Thursday, April 19, 2007

The No-religious Test Cause and the Candidates for President

In the upcoming Republican primary, one of the candidates running is controversial because he is a Mormon. A prominent Christian talk show host, whom I admire and celebrate, has been making an argument that because the Constitution contains a clause against religious tests, no one should vote against Mitt Romney because he is a Mormon. While I greatly respect this talk show host and agree with him most of the time, I cannot agree with this argument. Whether or not you think you can vote for Mitt Romney in good conscience, the anti-religious test clause of the Constitution should not really have anything to do with it.

The anti-religious test clause, Article 6, Section 3 of the Constitution of the United States, provides: “The senators and representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

The no religious test clause or anti-religious test clause was included in the Constitution as a reaction against one of the forms of religious persecution common in Europe between the time of the Reformation and the American founding. This problem was a form of religious discrimination in which people were required to specify that they were members of a particular Christian denomination or group or creed in order to hold public office or undertake actions on behalf of their government. For example, in Catholic countries people were required to be Catholic. In Lutheran countries they were required to be Lutheran. In England they were required to give allegiance to Henry VIII as head of the church. These kinds of clauses were odious to the framers since many of their recent ancestors had left England and other countries in Europe in order to escape exactly such forms of religious persecution or discrimination.

Now let’s compare the question of not voting for Mitt Romney because he is a Mormon. If anyone suggested that Mormons could not hold offices in the federal government or carry out the public trust, they would be arguing contrary to the no religious test clause. The core meaning of the clause is clearly that no one can be prevented from doing public work or holding public office because they believe or do not believe any particular religious tenets. So, for example, the government of the United States cannot ban Quakers from holding public office. They cannot require all persons enlisting in the military to be Lutherans. The government cannot say that they will only allow public contracts with members of the Church of Religious Science. Senators should not refuse to confirm judges to the court of appeals because they are fundamentalists. This is the obvious meaning of the clause. But this all has to do with the action of the government or the nation as a whole in banning some particular class of people. It has nothing to do with who we vote for or why we vote for them as individuals.

What I think the talk show host would argue in response to my interpretation of the clause is that if we make religion an important matter in political choices like who we vote for for president, we’re violating the spirit of the American system since America is built on the idea that your individual religion is not relevant to your public life. But that argument clearly misunderstands the nature of the American republic and the nature of public office, public trust and campaigns for the positions involved with them. When we vote for someone for office, we are voting for the entire person. We should consider what they believe, what they know, what their skills, gifts, abilities, talents and virtues are. We should also consider the evidence of their particular addictions, vices and shortcomings. I would not vote for anyone for public office who holds beliefs about reality that are absurd or who does not know information necessary to be an effective office holder. For example, I would never vote for anyone who thought that the moon landing had been faked or that the Federal Reserve is really a shadow government that manipulates and controls world events. I would not vote for such people for several reasons. First, their willingness to believe things that are patently absurd means that one cannot trust their judgment about facts. Judgment about facts is constantly necessary in carrying out any government office. What we know about moral principles is of great importance. But what we believe about facts or know about facts is equally important. Everyone agrees that theft is wrong. But is taking someone’s property in order to build a shopping mall that will earn money for the community theft? What people believe about facts and their ability to figure out what the real facts are and how the facts are significant or how moral principles apply to them are all critical. It is also the case that peoples’ attitudes toward their beliefs and knowledge also are indicative about how they will behave in office and under stress. What people believe or don’t believe is also in some way indicative of their intelligence and wisdom. Are they gifted in their ability to learn, understand, communicate and discern? Do they understand the way things really work and see things as they really are? What a person believes shows me a lot about the answers to these questions.

Within the core of what someone believes are their religious beliefs. What someone believes about God, human nature, the origin of the universe, the order of the universe, the source of moral law, the source of rights, why human beings can learn language or learn anything at all, whether there are spiritual forces at work in the world, what factors affect human behavior and decision making, and what factors affect group behavior and decision making, are all of great importance and are all tied to one’s religious faith and belief. If one claims they are not tied to one’s religious faith and belief, that says something very clearly about what that person actually thinks and actually believes. What some Mormons believe about foundational ideas, as individuals, may be laudable. But what the Mormon Church historically has believed is not always Biblical, praiseworthy, or sensible.

It’s entirely possible that Mitt Romney could be the lesser evil of the presidential candidates—that he could be the best person to vote for out of the bunch. But to think that his belief in Mormonism should not be a factor when individuals decide whether or not they as individuals want Romney to be their president is to disregard the important factors. The Mormon religion has definite beliefs about human nature, etc. It has teachings about all of these things. If Mitt Romney believes Mormon teaching and doctrine, then his decision making as president will be affected by those beliefs. Or if he does not really believe Mormon teaching and doctrine, but rather believes in political liberalism and simply chooses to associate himself with Mormonism, or if he believes in materialism and chooses to associate himself with Mormonism, this is no less problematic because it means that Mr. Romney disregards the teachings of religious faith (especially with regard to these issues) and believes instead what materialists or political liberals believe about them.

It is not so much that Romney is a Mormon; rather it is that he is not a Christian. Of course there are many people who call themselves Christians who don’t hold to what Christians ought to believe about human nature, etc. But that says something about them as well, doesn’t it? Ideally, a candidate for president sees the universe as it really is. He understands what people are really like and where moral law comes from and where rights come from. Unless someone has the proper beliefs about these things, they are going to be a worse president than someone who does. If you cannot find anyone who believes the right things about the world (a very sorry situation indeed), then I suppose you have to pick the best or the least bad from among those who remain. But it should not ever be thought that you are doing well or not compromising or not settling for a lesser evil if you have to pick a candidate for political office who doesn’t even have a proper understanding of what it means to be a human being.

Sure, a person who doesn’t have the right beliefs about reality or who isn’t wise or knowledgeable can still agree with you on a checklist of issues. They may still tell you that they are opposed to abortion and favor low taxes and would allow home schooling. But what happens when the situation changes? What happens when the person’s views on the issues come into question? What happens when a new issue comes up that requires a de novo application of fundamental principles to an unconsidered reality? I can tell you exactly what happens. The person who doesn’t believe the right things about reality is very likely to come to the wrong answer about the new issue. A good example is cloning. There are a number of people in political power who have been happy to side with pro-lifers on abortion. But when cloning has come up, because their cosmology and their understanding of human nature and reality is weak, they suddenly do not realize that unborn human beings or human beings conceived in petrie dishes are still human. Instead, they try to rationalize that a human being is determined by its location or its likelihood of survival. To someone who sees the world as it really is, this is not only absurd but frightening. Nevertheless, there are plenty of people who ask ridiculous questions like whether or not clones can have souls. (Of course they do. They wouldn’t be alive if they didn’t have a soul.) In fact, we already had trouble with Mormons and cutting-edge issues. One of the prominent Republican senators, who is a Mormon, on the Judiciary Committee has been helpful on abortion, but extremely unhelpful on embryonic stem cell research because he does not understand these simple fundamental questions.

Mormons don’t agree with orthodox historical Christianity about the fundamental truths about God, morality and reality. In addition, believing in Mormonism is clearly ridiculous. A detailed study of what Mormons believe shows it to be quite incredible in many ways. I understand that many people are Mormons because their ancestors were. I also understand that many people are attracted to Mormonism for cultural reasons because Mormons emphasize family and clean living. There are also some Mormons who don’t really believe in any of the teachings of Mormonism, just as there are some people who call themselves Christians who do not really believe in any of the teachings of the Bible. But regardless of whether or not Mitt Romney is a liberal Mormon or a hereditary Mormon or a cultural Mormon, he has still chosen to continue to associate himself with a religion whose tenets are patently absurd and whose history is highly suspect. I consider that a mark against him in terms of my evaluation of his qualifications to be president of the United States.

I also consider a Mormon’s candidacy for the presidency problematic because if a Mormon becomes president, it will make Mormonism even more mainstream and acceptable than it already is. If Mormonism becomes more culturally acceptable, more people will become Mormons. If more people become Mormons, more people will not be saved. Now while I am a Calvinist and believe that God is ultimately the one responsible for whether people are elect or not elect, I also understand that from a practical human point of view, our choices appear to matter in terms of people being saved or not saved. If we fail to share the Gospel with people, they may not be the elect. If we share the Gospel with people, it is very likely that we will discover that God has elected some of them. If a Mormon becomes president, it will probably turn out to be fewer people elected to the true church in America than would otherwise be the case. So this is another reason why I would be reluctant to vote for Mr. Romney, unless he is clearly the lesser of evils.

All of this is not to say that I like most of the other presidential candidates. Candidates who are atheists, materialists, or who call themselves Christians but who are non-believers can be as problematic. Some of the candidates are not too bright. Some of them have real ego problems. Some are all image and no substance. But isn’t there someone in America who would be a qualified, reasonable, competent president who has good character and who believes in the teachings of orthodox Christianity? If not we will have to vote for the nest candidate we have. That might be Romney or Thompson or someone else. But we really ought to have better choices. But whoever we choose, for individual voters to consider the candidates religious views is not a violation of the no religious clause test.

14 comments:

jeppster said...

Sir, the crux of your post that Mitt Romney gets a demerit from you because "he has still chosen to continue to associate himself with a religion whose tenets are patently absurd and whose history is highly suspect" is not logically sound.

I have many friends who have argued with me that any Christians or anyone who has a belief in God is "absurd". They also provide many valid arguments supporting their hypotheses. So, does that make you wrong? No, of course not, neither does your statement that Mormon's beliefs are absurd have any bearing on the truth of the matter.

The reality of the world is that, logically, religious beliefs are on the more absurd level. Yet, as a Christian, I can state that I am comfortable with my absurdity because I know that I have a loving Heavenly Father and that Christ is my Savior, and I have the hope that others can find that, too.

I think that your statement that Mormons have absurd beliefs is actually quite the compliment to their faith, as you have marked them as a "peculiar people". Please take the chance to "embrace the absurdity" of your faith and that you are part of something unique. I've been much more satisfied in my faith because of it.

Anonymous said...

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I was raised as a child going to Baptist and Methodist churches but not consistently. By 1969, I was pretty skeptical about some of the things I had been taught all my life but not all. When I found out about the LDS church and what was being taught, it completely sounded right to me. I absolutely "knew" it was true. But then Vietnam happened to me and then Korea. My wife and I were "inactive" for about 6 years but I never felt that what the LDS church taught was not true. At 28 years old I became active in the church and "really" learned what was being taught. It was not that different but was much deeper. Over the years I have been up and down but I have always known the church to be true. Today, I am 57 years old and I still know that what is being taught is true. I am the only one in my father's or mother's family that is a member but I can tell you that I am very pleased with how my children and grandchildren are doing. They are all members and have strong testimonies that it is so.

I believe it is true but I understand how you can have a problem with it. I have found that just as I know my religion is true, you know yours is. What I cannot understand, and want to point out to you, is that just about everything we believe is based on faith in Jesus Christ. You mentioned several times that what I believe is "absurd". You should understand that there are many, many people in the world that would call what you believe to be absurd also. I do not. Like you, I believe that God is Jesus Christ and He is the Son of God the Eternal Father. Just because we see the trinity a little differently or some other doctrine that is dissimilar, does not mean we do not accept the historical man called Jesus Christ as the literal son of God. He is the great Jehovah spoken of in the Old Testament. He is the Redeemer of the world. I love him and you love him. There are many, many things that we believe in common. I have no doubt that you are an honest person and are trying to do what you feel is right. I am also. The Jews are not Christians, but I love them. The bible is full to the brim of the message that they are his “chosen” people. And, in the end, He will gather them and according to the blessings and promises he gave Abraham and Jacob, they will once again accept Him and He will bless them and they will once again be part of His kingdom.

If a Jewish man or woman were running for president of the United States, I would not have a problem voting for them if what they had to offer went along with what I believe. Yes, I know they do not believe that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah but I know that, like them, I too believe in the Old Testament and the prophets of Old. We are alike in more ways than we are different. Remember that to an atheist, all of our beliefs are absurd. It is my hope that you and your family will be blessed and have the joy that only God can give. He has said we are His children and I believe Him. I know He loves us all and will do everything He can to help us to return to Him. I hope that through his love and atoning sacrifice, we will learn to obey and follow his commandments. Perhaps one day in the eternities, we will meet and know that we are truly brothers.

Dean McConnell said...

Jeppster,

I am sorry you think Christianity is absurd or that arguments against it are valid. Neither point is true. While it is so that man's ideas frequently do not correspond with God's, it is we who are being illogical and absurd, not God.

Jesus is the Logos of God. Logos means logic, reason, and order in addition to the common translation of "word." God is the source of real logic, reason and order. God says to us "come and let us reason together." God is the definer of logic, not human philosophers and sceptics.

We christians certainly are peculiar because God delights in electing those who the world rejects. But the modern use of the word is not what it meant in the translation you quote.

Dean McConnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dean McConnell said...

Thanks for your comment anonymous.
I understand where you are coming from. Perhaps you still know the real Jesus of your childhood despite what I consider the errors of Mormonism. What you say sounds closer than what I have heard other Mormons say.

Like the World Wide Church of God's experience, there may come a time when Mormonism officially drops its old aberrant doctrines and becomes really Christian. But that has not happened yet.

Both traditional Mormonism and orthodox Christianity cannot both be true at the same time. Truth is not based on feelings. Jesus cannot be both the creator of the universe (Bible) and one in a succession of gods and a brother of Lucifer (Mormonism) at the same time and in the same sense. The material universe is not and cannot have been eternal as Mormon cosmology implies. The northern tribes of Israel are not the ancestors of the south American indians as the book of Mormon claims. The pages from the Egyptian book of the dead represented by Joseph Smith as copies of the plates of gold do not translate to the content of the book of Mormon.

Many Mormons are very wonderful people with good family values. You sound like a very sound person (thanks by the way for your service to our country). Many people who call themselves Christians are not prime specimens. But that is just the kind of thing Christian doctrine predicts.

I would have little or no hesitation voting for a conservative Jew like Michael Medved. He has the same understanding of God and the Universe that I have even though he has not accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Unlike traditional Mormons, I do not believe he has a voluntarist view of morality or a nominalist view of epistemology. I think he understands that the unborn are always living human beings, unlike the Mormon Senator I reference, who insists babies are not "en-souled" and hence not human, until some point after the point where wee are going to kill them for their stem cells.

I wish you and other Mormons well. We can work together politically at times for the common good. In the end I may even vote for Mitt. But there are real differences and real concerns between informed Biblical Christianity and Mormonism.

christopher said...

jepster,

I think you miss the point of the post in a number of ways.

First, if the post "is not logically sound" and you think that faith should embrace the absurd, then you are saying that the post is absurd, so you should embrace it. How can you argue for embracing the absurd and then reject something because of its supposed absurdity?

Second, any critique of Mormon theology is only incidental to the post. We can all agree to disagree about theology.

Third, and this goes to the real "crux" of the post, we do disagree about theology, and because we disagree, we will make the best judgments we can about who we think should or should not run the government through the lenses of our commitments and understanding. This of course includes what people think and what we think that people will do.

The given interpretation of not requiring religious oaths is directly on point.

True, the state cannot require a specific creed or religious affiliation as the prerequisite to holding an office, but we as individuals, can and do.

Of course I can think that to hold high office a person should have what I think to be the true faith, because I would like to have someone in office that will use their vote or delegated power in line with what I think is best for society. To say that I cannot vote my conscience on such matters is simply to make representational democracy incoherent.

But maybe that's what you are looking for. :)

(By the way. I know a lot of Mormons and I don't think they would appreciate your compliment of calling their faith absurd. You should be more open to other possibilities like the possibility that incoherence and absurdity is a weakness, and not a strength.)


Christopher Neiswonger

Anonymous said...

I've heard a lot of talk about how it is okay to withhold a vote for a person based on what religion they belong to, especially since Romney entered the race. But what I haven't heard is specifics on what Mormons believe, and how that will lead to some sort of negative consequence if they're leading the country. Mitt Romney did a great job as governor of Massachusets. If only MY state and local government (Dallas Texas) were run with as much competence and finesse as his administration handled Massachusets. I would like to see Federal initiatives that come off as clean and good as the 2002 Olympics did. I was proud of my country when I was watching the 2002 winter olympics. I wish I was as proud of how well we've managed the Iraq war.

A lot of publicly traded corporations are well run by Mormon guys. What specifically about Mormonism would lead to negative policy decisions in our elected officials?

This blog post didn't strike me as bigoted or mean spirited, but it confuses me when people bring up Mormonism as a possible negative, but then don't give any real specifics. If anything, in my view, it should be a positive.

elliott said...

Sir, you've convinced me.

If only Jimmy Carter were running for president again. Now there was a man who understood and believed true Christian precepts.

Anonymous said...

God does not make up logic. Would you agree that either God exists or he doesn't, correct? There is no other possibility? God cannot come along and say there is another possibility. That would make no logical sense. That would break the rules of logic. God is real. As such, he operates in reality. Logic contains the rules of reality. God cannot break the rules of reality and neither can we. Sure, he can do anything that is possible. He cannot do the impossible though. He cannot make a square round. That is a contradiction. Think about that next time you put on the mortarboard at graduation.

Dean McConnell said...

Anonymous,

I only have time for one example.

Mormons think that there is no single almighty God. There is only a sort of infinite succession of beings who started out as men and became gods by obeying the rules of the local god for the world were there pre-existent soul was sent to be incarnate.

This means Mormons view of morality is voluntarist and command based. the local god can and does change his mind and tell the prophets of the church to do completely different things from time to time. It also means morality is not trans-cultural or revealed through general revelation. While radical Muslims have a different view of the history of God and the universe, they have a similar view of morality. These beliefs have many negative consequences for legal theory and politics.

Classic orthodox Christianity, by contrast, views God as eternal and consistent. God's moral law is based on his own unchanging nature. God does not change and his law does not change. New claims about applications of morality to life most be evaluated i light of a proper understanding of the whole of the Bible and the nature of God. God's moral law is also revealed trans-culturally in a number of ways. While the Bible is the best way to understand God, everybody knows enough about God and what he wants to be morally accountable.

Dean McConnell said...

Elliott,

You are being funny right?

Carter is a poor example of Christian belief and practice. Quite an embarrassment really.

His apparent humility years ago, and his work with Habitat for humanity were great. His anti-semitism, dictator hugging, and bitterness are very un-Christian.

For a politician to say they believe is only a start. One must see what they really believe, what kind of character they have, and how they act on what they believe as well.

And, nobody is perfect. You will not find anyone without some problems. I just want the best President I can find. Carter was never the best. Regan, Coolidge, Teddy Roosevelt, Lincoln, Adams and Washington were all imperfect. But they were pretty good Presidents.

Dean McConnell said...

Anonymous,

God and logic are inseparable. Logic is bound up in the nature of God himself and has existed in him from eternity. You cannot say God "created logic." And, it is true God is never really illogical because he is always true and consistent with himself. But it is wrong to think of logic as something logically prior to God. Jesus was the Logos in eternity, when there was no time and space continuum to allow consideration of the order to events.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Dean McConnell,

Great post! I’ve been waiting to read a piece that makes the arguments you made. How where you able to be so clear when nobody else even gave it a shot? Are you lobbying for the Contrarian club? : - )

At this point, I don’t plan on voting for Governor Romney mostly because I agree with what you wrote. However, I also don’t think conservative Christians are going to have any good choices this election. Senator Brownback and Governor Huckabee can’t stop talking about the government programs they enacted and new government programs they would support.

To me, the way a person acts is as important as what a person believes. While I don not agree with the religious beliefs of the Mormons I know, I have to admit, the Mormons I know have better character than most of the Christians I know. Sadly, Governor Romney’s judgment may not be perfect, but his judgment may be better than any of the alternatives.

Buz said...

So, we would be better with a good old Southern Baptist, like Bill Clinton, right?

Dean, you disappoint me somewhat. Yes, I agree that we should pray and desire the best of the best for the leader of our country. However, what we often get is those who are hungry for power. Not quite the worst of the worst, but probably what we as a society deserve based on our selfishness and materialism.

I was going to list several erroneous points in your post, but you seemed to have explained yourself better in your replies to others, so I will let them drop.

Yes, I would love to have a born-again Christian with an active relation to my Saviour sitting in the oval office; I would love to have someone with that perfect judgement of when to be merciful and when to be just. However, I also realize that such a perfect government will not come into being until Jesus Himself sets foot back on this Earth and does away with sin and death.

In the meantime, I am pragmatic enough to vote for the lesser of two evils, as long as that lesser evil is not beyond the stench which I can tolerate ... and then pray that God would box him in to the point where he cannot do anything totally dastardly.

Unless his religious profession is a total sham, I would say that Mit would not be the worst president we have had in tha past 50 years.

Buz