Strife!

by Jonathan Chait | November 26, 2007

 

My most recent TRB column is a brief for secularism, touching off the case of Mitt Romney and his inability to separate his religion from his public persona. Last week, Ross Douthat replied, but had almost nothing to say about the main point of the column.

The main point, to recap, is that it's unhealthy to have a politics in which candidates run on the basis of their religion because sectarian differences are irresolvable, and religious-based politics places nonbelievers and members of minority religions (like Romney) at an unfair disadvantage.

Douthat's entire rebuttal on this point is this:

Now, I think this is a mistake where the contemporary Latter-Day Saints are concerned, but I don't think it's a mistake in principle. Having no legal religious test for office doesn’t mean that a candidate's religious faith isn’t worth considering when you're deciding whom to vote for. I probably wouldn't vote for a practicing Scientologist or a member of the Unification Church, for instance, for what I hope are self-evident reasons. I'd vote for a Mormon today, but I would have thought twice about voting for a Mormon candidate in the days of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. And even where my own faith is concerned, I wouldn't have thought it unreasonable for a Protestant American to be leery of a Catholic candidate for President in the era of The Syllabus of Errors. Taking these sorts of things into account is the essence of good sense, not evidence of religious bigotry.

There's not much of an argument here. He's mainly asserting that it's "good sense" to vote for a candidate on the basis of his religion, and providing examples of ways it can be done sensibly. Douthat says he wouldn't disqualify Romney on the basis of his religion. Okay, fine. But lots of voters are doing exactly that. As my column points out, it's not uncommon for politicians (usually conservatives) to object to an equal public role for Muslims, Hindus, atheists, or non-Christians in general.

I'm sure Douthat would be against that kind of discrimination. But the fact is that, in a country as religiously diverse as our, it's the inevitable result of the kind of politics he advocates.

--Jonathan Chait

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/the-plank/strife