No, I'm not implying Newt Gingrich is an atheist --- although it wouldn't surprise me if he were.
As Herman Cain's modest flame sputtered and then went out last week, I got to thinking of an older acquaintance some years ago, devoutly Roman Catholic, facing major but in this day and age routine surgery. Asked about her surgeon's qualifications, she said something to the effect, "I hope's he's an atheist because I want him to rely on talent, not the power of prayer."
If the latest Iowa poll is any indication, old-time religion as a principal asset doesn't seem to be working well for the darlings of the Family Leader and others on the far-right Republican fringe --- Perry, Bachmann and Santorum, now with Cain (before his withdrawal) running at the back of the pack.
Newt Gingrich, as Barney Frank put it last week perhaps the best thing (other than Bachmann or Perry) that could happen to a Democrat, now leads among likely GOP caucus-goers with 25 percent. Ron Paul is in second place and the inevitable Mitt Romney in third. These are more pragmatic choices, at least,
Gingrich certainly is smart, although obvously a hypocrite (no one doubts the sincerity of Perry, Bachmann and Santorum, just their intelligence). Paul is probably too quirky to go much farther. And Romney, still inevitable --- and very wisely not trying to establish his credentials as a good Christian. He does need to start focusing on image, however --- aloof and testy may not do it in the long run.
It's a fascinating game and it'll be interesting to see what develops among Republicans when we move past the increasingly irrelevant Iowa causus process.
It'll also be interesting to see, once Obama stops watching GOP hopefuls eat each other alive and starts campaigning himself, how he'll play the God card this time around.
Personally, I long for a good talented atheist candidate (not a fundamentalist atheist; I'm not ready to give up the National Christmas Tree quite yet, even though like most of our civic religion those bright lights really have no significance). Just a bright and honest candidate willing to leave God out of the campaign equation --- even cutting back on the "God bless Americas" --- and focus on practical solutions to the messes we've gotten ourselves into.
None of this, of course, precludes praying for candidates --- or presidents.
The season seems to be getting ahead of me again --- didn't finish emptying the terracotta planters that would shatter over the winter if left full and not turned over until Thursday. But am enjoying the neighbors' lights. Unfortunately, there still are two large dead chrysanthemums on the front steps to haul away.
Then I'll get out to the tree farm for a wreath, maybe even wrap the lighted garland around the front-steps rail, perhaps decorate the tree (if I figure out where to put the plant on steroids that now has pride of place in the front window).
But there's no hurry. That's part of the beauty of Advent. Christmas doesn't begin until Christmas Eve, then continues for at least 12 days after that. The neighbor generally rips down Christmas on Christmas day; I just take a deep breath and keep enjoying it until Epiphany.