The Worldview Witch Hunt

Oo ee oo ah ah ting tang walla walla bing bang.

My twin boys sing these lyrics with all the phonetic prowess they can muster at the ripe age of four. While we first heard this song over the radio, I have since downloaded it to my iPhone and it has quickly become one of the boys’ all time favorites. I will provide a little context for younger readers who aren’t familiar with the song (I was introduced to it by the movie “My Girl,” I dare admit).

This pop sensation from the 1950’s is about a man who consults a witch doctor (the title of the song) to find a secret expression to gain the affection of a woman. The simple advice was to repeat this long phrase that is reminiscent of the multi-syllabic word invented by Marry Poppins. My guess is that this likely worked out as well as “Love Potion #9.”

In the political realm today (ground upon which I tread judiciously) it seems a witch hunt of sorts is under way. Far from relational help and silly lyrics, it evokes images of the Salem witch trials from the 17th century. It appears, at least for one journalist, that persons of faith may not be fit for political office.

The New York Times’ executive editor Bill Keller raises such concerns in his article Asking Candidates Tougher Questions About Their Faith. Keller provides more detailed questions in a follow up piece here. This is a sampling of his questions for candidates:

  1. Is it fair to question candidates about controversial remarks made by their pastors, mentors, close associates or thinkers whose books they recommend?
  2. (a) Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that America is a “Christian nation” or “Judeo-Christian nation?” (b) What does that mean in  practice?
  3. (a) What is your attitude toward the theory of evolution? (b) Do you believe it should be taught in public schools?
  4. Do you believe it is proper for teachers to lead students in prayer in public schools?

I agree wholeheartedly with Keller that candidates should be subjected to diverse questioning including the topic of their religious commitments. However, his article smacks of the sort of scientism jockeyed around by the new atheist authors like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. Forgive my hyperbolic introduction, but have we really come to the point in our nation’s history when professing any sort of religious faith automatically negates one’s ability to serve the country?

Is a person who believes that we are “one nation under God” now suspect? Is it now abnormal for a person to take seriously the nomenclature branded on our coins and currency “in God we trust”? Should we assume that the ideal president would be an atheist?

While Keller provides nothing substantially controversial in his piece, there is an inherent attitude in his questions that concerns me. World Magazine’s Marvin Olasky takes issue with Keller’s inquisition as well in his article Questions for Evolving Candidates in which he provides the following list of counter questions:

  1. Woodrow Wilson argued, “Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice.” He meant that they must evolve, moving from their primitive starts toward higher, more sophisticated understandings. Do you think the U.S. Constitution is a Darwinian document? How should it evolve?
  2. Princeton professor Peter Singer, the leading animal rights theoretician, says, “All we are doing is catching up with Darwin. He showed in the 19th century that we are simply animals. Humans had imagined we were a separate part of Creation, that there was some magical line between Us and Them. Darwin’s theory undermined the foundations of that entire Western way of thinking.” What do you believe about the relationship between mankind and other species? What special role, if any, does man have? If you had to choose between saving a baby chimp and a baby human, which would you choose, and why?
  3. Do you agree with Darwin that “higher races” should and will become dominant over “lower ones?” If not, what in Darwinian thinking suggests that races do not compete with each other in struggle for survival of the fittest?
  4. In what ways is abortion, in that it kills millions who have below-average prospects in life, a good Darwinian way to improve humanity?
  5. What future developments do you hope for in human evolution, and how do you think genetic engineering could speed up the process?
  6. If a candidate believes that God (rather than an evolutionary process) created the world, what problems do you think flow from that?
  7. If by moving aggressively against “global warming” we hurt the poor, how much hurt should we allow?

Olasky and Keller are really getting at the same thing: a way to discern the political implications of a candidate’s worldview. And they’re both getting at it in pretty much the same manner. It is the basic premise behind their questions in which they differ greatly.

This is fundamentally a difference of worldviews.

Keller concludes his New York Times piece with the statement, “Because these are matters too important to take on faith.” One has to wonder if the Declaration of Independence could pass Keller’s test. I suppose he could add to his list of questions, “Do you support the Declaration of Independence and what problems do you think flow from that?”

Earlier in the article Keller makes the statement, “And I care a lot if a candidate is going to be a Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed.” Olasky rightfully sees through this and retorts with probing questions for Keller’s “ideal” candidate. To be honest, Keller’s questions are fair. And so are Olasky’s. At this rate, political discussions will look more like philosophical debates in the future.

While not explicitly stated in either article, it seems that the categorical options are a theistic president or an atheistic one. Both have worldviews with profound implications for public policy. Ultimately voters will decide. Two of the said voters will be the New York Times’ Bill Keller and World Magazine’s Marvin Olasky.

So, the real question is, “What worldview will you support at the poll?