My Take: The religious roots of our political gridlock
December 5th, 2012
08:04 AM ET

My Take: The religious roots of our political gridlock

Editor's Note: Mark Osler is a professor of law at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis.

By Mark Osler, Special to CNN

The divide between Democrats and Republicans that has frozen the mechanisms of American politics has many causes, but one of them is tangled up in the faith differences of our legislators. Faith, for many lawmakers on both sides, is the source of their outlook and principles, and faith has in part created the conditions for the current impasse about the fiscal cliff.

For many (though certainly not all) Republicans, the root of knowledge is a bedrock certainty about the inerrancy of a literal reading of the Bible. This provides them with clear, absolute answers - that gay marriage is wrong, that modern science is suspect, and that much of what we see on earth is a struggle between good and evil.

When the 2012 Republican Party platform stated that we should “reaffirm that our rights come from God,” that reflected a sincere and genuine sense of bright-line natural law.

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

That kind of certainty in faith, which so often draws good/evil lines on theological issues, very naturally supports a similar outlook on political issues that aren’t directly rooted in the Bible. Faith, after all, if it really is faith, structures the way we view and interact with the world.

It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that some American conservatives tend both to see their opponents as evil and to catastrophize potential political losses.

If the world is locked in a battle between good and evil, and our side is good, that leaves only one possibility for our opponents.

Bending to that other side becomes unthinkable. A loss or even a compromise is something terrible - it is a victory for evil. When Rush Limbaugh tells his audience that Democrats “want to ruin America,” he knows how a significant part of his audience will receive that message, through the lens of a faith that offers certainty and bright lines.

Some Democrats, too, suffer from political disabilities that are formed by faith. Few of them have the absolutist outlook describe above, but their own New Testament-focused view of the Bible leads in a different problematic direction.

There, we see a Jesus who is anything but a capitalist. Instead, he urges others to give away all that they have to the poor, and often disparages the wealthy.

To the rich young ruler who has followed all the commandments, Jesus instructs that he must also sell everything he has and give the money to the poor, without regard to the people he will have to fire and the resulting poverty of his own family.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

Many Democrats have taken this broad lesson of concern for the poor to heart, as we all do with core messages of faith. That quiet wind is always there.

This gets us to gridlock because it puts Democrats in the position of class warriors - they favor the poor and disfavor the rich.

This is most clear in framing tax policy, which is at the heart of the gridlock we have seen around how to avoid the fiscal cliff. At times, the Democrats' certainty on these issues is the equal of what we see in Republicans.

So we end up in a deadlock. Now, we hear, that gridlock may be breaking up a bit.

On one side, the certainty is less certain as the “no increase in taxes” pledge is abandoned by some. On the other, there is an openness to cutting government spending.

Some will say this is simply political expediency, but I am more hopeful: This opening may be tinged with a blessed uncertainty, the faint hint that the complexity of politics may be as messy and glorious and private as the complexity of our faiths.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mark Osler.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Church and state • Opinion • Politics

soundoff (1,027 Responses)
  1. Science

    Free speech helps educate the masses................POLITICIANS too !

    Where do morals come from?

    By Kelly Murray, CNN


    Gravity is not up for debate !

    BY the way ...................Splat goes a fairy in the sky !...............bye bye tinker bell !

    Einstein's Gravity Theory Passes Toughest Test Yet..............................E = mc2..........(U–Pb).................two math formulas.

    Apr. 25, 2013 — A strange stellar pair nearly 7,000 light-years from Earth has provided physicists with a unique cosmic laboratory for studying the nature of gravity. The extremely strong gravity of a massive neutron star in orbit with a companion white dwarf star puts competing theories of gravity to a test more stringent than any available before


    Hey James Madison................religion has none it looks like.............with the comments on this blog.

    The Big question is ETHICS ! does religion have any ?

    The Ethics of Resurrecting Extinct Species

    Apr. 8, 2013 — At some point, scientists may be able to bring back extinct animals, and perhaps early humans, raising questions of ethics and environmental disruption.


    April 30, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |

    May 1, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |

    Dinosaur Egg Study Supports Evolutionary Link Between Birds and Dinosaurs: How Troodon Likely Hatched Its Young


    And NO ANGELS the pope KICKED them OFF the TEAM last year !

    From Soup to Cells—the Origin of Life


    the wrong path is Adam and Eve !

    Human Y Chromosome Much Older Than Previously Thought

    Mar. 4, 2013 — The discovery and analysis of an extremely rare African American Y chromosome pushes back the time of the most recent common ancestor for the Y chromosome lineage tree to 338,000 years ago. This time predates the age of the oldest known anatomically modern human fossils.


    No god(s) needed or required to graduate from public schools in the US

    Remember : Adam had to POKE himself hard with his OWN BONE to create Eve.

    No god(s) needed................... Old. DNA works..................also catches crooks !

    Ancient DNA Reveals Europe's Dynamic Genetic History

    Apr. 23, 2013 — Ancient DNA recovered from a series of skeletons in central Germany up to 7,500 years old has been used to reconstruct the first detailed genetic history of modern Europe.


    Ca-nabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ®) – National Cancer Insti-tute


    Mar 21, 2013 – [1,2] These plant-derived compounds may be referred to as phytocannabinoids. ... have a protective effect against the development of certain types of tumors. ... In lung cancer cell lines, CBD upregulated ICAM-1, leading to ...

    Good stuff !

    The fact...............the earth is to old for this nonsemse ! Time to EVOLVE !

    Ancient Earth Crust Stored in Deep Mantle

    Apr. 24, 2013 — Scientists have long believed that lava erupted from certain oceanic volcanoes contains materials from the early Earth's crust. But decisive evidence for this phenomenon has proven elusive. New research from a team including Carnegie's Erik Hauri demonstrates that oceanic volcanic rocks contain samples of recycled crust dating back to the Archean era 2.5 billion years ago. Their work is published in Nature.


    For what...................... ? Make sure to read what the pope said !

    Where do morals come from?

    By Kelly Murray, CNN


    Learning is fun with facts.......................... and facts work when teaching children.

    Atheist Prof. Peter Higgs: Stop calling Higgs boson the ‘God particle’

    Professor Peter Higgs said recently that there is no God and so people should stop referring to the theoretical partial that
    bears his name as the “God particle.”


    Pope praises science, but insists God created world updated Thur October 28, 2010
    Stephen Hawking is wrong, Pope Benedict XVI said Thursday – God did create the universe. The pope didn't actually mention the world-famous scientist, who argues in a book published last month that the laws of physics show there is no need for a supreme... \



    Heaven is 'a fairy story,' scientist Stephen Hawking says updated Tue May 17, 2011
    By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor The concept of heaven or any kind of afterlife is a "fairy story," famed British scientist Stephen Hawking said in a newspaper interview this week. "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when...


    April 7th, 2012

    08:32 PM ET

    The Jesus debate: Man vs. myth


    Make sure to read comments

    April 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |

    Breaking News

    NASA: Three planets found are some of best candidates so far for habitable worlds outside our solar system.


    NASA: Mars could have supported life

    Star Dust we are



    Holy Hallucinations 35


    May 4, 2013 at 5:04 am |
  2. lala

    notice how when america was a christian nation we were powerful now obama announced us a non christian nation we r goin down

    March 5, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • midwest rail

      Delusional idiocy.

      March 5, 2013 at 11:35 am |
  3. lala

    way to go steve wilson

    March 5, 2013 at 11:29 am |
  4. lala

    the bible is truth take it or leave it everyone is born with the knowledge of god so ur deceived not to believe in him

    March 5, 2013 at 11:28 am |
  5. Doug Gilbert

    The concept of "rights" does not exist in the Hebrew or Christian scripture. The scripture only speaks of responsibility, and that is always in the context of community. We have personal, individual responsibilities to be sure, but our responsibilities are lived out for the sake of the community.

    Much of our current political division is rooted in this fundamental misunderstanding.

    February 24, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
  6. levelhead

    It's about money NOT "FAITH"

    December 30, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  7. Arvoasitis

    In his book, A guide to Understanding the Bible, Harry Emerson Fosdick makes the argument that, "The crux of the struggle ... between the Hebrew invaders and the Amorites was indeed between their gods, but between their gods as sanctifying two deeply antagonistic economic and social systems." "On one side [the Amorite] was a stratified society, with a few rich and many poor, with private property in land and water, with money, trade, and credit and the inequalities and tyrannies incident to a commercialized regime - all under the aegis of the baals. On the other side [the Hebrew] was a tribal brotherhood of nomads where, amid the penury of the wilderness, all must be for each and each for all, where land and water were never private but always communal, where none was very rich or very poor ..."
    How then does anyone turn the message of the Bible into unfettered Capitalism?

    December 16, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Andrea Lee Jackson

      You have to factor in the component of cognitive-dissonance. Human beings are adept at rationalizing behavior and religion is just one of the rationalization tools. No matter how deliterious the behavior may be, religion can always sanittize it portray it in a possitive light. Therefore, the Hebrew, like other invaders can commit mass murder and invade the lands of others and claim it was done under the directive of God. The good thing about religious justifications is you cannot challenge what you cannot see. In other words, religion offers a non-rational creature a perfect opportunity to do evil and discriminate.

      January 4, 2013 at 7:55 am |
  8. Robert

    And it was the Christian world view that made America possible to begin with. The American form of democracy, and the Bill of Rights, was largly modeled after and influenced by the work of Patrick Henry, Governor of Virginia, who was a Scottish Presbyterian. Henry's beliefe that men are inherantly corrupt led the nation to separate the powers so that the rise of one evil person could not strip the country of its liberties. And it was from Henry that the Bill of Rights came. And now it's the Democrats who would drive the last vestiges of Christianity, as well as all Christians, from what's left of our once-great republic.

    December 14, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • Brian

      "from what's left of our once-great republic."

      It might help if you studied American history, you're forgetting about all the Native Americans the Christians killed, all the African Americans that Christians enslaved, all the women that treated like crap and then all the innocent witches the Christians burned at the stake. Oh if Christians are so great then why is our economy built on so much greed?

      December 14, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  9. Leif

    Anyone who believes in a literal interpretation of Scripture is a fool.

    December 13, 2012 at 6:16 am |
    • lala

      The bible is truth take it or leave it

      March 5, 2013 at 11:27 am |
  10. Juan

    At the beginning of our great nation, The Founding Fathers of the United States of America called for a separation of Church and State because they saw how religion in Europe affected governments and society as a whole. There were a lot of wars fought soley over religion and beliefs. The Founding Fathers believed that there should be religious freedom and tried to ensure that no one religion became the dominant religion.

    Our politicians continue to forget this and it causes a lot of issues. You can't govern only people that have the same beliefs as you, you must govern all peoples regardless of their beliefs.

    December 12, 2012 at 8:29 am |
  11. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

    Are You There, God? It’s Me, Pat Robertson

    Read more: http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/12/04/top-10-news-lists/slide/are-you-there-god-its-me-pat-robertson/#ixzz2Em0F7Fi3

    December 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  12. Peter

    The article has some good points, and was probably true for many years of American Politics. As for for today's environment, many Christians like myself would never even consider casting a vote for either of the candidates from either party. Republicans today are far more liberal than a typical democrat from say the 50's or early 60's. Democrats today are just flat out godless. In fact they just had to vote if they should keep His name on the platform at all. This world is rapidly winding down. We are doing just what God foretold thousands of years ago. Our hope is not in this life. Receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior if you have not done so and you will escape eternal death (hell) and know God's peace and have eternal life. This world is passing away. Store your treasures up in heaven. God bless.

    December 7, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • Steve Wilson, Canada

      Okay, Mr. Crazy, whatever you think. Maybe you could pray for me because I don't want to "go to hell."

      I truly feel sorry for people who are THAT naive that they actually believe all this nonsense. Please don't ever run for any political office.

      December 11, 2012 at 9:11 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
About this blog

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.