Gore on the Fence Between Church and State

Why is it that whenever politicians take on the excesses of the church-state divide, which are undeniable, they always go too far? Here is Vice President Gore in a speech yesterday to the Salvation Army:

Some on the right have said for too long that a specific set of religious values should be imposed, threatening the founders’ precious separation of church and state. In contrast, some on the left have said for too long that religious values should play no role in addressing public needs. These are false choices.

A plague on both houses! So far, so good. But how does Gore describe what “some on the left” are guilty of? Does he call it “intolerance of religious values,” as he should? No. He calls it “hollow secularism.” This makes it sound as though what really bothers Gore about ACLU-style fundamentalism on church-state separation isn’t that it shafts people who believe in God, but rather that it promotes a worldview that is inherently deficient because it excludesGod. Gore isn’t saying that secularists should be more open-minded about faith; he’s saying that there’s something wrong with them for being secularists in the first place.

Later in the speech, Gore asks why corporations rarely agree to match employee contributions to faith-based groups. Perhaps, he says, it’s “because we are just starting to realize the role they play. Or maybe it is the allergy to faith that is such a curious factor in much of modern society.” (Italics Chatterbox’s.) There’s an artful ambiguity here. Is the “allergy” a failure to make room for the beliefs of others? Or is it one’s own failure to believe in any God? Still later, Gore says, “The separation of church and state has been good for all concerned – good for religion, good for democracy, good for those who choose not to worship at all. (Italics Chatterbox’s.) This is the only suggestion in the speech that the interests of nonbelievers have any legitimacy at all. Within the context of contemporary politics, it is actually somewhat daring. (An earlier reference to people who, “religious or not,” hunger for deeper moral values in politics comes close, but you can interpret “not religious” to mean “worships occasionally.”)

Chatterbox looks forward to the day when a presidential candidate can make the forthright statement that belief in God is not a prerequisite for doing good, and that just as Godless yuppies need to be more tolerant of fundamentalist Christians, fundamentalist Christians need to be more tolerant of Godless yuppies. Better yet would be a presidential candidate who feels free to say that he himself doesn’t believe in God. But this Godless yuppie doesn’t expect to see that in his lifetime.