Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Religious Litmus Test

For a nation that supposedly separates Church and State, it is both sad and ironic that we have a religious litmus test for those who wish to become President of the United States.

The test is an odd one, however. First you have to belong to a religion that doesn’t make most Americans nervous. At the moment that means Christianity and Judaism (Islam has made it into Congress, but it will take awhile to get beyond that). Belonging to Wicca or Santeria, for example, will probably keep you out of the Oval Office, for the foreseeable future.

Second you have to be willing to deny your faith in public: not deny that you are a believer, only deny that being a believer matters when it comes to being president: “While I have my personal beliefs, I seek to be president of all Americans, and will not foist my beliefs on others.” And with that we are all supposed to sigh with relief.

A president who can turn off his or her personal convictions for political gain, however, troubles me. If you really believe abortion is murder, then stand up, say so, and try to have it made illegal. I can respect that. But waffling on morality makes me nervous.

If we are going to have a religious litmus test let’s find out exactly what our presidential candidates believe. I would like to see presidential debate moderates ask the following questions:

“Is it true, Governor Romney, that as a Mormon you believe God has a wife?”

“Those of you who deny evolution in favor of creationism, just how old do you think the earth is?”

“Those of you professing the Christian faith, do you believe that non–Christian Americans are going to burn in hell for all eternity?”

“To those of you who profess to be Catholics, I would like to know how you are willing to risk your eternal soul and support American policies and laws the Catholic Church finds offensive?”

“Do you believe homosexuality is an abomination to God, and how do you feel about woman’s rights and their status within your respective churches?”

I would find the answers to these questions very helpful in making my choice on Election Day. I would not vote for a president who refused to take science seriously. I would not vote for a president who thought I was going to be tormented in hell for all eternity. I would not vote for a racist, a homophobe, a misogynist, or surrogate for the Pope. I would not vote for a person who simply accepted religious doctrine without thinking it through and questioning it and coming to her or his own conclusions. In short, I would not vote for a person so totally unlike myself as to make me feel threatened in my own country. But unless we ask these kinds of questions, we won’t know for whom we are voting until it is too late.

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