Religion & Public Life With Mark Silk

Religion & Public Life With Mark Silk

Linker’s Test

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

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


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.

Comments read comments(4)
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Grumpy Old Person

posted November 15, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Religious tests!?!?! Pardon the expression, but Holy CRAP.
This is scary indeed. Take, for instance:
“Do you believe the law should be used to impose and enforce religious views of sexual morality?”
The candidate’s “religious views”? Or those of his/her constituents (like they’re ALL Protestants? (specifically, ALL Pentecostals) Or ALL Catholics? Or ALL Jews?
I mean, the Reformed AND the (ahem) Conservative branches of Jewry both allow for same-gender marriages within their faiths. And then, of course, there’s the Baptists.
“What do you believe human beings can know about nature and history?”
But, but … SOME ‘religious’ don’t even believe in history if it goes back farther than 6,000 years.
Sorry, this idea (and I use the term very, very loosely) of religious tests is a very dangerous and slippery/slimy road to start heading down.
So please Mr. Silk, don’t encourage people to heed “Damon Linker’s call for giving political candidates a religious test”. Ever. America is torn enough already.

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posted November 15, 2010 at 7:07 pm

I wouldn’t expect an honest answer out of a politician on those questions. I’d expect them to answer in a manner they think will get them votes.

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Grumpy Old Perrson

posted November 19, 2010 at 12:32 pm

I (sadly) remember Beliefnet’s own “God-O-Rama” (or some such simmilarly named blog) which had a daily faithometer for all the Presidential candidates. Seems like the “Christians” absolutely WANT religious tests to be mandatory.

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John P. Jankowski

posted November 22, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Linker’s points are well-taken. Parsing out the personal vs. the political has always been a crock. In our current political system (where of course money don’t talk, it swears), the personal only trumps the political when it is cost-effective to do so.
Quite honestly, I can’t foresee a time when the personal beliefs–or, God forbid, principles–would ever overrule the fortunes that politics engenders. No honest politician would suggest otherwise. Perhaps that’s why there are no honest politicians, and why so many of them are careerists.
[Ever notice how so many politicians refer to themselves in the third person, or even pluralize themselves? “Bob Dole doesn’t do that sort of thing, etc.” Or “We’ll be out there, trying to rally….” Not I or me. Might want to term this the new wall of separation, where candidates and representatives can assure non-accountability or plausible deniability, if and when they happen to be called on the carpet for some transgression.]

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