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Jewish World Review Nov. 1, 1999 /21 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Don Feder

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Candidates should
keep the faith -- I AM IN A STATE of total shock. A presidential candidate who actually believes his religion is "true" and would like others to share his faith? I may need therapy to cope.

In answer to a question posed by an interviewer last week, Pat Buchanan used the T-word (truth) in relation to the C-word (Christianity): "I believe that Jesus Christ was the son of G-d, and I believe that Christianity is the true faith," Buchanan declared.

If that weren't enough, Pat told "Good Morning America" that he would like everyone to share these beliefs. Buchanan added that the Constitution "forbids a religious test for public office" and the United States is "open to people of all faiths."

The candidate did not volunteer this confession of faith. His comments came in response to specific questions to which he could only equivocate, plead the Fifth or answer candidly.

Expressions of outrage are pouring in. Buchanan is said to have mortally offended non-Christians. He's endangered First Amendment church-state separation. Does the would-be Reform Party nominee want to replace the Stars and Stripes with the papal flag?

Seriously, the only remarkable thing about Buchanan's comments is that they seem remarkable to so many of us. There was a time when people weren't ashamed to say that they believe their religion is true and -- while respecting different creeds -- really wish that others shared their perspective on G-d.

Christianity is a proselytizing religion. It is founded on the premise that salvation comes only through a belief in the Christian Messiah. Why wouldn't Christians want to share with non-believers what, to their thinking, is the supreme gift?

What is a Christian supposed to say, that he thinks the Christian Bible is essentially allegorical? That the trinity is a useful construct? That it might be nice if others embraced what he conceives of as the ultimate reality?

As a Jew, I have no problem with Christians who believe that their faith is true, any more than I'm not put off by Moslems who believe Mohammed was the seal of the prophets. I doubt Billy Graham is losing any sleep because Buchanan believes the bishop of Rome is the Christian messiah's vicar on earth.

I happen to believe Judaism is true. A generation ago, one of the first phrases children learned in Hebrew school was "Toras emes" -- Torah is true. Words like "true" and "truth" permeate our liturgy. From the morning prayers: "True -- the G-d of the universe is our King."

While most religions contain elements of truth, I believe that G-d's law (written and oral) delivered to Moses at Sinai and the Jewish bible in its entirety is the embodiment of truth.

I respect your right to worship as you choose and acknowledge that religions teaching the existence of a universal G-d whose principal requirements are justice and holiness foster morality.

However, if pressed, I would be compelled to say that when other religions conflict with Judaism, I believe them to be wrong. This conviction hasn't prevented me from having warm friendships with Catholics and Evangelicals, who are equally convinced that I am in error on certain doctrinal matters.

If my certainty offends you, I'm sorry. I'm not going to try to convert you by the sword. I won't force you to grow a beard and enroll in a yeshiva or forswear lobster Newburg.

Many Americans are intimidated by the very concept of truth. It seems frightfully exclusionary (which it is). When truth is applied to religion, you can almost see beads of sweat breaking out on secular brows.

Regarding religion and politics, we've reached an unspoken truce. It's all right for a politician like Gov. George W. Bush to say that he has "committed his life to Jesus" -- provided he doesn't imply that his politics are informed by religious values.

Spiritual beliefs are fine, as long as a candidate doesn't suggest that they are universally valid or that his religion is superior to any other.

Perhaps Buchanan should adapt the standard abortion cop-out -- "While I'm personally in favor of Catholicism, that has no bearing on anything else in my life."

Candidates aren't preachers. They should not go around trumpeting the tenets of their faith from the podium.

But, when asked a direct question, a politician is entitled to says what's in his heart. It would be good to have a president who isn't afraid to stand up for his faith and believes that commandments are more than nice-sounding phrases. It would certainly be a change.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest book is Who's Afraid of the Religious Right. Comment on his column by clicking here.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate