Two years ago, the excitement was palpable at the American Academy of Religion‘s annual gabfest in Chicago. The main hotel was the Magnificent Mile Hilton, from which you could look down at the white tents going up in Grant Park in anticipation of the election of Illinois favorite wunderkind Barack Obama to the highest office in the land.

This time around, the religionists are in Atlanta, which is kind of a metaphor for what is about to happen tomorrow: an island of blue engulfed in a tide of red. Not so long ago, Georgia enjoyed a moderate politics under the canny control of center-right white Democrats who understood that staying in power required the support of all the blacks and liberal whites they could muster. Since control flipped to the GOP in 2002, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has abandoned its downtown building and moved to the suburbs, jettisoning its liberal editorial page in favor of a clutch of conservative columnists that would do Fox proud.

News of the Million Moderate March filtered down through the internet and the likes of the Washington Post‘s Sally Quinn, who appeared at a session of the Religion and Politics section to announce her plans to double the traffic on the Post‘s On Faith webzine and make it “the dominant site for religion in the world.” Quinn said she was sorry that Christine O’Donnell wasn’t going to be elected to the Senate because anytime one of her bloggers posted something on O’Donnell, traffic went through the roof. I think she was only half kidding.

Religionists do tend to be moderate types, and know many stories of apocalyptic excitement that that ended up in great disappointments. Count them among those inclined to embrace Jon Stewart’s best line: “we live new in hard times–not end times.”

In Pew’s latest survey of voting preference by religion, every group (including those of no religion) showed a drift towards the GOP–except the Catholics. They remain where they’ve been for over a year: evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. Catholics know the difference between hard times and end times, and can keep the faith if they’ve a mind to. Call them the moderates of American religious politics.

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