Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Should a Presidential candidate's religious views be taken into account?

Mark Kleiman over at The Reality-Based Community posted this last month, criticizing Richard John Neuhaus, a Catholic, for encouraging voting against Mitt Romney because of his Mormonism. Kleiman apparently feels that this is mere hypocrisy and prejudice, that the same tack could be taken against a Catholic candidate, and that apparently only sheer tenacity can justify a belief in any religion.

Should a candidate's religious beliefs be taken into account? It's a fair question, and in a way it goes all the way down to the glory and the agony of our democratic process. On the one hand, most people probably regard a candidate's faith a matter of, well, faith, something that does not need to be convincing or corroborated by any objective standard. On the other hand, few would hestitate to condemn a cult, or to slap a branch davidian upside the head, or a scientologist for that matter, if a lawsuit was not so sure to follow. Mankind is (allegedly) a rational species, and we should resort to "faith" only when we lack the present ability or knowledge to explain what our intuition tells us. Faith is a gap-filler where we seek to act without a rational explanation. But when faith and reason contradict, we should at least be skeptical, for if there is a God, his nature is surely one of reason, and wants us to discern truth from craziness.

As for Mormonism, most of what I know is derived from South Park. There are Mormons who are idiots. But there are Christians and Jews and Muslims and everything else who are idiots. I know Mormons who are much smarter than me. And I know of Christians who engage in anal sex to keep their virginity intact. It's a mad mad world out there. We need to ask the questions to see who we're dealing with. And saying that something is a matter of "faith" is not a get out of jail free card.

So I say, go ahead, factor in Romney's religious beliefs in making your vote. But ask the questions first. What is his defense for his faith? Does he test his beliefs? If not, chances are he won't test his other beliefs either, and that's a dangerous thing, because that means he's an idiot. But don't just vote for the Mormon guy, or the Catholic guy, or the Protestant guy. Because that means that you're the idiot.

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