Religious Beliefs in the Public Square

Richard Dawkins provocatively suggests that the superstitious religious beliefs of politicians should be more openly challenged. “You challenge a candidate about his beliefs about taxation, about military policy, and so on; why don’t you challenge his beliefs about what he thinks about the universe and the world?”

“As a voter, if I know that the person I’m contemplating voting for, however good his beliefs on taxation and so on may be… If I know that he privately believes that a 19th century man called Joseph Smith dug up some golden tablets, read them with the aid of a stone in a top hat and translated them out of some ancient language into not 19th century English, but 16th century English – that man was a fraud and a charlatan – and any modern politician who nails his colours to the mast of that particular religion is someone that I’m suspicious of voting for. I know those beliefs are private, but they’re crazy beliefs. And why should I vote for a man, however sensible his public beliefs may be, if his private beliefs are ridiculous and mad?”

It does seem a rather odd contradiction that most Americans feel the private, doctrinal religious beliefs of their political representatives are somehow sacrosanct and beyond skeptical analysis while at the same time demanding that they not only openly demonstrate and profess their religious convictions, but also translate selective aspects of their beliefs into public policy.