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Is it bigotry to oppose a political candidate because of his religion? October 12, 2011

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Belief, Politics, Religion.

In The Atlantic, James Fallows claims that some of the opposition to Mormon presidential candidate Mitt Romney is tainted by prejudice:

To be against Mitt Romney (or Jon Huntsman or Harry Reid or Orrin Hatch) because of his religion is just plain bigotry. Exactly as it would have been to oppose Barack Obama because of his race or Joe Lieberman because of his faith or Hillary Clinton or Michele Bachmann because of their gender or Mario Rubio or Nikki Haley because of their ethnicity.

… for people to come out and say that they won’t back a candidate because he’s Mormon and therefore a “cult” member is no better than saying “I’d never trust a Jew” or “a black could never do the job” or “women should stay in their place” or “Latinos? Let ’em go back home.”

Hardly. Fallows is missing a crucial distinction: a person’s religious beliefs, unlike his gender or ethnicity, are relevant when evaluating him for political office — because a person’s beliefs guide his actions. If you believe that a soul enters every human zygote at the moment of conception, for instance, that will affect your attitude towards abortion and stem-cell research. And if you believe the Messiah’s coming is near and will be presaged by a worldwide Armageddon, that will affect your strategic decision making.

Furthermore, the very willingness to believe in baseless dogma uncritically with no demand for evidence is (as far as I’m concerned) a serious character flaw — also relevant when evaluating a political candidate.

Religion is not in the same category as race or gender: while a person cannot change the color of his skin, he can change his mind, and should be expected to justify and defend his beliefs — religious beliefs included. (By the way, when someone says “never trust a Jew,” he’s presumably referring to ethnicity rather than theology.) Would it be bigotry to oppose a candidate for believing in astrology, or for denying the Holocaust? It’s perfectly legitimate to ask political candidates hard questions about their religious beliefs, and to judge them based on their answers, just as we judge them for their views on health and economics and education.

And naturally, the more unreasonable the beliefs a candidate is committed to, the more reasonable it is to want to keep him away from positions of power.

(via Why Evolution is True)


1. religionthink - October 13, 2011

Enjoyed the post! I do hope Bachmann and Perry are asked a ton of questions on this topic.

2. Ophelia Benson - October 14, 2011

I should have just linked to this instead of bothering to write about it myself. I enjoyed writing about it though, so maybe I shouldn’t have.

Ezra Resnick - October 14, 2011

Thanks — I enjoyed reading your take too, so of course I’m glad you did write it!

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