The Religious Test: Why We Must Question the Beliefs of Our Leaders

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9780393067958: The Religious Test: Why We Must Question the Beliefs of Our Leaders

A manifesto seeking to exhort both believers and atheists to behave better in the public sphere.

The Constitution states that “no religious test” may keep a candidate from aspiring to political office. Yet, since John F. Kennedy used the phrase to deflect concerns about his Catholicism, the public has largely avoided probing candidates’ religious beliefs. Is it true, however, that a candidate’s religious convictions should be off-limits to public scrutiny?

Damon Linker doesn’t think so, and in this book he outlines the various elements of religious belief―including radical atheism―that are simply incompatible with high office, and sometimes even active citizenship, in a democracy. In six forceful chapters he enlightens us to the complicated interrelations between churches and states, consistently applying a political litmus test to a range of theological views. Along the way, he clearly explains, among other topics, why the government in a religiously tolerant society must not promote a uniform, absolute code of ethics and behavior; why the conviction that America is worthy of divine attention is dangerous; and why the liberal position on the political deregulation of sex is our nation’s only hope for conciliation.

In this provocative, hard-hitting manifesto, Linker exhorts both believers and atheists to behave better in the public sphere, and he offers a carefully charted road map for doing so.

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About the Author:

Damon Linker is a contributing editor for the New Republic and is a Senior Writing Fellow in the Center for Critical Writing at the University of Pennsylvania. He lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two children.

From Booklist:

Linker is concerned our liberal democracy—defined as one that emphasizes individual freedom, limits the power of the state, and the like—is threatened by traditionalist believers and radical atheists. They are unfit for public life or office because of the illiberal demands their ideologies place upon them. Saints, for example, cannot be statesmen, as their first loyalty is to their god, not the Constitution or the liberal institutions that serve democracy. Believing there is a right way to behave in the political arena, Linker articulates six political commandments, including placing no authority above the Constitution. Yet political views informed by religious beliefs or atheistic sensibilities were not something the framers of the Constitution saw fit to enjoin. By excluding those with whom he disagrees from political life in order to safeguard liberal democracy, Linker’s six-point test ironically becomes not only unconstitutional but also as illiberal as the ideologies he decries. Nevertheless, this is a thought-provoking book about the tension between politics and religion in the public square. --Christopher McConnell

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