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The winds of politics are such that as much as one might prefer, we can not ignore them. They have reached hurricane force -- with twists and turns. Perhaps it is no coincidence that one convention was preceded by tornadoes, another interrupted by a hurricane.

The role of religion is bound to explode around the campaigns and to a degree has already. First and foremost is Sarah Palin -- whose stunning rise to sudden national prominence seems nearly miraculous. It is also complicated. She was born a Catholic. Her parents left the faith when she was 14 and were "born again." She was born (for the first time) on February 11 (the feast of Lourdes, in 1964) and baptized a Catholic. She is now a general non-denominational Christian with Pentecostal beliefs, or at least it is said (the McCain campaign denies she has any single affiliation). Her views on abortion, Creationism, Bible inerrancy, and stem-cell research are in line with the Vatican's. Her views on war are not. Neither is her support of condom education in schools. Oprah Winfrey, who many believe is a New Ager, thus far refuses to have her as a guest. Her church in Wasilla closely follows Bible prophecy. It is certain that she does also. At a talk at her church last year, Governor Palin prayed for a spirit of "revelation and prophecy" for those in the audience, along with a prayer for the "outflowing" of the Spirit. Never before has there been a candidate with such an out-front charismatic inclination. Her pastor stood at her side and preached that soon people in these "last days" will be seeking refuge in churches, and particularly in the state of Alaska!

There is John McCain. He was born on August 29 -- the feast of the martyrdom of John the Baptist. John the Baptist of course heralded the arrival of Christ. There is confusion over whether Senator McCain should be considered Baptist or Episcopalian. According to reports, he has called himself both; his grandfather was an Episcopalian priest. He is against abortion in most cases (excepting for rape and life threat to the mother) but in favor of embryonic stem-cell research (which, unfortunately, destroys human life in its earliest form). On the other hand, he favors vouchers for religious schooling (unlike Palin, who opposes it).

Then there are opponents Barack Obama and Joseph Biden. Biden is a Catholic -- one who mentions the Rosary (and insisted on one under his pillow during a stay in the hospital) and yet supports a woman's right to terminate the unborn. In fact, Senator Biden, despite his Catholicism, was the key antagonist to Robert Bork during those famous hearings on the Supreme Court, during which Bork was rejected as a justice largely because he is pro-life (or better said, against killing the youngest of humans). Biden receives Communion despite Church admonitions (in both his old home diocese of Scranton, and his current one in Delaware) that pro-choice politicians should not. Meanwhile, Obama professes Christianity -- occasionally quotes the Bible (at one point arguing that Deuteronomy and the Sermon on the Mount have contradictions with each other, with his point being that the Sermon is more relevant) -- and also has an affinity for Islam. His views on immigration, economic justice, and the environment are more closely aligned with Rome. His view on homosexual marriage decidedly is not. Meanwhile, Senator Obama is so "pro-choice" that he even has voted to allow the practice of partial-birth abortions (and to not rescue babies who are born live by mistakes during such procedures).

We are thus seeing in all candidates great confusion (there is goodness in all of them) and a spiritual divide -- true also across society. There is not just anger and meanness -- which have been spurred in large part by the current trend in media talk shows, and now infect even religious websites -- but real fears. These inner trepidations promise to manifest with great external division in the most divisive election, perhaps, in modern times. The cultural war seems set to explode -- with a blatant Pentecostal taking direct aim at what is possibly the most liberal presidential candidate in history -- both generating explosions of "charisma" and enthusiasm.

There is the sense that whoever wins, major events are coming to the world, events that are independent of human celebrity and politics, which in our time has turned into idolatry. GOP speakers invoked the name of God ("God") nearly twice as often as Democratic ones, 43 to 22. But when it came to the tickets themselves, the invocations were tied: Biden and McCain, eight each; Obama and Palin, two. A priest said an opening prayer at the Republican National Convention, while a non-denominational Evangelical preacher -- in line with Palin's religion -- was supposed to open, ironically, the Democratic one (but backed out). An elderly nun said the closing prayer one night of the convention. But missing from the Democratic events was Archbishop Charles J. Chaput -- even though he is prelate of Denver, where the convention was held; due to his strong opposition to abortion, he was not invited. In a further irony, the archbishop's new book -- released the week of the convention -- was at 27 on The New York Times bestseller list last week -- one notch above a book by fellow Catholic Joseph Biden.

[videos of Palin speaking at church]

[see also: Palin was born a Catholic, McCain campaign denies Palin is Pentecostal, Obama slip: 'My Muslim faith', Evangelicals vs. Catholicism?]

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