Jeff Sharlet of The Revealer has written about or rounded up some of the more intriguing coverage of the candidates and their religious beliefs.
Here, Dan Kennedy of Media Nation asks:
Is Sarah Palin a conservative evangelical Christian? Or is she something quite a bit more exotic than that? It's an important question, because she herself has suggested she holds some peculiar beliefs that could affect the way she executes her duties as a public official.
The Daily News story does hint that perhaps she's not as out-there as some of her activities make it sound — noting, for example, that she advocates but has not pushed for teaching creationism in schools and banning state benefits for same-sex couples. But I'm not sure if I'm supposed to feel better if someone prays for a gas pipeline but doesn't actually mean it.
And what about her apparent acquiescence when Pastor Kalnins went off about Alaska's role in a post-Apocalypse world? Does she think he was on to something, or was she just being polite? I would argue that Americans have a right to know if the woman who may be our next vice president uses the Book of Revelations as a guide to forming public policy.
Steve Waldman of Beliefnet looks at what is "scary" and what isn't scary about Palin's religious beliefs.
Not Scary - Palin asked members of the church to pray "that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God. That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God's plan." This has been cited by Obama backers that Palin justifies the war as being part of God's plan. I read it as meaning the opposite - that people should pray that the war IS part of God's plan. This is a totally appropriate desire for a Christian -- and for a Christian politician. All Christian politicians should aspire to do God's will. Where it gets problematic is when they feel God is directing them to take particular steps or claim divine endorsement for their actions.
Scary - She told a group of young church leaders to pray for a gas pipeline because it was God's will. "God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gasline built. So pray for that." Saying a particular public policy is God's will is far over the line, considerably beyond anything that George W. Bush ever said. It means the advocate is impervious to argument, and critics are going against God's will.
Sharlet's analysis of Barack Obama's faith at Religion Dispatches is quite provocative:
The "post-partisan" political faith Obama has come to embrace offers more help than conservatism but fewer guarantees than secular liberalism. It doesn't demand political loyalty, it asks for earnest acclamation. To conservatism's business elite and secular liberalism's political elite, it responds with yet another ruling class: a "responsible" elite.
There's an element of the superhero sensibility in Obama's Social Gospel politics, a perspective that sees the poor as damsels in distress or children in burning buildings, awaiting rescue by the best and the brightest: Jane Addams, the early 20th century reformer who ministered to the slums of Chicago; Josiah Strong, founder of the League of Social Services; Charles Sheldon, author of the 1896 novel In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do?; and now Barack Obama, who long ago left community organizing for Harvard Law, there to join America's anointed, meritocrats who rule because they're better at it than you.