Life in the Marketplace of Ideas
A President's Faith Matters: An Interview with Warren Cole Smith
Actually, we do ask airplane pilots what their religion is, at least indirectly. I have a theologian friend who is fond of saying, "There are no postmodern airplane pilots." By that he means that pilots are not just people who have learned what levers to push and what knobs to twist, but they are people who have a core set of beliefs and values about how the universe operates. They understand and believe in the physical laws of the universe. The behavior of an airplane pilot is not random. His behavior in the cockpit directly connects to his beliefs about the world.
But even if you reject that argument, I would further argue that successfully navigating the office of the president is not a job for a technician or tradesman, someone who has trained his muscles to push levers and twist knobs. Indeed, our government has gotten so large and complex, he couldn't possibly even know where every lever or knob is. Theodore Roosevelt rightly said that the presidency was a "bully pulpit." The president provides moral leadership. George H.W. Bush was, from a technical point of view, probably the best-prepared president of the twentieth century. He had served at every level from congressman to vice president. But he was widely lampooned—and banished from office after one term—because he couldn't master "the vision thing." The president projects an image of America to the world. We have a right to expect that the man or woman who fills that chair projects a vision consistent with the beliefs, values, and ideals we've long held as a country. If Romney can make his case to the American people that he shares these values, then he will deserve to win and he likely will win. But that will take some very heavy lifting.
Finally, I can't help observing that the very nature of this question highlights the trouble we have in talking about these questions in the twenty-first century. There is a false dichotomy in our era between the sacred and the secular. To suggest that religious belief might be either a product or predictor of behavior, especially that false beliefs might lead to dangerous or destructive behavior, is simply outside the modernists' narrow, essentially materialistic cosmology.
Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times and Michael Otterson in the Washington Post have accused you of imposing a de facto "religious test." You wrote that Mitt or anyone who promotes a false and dangerous religion is "unfit to serve." Do you mean that Mitt and others like him should have no right to run, or that there should be a law against such a person running? Or do you simply mean that Christians ought not to vote for him?
I found these accusations, like the charge of bigotry, to be mostly unhelpful. First of all, the term "religious test" generally has a specific meaning. Article VI, Section 3 of the Constitution says, "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." Religion cannot be used by the state as a qualifier or a disqualifier for office. What this means, and what I affirm, is that Mitt Romney or anyone else has the right to run. The accusation that I was calling for a "religious test" was a textbook "straw man" fallacy.
That said, let me clarify what I said about being "unfit to serve." That sentence in context is this: "I believe a candidate who either by intent or effect promotes a false and dangerous religion is unfit to serve." I struggle to understand how anyone could disagree with that statement. Where the disagreement occurs is my further assertion that Mormonism is false and dangerous and that a Romney presidency would promote Mormonism. I know that even some evangelical Christians disagree with me on this point. They say that a Romney presidency would not promote Mormonism. I respectfully disagree, and I think the stakes are too high—people's souls—to play around in the gray areas and hope we got it right.
Dr. Timothy Dalrymple is the Associate Director of Content at Patheos, and writes weekly on faith, politics, and culture for Patheos' Evangelical Portal. Follow him at his blog, Philosophical Fragments, on Facebook or on Twitter.