I saw this at GetReligion and a couple of other places, and so had to take a look, and yes, it’s as bad as I could have expected. Seems Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Times, has some questions to ask of the Republican presidential candidates on the subject of religion. Not of the Democratic candidate, of course, since Barack Obama’s connection to one of America’s looniest, extreme left-wing, racist pastors was thoroughly vetted in the last campaign. (/sarc, and that’s especially for the Times, which essentially whitewashed the whole affair). In the process, he tells us more about Bill Keller and the agenda of his newspaper than about the candidates:

This year’s Republican primary season offers us an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life — and to get over them. We have an unusually large number of candidates, including putative front-runners, who belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans.

I think he left out the word “atheist” between “many” and “Americans.”

Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons, a faith that many conservative Christians have been taught is a “cult” and that many others think is just weird. (Huntsman says he is not “overly religious.”)

Mormonism is a “cult” in a technical, theological sense, i.e., one that Keller doesn’t understand and has no interest in. I don’t know of any Christians who would say Mormons are like members of the People’s Temple or Unification Church (Moonies). Aside from the fundamentalist branch of Mormonism, most of its adherents are perfectly normal people.

Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are both affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity — and Rick Santorum comes out of the most conservative wing of Catholicism — which has raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction.

My, aren’t we snarky? Keller clearly doesn’t know enough about Santorum to make a statement like this–in the uncorrected version of this piece, he referred to him as being part of one of those “fervid subsets”–so I think this is just Times-speak for Santorum being pro-life, which Keller considers extreme by definition. Bachmann was until recently a member of a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran church, a denomination that is conservative for sure, but “fervid”? I’ve never heard any Lutherans described that way. As for Perry, he was a United Methodist until he started attending Lake Hills Church in Austin, a Baptist congregation with pretty mainstream evangelical beliefs. None of them have said anything about breaching the separation of church and state, though some of their detractors have, basically without evidence, asserted that they would. And of course all three are pro-life, which means they are a threat to everything the Times holds dear.

I honestly don’t care if Mitt Romney wears Mormon undergarments beneath his Gap skinny jeans, or if he believes that the stories of ancient American prophets were engraved on gold tablets and buried in upstate New York, or that Mormonism’s founding prophet practiced polygamy (which was disavowed by the church in 1890). Every faith has its baggage, and every faith holds beliefs that will seem bizarre to outsiders. I grew up believing that a priest could turn a bread wafer into the actual flesh of Christ.

OK, so Keller is a lapsed Catholic. That explains a lot, particularly the animus that he expresses in this article toward anyone who takes the beliefs of his faith seriously. And his claim that he doesn’t care about Mitt Romney’s underwear is just a wee tad creepy for my taste.

But I do want to know if a candidate places fealty to the Bible, the Book of Mormon (the text, not the Broadway musical) or some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this country. It matters to me whether a president respects serious science and verifiable history — in short, belongs to what an official in a previous administration once scornfully described as “the reality-based community.” I do care if religious doctrine becomes an excuse to exclude my fellow citizens from the rights and protections our country promises.

And here’s where the knife comes out, and both truth and faith take it in the back. To wit:

1) As a committed secularist, Keller is apparently of the opinion that all religious believers must give their primary allegiance to the state rather than to God. That’s a position that any Christian who takes his or her faith seriously must reject unequivocally.

2) He si also apparently of the opinion that those who believe in the revelation of God found in Scripture must be per se incapable of respecting either science or history. He should ask Francis Collins of the Human Genome Project, a devout evangelical about the former. As for the latter–huh?

3) His complaint about “religious doctrine”–you guessed it, that about abortion again (oh, and gay marriage). People like Keller are convinced that because they reject particular religious doctrines, therefore whatever positions they take on moral questions and public policy are both religion and doctrine-free. That is a delusion that fails to recognize the ideological character of the positions they take.

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.

I have no idea what kind of “Trojan horse” he’s talking about. Did Perry join the Scientologists when we weren’t looking? Or is Keller just sliding into the role of those who questioned whether John Kennedy would be loyal to America or to Rome? As for “divine instructions,” when he objects to Barack Obama taking advice from Jim Wallis or the National Council of Churches I’ll be impressed.

He then goes on to cite the borderline ludicrous articles on Bachmann and Perry that alleged they had “Dominionist” tendencies, mostly by assuming that anything loony anyone they’d ever associated with had said could be attributed to them. (That’s especially the case with Perry.) Needless to say, neither Keller nor his newspaper ever did that with Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright. He then goes on to offer a list of questions that should be asked of any candidate of whose religion the Times does not approve:

To get things rolling, I sent the aforementioned candidates a little questionnaire (which you can find on The 6th Floor blog). Here’s a sample:

•Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that America is a “Christian nation” or a “Judeo-Christian nation?” and what does that mean in practice?

This question is a “gotcha” that is trying to tie candidates to David Barton of Wallbuilders, who advocates for a view of American history that sees it as a “Christian nation.” Their response should be, “why, have I ever said that, or are you actually asking whether I agree with a particular individual’s perspective?”

•Would you have any hesitation about appointing a Muslim to the federal bench? What about an atheist?

That’s a legitimate question in light of Herman Cain’s indication of hesitance to appoint Muslims to positions in a Cain administration. The response should be, “of course not, as long as they agree with my judicial philosophy.”

•What is your attitude toward the theory of evolution, and do you believe it should be taught in public schools?

That’s pure “gotcha,” given that the federal government doesn’t set science curriculum now, and most of the Republican candidates are more likely to have the feds exercise less rather than more authority in education. The response, therefore, should be, “what’s that got to do with being president?”

He also asked at his blog:

•What do you think of  the evangelical Christian movement known as Dominionism and the idea that Christians, and only Christians, should hold dominion over the secular institutions of the earth?

Here I think they should look at him as if he’s lost his mind and say, “what are you talking about?” They should then go on to say that only paranoids are fixated on Dominionism, and ask if he’s ever actually met one (a Dominionist, not a paranoid).

I also asked specific questions of the candidates. I wanted Governor Perry to explain his relationship with David Barton, the founder of the WallBuilders evangelical movement, who preaches that America should have a government “firmly rooted in biblical principles” and that the Bible offers explicit guidance on public policy — for example, tax policy. Since Barton endorsed Perry in the past, it would be interesting to know whether the governor disagrees with him.

Really? I wonder if Keller knows that the Communist Party USA endorsed Barack Obama in 2008? Should he be held accountable for all of the CPUSA’s views?

And what about John Hagee, the Texas evangelist who described Catholicism as a “godless theology of hate” and declared that the Holocaust was part of God’s plan to drive the Jews to Palestine? In the 2008 campaign, John McCain disavowed Hagee’s endorsement. This time around, the preacher has reportedly decided to bestow his blessing on Perry’s campaign.

And your point is what, exactly? Since when is any presidential candidate responsible for everyone who decides to vote for them?

That’s all I’ve got the time or patience for right now. Check out the eviscerations of Keller at GetReligion by Mollie Hemingway and Sarah Pulliam Bailey.