I am not an atheist.
This may seem like a strange statement to have to make, but somehow it feels somewhat necessary for a centre/left progressive in 2015. We seem to be a vanishing breed, us liberals of faith.
I will not get into why I believe or how I choose to articulate that belief. Frankly, that isn't any of your business. All that anybody needs to know about me is that I am a committed Reform Jew; that the structure of my belief in a Higher Being stems from the basic tenets of God, Torah, and Klal Yisrael (the entirety of the Jewish community); that I do observe many of the mitzvot (commandments, albeit reimagined for a modern world); that I am deeply committed to Tikkun Olam (the reparation of our world); that my Judaism is one of equality for all no matter their gender, race, or sexual orientation; and that for me, belief in a Higher Power is not in any way inconsistent with scientific discovery. It is my hope that anybody reading this will respect my intensely personal and private belief system as I vow to respect theirs.
So it deeply concerns me when I hear political candidates vying for the highest of leadership positions talk of religious litmus tests as necessary qualifications for office.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R): "Any president who doesn't begin every day on his knees isn't fit to be commander-in-chief of this country."
The Senator was responding to a question as to whether an atheist should be allowed to serve as president. Jews actually do much of our praying standing up. Is the Senator also disqualifying Jews from the presidency?
Ben Carson (R): "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that."
Dr. Carson's views are wholly inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution, of course, but why should he let details get in the way of xenophobic fearmongering.
Mike Huckabee (R): "The only thing worse than not being elected president would be to be elected president without God’s blessing. I can’t think of a worse place in the world to be than in the Oval Office without God’s hand upon you. I’d rather not get near the place."
The idea that God is dictating the decisions of the president is not only inconsistent with the separation of church and state, but it is a bit worrisome. Does the president owe his/her first allegiance to their God or to the citizenry of the United States?
I find it absolutely stunning that many of our American friends find it necessary to apply a religious litmus test to their presidential candidates. Here in Canada, there is little or nothing known about the religious beliefs of our leaders. Our new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau is a practicing Catholic who finds absolutely no inconsistency in advocating that divisive issues like abortion or doctor-assisted suicide should be based on personal conviction. He believes that public officials should not impose their personal views on entire communities.
“I’ve sat down with a number of bishops, archbishops, and even a cardinal and I’ve talked about the fact that their job as priests is very different than my job as a leader, as a politician,” he said.
And while many political opponents point to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper's evangelical Christian faith as the basis for his many disputed policies, the truth is that he kept much of his radical Christian right-wing effectively muzzled during his almost ten years in power.
Western democracies cannot function as they were meant to when religious beliefs creep into policy-making decisions. The Bible should never be looked upon as the source of scientific proofs, nor should centuries-old religious disputes play out in a country that pits "us against them". Our governments need to remain staunchly secular so that they may adequately and properly serve the needs of all citizens, no matter their religious convictions.
Earlier this year, a Gallup poll found that only 58% of Americans would vote an atheist for president. I do wonder what has people so spooked about the lack of religious belief in their leaders. It seems to me that qualifications, a clear vision for the country, intelligence, management skills, compassion, and understanding should matter far more. I fear the day when religion is a litmus test for leadership.