The Cross In The Dirt, Ctd

Many readers have noted that versions of this story - attributed to Solzhenitsyn by Chuck Colson - have been a staple of evangelical sermons for a very long time. They aren't always attributed to Solzhenitsyn, but this sermon, preached by Father Luke Veronis, is a classic of the genre. It's a trope, a kind of urban legend in evangelical circles - and, of course, rooted in deep spiritual truth. Used in a sermon as a way to talk about Christ's redeeming power is one thing. Actually saying it happened to you in a specific place and time is another.

And of course, none of this would be salient were it not for the obvious motive for coopting the story. McCain has never been a very devout man. He doesn't come across that way in his first account of the story; and he doesn't come across that way now. But as the Christianists took over the GOP, he must have understood that this was a problem - especially against Bush in 2000. So in 1999, the story, already poignant and true in its particulars, changes into a much more grandiloquent and sectarian affair, echoing deep evangelical themes and tropes.

And it would not be salient if McCain hadn't deployed the anecdote in his own words - with a misleading image - in a campaign ad, and used it again in front of an evangelical audience Saturday night. And it would not be salient if religious fanatics had not a strangle-hold on the Republican party, seeking doctrinal assurances and echoes of their own type of faith in political candidates.

Here are the perfectly legitimate questions reporters should now, in my opinion, ask McCain:

why did you not mention this transcendent story in 1973? Why, in discussing three Christmases in captivity in Vietnam, was this story - far more powerful than any of the other anecdotes - omitted? How was it possible for the gun guard of May 1969 to be present at Christmas that year when McCain had been transferred to another camp? Is it possible that McCain's memory has faded with time and that he has simply fused his own memories with other stories - as Clinton did with Bosnia sniper fire and as Kerry did in remembering another Christmas he could not have actually witnessed where he said he did?

And why are we not allowed to ask these questions, when they relate to one of the most important questions anyone can ask about a president: the question of integrity? If McCain has fabricated a religious epiphany for political purposes, it is about as deep a betrayal of core integrity as one can imagine, and the latest example of how pernicious the religious domination of political life in America has become.