In the holy hot seat: Religion should play small part in presidential campaigns

During the first Republican presidential primary debate, Fox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly, one of the debate moderators, introduced one of the final portions of the show. Kelly tasked herself with asking questions almost exclusively about the candidates’ spiritual and religious principles. There were many parts in this segment of the debate that were cringeworthy, to say the least.

“We want to ask [the candidates] an interesting closing question from Chase Norton on Facebook, who wants to know this of the candidates: ‘I want to know if any of them have received a word from God on what they should do and take care of first,’” Kelly said. “Senator Cruz, start from you. Any word from God?”

Fox News clearly has a certain audience that has helped make the network arguably the most successful (based on ratings) of the three main cable news stations (Fox News, CNN, MSNBC). Fox News draws its ratings from people of conservative, often Christian, background. It’s no surprise Fox News would pull a stunt like this, but that does not justify the use of this question in the debate.

It’s disgraceful that Fox News would even entertain the premise of this question, let alone ask presidential candidates for an answer on it. There are glaring issues with this question that reveal a bigger problem with the way people strong-arm politics with religion.

This question is bloated with an unnecessary spiritual angle. It shouldn’t matter whether the future president’s actions were inspired by a word from God or not. What matters is whether he or she got the job done efficiently and effectively.

Let’s listen to the candidates’ ideas to make the country better, then put them to the test with research and reason. History shows that many people of power have justified their abusive, tyrannical, maniacal decisions by saying it was the will of God in one way or another. Over and over again, these powerful rulers would use religious authority as the ultimate trump card. We should not fall into the same trap of letting our rulers essentially make up their own will of God in their answers to these ridiculous questions.

Religion is important. It shapes people, nations, even entire generations. There is a place for it in politics. But it must be incorporated into our political discussions carefully and competently.

Moving past the question from the debate, there is a much bigger issue in this country with religious analysis and criticism.

First, we have to be open to criticizing religion, all religion, a topic which many people in this country shy away from discussing.

Look at it this way. In the same way that Ravi Zacharias, a globally influential speaker, theologian and Christian apologist, once put it:

“A mood can be a dangerous state of mind because it can crush reason under the weight of feeling,” he said. “Every religion must face the responsibility of answering the questions posed to it. The reality is that if religion is to be treated with intellectual respect, then it must stand the test of truth.”

The problem isn’t that people are wondering where their political figures stand in terms of spirituality or religion. The religion by which he or she abides is very important, considering politicians make laws and decisions that are heavily influenced by their morality, which can be heavily influenced by their religion.

Naturally, religion is what people look at to categorize a politician’s moral code and applicable tendencies from that moral code. It makes sense to want to know a politician’s religion.

Rightly so, we should never give any politician a pass on religious issues or his or her religious stances. They’re possibly going to be running the country. It’s absolutely ludicrous to think religion isn’t something that should be questioned, no matter what religion it may be.

The problem is that we’re not asking the right questions about religion, and that starts in everyday conversation. Consequently, this makes the conversation on a national stage, in this case a presidential primary debate, muddled and hollow.

We do commend CNN for Wednesday night’s GOP debate, which refrained from direct religious questions.

The presidential primary is where we test candidates for their qualifications, or lack thereof to be the president of the United States. The test could go on forever. There is never really a perfect fit for the job.

Though religion is immeasurably important to government, we have to ask meaningful, productive questions of our presidential candidates in this crucial process for the progress (good or bad) of the nation.