Monday, October 17, 2011

The Place of Religion in Political Evaluation

At today’s edition of Breakpoint Charles Colson makes this statement:

First, there is no religious test for public office. If you don’t believe me, check out the Constitution of the United States, Article VI, Paragraph 3. The public statements of some evangelicals that they wouldn’t vote for Romney because of his Mormonism would cause the Founding Fathers to spin in their graves.

Surely Colson knows that the section of the Constitution to which he refers has no reference to why people might decide to vote as they do for President.  The “no religious tests” for office means that a person must not be prohibited from running for, or serving in, an office under the Constitution, based on that person’s religious views.

So the fact that someone might decide not to vote for a candidate because of the candidate’s religion would not cause any Founding Fathers to rotate in their repose.  Some of them would have agreed that religion is not important when considering a candidate; others, I am fairly sure, would not agree.  But we can’t sort that out here.

The rest of what Colson says makes the point that religion can be a distraction when considering people for political office.  While I agree that religion can be a distraction when evaluating candidates, I do not think that it always is, or must be.

Any religion, when taken seriously, implies a worldview.  Chuck Colson should be aware of this, since he devotes much effort to helping people think through their worldviews.

The worldviews implied by some religious views could be a very reasonable consideration when evaluating candidates for political offices.  For example, the oath of office carries much less force if there is no transcendent being to which we must answer for our deeds.

An animistic worldview, in which spirits inhabit what we think of as inanimate objects, could have a profound effect on policy decisions.  The list of such possibilities here is very long.

If a candidate does not take his religious views very seriously, he might work out fairly well in spite of them.  But if office-holders don’t take their religious views seriously, are they really people we should trust in public office?  What does that kind of inconsistency say about a person?

But, assuming that candidates do take their religious views seriously, what might Mormonism imply for political office?  Mormonism is not Christianity.  But I am not convinced that only Christians could be good office-holders.  However, Mormonism holds to some very weird – and that is putting it rather mildly – views that go far beyond simply not being Christian.

For example, Mormonism teaches that God was once an ordinary human being, and that ordinary humans beings like us can, if we do enough Mormon-defined good deeds, someday become divine and rule our own universes.  What bearing does this have on political views?

I am not completely sure at this point.  But religious views that freakish are enough to at least make me think about all this more carefully.

If you think religious views are simply meaningless for the rest of your view of life and reality, then they are not politically important.  But Chuck Colson does not think that.  So it is especially strange to see him dismiss them as he does here.

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