By Gerry Dantone
At a recent campaign stop, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon, was told by a heckler that he was a non-Christian and that Christians should not vote for him. (You can see this @ http://blip.tv/skin/blipnew/cache/drudge/151254.html#comment_form. )
The audience was not amused by the heckler and Romney replied that in this diverse country, “We need to have a person of faith lead the country.” Of course, the crowd erupted in applause.
In his blog, Andrew Sullivan, a conservative gay Catholic(!) wrote, “How is that not a religious test for the presidency? The anti-Mormon bigotry displayed is ugly and wrong - but it will come up again. Bush and Rove have built a Republican party on a sectarian base - and Romney is of the wrong sect. But instead of standing up to this sectarianism, and affirming the right of anyone of any faith or none to be president, Romney panders to religious bias. It seems to me that it is equally bigoted to say that a Mormon should not be president as it is to say that an atheist should not be president. Romney has chosen to fight bigotry with bigotry. We are finding out that he will say anything - anything - to get elected. That is not the mark of a person of faith. It is the mark of a person shot through with cynicism.” (Go to http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2007/02/romneys_bigotry.html .)
Mr. Sullivan has been participating in online dialogue with evangelical atheist author Sam Harris, and you can view the debate @ http://www.beliefnet.com/story/209/story_20904.html.
The recent national interest in the “new atheism” is definitely real and the occurrence of a religious commentator defending atheists without prompting is but another manifestation. Those who criticize the likes of Dawkins, Harris and Dennett should take note.
Much is yet to be accomplished, however; predictably many commentators were moved to defend Romney and criticize Sullivan. Consider the following from the blog “Villainous Company”:
“It's not a religious test for the presidency in the same way that saying that anyone who thinks the best candidate for the Presidency would be a person of faith is bigoted, as evidenced by the title of your post, "Romney's Bigotry". Mr. Sullivan obviously thinks the best candidate for the Presidency is an atheist. (Ed.’s note: Nowhere has Sullivan made this claim.) How, precisely, is that not equally bigoted, if (indeed) such an opinion is bigoted?
The thing is, the editorial staff happens to think the Founders intended for us to live in a country where we were free to think for ourselves, without morons like Andrew Sullivan misleading them about what the "religious test" clause of the Constitution actually says:
..."no religious Test shall ever be required as Qualification" for federal office Mitt Romney did not suggest that any candidate should be required to pass a litmus test before holding federal office. He merely expressed his opinion that the nation would be better served by a candidate who believed in God. That is his right as a citizen. It is Andrew Sullivan's right to disagree with him.
It is not Andrew Sullivan's right to distort the truth by calling that a "religious test". It is not. It is a personal opinion. Mitt Romney, as a candidate, does not have the ability to force any other candidate to submit to any so-called "religious test". The very suggestion is ludicrous.” (Go to http://www.villainouscompany.com/vcblog/ .)
Yes, this blogger is actually claiming that a voter believing that an atheist, or by logical extension, a Mormon, Catholic, Jew, or Muslim should not be president is NOT bigotry. What WOULD be bigotry using this logic? Basically nothing, since no reason or evidence is cited to support the argument – just “personal opinion.” And of course, no personal opinion could be bigoted, could it?
Though the above blogger’s logic is fatally flawed, isn’t it possible that a person with an outlandish belief system should be viewed as unqualified for public office?
What is necessary, then, is a clarification of the attributes that one could reasonably use to disqualify one from public office.
If a Presidential candidate believed the world was flat, would that person be presidential material? Answer: NO!
If a person believed, for whatever reason, that Catholics were the spawn of the devil, would that person be presidential material? Answer: NO!
What then is the difference between the above blogger’s viewpoint and a reasoned viewpoint?
The difference is that mere religious affiliation (or non-affiliation) is NOT enough of a defining quality to judge a candidate, while at the same time it’s also not an excuse for a crazed belief system either, religious or non-religious. Beliefs that are far outside the norm, indefensible and potentially dangerous to the citizenry should disqualify a potential candidate, but not merely a “label.” Yet labels and/or other superficial attributes that do not reflect what a candidate would actually do in office, are what are most often used to make judgments; and the atheist label is still the worst label of all according to the pollsters. What we should want in a candidate is a firm grasp on reality, and that includes views that are shaped by religion and views not shaped by religion.
It is clear, then, that Mr. Sullivan’s actions remain uncommon, and so, this writer wrote to him the following:
“I saw (your article on Romney) on the Daily Dish and I'm sure you know how unique, as a religious believer, you are to defend atheists in any shape or manner. I've also admired simply your willingness to debate Sam Harris online.
Thanks! This will not be forgotten. Gerry Dantone, Coordinator, Center for Inquiry Community of Long Island.”
Mr. Sullivan replied: “Freedom is indivisible. Yours is mine. Period. Andrew.”
To which we will add: Amen!