C.S. Lewis once wrote, “You have never met a mere mortal.â€ Those words came to me as soon as I heard of the sudden and heartbreaking death of Tim Russert. He was no mere mortal.
The last time I saw Tim Russert was just 10 days ago. He came up to me as I was talking to his sparkling wife, Maureen Orth, about the school in Colombia that bears her name and is the focus of her passion. Tim asked me about my uncle Ted, who’s fighting cancer. He told me that he’d written to Ted to express his support. “I wrote him,â€ he said, “and told him that I was praying for him with my wood bead rosary. I told him that nothing beats praying with the wood bead rosary.â€
I’m not sure why, but on that particular day, I had my own wood bead rosary in my pocket, a rosary I’d bought in Nazareth last Christmas. As Tim spoke, my fingers were on the beads and I felt a rush of emotion and strength. I felt an immediate closeness to Tim and an immediate sense that my uncle was in God’s hands at that very moment. I could only smile.
I didn’t have any words. I simply pulled the rosary from my pocket, cupped it in my hands and showed it to Tim. He smiled. “You got it,â€ he said. And in the moment, I knew I did have “it.â€ And I knew he had “itâ€ too.
Many things will be written about the greatness of this brilliant journalist in the days ahead, and many people knew him far better than I. But I hope amid all the political and journalistic wisdom, people will remember that Tim Russert was a man raised and steeped in faith–a faith that focused on service, a faith that is confident in God’s plan, and a faith dedicated to the love of peace and the work of justice.
Life was the race that was most important to Tim Russert and he won it by a landslide. It was no accident that he loved people, loved the pursuit of the common good we call politics, loved his family. After all, he loved God and prayed with a wood bead rosary.
Tim Russert was no mere mortal. May his wife Maureen and his son Luke be comforted in believing that the mother of God to whom he prayed was with him at the hour of his death. Amen.
The poll reading gurus at FiveThirtyEight note a key demo shift. This lackluster appeal to the secular Americans, combined with David Brody’s analysis of McCain’s slow reach for faith voters seems like trouble.
According to Gallup, John McCain trails Barack Obama by 25 points among voters for whom religion is not “an important part of [their] daily life”. McCain leads by 5 points among those who answer that question in the affirmative.
These sorts of numbers are generally described as a problem for the Democratic candidate. However, as Ruy Teixeira pointed out four years ago, if you had to pick a sign of this divide to be on, it might be on the side of the secular. That is because by almost all indicators, religious participation in the United States is decreasing. According to a Pew poll, 45 percent of Americans now completely agree with the statement that “prayer is an important part of my daily life”, down from a peak of 55 percent in 1999. (There does appear to have a bit of a “God Bounce”/mini-revival in the mid-late 1990s — not so much in the number of religious Americans, but in the activity and enthusiasm of those that do practice).
Moreover, the younger generation is less religious than the older generation. 19 percent of those born after 1977 say they are atheist or agnostic, as compared with 11 percent of Boomers (born 1946-1964), and 5 perecnt of pre-Boomers (born before 1946).
Barack Obama, of course, does need to at least hold his own among actively religious voters, who constitute 65 percent of the electorate according to Gallup. He is able to do so thanks to substantial support from African-American and Latino voters, while trailing McCain by 25 points among actively religious, non-Hispanic whites. Nevertheless, if these generational trends hold, then each year a coalition based on actively religious voters will become marginally less successful.
Of course, the religious right will reconstitute some sort of mobilization, but clearly, the indicators place McCain in the middle of something like a Malthusian-scissor faith effect.