So how much churn will there be over John McCain's statement that the Constitution nation? Of course, the Constitution doesn't do that in any sense that makes it, as he implies, "preferable" to have a Christian president. (It actually forbids religious tests for office, but that's not what he was talking about.)
I suppose that you could make an argument that, as a matter of intellectual history, certain elements of Jewish and Christian theology paved the way for liberal democracy as it is practiced in the West or that a majority of Americans have generally subscribed, in theory of not always in fact, to Christian principles. That seems to be where he wanted to go:
I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation. But I say that in the broadest sense. The lady that holds her lamp beside the golden door doesn't say, “I only welcome Christians.” We welcome the poor, the tired, the huddled masses. But when they come here they know that they are in a nation founded on Christian principles.
Throwing in the Constitution is a mistake, but let's give McCain a little slack on that. But he also said:
I admire the Islam. There's a lot of good principles in it. I think one of the great tragedies of the 21st century is that these forces of evil have perverted what's basically an honorable religion. But, no, I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles.... personally, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith. But that doesn't mean that I'm sure that someone who is Muslim would not make a good president. I don't say that we would rule out under any circumstances someone of a different faith. I just would--I just feel that that's an important part of our qualifications to lead.
What does he mean here? Whatever relationship may exist between Judaism and Christianity and western liberal democracy doesn't mean that people who are steeped in the values of liberal democracy must also be steeped in the values of its intellectual predecessors. Who knows anything about the Greeks nowdays?
I think he may have meant to say that Judaism and Christianity co-exist well with liberal democracy in a diverse nation, while there may be other religions, say the more fundamentalist forms of Islam, that don't, but that's not quite what he said.
I suspect that we'll hear that he was pandering to the Christian conservative base.
That could be, although the comments don't read like something that was planned or put together in a way calculated to have political impact. They seem to be a bit tentative and meandering.
While I may qualify as a Christian conservative, I think that this trope about American being founded as a Christian nation is unhelpful. To the extent that it's true, it doesn't prove much. To the extent that it might prove something, it's not true.
On the other hand, I suspect that whatever blowback there is about McCain is going to be in the nature of 1)he's an idiot or 2)he's a bigot since so much of our political conversation seems to have to fit that template. He's neither but, in this instance, I think he doesn't have it quite right.