78% of the electorate did not consider morality the number one issue facing the nation. Listening to the pundits you would think a significant majority placed it above the combined woes of terrorism, Iraq and the economy which simply is not at the case. What one journalist characterized on C-Span as "most voters" was in fact 22% that selected morality, which any seasoned researcher knows is an ambiguous descriptor, in exit polls. Morality, widely used as a code word for the religious right's social agenda, may have polled higher than any other single option but let's not get carried away with ourselves. Probably more revealing is that after this long campaign there is no national consensus about what is our most urgent problem. Perhaps even the famously focused Mr. Rove was unsuccessful in providing singular focus, but more likely it's another indication of how complicated are the problems we face going into Bush's second term (even writing those words hurts). In this world, even the public has to "walk and chew gum at the same time".
I don't for a minute want to minimize the powerful role played by the religious right in this and the 2000 elections. With their help, the country has been tilting conservative for a long time, most especially on the so-called cultural issues. The next few months are likely to prove particularly troubling to many of us the President starts paying off his campaign debts, "spending his political capital". Hold on to your seats, it's likely to be a rough ride. But the lockstep analysis notwithstanding, we're looking at a influential moral minority not a majority of the population. Moreover, I simply don't see the religious resurgence now taken as a truism in our media. The fact remains that in this purportedly deeply religious country less that half of us belong to a church or synagogue. More telling is that among the affiliated, no more, and often much less, than 40% of them attend religious services with any regularity. If you don't believe me, stop in at your local house of worship any weekend and do a head count. I say stop in, because most of you who read this, affiliated or not, also attend only occasionally, if at all.
Without question, religion is playing a huge role in this troubled time, and it is largely its extreme right that holds center stage. Whether the fundamentalist fanatics who are blowing up the innocent in the name of God or their more docile counterparts who are trying to impose their ideology on the body politic, we find ourselves captives of their designs. The religion whose face we see in the daily media is pretty unattractive if not frightening. But to a great degree, we are not merely captives of it, but accomplices. We complain that Moslem moderates have not raised their voices against the militants who are using their religion to justify violence, and rightly so. But where are the moderate religious voices, the counterpoints to no less fanatical Fundamentalist Christians and Ultra-Orthodox Jews who want to impose their morality, their world view, on us? When will the majority and the mainstream religious leaders wake up and challenge this notion that morality belongs only to the fringe or, for that matter, only to believers? When will we stop being cowed by the hype and offer an alternative, more compelling, view?
We live in dangerous times and the religion that presents itself most vigorously is a huge part of the problem. If we continue on this course of silent acquiescence don't expect our kids, already largely absent, to sign up for faithful duty. Who can blame them?