For years, Democrats have been trying to shed their secular image in order to appeal to voters who think Jesus is a Republican. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for, because now, thanks to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the Democrats have got religion and everything that comes with it — weirdness, wrath, insult, blowhardiness, vanity, paranoia, divisiveness and trouble. When Barack Obama told the 2004 Democratic convention, “We worship an awesome god in the blue states,” this probably wasn’t the result he had in mind.

By repudiating Wright Tuesday, Obama missed a chance to call on McCain to turn away from his own problematic clerical helpers. McCain still welcomes the endorsement of the televangelist John Hagee, who has famously attributed Hurricane Katrina to God’s wrath at homosexuals, calls the Catholic church “the great whore,” claims the Koran commands Muslims to kill Jews and Christians, condemns the Harry Potter books as witchcraft, and wants a world war over Israel, whose most aggressive settlement policies he vigorously supports, because it will precipitate the Second Coming of Christ.

As Sarah Posner lays out in an excellent post for TAPPED, Wright and Hagee have a lot in common. Both believe that chickens come home to roost–in New Orleans, on 9/11–and that God sends them. Both think America is sinful. Both have bizarre ideas with terrible, real-world implications: Hagee wants the US and israel to attack Iran to bring on the end times; Rev. Wright claims the United States government invented the HIV virus “as a means of genocide against people of color.”

The fact is, if Wright were a white wingnut, the media–and the voters–would give him the pass they give Hagee- and Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and the other radical-right preachers, who say vicious, bigoted, nutty things that violate common sense and common decency all the time. The press portrays these divines in various ways — respectable men of the cloth or shrewd political operators or occasionally even as crazy old coots– but it doesn’t get anywhere near as worked up about them, or about their closeness to Republican politicians, as it did about Wright. You probably don’t even know that McCain accepted the endorsement of the Ohio Pentecostal minister Rod Parsley, campaigned with him in Cincinnati and praised him as a “moral compass” and a “spiritual guide”–Rod Parsley, who in addition to the customary anti-gay obsessions, has described Allah as a “demon spirit” and Islam as a “false religion” the United States was “in part” founded in order to destroy in holy war!

McCain’s defenders want the press to make much of the fact that Wright was Obama’s pastor for many years, while Hagee and Parsley are not personally close to McCain. Why that is the difference that should matter is beyond me– why isn’t it more important that McCain has sought out these warmongering preachers and specifically said their position on the Middle East is what he likes about them? Pretty scary!

But here’s the larger point: If we kept religion out of the election campaign, we could just debate the issues, like rational people. After all, which is less likely, that the HIV virus came out of a government lab, or that the dead will rise from their graves? That Israel is on a course that is not likely to end well, or that God wants more West Bank settlements in order to set off a world war and bring on Christ’s return? Empirical claims we can discuss and debate like citizens; religious beliefs, by their very nature, claim immunity from rational analysis. When men whose profession is the latter weigh in on the former, why should anyone take them seriously?

As Barack Obama has perhaps belatedly learned, the Democrats had it right the first time: Awesome,blue-state, red-state, whatever — keep God out of it, and the men who claim to speak for him, too.