in the civil rights movement, and countless other examples, and it’s obvious that Americans have always been quite happy about faith having an impact on politics. “Separation of church and state,” on the other hand, is an extra-constitutional expression that is grounded in the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which was first litigated in 1947 and have been a source of perfectly legitimate argument since. Deepak, take my advice: read some American history before popping off next time.

And last but not least, there’s John Spong, who opines that neither Obama nor McCain are theologians. Nothing gets by him:

The Saddleback Forum was good theater, but it was theologically naïve. The questions asked reflected an evangelical world view that is one to which educated people today cannot relate.

Yeah, it’s a pity there are no evangelicals to be found among the world’s educated. No Ph.Ds, no astronomers, no physicists, no lawyers or doctors–heck, I don’t even know any evangelicals who can scratch their backsides and hum at the same time. Of course, the way we know this is because they are totally unenlightened on the wonders of homosexuality (for Spong, everything eventually comes down to homosexuality):

Homosexuality is no more a choice for gay and lesbian people than heterosexuality is a choice for straight people. It takes a while for that knowledge to trickle down to the masses. Prejudice lives only in the untrickled down gaps. The condemnation of homosexuality as a sin or as a distortion by the hierarchy of the Vatican or the leaders of evangelical Christianity is simply a sign that both groups live in the backwaters of knowledge and education. As this knowledge spreads, those groups will look like what they are – dated people similar to the members of the Flat Earth Society.

The “untrickled down gaps”! Isn’t that a marvelous phrase? Why, who knows, at some point in the future, the excruciatingly brilliant intellect that is found inside John Spong’s skull may even explode from containing so much wisdom, and when his cranial fluid trickles down on us, we will all get as enlightened as he is. ‘Course, that’ll mean I’ll have to give up my Flat Earth Society membership, but hey, you can’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs, right?

At Saddleback both Senators Obama and McCain pandered to the religious mindset. One should not expect politicians to be either competent theologians or biblical scholars and quite obviously neither candidate is. So they contented themselves to toss around the religious jargon. “Jesus saved me,” said Senator McCain. “Jesus died for my sins,” said Senator Obama.

Thereby demonstrating that they are unreconstructed Neanderthals, poltroons who are undeserving of the anointing of the former Bishop of Newark. However will either one win the presidency without it?