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Faith-based Sin


According to the New York Times, the prosecutor's office in Los Angeles is considering a criminal case against Cardinal Mahoney, who heads the country's largest Roman Catholic Archdiocese, for moving "pedophile priests from parish to parish in the face of accusations."

Rep. Dennis Hastert has spoken at faith-based summits at the White House, quoted the Pope at the Schiavo hearings and spoken against abortion. Although a great defender of the unborn, he too has failed to protect the living children in his charge, in this case from the advances of congressman Mark Foley, himself a believer who once had the Pope bless his grandmother's rosaries.

"He is using me, all the time, every where..." That's what Tom DeLay said at the height of his influence. Did he really believe he was acting as God's servant when he partnered up with the nearly satanic Jack Abramoff and violated Texas' campaign finance laws? I think the answer is yes.

These are not isolated incidents. Nor is this corruption across the board. There appears to be an epidemic of sin in the political realm that has hit the faithful harder than the unfaithful.

Full disclosure: I am not a believer, although I've made stabs at being one. As a child I went to Sunday School in a reformed Temple on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Next to the Torah was a Protestant-seeming organ, and the Rabbi looked like Charlton Heston. At recess, all the kids would press their backs against the walls of the corridor. New kids excited to be let out of class found themselves flying through the air as someone's leg shot out to break their run. I think I came to associate religion with a fear of falling. My wife and I took the kids a few times to Temple on the high holy days, but all the talk about God just made me overly aware of my body, my stomach growled, my toes pinched, was that a headache I felt coming on? A few years ago, I went with a friend to a 12 step meeting. During the part where everyone holds hands and recites the Lord's Prayer, I found myself noticing the lacings of my neighbor's construction boots.

In times of great stress, such as after my divorce, I wish I had some transcendent belief to go to, but even when the world seems to have failed me, I press my back to its walls.

I have known people of faith. Most of them are naturally kind people, and I envy their ethical sureness. But politicians seem to acquire with faith an ease in overlooking, if not in committing acts of evil. It has always been a hazard of the profession to see people as pieces on a board to be manipulated toward an end. Does that risk become greater when you believe that this world does not matter so much as the next? Is it easier to deny what lies before your very eyes? Believing in what you cannot see is only a knight's move away from not believing what you can see. These are the tricks of faith that led Hastert and Mahoney to disregard the danger of powerful pedophiles in contact with kids, it led to DeLay believing Jesus smiled through his mugshot, it led to Bush dismissing a week's worth of casualties as "a nanosecond" and the Iraq War as "a comma."