I know there are many things to say about Michele Bachmann’s retiring and many are saying them and will say them. There are also many ways one can remember her run for president — among them, analysis that isn’t so much about her but about our crazy political culture and the fact that the Iowa tourism board still gets away with the racket that is the Iowa straw poll.
But this is what I want to say: I will always be grateful to Michele Bachmann, for winning said straw poll and running for president.
During that weekend – the morning after the straw poll – she was interviewed on Meet the Press. During that Sunday-show (natch) interview, she drew out of David Gregory the sound bite of secularism – the clearest explanation of the conventional view of religion in America today.
He asked her about God: “To what extent is He a motivator for decisions that you make? . . . Would God guide your decisions you would make as president of the United States?”
And then he had this to say: “There is a difference between God as a sense of comfort and safe harbor and inspiration and God telling you to take a particular action.”
God is a sense of comfort and safe harbor. That is America today.
But of course, religion is much more than that. The radicalism of Christianity is a paradoxical life: one that brings peace, but leaves you endlessly challenged, never comfortable. Real people living in the world today discern God’s will in their lives. As the pope talked about this morning in Rome, some do really believe He has a plan and guides us in living in union with it. Yet we don’t always even try to live as we claim to – practical atheism is a reality among many professed believers – which makes this conventional view of religion Gregory voiced a whole lot easier to swallow.
(Mary Eberstadt has written a fascinating study of all this in her new book How the West Really Lost God.)
But from America’s earliest days, the difference here is not only a respect for religion in our laws, but an embrace of it. Not theocratically, but democratically, knowing that this democracy works when people watch out for others, motivated by love of God who created each one of us.
David Gregory posed his revealing questions because Michele Bachmann talked about God, and said some countercultural things about marriage along the way. And I liked what our friend Byron asked her about it during an early debate, because it gave her one such opportunity to offer some fresh proposals in the frenzy of political campaigning. At the time, I called her adept responses to such questions ”Bachmann’s JFK moment“ (referring to his famous speech embracing the privatization of religion.) It was instructional. It was a moment of witness in the public square. Whatever you think of the congresswoman, what she articulated there was what the Green family that runs the Hobby Lobby chain is in court for: protection of their religious freedom, the right to live an integrated life, in which religious faith is more than something you do on Sundays (before or after the Sunday shows). Where politics is not our salvation. (A point Kevin Williamson makes well in his Awesome book.)
You don’t need to have ever had a Bachmann for President bumper sticker on your car to have some gratitude for her.