At FrumForum Alex Knepper—who believes all religions are “equally bizarre and irrational”—argues that Mitt Romney should be judged based on his religion:
If freedom requires religion, if his Mormon faith sustains his life and he will be true to those practices, then I’m at an utter loss as to why we should ignore Romney’s religious beliefs when evaluating his fitness for the White House.
We ask plenty of questions of any evangelical Christian candidate: what do his beliefs about the nature of God, the nature of the cosmos, and the meaning of man’s life mean for his potential tenure in office? But for whatever reason, these questions are looked at as unnecessarily piercing and prejudiced when asked of a member of a minority faith.
When Sarah Palin gave her fumbling answer about Israel’s settlements, several commentators jumped on her faith, wondering whether she subscribed to the bizarre but potent sect of modern Christianity that believes in the imminence of the End Times. Will anyone ask Mitt Romney about the oddities of the dogma of the Mormon Church? There are plenty of Mormon doctrines that may strike people as a bit odd — and rightly so. It is established in the church that the devout can reach the upper echelons of heaven and eventually become gods themselves, able to create their own movie downloads universes and govern them as they see fit (all while supervised by the One True God). Why is it that when I bring this up to Romney fans, I am dismissed as a bigot?
As an atheist, I both understand and accept that in a predominantly Christian society, my thoughts on religion are necessarily going to open me up to questions. If I were to ever run for office (don’t count on that, by the way), I would not expect that my supporters would try to ward off any questions about my atheism with the victim-card of discrimination. One’s philosophy of religion contributes profoundly to his worldview and thus is a completely valid criterion by which to partially evaluate a candidate’s fitness for office.
Knepper has a valid point about certain religious beliefs and traditions being fair game for scrutiny while others are off-limits. There is a peculiar double-standard in place, though the criteria for which ones are included is difficult to discern. I also agree that religious beliefs—indeed I would include all beliefs of any type—should be considered fair game when evaluating a candidate. The question Knepper leaves unanswered, though, is how such beliefs are to be evaluated in the public square. Where is the line between reasonable criticism and irrational bigotry?
Personally, I’m open to being exceedingly tolerant of raw religious bigotry as long as its accompanied by a healthy portion of religious liberty. When we enter the public square I’m willing to allow anyone to make whatever nasty remarks they like about evangelicalism as long as I can presents arguments that are rooted in my faith and that are given a fair hearing.
Not everyone, however, is willing to offer such a compromise. How do we accommodate those who believe both that their religious convictions shape their thinking and that these beliefs are too personal to be scrutinized in public?
(I should add that I while I have plenty of criteria for judging Romney, I don’t know enough about Mormonism to even begin to know how to evaluate how his religious beliefs would affect policy. However, I do understand premillennial dispensationalism and would be leery of any candidate who believed that particular eschatological view should influence their Middle East policy. In this sense, then, I might be more wary of the religious beliefs of a fellow evangelical than I would be of a Mormon candidate.)