9.6.07

Religious Tests

Should a candidate's religious beliefs matter?

A while back, TIME's cover story brought up the question of religion, specifically about Republican candidate and Mormon, Mitt Romney.
John F. Kennedy's election in 1960 was supposed to have laid the "religious question" to rest, yet it arises again with a fury. What does the Constitution mean when it says there should be no religion test for office? It plainly means that a candidate can't be barred from running because he or she happens to be a Quaker or a Buddhist or a Pentecostal. But Mitt Romney's candidacy raises a broader issue: Is the substance of private beliefs off-limits? You can ask if a candidate believes in school vouchers and vote for someone else if you disagree with the answer. But can you ask if he believes that the Garden of Eden was located in Jackson County, Mo., as the Mormon founder taught, and vote against him on the grounds of that answer? Or, for that matter, because of the kind of underwear he wears?

Slate editor Jacob Weisberg threw down the challenge after reviewing some of Joseph Smith's more extravagant assertions. "He was an obvious con man," Weisberg wrote. "Romney has every right to believe in con men, but I want to know if he does, and if so, I don't want him running the country." That argument, counters author and radio host Hugh Hewitt, amounts to unashamed bigotry and opens the door to any person of any faith who runs for office being called to account for the mysteries of personal belief. He has published A Mormon in the White House?, a chronicle of Romney's rise as business genius, Olympic savior, political star. But Hewitt has a religious mission as well when he cites a survey in which a majority of Evangelicals said voting for a Mormon was out of the question. If that general objection means they would not consider Romney in 2008, Hewitt warns, then prejudice is legitimized, and "it will prove a disastrous turning point for all people of faith in public life."


I am not one of those who believe the founding fathers were infallible, but I think they were right to prohibit any sort of religious test for elected officials. That doesn't stop individual voters from having their own religious tests.

If a candidate believes in God, should we say, "Eh, it really won't affect things," or say "Is he retarded or just crazy?" or say "We need him in power so our country has God on our side"? Most people are of the first, moderate opinion, as long as the candidate believes what they do. If his beliefs seem strange, then they go with the second and think he is crazy. If he is Wiccan, he's a godless pagan. If he's a Scientologist, we rightly call him out for belonging to a cult. If he's an atheist, then he has no morals. But there is no official religious test.

Why is it that people who hold religious beliefs can clearly see that all other religions are preposterous, yet they cannot see the flaws in their own beliefs? Let's examine a few religions:

Scientology [The Church of Scientology does not officially consider itself a religion]: Our problems today are because an ancient galactic ruler named Xenu trapped billions of aliens in a volcano, nuked them, and then brainwashed their ghosts, who now inhabit our bodies.
Clearly this is stupid.

Mormons [I know the religion is called the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints. That's just too long to write and LDS sounds like a mental handicap. Mormon sounds slightly less like a mental handicap]: God gave Joseph Smith a set of gold plates which said that the first man and woman lived in Missouri and that Native Americans came from Jerusalem, were visited by Jesus, and had their skin turned red by God when they rejected him.
Clearly this is stupid.

Christianity: The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was literally his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and drink his blood and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil curse on your soul that is present in humanity because a rib woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magic tree.
Why isn't this clearly stupid?

But back to the original question. Should a candidates religious beliefs matter? Can we accept a President who admits he holds stupid ideas about cosmology? Isn't it more important that they know more relevant things like economics and foreign relations? I previously supported the idea of an Egghead for the Oval Office, but do we really need a President that can explain M-theory?

Yes, it does matter. A willful irrationality in one area is a good indicator of a willful irrationality in others. Faith is the absence of reason. If any religious beliefs could be tested or proven, they would be considered scientific theories. Unfortunately, most Americans are not entirely rational themselves, and they want the man representing them to hold the same superstitions.

"I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."

"But," says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves that you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. Q.E.D."

"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

"Oh, that was easy," says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing. Most leading theologians claim that this argument is a load of dingo's kidneys, but that didn't stop Oolon Colluphid making a small fortune when he used it as the central theme of his best-selling book, Well That About Wraps It Up For God.

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