Should there be a religious test for office?

Broadly, questions fall into two types: natural or theological. Natural questions are those open to scientific investigation. Example of natural questions are:

  • Is global climate change caused by human activity?
  • Would al Qaeda cease attacking us if we ceased supporting Isreal and Saudi Arabia?
  • Should the United States military include both blitzkrieg and COIN capacity

Theological questions, on the other hand, question the nature of God and His relationship to other things. Examples of theological questions are:

  • Is there Hypostatic Union of Human and Divine Nature in the Second Person of the Trinity?
  • Do all non-Missouri-Lutherans go to Hell?
  • Can Allah destroy the Koran?

In general, one might say that deciding who to vote for on account of natural questions is applying a “natural test.” Likewise, deciding who to vote for on account of theological questions would be applying a “religious test.”

Certainly, some people use religious reasons to answer natural questions. Thus, Paul argued that Christians should support the State, while Martin Luther King, Jr. agitated for civil rights for American blacks. Though some people are uncomfortable with religious motives for natural tests, there exists a broad consensus that religious beliefs can meaningfully inform political and economic structure, among both Catholics and Protestants.

However, fewer people support the idea of Religious Tests for office. Left-leaning Salon snickered at evangelicals who refused to vote for Mitt Romney. Even right-wing commentators limited their concern over a Muslim congressman to how he would answer natural questions.

Thus, I was surprised that Eddie of Hidden Unities argued in favor of a religious test for President. Specifically, Eddie appeared to argue for a cordon sanitaire against ministers who give incorrect answers to the theological question of who will go to Heaven or Hell, among other things.

I was taken aback by Eddie’s assertion. So far my friend has neither supported nor renounced his claim, though it has made me think about a question that previously I took to be a no-brainer. So

Should there be a religious test for government office?

If so, which theological questions must candidates and their associates answer correctly?

17 thoughts on “Should there be a religious test for office?”

  1. Ideally the religious test would be: do you mix religious belief with public policy? If yes, then epic fail. Leave theological questions to the theologians. They have no place in government.

  2. I agree with Younghusband above. “Separation of church and state” (should) entail a separation of the natural and supernatural, regardless of who believes what.

    Unless perhaps it’s the “Martin Luther = bad”, “Martin Luther King = good” test. 😉

  3. Dr. King was an activist, and not an elected member of state, thus it is a moot point. We are talking about office. So Huckabee, for example, is an epic fail.

  4. This is a terrible idea. And I in no way shape or form argued for a religious test. I was responding to the hypocrisy of those on the Right and Left who slammed Rev. Wright yet have sucked up to bigots in the pulpit who have done far worse damage to this country and brought it much more shame than he ever did.

    Instead of an honest debate about which is more damaging to our society (and in the case of pastors demonizing Muslims, spreading talk of holy war against them, and misinforming their congregations about them, damaging our national security), I get this BS game from Dan about a so-called religious test.

  5. Yet within the context of a “said” religious test… 20% or so of Americans known as the “Christian conservatives” and evangelicals have arguably been utilizing a religion test for the past 10-20 years in their election day voting decisions.

  6. Further, if you are right about the acolytes of doom and gloom global warming (and I agree with you on them), they could constitute a bloc performing a religious test on voting day and in general for those in office. That’s maybe 5-10% of the population now thanks to all the Gore/Hollywood/MSM propoganda…

  7. fl,

    Haha! 🙂

    How though can you approve of King and not allow theologically informed answers to natural questions? (Other, that is, from just approving of the intermixing that produces results you agree with.)


    Eddie’s proposed religious test [1] was relating to ministers who were active in politics, a category that would include Martin Luther King.


    Among other claims, you wrote that “” because they believed that homosexuals were going to Hell. If this theological question was extraneous to your point, say so. If you defend putting people behind the quarantine line of politics for their theological views, say that instead. But don’t pretend you can have a religious test, and get away with it because some of the people who fail that test also fail some other, perhaps more valid, tests you have.

    Your point that some Christian conservatives a religious test is both true and superfluous, as I mentioned that in this post.

    Global Warming Religionists appear to be using theological answers to guide natural questions, which is widely accepted in our society (if not by Younghusband and fl, perhaps) and was not the subject of my query.


  8. It’s definitely a difficult question to wrestle with because there are people who, inspired by their faith, have done good works for the state. At the same time, though, we seem to see many more people who, inspired by their faith, enact legislation to limit women’s rights to their own bodies and lives (remember that a man can biologically walk away from a child without ‘earthly’ consequence), and even to allow biology and earth science students to write on an exam that the Earth is 5768 years old because the Bible says it is.

    So, yes, “just approving of the intermixing that produces results you agree with” is unethical. Which is why, in my view, our best option is to totally purge religion from politics.

  9. You’re inventing stuff now Dan. You’re inventing a meaning to my words that doesn’t exist.

    We can believe all that we want to believe, privately without question and in public if we are willing to be public figures and stand by our beliefs (or change them as we see fit, but ready to accept the voters’ judgment of that).

    I said nothing about a test in my original comments about this until I responded to this post with observations of my own on your little tangent post.

    So… debate with Dan regarding Rev. Wright and his conservative ilk like Robertson, Falwell & Hagee is impossible. He won’t address the facts, he won’t debate the issues. He’ll invent a sideshow and move on to that.

    Thank you, I’ve seen enough of this diversion. The truth (or basic reality) is obviously too hard to handle for Dan…..

  10. Eddie,

    Your ad hominem attack is noted.

    We can believe all that we want to believe, privately without question and in public if we are willing to be public figures and stand by our beliefs (or change them as we see fit, but ready to accept the voters’ judgment of that).

    It appears that this reiterates your earlier belief, implying that theological opinions of candidates and their supporters are valid topics of political criticism and vote-choice.

    Your earlier comment [1] seemed to state that those who gave the wrong answer to the question of whom is going to Heaven and Hell should be placed on the wrong side of a political quarantine line.

    This is a very interesting claim. I’ve been running it through my head. It would be a religious test, one to be powered through the voters than than through the law-courts. I have been trying to think of situations in which answers to theological questions would matter to me in more than a parochial sense. I don’t think they do… but I am not sure of this.

    Do you care to defend your assertion, state that it is a first principle (defensible only by itself), renounce it, or describe how I have misread you?

    (PS: Bad hyperlink above corrected. The correct link appears as [1])


  11. Actually, I would support religious tests for elected officials. If the candidate cannot answer basic questions about the beliefs of mainstream religions, they are open for ridicule.

    The focus of American politics seems to be Christianity, but questions about the Jewish and Islamic faith could also rapidly discredit the misinformed. The Right is replete with bible-thumpers who’ve never opened it and the Left is chock-full of bible-burners who’ve done the same.

    It’s helpful to keep in mind that TDAXP the mall co-shopping, chinese lunch co-eating, evening beer co-drinker is a different guy than TDAXP the blogger and debate partner. Don’t get too riled up if you disagree on a blog post.

  12. Absolutely. For me, it is generally a pleasant, often fascinating and invigorating from my utterly unchallenging civilian job…. Nothing personal.

    The only two issues I would ever take personally are rarely visited by Dan and we are on the same side of it I would think… (veterans issues & school vouchers). Regardless, having met the gentleman who operates this blog and been shown incredible hospitality by him and his family when they had little responsibility or even reason to do so… I would likely shut the hell up anyway and accept that differing opinions sometimes don’t need to be discussed!

  13. You some funny guys!

    First, if the religious test is over who is going to heaven, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Just among the protestant denominations there are substantial differences of opinion about that. Try predestination, grace, baptism for remission of sin, good works – need I go on.

    With the exception of the U.S., Soviet Union, China and a few other countries, governments are either extensions of religions, or tightly coupled with religions, and reflect their beliefs and dogmas. The most basic tenant of Muslim extremism is that governments in Muslim countries should conform to Muslim doctrine and Sharia law (in fact they would prefer it in all countries).

    In the U.S., both secular and religious speech are protected under the constitution.

    To a large extent, our ethics, morals, and laws are based on religious beliefs and principals. Our countries founders were overwhelmingly protestant christians and unabashedly were guided by their religious pricipals and beliefs.

    As for AIDS, it is not clear to me that people with the disease were shunned out of religious predijuce or fear. My daughter is a nurse and I can tell you that she and her associates are scared spitless every time they get a needle stick because of AIDS.

    Moreover, I doubt if most people can separate the boundries between secular and religious principles as they apply to governing their lives.

    Finally, the difference in the criticism between many fundamentalist clery and Rev. Wright is that Wright’s diatribes are mostly secular and political, based on historical and anti-white, anti-government conspiricy theorys with an overtone of hate, delivered from the pulpit and the fundamentalist diatribes were basically religious and political based on religious belief and interpertation, whether you agree with them or not.

    So, good luck separating politics and religion.

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