Theoretical physicist and cosmologist Lawrence M. Krauss has written a concise but poignant essay, “Why are Religious Beliefs Off Limits?,” about whether religion and the religious beliefs of the candidates should be addressed or not in the public discourse during the elections this year. It wasn’t that long ago when religious beliefs were considered private affairs. Candidate John F. Kennedy’s answer to those who worried about his Catholicism affirmed the privacy of his religious beliefs and how Church teaching would have no impact on his public policy. But the rhetoric has changed dramatically. It is significant that Rick Santorum said Kennedy’s view “made him want to throw up.” Howard Fineman has pointed out why he thinks the GOP is America’s first religious party.
Krauss’ full essay is a must-read. He asks and concludes, in an election cycle when religion is being worn on one’s sleeve, …
… should we not be able to question whether the beliefs of the religion publicly espoused by a candidate may reflect on candidate’s judgment and their ability to distinguish sense from nonsense? [...]
When a person’s religious beliefs cause him to deny the evidence of science, or for whom public policy morphs into a battle with the devil, shouldn’t that be a subject for discussion and debate? [...]
why should we not focus on the actual content of the publicly espoused beliefs held by politicians? [...]
It thus seems fair game to openly and directly ask Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum to outline the specifics of their beliefs about the sacred as well as the profane, in order to more fully probe the character and intellect anyone who proposes to lead this nation. To do any less is to be negligent in our duties as citizens.
To the extent that any other candidate, including President Obama also chooses to wear his religion on his sleeve (and regrettably there are no female candidates that would require my use of a gender-neutral pronoun) this should also apply. Santorum’s religio-centric views are generating a lot of discussion, but so far Romney’s Mormonism has been free of scrutiny. Personally, I would like to know more about beliefs around the temple underwear (especially the almost magical-sounding official view that “when properly worn…provides protection against temptation and evil,”) but as a matter of public policy I am more interested in his personal views and participation in rituals of baptism of the dead, especially Jewish victims of the Holocaust, which Romney has apparently refused to discuss. Yes, I think that and some other things matter.
Read Dr. Krauss’ full essay here. His full bio is here, an impressive read itself but which I have included also for those tempted to go ad hominem simply because the essay appears in the Huffington Post.