Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Projo Editorializes on Romney's Speech

Today's editorial in the Providence Journal reacts to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's nationally televised and widely-hyped speech on religion, "Faith in America".

Mitt Romney, the Projo notes, is facing a strong challenge in Iowa from Mike Huckabee for one overriding reason: Evangelical Protestants, who make up a large percentage of Republican primary voters, are flocking to the latter. Mr. Huckabee is one of them, while Mr. Romney adheres to the Mormon faith, which some view as a heretical cult.

The Projo's editorials are fatally addicted to weasel words (their editorial in support of torture was chock-full of them), and we hit the first one early on: "some" view the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as a heretical cult. Who are these "some"? As blogger and evangelical Christian Fred Clark notes on his blog Slacktivist, "some" is actually every other sect of Christianity.

Hoping to shore up his support with religious conservatives, the Projo continues, Mr. Romney delivered an intriguing speech last Thursday, reigniting the age-old discussion about the link between faith and politics in America. Many drew a comparison with John F. Kennedy’s 1960 address to Protestant ministers, in which he argued that his Roman Catholic faith posed no hindrance to his service as president.

Here we run into weasel word number two: "many" drew a comparison to JFK's speech. Who are these "many"? Basically, Romney's supporters, along with journalists who are too lazy to think for themselves and so mindlessly echo Romney's supporters. To get an idea of where this editorial is coming from, one need only note its description of Romney's speech as "intriguing".

Clark has a different take on Romney's speech: "The speech includes some decent stretches, but it was not, primarily, a courageous plea for religious tolerance and mutual respect. It was, instead, primarily an obsequious bit of sucking up by an outsider hoping to curry favor with the in crowd by parroting their condemnation of other outsiders."

The Projo writes: Perhaps because he needs the votes of religious conservatives, Mr. Romney stressed the links between freedom, tolerance and faith in God as the very stuff of America.

Clark put it this way: "Romney repeatedly says in his speech that his topic is religious liberty and his own faith. Given that, it's not surprising that he would argue that "freedom" and "religion" are compatible or complementary. But he goes beyond that, arguing that each requires the other -- that religion is necessary for freedom and that freedom is necessary for religion." Both of these assertions, Clark points out, are wrong. Religion does not require freedom. In fact, religion can thrive in the complete absence of freedom, as the early history of Christianity itself demonstrates. Even worse is the other half of Romney's much-noted soundbite, the assertion that freedom requires religion.

"If freedom requires religion," says Clark, "then the a-religious and irreligious, the non-religious and un-religious are the enemies of freedom. Romney believes, in other words, that atheism is incompatible with freedom. Whatever it is he means by 'religious liberty,' he does not believe it can safely be applied to atheists . . . . Whatever else that claim means, it seems to imply that freedom requires the right kind of religion. Having already established, in the case of atheists, that individuals are neither competent nor entitled to decide for themselves what they should or should not believe, it thus falls to the government to make this decision. 'Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom' implies that the government must protect religion's right to freedom by determining which believers have the right kind of religion (the kind that freedom requires) and which believers have the wrong kind of religion (the kind that threatens freedom by exercising it)."

There’s something to that, says the Projo.

No, there isn't. See above.

The Declaration of Independence declares that the “Creator” endows each person with the rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness — a way of saying that these are rights no person or government can legitimately take away.

The Declaration also refers to "Nature's God", which was, as conservative evolutionist Larry Arnhart notes, a concept of "God as First Cause" which was "most clearly manifested in the lawful order of nature." In other words, the Creator mentioned in the Declaration was an abstract noun denoting a universe governed by a set of understandable laws. This is not Mitt Romney's God. The Projo is also very careful to avoid pointing out that the Constitution, the fundamental basis of our country's government, doesn't mention God at all.

John Adams argued that religious faith shapes moral character, and is essential in people who govern themselves.

John Adams also observed, "Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been upon the point of breaking out, 'This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!'"

George Washington constantly referred to the role of a caring God in the creation of America, as when he resigned his military power after the Revolution: “I consider it an indispensable duty to close . . . by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God and those who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping.”

And as Brooke Allen pointed out, "It is interesting to note that the Father of our Country spoke no words of a religious nature on his deathbed, although fully aware that he was dying, and did not ask for a man of God to be present; his last act was to take his own pulse, the consummate gesture of a creature of the age of scientific rationalism."

Of course, a number of the Founders seemed to be Deists and may not have believed in the divinity of Jesus.

Bang! Weasel word number three: "seemed". There is no "seemed" about it. As Brooke goes to considerable pains to point out, a number of the Founders, such as Tom Paine, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, were definitely deists, and others such as John Adams, James Madison, and, yes, George Washington, leaned toward deism.

The Bill of Rights, which they appended to the Consitution, thankfully, laid out that Congress may not create a state religion, or hinder Americans from practicing the religion of their choice (or none at all). This system has worked brilliantly to protect religious pluralism here and tamp down religious hatreds.

Until relatively recently, few understood the separation of church and state to mean that all references to God must be banished from the public square. Indeed, such a government-enforced ban — even if it were practicable in a country with so many religious believers — would itself reflect intolerance. This is some of what Mr. Romney was saying.

No, this is not "some of what Mr. Romney was saying". As noted above, Mr. Romney was saying that "freedom requires religion", that unless you are a member of the right religion, you aren't entitled to freedom.

Mr. Romney seemed wrongheaded in arguing no one should ask him about his faith. Certainly, questions about a candidate’s religion, and how that has shaped his or her thinking, are reasonable.

And here we have another weaselly "seemed". And, ironically, Romney is right when he argues that no one should ask him about his faith, and the Projo is wrong when it says that it's reasonable to ask questions about a candidate's religion. The only relevant question about a candidate's religion is whether he believes that the government should be used to impose that religion on other people. And Romney blew that question by answering "yes".

Still, prejudice against people because of their private religious beliefs — in politics or anywhere else — is wrong. Fortunately, Americans increasingly seem to understand that.

Except for the fundamentalist Christians who were the actual targets of Romney's speech. They are perfectly happy to discriminate against people because of their private religious beliefs, especially if their private religious belief is that they don't have any. And Romney, in his speech, was assuring them that he agreed with them.
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