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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)
  1. Dave

    It does not mean that at all. It means that we actually learned something from the Duke Lacrosse team debacle.

    November 12, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  2. RIGHTEOUSNESS RULES ABOVE ALL !!!

    Franklin D. Roosevelt

    A Prayer in Dark Times

    Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity...

    Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith. They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph...

    Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom. And for us at home–fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them–help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice... Give us strength, too–strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

    With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace–a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

    –D-Day, June 6, 1944

    November 12, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Free

      Do you include all the war profiteering that made certain people very rich during the war as part of that righteousness?

      November 12, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  3. wisdom4u2

    Ha-haaaaa! Awesome way to prove the U.S. is-not-a-Christian-Nation, Stephen Prothero – just look at all the retorting to your article! I’ll say it again…. Such a brilliant way to show just how secular the U.S. has become. No need to wonder why it’s been knocked off it’s pedestal!

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

    I think people need to realize that these are only allegations. These women have had how long to seek justice? And now is the right time?

    November 12, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  5. Rollingmyeyes

    I couldn't even get through the whole article. I am far from a Herman Cain supporter, but why are you people tossing his name around in this mess? How is his and Paterno's stories comparable? The mighty White Paterno has fallen, so you have to through a Black man under the bus with him? A self-hating womanizer doesn't compare to a pedo-supporter. Get real!

    November 12, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Marky

      wow, you really dont get the whole gist of this artcile, he wasnt even trying to compare the two in that sense, your sir are and idiot, a regular idiot whom deserves to die somewhere not so important.... go drive a camel....

      November 12, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  6. B

    We're not supposed to be a "Christian nation", or a Jewish nation, or a Muslim nation, or a Buddhist nation....that is why our founders made it a clear point to put an emphasis on the separation of church and state. We are a Republic, a representative democracy that protects individual rights; not every American is Christian. And you don't have to be a Christian to realize rapping children is bad..... These cases are not a reflection of this country as a whole, they are a reflection of the individuals involved in them. Cain is a pretty obvious womanizer, probably a product of his up-raising, and his position. Paterno believed it was more important to have a good football team than to investigate and get rid of a potential pedophile on his staff. A good portion of Wall Street/Corporations has focused more on profits and greed, and has lost its sense of responsibility to this nation and to the community. This has absolutely nothing to do with religion. Quite frankly, the most corrupt and misleading people in this country's history were recognized as "devout Christians", so what does that tell us? When religion infiltrates politics, it is not used as a moral compass, it is ALWAYS used as a means of influence and control. History has shown this time, and time, and time, and time again. Religion, as a moral compass, should only be used in one's personal life. No one has the right to impose their views onto other people and mess with another person's life or take away his/her rights protected by law.

    November 12, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  7. What

    Morality and religion are two seperate things. How about those Christains from the Westboro Baptist Church, they are real Christian huh?

    November 12, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Yuri Pelham

      They are agents of the devil, the antichrist. We are being judged by how we respond to them. They should be walled off from society as an abcess.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  8. Atheist 1#

    If you could reason with religious people, there would be no religious people

    November 12, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  9. Just ugh

    I couldn't even get through the whole article. I am far from a Herman Cain supporter, but why are you people tossing his name around in this mess? How is his and Paterno's stories comparable? The mighty White Paterno has fallen, so you have to through a Black man under the bus with him? A self-hating womanizer doesn't compare to a pedo-supporter. Get real!

    November 12, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  10. BOB

    Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar sounds more like an elementary school kid who hasn't learned the difference between ASSUMPTION and FACTS.

    November 12, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  11. RIGHTEOUSNESS RULES ABOVE ALL !!!

    JESUS CHRIST IS LORD OF LORDS AND KING OF KINGS !!!

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

      Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.-Carl Sagan

      November 12, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Are You Serious

      Where is his birth certificate?

      November 12, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • wisdom4u2

      YES!! "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." Amen, and again I say Amen!

      November 12, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  12. Atheist 1#

    A man is accepted into a church for what he believes and he is turned out for what he knows

    November 12, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  13. runnergal

    This is person is a religious nut. Another right wing christian who wants to shove their religion down every person's throat. Also he sounds like a male, dominating pig.

    November 12, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Fairplay99

      I believe that you are not very nice runnergal.

      November 12, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  14. 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.

    WARNING!!! WARNING!!! WARNING!!!

    : 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.
    -------------------------------------------------–

    November 12, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  15. Gary

    Most of you commenting still DON'T GET IT! Its NOT about who is Guilty or who isn't? Its not about how much evidence there is in one case or the other!! Its about where our heart goes when we FIRST hear about this. Do we feel for the most down trodden and suppressed like Christians should? Or do we back the most powerful and rich person despite evidence either way!! Even if we think those Women Accusing Cain are liars, dont we at least give them the benefit of the doubt?? As Christians should??

    November 12, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • econlali

      Thanks for trying to bring the discussion back on point...probably will not work unfortunately.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Bob

      Given all the horrors that god does and promises in the bible, Christians have a lot of lati-tude there.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  16. Bootyfunk

    There is so much murder in the bible I can't believe anyone calls it a moral book at all. Hom ose xuals are to be put to death, according to the bible. There are rules for how fiercely you can beat your slaves and how much to charge for slaves depending on their gender, age and race. God tells Abraham to stab his own child to death – and "mercifully" stops him just before doing it. Jesus, after the Apocalypse, says to bring all non-believers and have them slain before him. Here's a few examples of God's "moral" judgement on children:

    "Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against
    the rock!" (Psalms 137:9)

    "The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled
    against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be
    dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open." (Hosea 13:16)

    "Every one that is found shall be thrust through; and every one that is
    joined unto them shall fall by the sword.

    Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their
    houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished." (Isaiah 13:15,16)

    "Their bows also shall dash the young men to pieces; and they
    shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eye shall not spare
    children." (Isaiah 13:18)

    And here's one from Jesus:
    “Do not think that I came to bring peace on Earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” – Mathew 10:34

    How do Christians get credit for being so good and moral? If Christians would actually take the time to read the whole bible they'd realize what a disgusting and immoral book it is. Want a philosophy of ethics to follow? Check out Humanism, an Atheistic ethical system.

    November 12, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • DeadSquirrel

      Well played.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • Zack

      Just so you know, atheism and humanitarian are two different things. Atheism is a one subject belief that only says that there is no God. You can be a perfectly good atheist and a cold blooded murderer or you could be an atheist and run the biggest nonprofit that feeds the poor of the world. Atheism only says there is no god.

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

      Also you miss the distinction between the old testament and new. There are two different covenants that are talked about in the OT. Christ came to make the second covenant.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Bob

      Because perfect "god" got it wrong first time around.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • Derek

      Obviously....You have no idea what you are talking about. Those scriptures are taken from the old testament (except the last), that was when God would kill someone just very saying his name wrong. What jesus is talking about is that HE has to come first, HE has the right to be praised, HE should not be second behind the mortals of the earth. When he said, " he who has found his life will lose it," he meant those that favor worldly things more than him will die. When he said, "he who has lost his life for me, shall find it" he meant those who died for him, those that sacrificed everything for him, those that loved him, shall have everlasting life.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • JahRule

      But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up [with pride], lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power; and from these turn away. For from these arise those men who slyly work their way into households and lead as their captives weak women loaded down with sins, led by various desires, always learning and yet never able to come to an accurate knowledge of truth.

      “Be on the watch for the false prophets that come to YOU in sheep’s covering, but inside they are ravenous wolves. By their fruits YOU will recognize them."

      For YOU know this first, that in the last days there will come ridiculers with their ridicule, proceeding according to their own desires and saying: “Where is this promised presence of his? Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep [in death], all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.”

      And in answer Jesus said to them: “Look out that nobody misleads YOU; for many will come on the basis of my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. YOU are going to hear of wars and reports of wars; see that YOU are not terrified. For these things must take place, but the end is not yet. “For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another. All these things are a beginning of pangs of distress.

      “Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew YOU! Get away from me, YOU workers of lawlessness.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Zack

      It is more about us having free will and wanting to be righteous on our own by following rules so we were allowed to. We were given rules to follow and a way out when we messed up. Israel was delt with harshly because they were the representation of God to the world. Any sin or wrong doing was squashed quickly because there is no sin in God. Through this time the prophets talk about a future covenant where things are different, see Jeremiah 31, Isaiah 53. Jesus initiated this new covenant.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      @ Zack: I"m well aware that atheism and humanism are different. not sure what gave you the idea i didn't know that. do you realize that all atheists are necessarily humanists, but humanists are almost always atheists?
      also, i didn't miss that there is a distinction between the old and new testament, i just didn't see a point in mentioning it. i showed examples from both the O.T and N.T both are in the same book, both are about the same god. not sure what your point is. why wouldn't both be fair game since they are BOTH in your rule book...?.

      @ Derek: what are YOU talking about? how'd i get it wrong? i didn't differentiate between O.T. and N.T. because there's no reason to do so. the article doesn't say anything about this being a new testament discussion only.

      why do christians not want to count the O.T. anymore? because they are embarrassed about it? O.T. was pre-jesus so it doesn't count? yes, the O.T is worse than the N.T., but there are numerous disgusting examples in the N.T. too. here ya go, from jesus in the new testament:
      telling slaves to obey their masters:
      37"Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them.
      38"Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
      and jesus the cult leader saying hate your family if they don't follow me:
      26If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
      and cruelly telling people they can't bury their dead or say goodbye to their loved ones - follow me now burn:
      59And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.
      60Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.
      61And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.
      62And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

      so what about those wonderful N.T. examples? and there's more from jesus. and tons more from others.

      do me a favor - read the bible and find out for yourself.

      November 12, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      typo:
      *all atheists are NOT necessarily humanists, but almost all humanists ARE atheists*

      November 12, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  17. Gabi

    Hello, everyone! I am conducting a survey for the purpose of investigating public opinion of social issues. Responses are anonymous and greatly appreciated. After taking the survey, please post the link to your social network pages and pass it along. Thank you! http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DQX3NNX

    November 12, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  18. Guinness

    You hypocrite and ignorant person! When you make such remarks like "My Take: Reactions to Cain, Paterno point to a not-so-Christian nation" is to suggest that Christians don't sin.

    I'm an Atheist, so I for one can assure you that a good Atheist, Muslim etc would not do harm to another person.

    I can assure you that Cain and Paterno view themselves as a Christian. You maybe be suffering from mental loss like Perry, but I can think of a few PREACHERS of the Christian faith that were practicing the very sin that they preached against.

    A true BELIEVER does not need PREACH nor PREACHED TOO

    November 12, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  19. Bootyfunk

    why aren't my posts showing up?

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

      Where did you leave them 🙂

      November 12, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      If you're not careful with the way you write words they will not post:

      ass, as in as.sume
      T.it as consti.tution
      spi.c as in conspi.cuous
      c.um as in circu.mstance

      those are some of the more common ones that will not post...there is an entire list elsewhere

      November 12, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Bob

      Or blame it on Satan, as a true Christian would.

      November 12, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  20. Christ Is Lord

    Christ defines a "Christian" for us in John 14:21... "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me." ... So, consider those a Christian who ACT, not talk.

    November 12, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • br3w3d

      Jesus didn't even know what a Christian was. "Christian" was a man made idea after the fact .

      November 12, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      The entire concept of god and jesus is man made...man has been around for approximately 2.5 million years. True chrsitianity is only about 6000 years old. Care to explain where your god was before that or do you believe that th earth is only 6000 years old and evolution is false?

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

      Jesus never said a thing against gays, but most conservative Christians seem to consider it one of his commandments to make their lives a living hell. However, Jesus did speak out against divorce at least a half-dozen times, but conservative Christians have a higher than average divorce rate. It would be nice if they applied that definition of what a true Christians is to themselves, eh?

      November 12, 2011 at 3:20 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.