A re­li­gious test for a pres­i­dent

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - Opin­ion by Wes­ley Pru­den

We’re get­ting close to the be­gin­ning of the new pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cy­cle, so we must get back to Sunday school. The pun­dits are pars­ing re­li­gion again. Some­body has to pose the lib­er­als’ re­li­gious test for pub­lic of­fice.

Bill Keller, ex­ec­u­tive editor of the New York Times, thinks the na­tion is in peril be­cause sev­eral Repub­li­can can­di­dates — and the in­cum­bent pres­i­dent as well — are men and women of re­li­gious faith. Mr. Keller likens re­li­gious faith to claims “that space aliens dwell among us” and says pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates should be put to a faith test to de­ter­mine whether they’re fit to hold pub­lic of­fice. A be­lief that ex­trater­res­trial crea­tures have vis­ited Earth doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily dis­qual­ify a can­di­date “out of hand,” he says, but a care­ful voter “would cer­tainly want to ask a few ques­tions.”

It’s not easy for lib­er­als like Mr. Keller to live in a cor­rupt, rot­ten so­ci­ety like ours, where ev­ery four years right-think­ing cit­i­zens who read the New York Times, va­ca­tion on Martha’s Vine­yard and eat their or­ganic peas have to take a primer on what the crazy church folk, with whom they’re doomed to share the planet, be­lieve is important. This year it’s Michele Bach­mann and Rick Perry who pop­u­late the worst night­mares of good and wor­thy folk. Four years ago it was Pres­i­dent Obama and whether he shared the kooky racist be­liefs of his Chicago pas­tor. He said he didn’t, and he gave a Chris­tian tes­ti­mony that would sat­isfy a fun­da­men­tal­ist test of faith. Eight years ago, Joe Lieber­man had to demon­strate that his Ortho­dox Judaism wouldn’t pre­vent his get­ting the lights turned on at the White House on a Satur­day. Be­fore that it was Jimmy Carter’s born-again faith, a straight­for­ward description of spir­i­tual con­ver­sion that the chat­ter­ing class never could quite get straight (though it did sym­pa­thize with the lust Mr. Jimmy said he held in his heart).

Re­li­gion just doesn’t frighten Amer­i­cans who live south and west of the Up­per East Side of Man­hat­tan. Three of 4 Amer­i­cans tell poll­sters they pray, a ma­jor­ity at­tend re­li­gious ser­vices at least oc­ca­sion­ally, and many are there ev­ery time the church doors swing open. We’ve got two dozen kinds of Bap­tists, mil­lions of Ro­man Catholics, nine kinds of Methodists and Pres­by­te­ri­ans, seven brands of Men­non­ites, five fla­vors of Quak­ers, a dozen de­nom­ina- tions of Ortho­dox Chris­tians from the East (some not nec­es­sar­ily very ortho­dox), 10 Lutheran bod­ies, four or­ga­nized va­ri­eties of Jews, enough Mus­lims, an as­sort­ment of two dozen kinds of Pen­te­costals, and there’s even Bill Keller Min­istries Inc., which ad­ver­tises it­self as “the world’s On­line Church.” You can find it on the In­ter­net. There’s no in­di­ca­tion whether this is an­other Bill Keller or whether Bill the Pun­dit is moon­light­ing from his day job at the news­pa­per. That’s just the list of fla­vors from the World Al­manac; there are oth­ers. God talk doesn’t frighten most folks be­cause it’s the ba­sis of the moral codes that still guide most of us.

Amer­i­cans have a right to ask a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date about any­thing, and there are no dumb ques­tions. Only dumb an­swers. A lot of ex-can­di­dates who gave dumb an­swers could tell you that through scald­ing tears of bit­ter re­mem­brance. Mr. Keller thinks he sets traps for Messrs. Perry and Rom­ney and Mzz Bach­man with dev­il­ishly clever ques­tions, such as: Do you think Amer­ica is a “Chris­tian na­tion” or a “Judeo-Chris­tian” na- tion? Would you ap­point a Mus­lim to the fed­eral bench? Should the the­ory of evo­lu­tion be taught in the pub­lic schools? Is it fair to hold of­fen­sive re­marks by a can­di­date’s pas­tor against the can­di­date?

These are per­fectly le­git­i­mate po­lit­i­cal ques­tions, eas­ily an­swered by le­git­i­mate po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates. The cul­ture, the zeit­geist of Amer­ica, is ob­vi­ously Chris­tian, both Judeo and oth­er­wise. That’s ex­actly what in­fu­ri­ates Mr. Keller and his like-minded un­be­liev­ers. A Mus­lim is as qual­i­fied as a Methodist to be a fed­eral judge if he is qual­i­fied in the law and holds only to the Con­sti­tu­tion and shuns Is­lamic law. Evo­lu­tion should of course be taught in the schools as a sci­en­tific the­ory, but not as a quasi-re­li­gious doc­trine. We’re all re­spon­si­ble for the rep­u­ta­tions we make, and if we hang out with crack­pot pas­tors and un­re­pen­tant killers, we have to take the con­se­quences.

But some of the peo­ple who imag­ine they’re hon­est skep­tics only pre­tend their ques­tions are about pol­i­tics, when they’re re­ally about mock­ing re­li­gious be­lief. John F. Kennedy put such ques­tions to rest, and the rest is his­tory. Rick Perry, Mitt Rom­ney and Michele Bach­mann have a solid prece­dent.

Wes­ley Pru­den is editor emer­i­tus of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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