Contrary to popular opinion, American voters need to establish a religious test for public office. Not a formal religious test mind you, not one that explicitly favours one religion over another, nor one that explicitly bans a certain religion or a certain sect of one religion. But one that makes it clear exactly what a candidate is saying when they proudly proclaim, “I am a Christian” or “I am a Mormon” etc. Now I understand the very thought of this will make a lot of people cringe, and very likely a few Founding Fathers roll over in their graves. A few of you constitution buffs will be madly pointing to Article Six of the constitution or maybe the First Amendment. However it is needed. The reason? Religion has proved to be impossible to extricate from anything, let alone governance. When we elect someone, whether for religious reasons or not, they bring their religion with them. It informs them. It comforts them. It prejudices them. Not only does it shape their worldview, it is usually a product of it. To those who espouse it, religion is a defining characteristic of their lives. But most importantly, religions inevitably contain many characteristics, histories and prejudices etc. that are anathema to intellectual thought. If candidates are willing to overlook or explain these away, how can we trust their intellectual credentials? And so we must put them to the test.
Now I am by no means a religious scholar. I did at one time consider myself a Christian, and I regularly attended Sunday school and then regular church. I also have a fair number of Muslim family members, and have lived and spent a lot of time in a predominantly Buddhist country (Sri Lanka), so I consider myself fairly versed in both religions for someone who has not explicitly studied either. However, supreme theological knowledge is not needed for this debate. Anyone who has read criticisms of major religions soon realises that to subscribe wholeheartedly to any one of them necessitates a certain amount of intellectual bankruptcy. To a T, the major holy books are rife with inconsistencies (both with themselves as well as archaeological evidence and science), with illogical arguments, events and reasoning (why would God put his son/prophet on earth thousands of years before the largest simultaneous amount of people are present and in need of saving?), and have been “reformed”, rewritten (with the exception of the Koran) and rethought so as to comply with modern circumstances. The more fringe religions such as Mormonism suffer even more under the scrutiny (Was Joseph Smith convicted of Fraud? Why would God give the Golden plates to an illiterate person when there were plenty of literate people around? Why were only close friends and relations of Joseph Smith allowed to view the plates?). So how can supposedly intelligent people subscribe and even evangelise such causes? Furthermore, it does not make sense that such an important part of someone’s life, that says so much about him or her, could be off limits to inspection.
The person that eventually wins the 2012 US Presidential election will have an important part to play in a pivotal moment in history. The US is on the decline, and it will take someone with extraordinary intelligence and critical thinking to overcome the challenges both he or she and their country will face. Much of the new challenges will be concentrated in the highly nuanced fields of foreign policy and economics: What should we do about Iran’s possible nuclear proliferation? How much assistance can we be seen giving the burgeoning Arab democracies? Can we continue to blindly support Israel? Are tax cuts really a magic pill? How can we restore economic confidence? These are tough questions that require both brave and intelligent answers. There will be many opinions and many interested parties. And who the US selects to guide the ship through these waters must be up to the job. Maybe the candidate’s religious choices can offer us more information on their characters, intelligence and critical thinking. For example: What kind of person believes in magic underwear? Is someone who blindly accepts the story of Noah in the absence of evidence critical enough? If someone believes in reincarnation, are they more likely to send troops into battle? Can someone who is not horrified with what God will do to unbelievers, be trusted with a Nuclear weapon? Can someone who believes God has a chosen people and they are entitled to a specific piece of land, be trusted to broker a peace?
Religion is an important part of the 2012 Presidential race, and is especially an important part of the candidate’s personalities. Article Six prohibits an official religious test for the attainment of public office, however there is nothing stopping the public judging based on the candidates religious belief. And by their constant religious pronouncements, the candidates are asking for it. They proudly proclaim allegiance to one religion or another, whether for political expediency or not, and blindly go along with that religions faults. They either make excuses for those faults or blindly will them away. Neither are signs of supreme intelligence. The situation demands intelligence.