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Zealots can be non-religious too


Last updated 12/19/2019 at 11:16am

There is much to take issue with in James Haught’s “Our country is ill-served by having zealots in high offices.”

In the limited space allotted in a letter, I’ll leave aside the smeary boilerplate that combines multiple guilt by association with dark hints regarding the “rapture” (gasp) and the shameful fact that some of our high officials attend — hold onto your hats — Bible studies. All of this neatly tied together and subsumed under the hated label of “Fundamentalist.” As a scholar in the field of American religious history, I perceive that Haught’s rant conceals a great irony, which I shall get to presently.

The founders place us between two assertions. The first is, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.” The second, “The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” The problem is that both these assertions were made by one individual — John Adams.

The background of our constitutional First Amendment freedom of and from religion is illuminated by Article VI Clause 3, which expressly forbids the application of a “Religious Test” for federal employees. This goes back to England, when officials were required to belong to the established Church of England.

Prior to the Revolution, some colonies applied religious tests to officeholders, requiring them to be confessing Christians, for example. Even after the Constitution was ratified, some discretion was left to the states in these matters and it was not until 1961 that these laws were finally, officially abolished.

Here is the irony I referred to above. Mr. Haught seems to want to go back to the bad old days — only in reverse. Cleanse the body politic of the “fundamentalists.”

We do agree on one thing, however. Zealotry can be an unhealthy thing. But I have found that zealotry is more a function of temperament than political or religious conviction.

There are non-religious zealots as well, and judging by his opinion piece, I think Mr. Haught certainly fits the bill.

Alan Shore, Ph.D

Bellingham, Wash.


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