Religious Testing

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If we take seriously Damon Linker’s call for giving political candidates a religious test, what should the test look like? Unfortunately, this whole testing thing seems to have been a bit of a marketing afterthought to his new book, The Religious Test: Why We Must Question the Religious Beliefs of Our Leaders. As a result, the book’s very useful rehearsals of the various faith-based contentions of our time do not segue into a discussion of what The Religious Test should look like and how it might be administered.

For such, the reader is better advised to read the essay Linker wrote for the Washington Post a couple of months ago–the basis, one might hope, of a concluding chapter in his book’s second edition. There, the test consists of four questions:

How might the doctrines and practices of your religion conflict with the fulfillment of your official duties?

How would you respond if your church issued an edict that clashed with the duties of your office?

What do you believe human beings can know about nature and history?

Do you believe the law should be used to impose and enforce religious views of sexual morality?

While I’m not particularly sanguine about getting much useful out of candidates by way of answers, it does seem to me worth accustoming the citizenry to thinking that such questions are not out of order.

For some years now, it’s become almost common wisdom that JFK went too far in enunciating a separation of religion and politics in his 1960 speech to the Houston ministers. Well, if it’s important to bring one’s religious values to the table as a candidate for office, then it’s got to be OK for those values–and the doctrinal authority that may lie behind them–to be interrogated.