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Kerry's religious references

I HAVE BEEN following John Kerry's career for 22 years, ever since his 1982 run for lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. I have encountered him in small private gatherings and in large public settings. I have spoken about him often with people who know him well. I have read innumerable accounts of his non-political passions and pastimes. And if at any point during all those years you had asked me whether I thought Kerry was a religious man, I would have answered without hesitation: ''No, not at all.''

I would have had plenty of company, too. A Time magazine poll in June found that only 7 percent of voters would describe Kerry as a man of strong religious faith. But over the past few months - ever since that poll came out, come to think of it - a whole new Kerry has emerged.

The senator who had never shown much public interest in religion suddenly can't seem to stop talking about it. Biblical quotations now lace his speeches. He makes a point of referring to himself as a former altar boy. He frequently attends church - particularly churches in battleground states. He (or his staff) has let it be known that on the campaign trail he wears a crucifix and carries a rosary, a prayer book, and a St. Christopher medal.

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At the Democratic convention in Boston, religious references abounded - from Barack Obama's keynote address (''We worship an awesome God in the Blue States'') to Senator Joseph Biden's reference to ''Joshua's trumpets'' and ''the walls of Jericho'' to former Senator Max Cleland's introduction of Kerry on the final night (''The Bible tells me that no greater love has a man than to lay down his life for his friends''). In his own acceptance speech, Kerry declared that ''faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday.''

And since then, the ''religification of John Kerry,'' as Steven Waldman, the editor of Beliefnet, has termed it, has grown even more pronounced.

Over and over, the Democratic nominee indicts President Bush by quoting from the Book of James - ''What does it mean, my brother, to say you have faith if there are no deeds? . . . Faith without works is dead.'' When he was asked, during one debate with Bush, what role faith would play in his policy decisions, he answered in part: ''Everything is a gift from the Almighty. . . I went to a church school and I was taught that the two greatest commandments are: 'Love the Lord your God with all your mind, your body, and your soul,' and 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' ''

On Sunday, this flood of God-talk reached something of a crescendo, when Kerry managed to quote not only the usual passage from James, but three of the four Gospels, the Ten Commandments, and even ''Amazing Grace.'' Part of his message was about the sustaining power of faith, but most of the religious references were connected to a vigorous denunciation of the Bush administration. As The New York Times reported it yesterday, ''Kerry said that Christians believed in caring for the sick, housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, and stopping violence but that the administration was not heeding those teachings.   Continued...

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