My Take: Reactions to Cain, Paterno point to a not-so-Christian nation
Penn State students rally around a cut-out of football coach Joe Paterno after he was fired.
November 12th, 2011
05:00 AM ET

My Take: Reactions to Cain, Paterno point to a not-so-Christian nation

Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

In the never-ending debate over whether the United States is a Christian nation, recent events support the nay-sayers. I am referring to the troubles of Herman Cain and Joe Paterno.

How we respond to ethical conundrums often boils down to empathy. In the abortion debate, do you identify with the woman who wants an abortion or with the fetus? Concerning the federal deficit, do you identify with the wealthy person who might see his taxes rise or with the poor person who might see her unemployment benefits extended?

One purpose of the world's great religions is to widen our circle of empathy beyond ourselves and our families to others in our community, and in the wider world. Christianity, for example, has long taught that we should empathize with “the least of these,” and particularly with the poor and oppressed (see Luke 4:18).

The morality plays we are now witnessing—the sexual harassment allegations swirling around Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain and the sexual assault charges swirling around the Penn State football program headed by former coach Joe Paterno — provide an opportunity to assess just where our collective empathy lies.

When we look as a nation at the Herman Cain campaign, do our hearts go out to the wealthy businessman and White House contender or do they go out to the women who are accusing him of sexual improprieties? In pondering this case, and trying to determine where we stand, how do we approach the evidence? To whom do we give the benefit of the doubt? To the “least of these”? Or to the most powerful?

When we turn our gaze to Penn State, do our hearts go out to the boys, some as young as 10, who were allegedly sodomized or otherwise sexually assaulted by a former assistant coach under Paterno? Or do we empathize with Paterno, the closest State College, Pennsylvania, gets to a graven image?

I know there are many unanswered questions in both cases. So I am not commenting here on whether Cain is telling the truth or whether Paterno did all that he was obligated to do when he first heard allegations of a sexual assault in his locker room.

I am talking about where are hearts instinctively go in these situations.

When I turn on the television and see “family values” conservatives jumping to Cain’s defense within hours of the first charges surfacing, or Penn State students rioting over the decision of their university’s Board of Trustees to fire Paterno, I have to ask myself, “What has happened to this supposedly Christian nation"?

I know that in the United States defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty. But I am not talking about the law here. I am talking about where our hearts incline, and whether they incline in a Christian direction.

I do not know whether Jesus is a Penn State football fan. He may well be. But if he were here today, would he be laying flowers at the front door of Paterno’s house (as many students have done), or would he be seeking out the boys whose lives have allegedly been so irreparably damaged?

Would he be standing alongside Cain’s lawyer as he issues not-so-veiled threats against accusers who have not yet gone public with their stories, or would he be standing by their side?

In your heart of hearts, I think you know the answer.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Christianity • Herman Cain • Pennsylvania • Politics • Sexuality

soundoff (2,118 Responses)

    George Washington

    A Prayer for Guidance

    O eternal and everlasting God, I presume to present myself this morning before thy Divine majesty, beseeching thee to accept of my humble and hearty thanks, that it hath pleased thy great goodness to keep and preserve me the night past from all the dangers poor mortals are subject to, and has given me sweet and pleasant sleep, whereby I find my body refreshed and comforted for performing the duties of this day, in which I beseech thee to defend me from all perils of body and soul....

    Increase my faith in the sweet promises of the gospel; give me repentance from dead works; pardon my wanderings, and direct my thoughts unto thyself, the God of my salvation; teach me how to live in thy fear, labor in thy service, and ever to run in the ways of thy commandments; make me always watchful over my heart, that neither the terrors of conscience, the loathing of holy duties, the love of sin, nor an unwillingness to depart this life, may cast me into a spiritual slumber, but daily frame me more and more into the likeness of thy son Jesus Christ, that living in thy fear, and dying in thy favor, I may in thy appointed time attain the resurrection of the just unto eternal life bless my family, friends, and kindred.

    November 12, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Fairplay99

      Thank you! We were founded as a Christian Nation. Christian services were celebrated in the new Capitol Building under the dome. The Supreme Court has depictions of Moses and the 10 Commandments both inside and outside. The Washington Monument has the Latin Words: "Laus Deo" which means "Praise be to God."

      November 12, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • Jeff Williams

      """The Washington Monument has the Latin Words: "Laus Deo" which means "Praise be to God.""""

      Hogwash. What evidence do you have that we were founded as a Christian nation? The Washington Monument doesn't say "Praise Jesus!" Our currency does not say "In Jesus We Trust".

      References to a god in no way infer a jesus by default.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Fairplay99

      No hogwash Jeff. Do some internet searching. You will see. Peace be with you.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  2. Rebecca

    I agree with Prothero. This country has become a harsh and cruel nation that idolizes the worst things. Deuteronomy 15-20 is very specific that "kings" are not to set themselves above the people, laws, and not to expand gold and silver out of the people. "Kings" are to spend time reading the law and worshipping God. Our "kings" in all areas are filth and the people worship them and their filth. I agree that Joe Paterno has expressed repentance... in no wise does the Bible say he should not suffer the consequences of that. Herman Cain worships Mammon and believes in his right to treat women (and employees/citizens) however he wants. He believes that is what it means to be in charge. The Bible throughout enjoins the wealthy to not take every grain from the fields so that the poor might glean grain also. It says nothing about whether they are deserving. Considering that corporations themselves are creating a poor class as quickly as they can manage, I say they are evil upon the earth. Those of you who are apologists for corporations consider that a legal fiction like a corporation is by design here to serve people, not vice versa. My heart aches when I have heated discussions with pseudoChristian friends of mine who go to church every week and have the hardest hearts. If you think that everyone who is unemployed "deserves" it, then you are just trying to make yourself feel safe in an unsafe situation.

    November 12, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  3. RickeyV

    Always looking for the "not a Christian nation". Paterno's assistant hasn't been convicted, and there's no proof of what he knew. Cain's accusers never went through the labor board or completed any grievance procedure. In any event, they are both a media circus, and the only opinions truly registered belong to the MSM. What Christians did you poll? How can you label the GOP the "Christian" party when they are run by "New World Order, progressives"?
    To your credit, you did set off the atheists, but, otherwise a waste of space article.

    November 12, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Atheist 1#

      Lighthouses are more helpful then churches

      November 12, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Rebecca

      Two of Cain's accusers did file a grievance, and the NRA used money to cover it up. Routine is to pay money out to shut up someone with a valid grievance and protect ANY executive from ANY wrongdoing. One of the biggest sickness today is the payment of millions of dollars in fines to the federal government in Deferred Prosecution Agreements which cover up criminal behavior by executives of big corporations. There is no criminal record for these individuals. Upshot? These criminals go on to do worse damage. Examples abound, but a recent one is Jon Corzine, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs who went on to collapse MF Global Holdings Ltd. They stole client moneys for gambling. No repentance for Goldman Sachs' illegal activities or for MF Global's illegal activities. Time for this to STOP. It cannot be done by defending every "king" whom you have turned into an idol.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  4. Reality

    Prothero noted:

    "In the abortion debate, do you identify with the woman who wants an abortion or with the fetus? "

    The ID is with the growing baby aka fetus of the "mother and father" and how they got into this situation to begin with.


    : The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill ( 8.7% failure rate) and male con-dom (17.4% failure rate) have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or co-ndoms properly and/or use safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.- Failure rate statistics provided by the Gut-tmacher Inst-itute.

    Added information before making your next move:

    from the CDC-2006

    "Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars."

    And from:


    "Yes, or-al se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-

    Here's a crucial message for teens (and all se-xually active "post-teeners": Or-al se-x carries many of the same risks as va-ginal se-x, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of or-al cancers in America in people under age 50.

    "Adolescents don’t think or-al se-x is something to worry about," said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. "They view it as a way to have intimacy without having 's-ex.'"

    November 12, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  5. Paul

    What a bunch of deflectionist nonsense. Want to know about "Christianity in America"? Just Google "priest, molestation" and it'll tell you all you need to know. What a wonderful, *peaceful* world this would be without the blight known as religion.

    November 12, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Fairplay99

      And before Christ only 1.5 percent of the Romans controlled the money and power. The other 98.5 percent lived in squalor and fear. With the Advent of Christ came the beginning of equality for women and for a more just world for all people. If not for the coming of Christ, it is likely you would be an illiterate pauper.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  6. Atheist 1#

    ruth does not demand belief. Scientists do not join hands every Sunday, singing, "Yes, gravity is real! I will have faith! I will be strong! I believe in my heart that what goes up, up, up must come down, down, down. Amen!" If they did, we would think they were pretty insecure about it

    November 12, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  7. Atheist 1#

    Cults and prophets proclaiming the imminent end of the world have been with us for several millenia, and it has been another sour sort of fun to ridicule them the morning after, when they discover that their calculations were a little off. But, just as with Marxists, there are some among them who are working hard to 'hasten the inevitable,' not merely anticipating the End Days with joy in their hearts, but taking political action to bring about the conditions they think are the prerequisites for that occasion.

    November 12, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Rebecca

      I agree, at 57 I have seen many "end times" speculations, but this is the first time I have seen serious political action trying to make the "end" soon and inevitable. The religious right in this country is working very hard to end everything. Knowingly trying to create the end. Scare me, and I'm fearless.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  8. Tom

    Do you know who Christ was the toughest on? The Pharisees and Saducees: the religious people of His time. Being religious means nothing. Those who instigate the crusades claimed to be Christians.

    November 12, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Rebecca

      Yes, the Pharisees and Sadducees were the religious right of Jesus' time and they were as arrogant and self-congratulatory as the current batch. Sigh.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  9. Jack

    Actually, Jesus would be at Paterno's door with the flowers as well as comforting the victims. He would also be standing next to Cain as well as standing next to the women. Jesus doesn't think like us, he loves everybody.

    And as soon as the Republicans realize that we are all one nation, the sooner we'll start to get things done for the American people.

    November 12, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  10. Georgie

    Since when does Christianity = morality? I have more empathy and compassion and am considerably more open minded than most people I know who consider themselves Christians and I am an atheist.

    November 12, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • Atheist 1#

      All thinking men are atheists

      November 12, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Rebecca

      I was raised in church and read the Bible front to back about 7 times. Few Christians today have ever read the Bible, if they did they would run screaming for the nearest exit. About 10 years ago I took a "religion" test for clarification. It said I'm 98% Tao. So I started reading the Tao. It is consistent with my upbringing in the back woods observing nature... which underneath all my biblical reading I always believed must be God's "real" law. Now I am an admitted Taoist and let God worry about Himself.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  11. Joel

    I guess this "writer" didn't happen to see the 10,000 people at the prayer vigil last night praying for the victims, or the prayer before the game with both teams on their knees. Do your research or at least turn on a t.v. before trying to write next time.

    November 12, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Rebecca

      These 6 people were worshipping at the idol "Penn State" and sacrificed young boys on their altar. What good is a prayer vigil if we make idols out of college football teams and coaches? There would be no need for 10000 people to have a prayer vigil if we stopped worshipping idols. I'm not opposed to a good football game on Thanskgiving. I am opposed to the level of idol worship in this country for film stars, football players, ministers, basketball players, golfers, rich people, etc. Sorry you think a prayer vigil is worth the time and effort when you go home afterward and create a new idol to worship.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  12. Tom

    Most people go to church because they're afraid to die. Like Constantine, they think they can live without empathy their entire lives and then be okay at the end.
    If people were to read the bible and hear Christ's words and get to know Him, then many could truly have a positive influence on the world–maybe even do something great. Oh, and THEN we would ACTUALLY be a Christian nation.

    November 12, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  13. OldMo

    Why try to lump together kids being molested for real with some opportunistic grown women looking for a buck and/or involved in some hit attempt on a political rival?

    As for the "Christian nation" thingy, there has been a concerted effort to erode our values for a long time. Now I'd say moral relativism reigns more than Judeo-Christian values. I believe it won't be long before the house of cards comes down.

    November 12, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Shel In Ga

      It is obvious that you missed the point the writer made.

      November 12, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Rebecca

      You missed the point, try again.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  14. Goran

    In the case of Herman Cain there is no evidence to prove the allegations are true. Since we can't be sure the accusations are true, then we Christians, Jews, Muslims, Athiests and all others shouldn't defend the women nor Cain. If there is an investigation then let it complete. Then when we know the truth, no matter what religion we are we can take a stance on the issue. It just bugs me that people jump on one side or the other when the allegations can just as likely be false as they are likely to be true!

    November 12, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • VVG

      These allegations were not made because Cain is running for president. Most of these allegations were made a long time ago. I remind you that Herman Cain said that these allegations didn't exist. Then when it came out that there had been court settlements his memory became a little better. None of these allegations were made because Cain is running for president since they pre-date his presidential run by many years. Of course if you think that all these women knew that Cain would run for president 10 to 15 years later then we would have to believe them because anyone who can look that far into the future must really be smart.

      November 12, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Rebecca

      There was enough evidence for a buyoff. Having worked in the corporate legal field over 30 years, I know the story. 1) accusation against executive or important person; 2) accuser gets fired. IF the organization knows the accuser has a valid complaint, they will insert a buyoff and nondisclosure agreement to shut them up. Always ends with accuser getting fired and important person moving forward.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:25 pm |

    Everybody knows that the founding founders of this Nation always called upon the name of the Lord and gave honor to God.

    November 12, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      No, you are wrong. Go back to page 2 where I posted 20 quotes from those founding fathers that quite contradicts you.

      November 12, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • fred

      Ok, just say most instead of everybody and I'll give you a high five.

      November 12, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Atheist 1#

      That statement is absurd!

      November 12, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • doogie

      Lol, the founding fathers were Unitarian! They didn't even believe Jesus was the son of God! Don't put so much faith in other people's ideas. They have twisted our history to attempt to make this country based on magic and ghosts. Check your history, God was ADDED to the dollar bill and pledge of allegiance. Our country was stronger when we didn't this dogmatic crap taking over everything.

      November 12, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Rebecca

      Our founding fathers were Masons and unitarians. They were running a massive social experiment in this country... how would it work if there were a separation between church and state? You still got your church if you wanted it, but the state would be run separately. The church people took over later to a certain degree. The church people now want either a theocracy or the end times and are working hard to make the end happen.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  16. Roberta Loy

    Or, if not Jesus, where is John Wayne when we need him?!?

    November 12, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  17. jackieanne

    Jesus told Peter "Put away thy sword for he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword". We have the biggest military in the world and a large part of our population worships guns. Doesn't sound like a Christian nation to me.

    November 12, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Ryan

      Uh...that's not in the Bible.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Rebecca

      It is in the Old Testament. It is not in the New Testament, which means our $1 trillion spent on the military-industrial complex and on every war of aggression since WWII is in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  18. wonderful

    this article makes a lot of assumptions. Is CNN biased or something? I think this article is an outrage,disgrace, filth. In your heart of hearts I think you don't know what you're fighting against. Obviously, you don't Know 'the answer'. cliche?
    "The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero." well, mr. Prothero, you and I are fighting against each other, sort of. You are not the right man to be writing on such a topic. Seriously, congratulations on a loyal audience of ppl like you. lol. This is dusgusting, that CNN hires such fools.

    November 12, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • wonderful

      ; "that CNN would hire such a fool".

      November 12, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • doogie

      So does this mean that you'll be sending your kids to Penn State? I know I won't.

      November 12, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • Shel In Ga

      wonderful – You seem to have made more assumptions than the writer.

      November 12, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  19. HC Here

    Jesus loves Gloria Allred, and would believe everything Gloria Allred involves herself in because we all know Gloria Allred seeks no publicity – just what is right. Did you write a similar article when Paula Jones was ridiculed in the media?

    November 12, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  20. Paul

    Well at this point and time there is one major difference between Joe Paterno and Herman Cain, Joe has taken personal responsibility as voiced in his comment, "In hindsight, I wish I would have done more." In he is the only one of those fired who has voiced any kind of regret, therefore recognizing his own short falling. Herman Cain on the other side continues to voice his denial of any wrong doing, blinded by his ego.

    Of course Jesus would be comforting the victims in both situations, and I believe he would also be knocking on Joe's door as well, because of his admission of his own sin. Herman still stands in denial.

    November 12, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • HC Here

      Paul – What evidence do you have which proves Herman is guilty? Does the name Tawana Brawley ring a bell? Does the Duke lacrosse case remind you women can lie?

      November 12, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Paul

      HC Here, I am not in anyway saying that Cain is guilty....the article was talking about the way we respond in our heart, and how Jesus would respond to that. So I was only saying that we have seen a response of the heart from Paterno. We will have to wait see if Herman is guilty, or not and how he responds. So far he has not given us much of a defense to go on.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Rebecca

      Sure, women can lie. However, as a woman of 57 I also know that men in power frquently use that power to s. harrass women under them. The odds are greater than 100/1 that s. harrassers never get a complaint filed. Having suffered a good deal of that behavior without ever reporting anyone because being in the corporate legal field, I have seen that the woman is always punished for reporting. She will be either fired immediately (most common) or hassled out. A few with good cases that include witness who might testify on her behalf are bought off and required to sign nondisclosure agreements before they are fired. Do I believe it when four women have made allegations? Yes. Is it possible Herman Cain is innocent? Theoretically. Odds are LOW. Considering the dire punishment for women who do complain, I have wondered about the type of woman who would actually brave all odds and complain. It is true she might be a little off-center... the powerful make sure that any sane woman knows her place.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.