Our friends at Beliefnet.com (we are linked through Blog Heaven) have this strange little blog/graphic device going right now called the "God-o-Meter," which they are insisting is pronounced "Gah-DOM-meter." It's not the sort of thing that I would write about for Scripps Howard, under ordinary circumstances. However, this time I learned that the key man behind the fun is one Dan Gilgoff, a senior editor at U.S. News & World Report and, more importantly for me, the author of a very interesting book titled The Jesus Machine: How James Dobson, Focus on the Family and Evangelical America are Winning the Culture War.
Now, we can argue about the validity of that subtitle. However, I don't think there is much question that this is one of the best books that anyone has written about the Christian Right, both in terms of its balance and the wealth of material that Gilgoff -- who has done several interviews with Dobson -- has pulled together in its 315 pages.
All that aside, one of the most interesting chapters in the book comes at the very end and it has very little to do with Dobson. It's the chapter "Looking for God in the Democratic Party," and it focuses on the changes that the Democrats have made in their style and rhetoric (but not their policies) in the wake of the "values voter" earthquake.
Which leads us back to the "God-o-Meter." I have been looking for a hook to discuss The Jesus Machine and, as any GetReligion reader knows, I have also been interested for several years in developments on the Religious Left. That led to my Scripps Howard column for this week. So here is a key chunk of it. Let me know what you think of the "God-o-Meter" as a way of packaging news information for the Web. I think it's fun, but I am not sure that I am buying Hillary Clinton as a "theocrat." Here goes:
... (There's) a theological twist here. The "God-o-Meter" applies this "theocrat" label to liberals who want to see their religious convictions shape public policy (think global warning and health care) to the same degree that it does to conservatives (think abortion and the redefinition of marriage). Thus, at mid-week, theocrat Clinton had a seven rating, the same as Giuliani, and Obama's rating had soared to nine. Romney, meanwhile, was edging close to "secularist" territory, with a five rating.
The key is that the "God-o-Meter" tracks 20 criteria drawn from campaign tactics, such as whether a candidate "frames issues in religious or spiritual terms," "delivers a speech ... in an overtly religious setting" or openly "discusses his/her personal faith and how it would influence his/her presidency." A candidate would lose points, for example, by making "a remark offensive to an important religious constituency" or by declining to "discuss his/her personal faith life when asked, e.g. by a debate moderator."
Right now, words and symbolic actions are enough.
By the way, Romney has -- since I shipped the column to the D.C. bureau -- fallen to a four rating. That means he is now officially a "secularist" in the eyes of the "God-o-Meter" gang. Clinton is hanging in there at a seven rating, safely tucked away in the "theocrat" camp.