10/20/2010 – William Kilpatrick –
President Eisenhower famously observed that “our form of government has no sense unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.” Now that we are beginning to see the consequences when Muslims act on their deeply felt faith, it’s time to revisit Eisenhower’s statement. The question is, can we still afford to take an “I don’t care what it is” attitude toward religion? In short, does the content of a religion matter? Or are we to assume that all religions share the same essential truths, as Eisenhower seemed to assume?
It’s ironic that the part of Eisenhower’s statement which evoked criticism in the early 1950’s would pass almost unnoticed today, while the part that seemed unremarkable then would be challenged in many quarters today. When Eisenhower said, “our form of government has no sense unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious faith,” he was merely echoing a widespread belief. Even William O. Douglas, the most liberal member of the Supreme Court at the time, and not a particularly religious man, opined in a 1952 decision that “We are a religious people, whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.” Since then, however, we’ve grown accustomed to the notion that religion ought to have little or no influence on our government and institutions. More and more, religion is looked upon as something that should be confined to the private sphere. As a result, religion has been pushed steadily out of public life—one Christmas crèche, one school prayer, one court decision at a time. These days, most of our institutions, particularly the press, the courts, and the schools, seem to presume that secularism is the officially established belief.