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.

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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. 4JULY1776

    There is a big difference between taxation and theft......

    Taxation is for the legitimate business of government such as building roads and bridges or maintaing the military.

    Theft is handing out money to drug-addled welfare kings with 13 kids by 13 different teenage girls.....welfare handouts, food stamp handouts, publich housing handouts, etc. etc. that "Santa Claus" in the White House keeps doing......that is nothing more than theft of money from the working man / working woman of America.

    I don't mind paying taxes for the LEGITIMATE role of government. I'm sick and tired of being ripped off supporting the 50 millioon people on food stamps.....that's 1 out of every 6 citizens.

    This is why I call the Dems exactly what they are......a lying pack of thieves. They use the power of taxation to hand out my hard earned money to crack-cocaine addicts and other users and losers who make up their base constiutency.

    Romeny was exactly RIGHT when he called Obama "Santa Claus." The sad part is Obama is not giving away something made by elves at the North Pole.....instead he's giving away MY money.

    December 5, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I agree with most of what you say, but military spending today is nothing but theft. Trillions spent on wars nobody wants.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Akira

      Lol. Romney lost, so APPARENTLY the thought of going to war when the last two bankrupted us because the US had no way to pay for it, (a fact that GWB was well aware of, as he failed to include the defense budget into the general budget) wasn't palatable to the voting populace.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • sjajr

      We do love drama don't we. Communisits socialists all over the place. So threatening. How do you sleep at night?

      December 5, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • 4JULY1776

      Rational Liberatarian.....would you prefer that Osama Bin Laden were still alive?

      If you go back and look at that operation.....the helicopters took off from our bases in Afghanistan didn't they?

      December 5, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Jesus

      Awww, Boo hoo. Are you going to cry about it? Jeez, if you don't like it, go to another country where no one has to pay taxes and the government doesn't exist.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I felt the exact same way the day after Osama Bin Laden died as I did the day before. The death of one completely powerless figurehead doesn't justify two pointless wars. A wiser man than me sums up American foreign policy very succinctly.


      December 5, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • rick from Texas

      4JULY1776 – Your argument might be credible if you included Exon (oil subsidies) Archer Daniel-Midland(farm subsidies) and the other countless multi billion dollar corporations sucking up MY dollars in corporate welfare. But your type fail to look in that direction(perhaps because you come from that direction). Include in that billions given away to Israel and other countries whose existence relies on the US dollars and I might begin to see your point. But I dont understand your type who feel its ok to give away money to multinational corporations and sovergn nations at the expense of our own people. I believe your illustration is a bit dramatic because yes there are a few people who do take advantage of this money., The majority are in need because your multi billion corporations corner makets , practice unfair labor relations in the form of exporting jobs to countries with no labor laws where people work for unlivable wages in unsafe woking conditions. and then tell their workers "...we are taking away your pension, and you are working for less money ...dont like it? we'll close up and move to .--"(fill in the blank) Look up once in awhile instead of always looking down(at) where most of us are(90%)

      December 5, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      Yes, lets stop the welfare payments to the poor, and watch 2/3 of the red states starve. Works for me.

      December 5, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  2. Nick C

    You’ve got to be kidding!!
    I was born in a communist country;
    Your approach is nothing but paving the road to the same approach that the communists had: religion is evil, especially Christians; so they went on demolishing churches and made it impossible for people to attend churches ; people who hang on to a belief were ridiculed ;
    Sounds like you want this country to go the same way; Christians are those who hold you back now!!!

    December 5, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • Informed

      A bit paranoid are you?

      December 5, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • notogop

      I fear you are reading between the lines a bit too much.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • Saraswati

      There's a big difference between wanting to ensure a particular religious group doesn't run the country and denying people of a religious group employment opportunities. All anyone here is trying to do is the remove the Christian stranglhold from politics and education.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  3. n222s

    Nothing so annoys the left as to point out their intolerance. Please tell me, how many of you on the left felt the depiction of Republicans having a "war on women" was out of line. Not one of you. If so, please tell me how you felt it was improper. No tolerance there. How so? Basically, unless a person was pro-choice, for federal funding of all contraceptions and abortions, supported unlimited time periods for law suits over pay issues, that person had a war on woman. It wasn't that there could be any arguments against some of those things. Nope, dissent could not be tolerated. The left can't possibly conceive of anyone being pro-life, for example, unless they are a religious nut wishing women to be barefoot and pregnant at best and available for r a p e on demand at worst. It couldn't possibly be that a person sees his child born and it called into question his beliefs about life and that perhaps he just came to a different conclusion. And...if he sees the fetus as a life that he'd want to prevent its destruction in most cases. Nawwww. Can't be that.

    December 5, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I don't support federal funding of contraception or any of that other stuff, but anybody who is not pro choice is definitely anti women.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • jmiller

      The war on women was a bit tongue in cheek, only you don't get it. See, when you conservatives start brandishing about terms like baby killers and war on Christmas, as if we liberals are the devil it is annoying. So, we sometimes fight back using your hyperbole back at you but we also know it's a bit of snark and satire.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • Thoth

      so your version of tolerance is to label people who carry a differing view from yours as the "annoying left".....interesting.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • Saraswati

      I felt it was improper and sounded downright silly. The thing is that political groups do not generally promote infighting within their own group...especially around election time. That goes for all sides.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • miami exrepublican

      i will defend your CHOICE to be pro-life with my life if it comes down to it, but will you defend my Choice to be pro-choice the same way????

      December 5, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  4. jsf12

    Typical liberal style. You pretend you have the right to define conservatives, then you define them as the narrow subset of conservatives whose positions cannot be rationally supported.
    Liberal views cannot be defended and cannot attract majority support. So the media has pulled together majority opposition to the straw man version of conservatives that they like to attack.

    December 5, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Informed

      Buzz..wrong, a 'liberal' viewpoint just won the US election. The voice of the people.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  5. Woody

    Keep thy religion out of politics as I do not vote for people based on their religion or no religion ! Forcing people to read a bible is no different than forcing people to read a Quran ! Keep thy religion to thyself ! If I want religion I will go to a place of worship not a voting stall ! Religion in no way says you have any of the qualifications for any job .

    December 5, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  6. Ben Ghazi

    All you young folks, study hard, and work long hours! I'm a charity case, and you need to support me!

    December 5, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Tatts

      "All you young folks, study hard, and work long hours!" I'm your CEO and I'm building another vacation house even though I'm laying off workers who worked long hours for me.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  7. Goose66

    For the love of God! Really? I see much more hatred, derision, and casting as evil Republicans coming from Democrats than the other way around. All Republicans are evil, rich, white men that don't care about anyone but themselves. All Tea Party Activists are ignorant, backwood, religious zealots that are too stupid to understand what makes good policy. What aspect of the Democrat's religion accounts for all this hatred? The guy that wrote this article is so far to the left that he is completely out of touch with reality, much less the American people.

    December 5, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Tina

      I beg to differ. As a moderate liberal, I have seen much more hate speech coming from conservatives than liberals. Friends on the Republican side forward unsubstantiated, derisive, and divisive emails 90-10 over Democrat friends; not to mention folks like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, etc. Sorry, I disagree with you.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  8. Nietodarwin

    The religious nuts are losing power, (and certainly lost the election HA HA) The Beauty of the logic, reason, and science of atheism can now be brought out, because we can express these ideas without the age old fear of being MURDERED by some religious person who is going to PROVE that god is real by sending us to meet him, without the slightest bit of guilt or remorse because they are doing "gods work" Islam and christianity did not survive all these years because of a nice message, or truth or logic, these religions are still so strong because they are effective at murdering non-believers.

    December 5, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  9. kevobx

    God is he. Satan is him. God is odd. Satan is even. God is rest. Satan is peace. God is righteous. Satan is holy. Who are you? (*1st Corinthians 8:6*)

    December 5, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • vancouverron

      God is the National League, the devil is the American League. God is Ben and Jerry's, the devil is Dairy Queen. God is boxer shorts, the devil is briefs.

      So what's your point?

      December 5, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  10. lionlylamb

    “Righteousness in the governances of any nation's law-abiders tabulations tends to ever conflict with the natured pre-ambled venerations of once chaliced domineering and effectually driven cloisters of an age soon forgotten and judgmentally dismissed by many folds of future variegated socialisms. Who among us really knows what styled premonitions the governance of the first-rooted molders of once solemn declarations really had on their mindset and were they aptly abled to foresee unto our now times ages?

    Did such wise and abled governances of so long ago really so rightly rationalize their futuristic nation's preclusions of sedentary "volumnistic" precursors in a sublime commonwealth stance of sublimated worthiness leading to righteous submissions of regulated governing for the socially contained welfares of today's slumming economic timeline?

    Does our futures look brighter based upon the causations of prime-factored prenuptials of long forgotten folks who dared to envision their nation's future upon a time such as ours are now in? Federal debts are thru the roof! The economy all but in shambles! The plights of many folks do live in earnest means are just floating above the poverty line of watered down welfare! Where then is hope to so be found? Whose trusting decanter can the people throw their money within? Will the debts of Federalism sink the Bismarck and then shoot holes in all its lifeboats leaving all to sink or swim upstream without the means and ways?

    The whether or not of governed weathering traditions are but foggy indices of blatant sociologically extensive and highly orientated percussive vulnerabilities of tribal unifications so texted beforehand and upon the nowadays handed repulsiveness of latency obtrusive regularities within the common wealthy denominators railed effects as affecting all folds of governed generalist quandaries welfare dynamics. Though the poor will become the poorer and the poorest ever in vitrified remnants, the servile scopes of pre-modernizations clemencies obliging within post servile momentums will make the rich even richer while the richest ever do also so remain as ever they once were and now are and will also so be in the nearing foundations of time's continual passages.

    Deifying should not be an allotment of governance orientations as the founders did so emphatically foresee but many have now forgotten in our stumbling along the way. I follow an individual lifestyle of my own godly pleasures and do seldom twine together religious views upon my philosophies of tenacious governance. Sometimes though, I become unsettled in social issues. In sweeping the mind clear on occasional forsaking, I find that sometimes an overlooked addendum needs more thought.

    December 5, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Informed

      very good, you can cut and paste. Now how about some ORIGINAL thoughts???

      December 5, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      The above cloister of words are my very own ORIGINAL THOUGHTS CONGEILLED IN TRANSITION

      December 5, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • Informed

      Sorry, so you can use a thesaurus.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  11. miami exrepublican

    Faith, is without a question the measure of ignorance.
    when individuals are unable to have an intelligent discussion with each other, when individuals close their minds to plurality, when individuals let their religius dogmas rule their life......
    then we become the Taliban, Al-queda, the Inquisition, and many others that excuse their hatred and viciuness with God.
    Shame on that one, that brings religion into goverment........................

    December 5, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  12. Scott

    In MN we recently had a vote on marriage. Do we allow gay marriage, or is marriage defined as between one man and one woman. I assume that most of the voters of the latter, where Republicans, but how could that same person vote for Romney, whose religion believes in one man and as many women as he wants. Isn't that a conflict?

    December 5, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  13. Brian

    There is something diabolical about religion. Just go to church and you will see what I mean. Reminds me of a quotation from Nietzsche: "The last Christian died on the cross."

    December 5, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Informed

      Religi0on has always been and will always be a form of control and a way for people to avoid the responsibility of their immoral acts.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  14. This Is Ridiculous

    Why does this even make the front page of CNN.com? So Atheists don't believe in a negative (good) or positive (evil)? Gay marriage has nothing to do with the fiscal cliff. Regardless of religion, Mark Osler you're a moron. Thanks CNN for continuing to post fantastic journalism.

    December 5, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  15. lefty avenger

    The Only God in America is MONEY. No one cares about anything else.

    December 5, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  16. Scott

    Is it strange that Republicans are against abortion, but are also against later,supporting the child or its mother?

    December 5, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      In what way?

      December 5, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • 4JULY1776

      We believe parents should take responsibility for their own children......what part of that do you not understand?

      December 5, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Informed

      Not just that, they are anti-abortion, but heavily PRO guns. Pretty hypocritical position on things.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Scott

      I agree that parents should take responsibility for their own children, but many obviously don't. So the group that forced the woman to go through with her unwanted pregnancy, should pay the tab, not me.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Have to agree with July on this one.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Benedictine Nun, Sister Joan Chittister put it this way:
      "I do not believe that just because you're opposed to abortion that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking. If all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed, and why would I think that you don't? Because you don't want any tax money to go there. That's not pro-life. That's pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of what pro-life is.”

      December 5, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Lindsey

      You believe parents are supposed to take responsibility for their children? Excellent. So do I.

      Except we do not live in a utopian fantasy land of Ozzies and Harrietts, where homes are perfect, kids are obedient, wives are dutiful to their Masters (husbands), and God in his heaven smiles. Makes a nice fiction, but it's just that...fiction.

      In reality, there are many families that are dysfunctional for one reason or another. Money troubles, substance abuse, working parents, peer pressure, there are many reasons that families have problems. Even the most "perfect" families are not immune to problems.

      You are saying that once born, these children that you want to force to be brought into the world can either sink or swim, depending on if they have good parents or not. That doesn't sound like you care about life too much, buddy. Sounds like you care more about beating people on the head with your Bible, even though the Bible mentions abortion not once.

      Not. Once.

      But it sure does mention a bunch of people who liked to pray on streetcorners and make a spectacle of themselves and grab all the best for themselves ahead of everyone else. They were called the Pharisees.

      Perhaps you've heard of them. If you have, recall that Jesus didn't like them very much.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • Debbie

      I couldn't agree more. I am definitely pro life. At the same time I am incensed that conservatives will tell you to have that baby ... and then leave you on your own with no help whatsoever. If we value life, we must also value the life of the mother and give help where needed. But in today's "ownership society" it's every man for himself. Definitely not what Christ taught.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Saraswati

      I think if you take as a premise that abortion is wrong and that people are all pregnant of their own "fault" it's not actually contradictory. The problem really lies in the religiously based definition they want to give to personhood as starting the minute the fertilized egg has it's first division. You're making something without yet a single neuron into a being deserving of the same rights as other humans...something that only makes sense from a very specific religius context.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  17. Robin G. Hoode

    For in depth look at what the Bible teaches about wealth, taxation, etc., read:

    Class Crucifixion: Money, Power, Religion and the Death of the Middle Class
    •Available at http://www.Sky-Fy.com and at http://www.createspace.com/3991040
    quality, large softcover: for $14.99 and on Kindle for $7.99 at

    December 5, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Informed

      I don't think the bible 'teaches' you anything. It parrots various moral truths that existed long before it was around.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  18. Nietodarwin

    The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus…will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.
    Thomas Jefferson

    “Shake off all fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God, because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.”
    _ Thomas Jefferson
    “I believe the simplest explanation is, there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization that there probably is no heaven and no afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe and for that, I am extremely grateful.”
    _ Stephen Hawking

    “Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There`s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.”
    _ Bill Gates

    December 5, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Jefferson thought that gay people should be castrated. Just saying.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Nietodarwin

      SO SICK of the GOP and the ignorant american taliban christian wrong saying "we are a christian nation" WE ARE NOT A CHRISTIAN NATION YOU IGNORANT PHEUCKS. "Under god" in the pledge, and "In god We Trust" on money were added in the 1950's (you know, where Romney tried to time travel us to) Freedom of religion has gone WAY too far. Our students have horrible test scores compared to other countries. "American Taliban" is not a cute joke, religion is harming our countries. Math doesn't lie, but christians can't use reason. I'll paste this anyway;

      “Countries with a high percentage of nonbelievers are among the freest, most stable, best-educated, and healthiest nations on earth. When nations are ranked according to a human-development index, which measures such factors as life expectancy, literacy rates, and educational attainment, the five highest-ranked countries - Norway, Sweden, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands - all have high degrees of nonbelief. Of the fifty countires at the bottom of the index, all are intensly religious. The nations with the highest homicide rates tend to be more religious; those with the greatest levels of gender equality are the least religious. These associations say nothing about whether atheism leads to positive social indicators or the other way around. But the idea that atheists are somehow less moral, honest, or trustworthy have been disproven by study after study.”
      _ Greg Graffin
      “I am now convinced that children should not be subjected to the frightfulness of the Christian religion [...]. If the concept of a father who plots to have his own son put to death is presented to children as beautiful and as worthy of society's admiration, what types of human behavior can be presented to them as reprehensible?”
      _ Ruth Hurmence Green, The Born Again Skeptic's Guide to the Bible

      December 5, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  19. David8582

    Odd, that a reportedly "all knowing", "all loving" and "all powerful" god could not inspire a bible that everyone would interpret the same way. There are about 33,000 different denominations of Christianity.

    You have the Dominionists within the Evangelical party that would have this nation and the world run according to the Old Testament. They decide what is relevant and should be enforced i.e. gays are bad but shrimp is good. Women of course, are inferior to men

    I think we should first prove the bible is the work of a god and then try to determine what it is this god wants, exactly.

    Evangelicals in general and Dominionists in particular, make me want to puke.


    December 5, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • Informed

      We have already proved that the bible is not the work of any god. Whats left to do?

      December 5, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • lol??

      If all Christians thought the same way, we'd vote the same way. Outmobbing the mob? You'd complain then!

      December 5, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • DaveM

      If those same folks ( I am sure they had good intentions) whom contributed to the Bible had written my Honda owner’s manual, I would not be able to find the door locks. How can anyone understand or know what to do in life other than common sense and just doing things that most of society deems acceptable.....without religion.

      December 5, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  20. n222s

    Akira, akira, akira. It isn't so much legislation of faith that I espouse as it is morality. What are most laws but societal definitions of morality? Take the easy one; gay marriage. I'm of the belief the government has NO business legislating any marriage. I have a religious view of gay marriage but the state should not define it. Surprised? On to other laws of morality. If a law is passed raising tax rates is that fair? Define fair. And...if my definition of fairness isn't the same as yours, or the majority, why should you win? And what is fairness but an arbitrary standard of morality? The President, a few years ago, admitted he wanted to raise rates out of fairness and not for benefit to the economy.

    Why do we have laws against cruelty to animals? Because society says it is immoral to be cruel to animals. You and I agree on that, of course, but it is a moral code nonetheless.

    See Akira, I see morality as stemming from faith. You see it, in reality, stemming solely from majority beliefs. However we arrive at our conclusions we BOTH BELIEVE IN A MORAL CODE.

    December 5, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
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