Watch Out for Mixing Religion and Politics, Charlie Brown

Underneath the Halloween fun of "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!" -- the TV special that aired on ABC Friday night and was first broadcast 40 years ago -- the animated kids from Peanuts surprisingly get into some ugly theological disagreements.

Linus is alone amongst his friends in believing in the Great Pumpkin, who he says "rises out of the pumpkin patch" and "flies through the air and brings toys to all the children of the world."

Snoopy laughs at him.

"That's a good story," says Sally, sarcastically.

"You're wasting your time," shrieks Patty. "The Great Pumpkin is a fake!"

And even the normally supportive Charlie Brown tells Linus, "You must be crazy. When are you going to stop believing in something that isn't true?"

Sectarian strife among "Peanuts" -- more relevant than ever 40 years later.

But even more relevant was the second Charlie Brown special that aired Friday -- 1972's "You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown." In that semi-obscure animated feature, Linus runs for student body president of Birchwood Elementary School.

He takes to it pretty well, calling for longer recesses and the abolition of homework. And for a kid with a security blanket, he sounds pretty Republican, declaring that, "We are in the midst of a moral decline." According to polling by older sister Lucy, Linus is running ahead 99.8 percent to 0.2 for his opponent Russell.

That is, until the final debate, when Linus decides to share with the school his belief in the Great Pumpkin. He's laughed off the stage and his campaign takes a huge hit.

Linus apparently didn't know that some candidates have to muffle the most controversial -- even extreme -- aspects of their religious beliefs if they want to win.

In 1993, George W. Bush told a reporter that his evangelical faith teaches him that only Christians go to heaven. But running for president in 2000, he came up with an artful dodge, telling voters during a January 2000 GOP primary debate that "governors don't decide who gets to heaven, no sir. God decides who goes to heaven."

These days, Republican Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney hopes to become the first Mormon president. But when asked to explain his religion, Romney chooses to emphasize Jesus and de-emphasize the latter-day saints.

On "The Charlie Rose Show" in June, Romney said that when asked about his faith, he says, "Jesus Christ is my savior. But then as you get into the details of doctrines, I'd probably say, 'Look, time out, let's focus on the values that we share.' "

Emphasizing the differences and seeming fanatical can alienate voters. Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore -- of the courthouse 10 Commandments monument fame -- lost his race for governor earlier this year in the GOP primary.

With his Great Pumpkin fanaticism, Linus, too, plummeted in the polls.

Complained Lucy, "We ring doorbells and make campaign posters and build up the candidate's image. And then he says something stupid and ruins everything we've done."

Well, at least Linus never called anyone "macaca."