The thrice-married, at least once affaired, Newt Gingrich announced last Friday, "I am not a citizen of the world. I am a citizen of the United States, because only in the United States does citizeship start with our creator." He also told the group at the "Rediscovering God in America" conference, "The first job we have as Americans is to reach out to everybody in the country who is not yet saved, and to help them understand the spiritual basis of a creator-endowed society."
The general consensus is that Newt is positioning himself to win the vote of the religious right to ready himself for the Republican nomination in 2012. Personally, I think that the press takes the wrong approach in reporting on and questioning this approach.
One can point out that we either allow people to choose a "godless" existence or enforce religious laws, as we did in the early colonies or even more effectively in Medieval Europe or as some Muslim countries do today. We might even have the temerity to point out that as civilizations become more "godless" (as rates of church attendance drop, etc.) rates of teen pregnancy drop, affluence increases, and tolerance means more civil harmony and less violence. But that might just be the wrong approach.
Maybe it's better to heartily agree with Newt and then ask him, So what do we do? Whose God do we align with? Newt has recently converted to Catholicism. Is he wanting us to align with the God who speaks through the pope? How about the Old Testament God who suggests capital punishment for homosexuality and eating shell fish but allows slavery? Or does he suggest that we disband our military, taking seriously John the Baptist's admonition to soldiers to "do harm to no man?" Does he suggest that we not make it as hard to enter heaven as it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle by not allowing anyone the spiritual burden of becoming wealthy? Which God and which verses does he recommend we turn into law or, at the least, use as a guide for our laws?
I suspect that once we put the religious right up before a national audience and pinned them down on details of what they mean by bringing the nation closer to God, it would be less appealing to anyone - even those on the religious right. We live in an age when thousands (yes, thousands) of new religious denominations spring up each year because we cannot agree on details, on issues, on what is important and what is trivial.
At this point, I'm genuinely curious about what it looks like to bring this nation back to God. If we were still 90% Catholic or Anglican or Muslim or Jewish, such a statement might almost make sense. But in today's world, it is not the least clear what this means.
I don't know what it would mean to get God back into car design or astronomy or medicine or education or politics. Such a claim makes no sense to me. Perhaps the best way to get beyond this odd desire for divinely-inspired policy is to appoint a panel with a variety of religious leaders and thinkers and have them get back to us with a comprehensive and detailed policy platform. Maybe Newt could be president of that.