The Religious Test

Why We Must Question the Beliefs of Our Leaders

Damon Linker (Author, University of Pennsylvania)


A manifesto seeking to exhort both believers and atheists to behave better in the public sphere.

The Constitution states that “no religious test” may keep a candidate from aspiring to political office. Yet, since John F. Kennedy used the phrase to deflect concerns about his Catholicism, the public has largely avoided probing candidates’ religious beliefs. Is it true, however, that a candidate’s religious convictions should be off-limits to public scrutiny?

Damon Linker doesn’t think so, and in this book he outlines the various elements of religious belief—including radical atheism—that are simply incompatible with high office, and sometimes even active citizenship, in a democracy. In six forceful chapters he enlightens us to the complicated interrelations between churches and states, consistently applying a political litmus test to a range of theological views. Along the way, he clearly explains, among other topics, why the government in a religiously tolerant society must not promote a uniform, absolute code of ethics and behavior; why the conviction that America is worthy of divine attention is dangerous; and why the liberal position on the political deregulation of sex is our nation’s only hope for conciliation.

In this provocative, hard-hitting manifesto, Linker exhorts both believers and atheists to behave better in the public sphere, and he offers a carefully charted road map for doing so.

Book Details

  • Paperback
  • September 2010
  • ISBN 978-0-393-34969-6
  • 5 × 8 in / 256 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“‘Our saints will not be statesmen and our statesmen will not be saints.’ In this lapidary sentence Damon Linker concludes his literate and stirring defense of pluralism as a prerequisite of decent politics. His deeply thoughtful alternative to both know-nothing and know-everything politics will instruct readers who remain open to persuasion—whatever their persuasion.” — Todd Gitlin, author of The Sixties and coauthor of The Chosen Peoples

“God made all men equal. But men make religions, and they are not all equal. Some beliefs—and arguments against belief—are simply incompatible with life in a liberal democratic society. So argues Damon Linker in the freshest and most intellectually stimulating book on church and state to be published in some time.” — Mark Lilla, author of The Stillborn God

“A sensitive, thoughtful, and important new vision of the place of belief in an open and tolerant public square. Would that Linker’s Religious Test catches on!” — Isaac Kramnick, author of The Godless Constitution