Thursday, December 3, 2009
A few days ago, my friend and colleague Dave Campbell (and some co-authors) published this piece in USA Today. He observed that Mitt Romney faced -- and will face again, in 2012 -- "a major obstacle that should concern all Americans: religious intolerance":
Polls showed that anywhere from one-quarter to one-third of Americans openly said they would not vote for a Mormon candidate for president. Mormons are hardly the only religious group to face such overt hostility. Polls show that Muslims, Buddhists and people without a religion are all viewed more warily by Americans. And as America becomes more religiously diverse, we can expect still more candidates from faiths that might be unfamiliar to many Americans, or those who profess no religion at all.
The good news is that accurate information about such unpopular religious groups can help the cause of religious tolerance in America. . . .
Yesterday, at First Things, Joe Carter discussed a self-described atheist's claim that, because all religions are bizarre, we should of course ask questions about, and take into account, Romney's (and others') beliefs:
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. . . .
To this, Carter responds:
[I 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? . . .