The more my agnostic mind ponders Mitt Romney's Faith in America speech, the more I get irritated by it. It's nonsensical – his notion that the United States is threatened by a "religion of secularism."
I only wish.
This country is one of the most overtly religious in the world. We vie with Saudi Arabia and other super-fundamentalist nations for the dishonor of having the most religious crazies per capita.
Yesterday I said on my Church of the Churchless blog that Mitt Romney's weird religion is relevant to voters. His chosen faith, Mormonism, is strange even by religious standards. It's "revelation" came via golden plates.
In 1827 the golden plates supposedly were dug up in New York by the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith. They'd been protected by an angel named Moroni and engraved by Mormon, a pre-Columbian prophet-warrior. Smith translated the plates by looking into seer stones called Urim and Thummin.
Yet it's eminently possible to run for president of the United States and believe in this unbelievable stuff. More: it's not only possible, it's required.
An atheist candidate would be dead in the campaign water. Probably ditto for an agnostic. It's extremely difficult to conceive that anyone could be elected to a high public office in this country if he or she honestly said, "I don't believe in God," or "I don't know if there is a God."
Of course, nobody else knows either. But lots of people think God exists, and when it comes to God, subjective thoughts are the presumed reality– not anything objectively true.
Jack Oceano asks, "An Atheist as President of the United States?" His right-on answer:
Americans will not elect an atheist who doesn't hide his beliefs. In fact, atheism carries such a stigma in the United States that most Americans will not even conceal the fact that they wouldn't vote for a candidate who declared he was an atheist.
If an American stated outright that he or she would not vote for a candidate because the candidate was a woman, an African-American, or a Jew, that American would be criticized, ostracized, called a hateful bigot. But if that same American were to say that he or she would not vote for an atheist, there would be no such backlash. And sadder still, most Americans would agree.
Sometimes, half-seriously, a friend or acquaintance tells me that I should run for public office. My usual response is, "No way. My past would come back to haunt me."
But I'd have some ready responses if the unthinkable ever happened, and I found myself on the campaign trail. If I were asked whether I'd ever used psychedelic drugs, I'd say: "Absolutely. And I can promise that even if I was high, I'd be able to make better decisions than my opponent."
That'd get a laugh.
Because the whole issue of drug use isn't a big deal to most voters. Hardly anybody cared about our current president's cocaine days. Or Bill Clinton's marijuana use (though he supposedly didn't inhale, which also should earn a laugh). Barack Obama's pot smoking is pretty much a non-issue.
However, imagine if I were asked, "Do you believe in God?" and said, "Heck, no. Why should I?" I doubt that I could be elected dog catcher, even though I've got a dog, and I'm pretty good at catching her.
So here's where our befuddled country is at: If you have blind faith in a divine being for whom there's no evidence, you're considered to be qualified to serve in a public office. If you kneel at the altar of reason, science, and factual reality, you're facing a steep uphill battle in an election.
If you ever blasted your consciousness with illegal drugs, though, no problem. Probably because religion requires the same sort of Far out! way of looking at the world.
Unbelief in God should be as irrelevant to a person's electability as Mitt Romney wants his Mormonism to be. Only when it is can we say that there truly isn't a religious test for public office in the United States.