For starters, we'll see more attempts to draw a direct line from the Bible to a political agenda. The Rev. Jim Wallis, a popular adviser to leading Democrats and an organizer of the Berkeley meeting, routinely engages in this kind of Bible-thumping. In his book "God's Politics," Mr. Wallis insists that his faith-based platform transcends partisan categories.Do religious ideas undermine democratic discourse? Some would say that all religion should be purged from political debate, but that excludes or burdens a lot of people whose natural way of thinking and speaking combines religion with ideas about the good.
"We affirm God's vision of a good society offered to us by the prophet Isaiah," he writes. Yet Isaiah, an agent of divine judgment living in a theocratic state, conveniently affirms every spending scheme of the Democratic Party. This is no different than the fundamentalist impulse to cite the book of Leviticus to justify laws against homosexuality.
When Christians - liberal or conservative - invoke a biblical theocracy as a handy guide to contemporary politics, they threaten our democratic discourse. Numerous "policy papers" from liberal churches and activist groups employ the same approach: they're awash in scriptural references to justice, poverty and peace, stacked alongside claims about global warming, debt relief and the United Nations Security Council....
A completely secular public square is neither possible nor desirable; democracy needs the moral ballast of religion. But a partisan campaign to enlist the sacred is equally wrongheaded. When people of faith join political debates, they must welcome those democratic virtues that promote the common good: prudence, reason, compromise - and a realization that politics can't usher in the kingdom of heaven.
The problems really arise when speakers in the political debate start citing texts that some people hold sacred and others don't. The polical discourse goes awry if they use these texts as dictates that must be followed, not because they make intrinsic sense, but because they come from God. How is someone who disagrees supposed to argue? The text is not sacred? Well, they could argue for a different interpretation of the text. But do people who believe in a religious text want to hear a nonbeliever reshape its meaning? And does the nonbeliever want to have to deal with that text? It's not the most fruitful way to have a discussion about politics, but I don't think it should be delegitimated as undemocratic. I think it's more undemocratic to try to constrain the speech of the many people who think in terms of religion.
As for the politicians who covet their votes and frame their pitches in religious terms for their own advantage, they won't escape our judgment. I think it's good for democracy to give us a big juicy chance to hone our critical skills. I tend to agree with Loconte that the use of religion will go badly, but it's understandable that liberals should want to provide a religious version of their arguments, as long as some conservatives are using and doing well with religious arguments.