November 30, 2017

A Political Litmus Test to Consider

Litmus in hydrochloric acid colores red.
Litmus in hydrochloric acid colores red. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I think we all know what a litmus test is, but since I am going to refer to the use of a litmus test in a particular context, I'll go ahead and spell it out. Imagine a political candidate with whom you agree on every issue that matters to you. This is your ideal candidate because he or she shares your views and your priorities. This is someone who is going to do his or her best to represent you. Wouldn't that be a nice change?

Now imagine that there is one exception, a single issue where you and this otherwise ideal candidate do not see eye-to-eye. A political litmus test would mean that if this one issue was sufficiently important to you, you would not vote for this candidate even though he or she was ideal in every other respect.

Many people have political litmus tests. One common one on the left involves support for reproductive rights for women. Over the years, I have heard many people on the left say that there is no way they would vote for an anti-choice candidate even if that candidate agreed with them on everything else. A more recent one on the left might be perceived support for big corporations and/or Wall St. Opposition to taxes and support for gun rights are among the more common ones on the right. Again, I have heard many people on the right say that there is no way they would vote for a candidate who was not willing to make an anti-tax pledge or who might go along with any form of gun control. The point is that many voters have political litmus tests, single issues on which they would refuse to support otherwise ideal candidates.

I'm not here to argue that political litmus tests are good or bad. I have little difficulty understanding why people use them even though I think they may have downsides. In fact, I'd like to suggest a very specific sort of political litmus test for your consideration. I have little problem voting for political candidates who are religious believers. I'd never reject an otherwise ideal candidate merely because he or she was a religious believer. In fact, I wouldn't necessarily reject a political candidate merely because he or she was a religious fundamentalist. I would, however, absolutely reject an otherwise ideal political candidate who was a religious fundamentalist who embraced "end times" theology.

That is, I would support a political litmus test involving a genuine religious belief that the end of the world was coming in the next few years. Someone who does not believe we have a future should not have any political influence. I could not trust such a person to govern with our best interests in mind. There would be no reason for such a person to have a long-term outlook, and I think that would be a serious liability.

I do not think that this particular litmus test should be limited to atheists; I think that any religious believer who is not absolutely convinced that the world will end in his or her life should give it serious consideration as well. Most of the religious believers I know do not think the world is going to end anytime soon. Most think that their children and grandchildren will have the opportunity to grow up, and most would prefer that there is a pleasant future awaiting them. They too have an interest in preventing the "end times" crowd from getting into office.

When we evaluate political candidates who are religious believers, I think it is well worth our while to inquire about what they believe. If we learn that they are anticipating the apocalypse within our lifetimes, I think we should not only refuse to vote for them but actively oppose them. The alternative is too dangerous.