Thursday, December 06, 2007

Gott Mit(t) Uns

As a schoolboy in Maryland, I was justly proud to learn of my state’s history of religious toleration embodied in the Toleration Acts enacted in the colony in 1649. Then I learned that the Act prescribed freedom of religions for everyone – but only if they were Christian.

Which brings us to Mitt Romney, who I admit gave one of the better political speeches of a generation today in service to his Mormonism, his belief in Jesus and his desire to become president and banish to perdition the would-be “Christian candidate” Mike Huckabee. Still, in totality the speech sounded more like a whine – and an alarm for what may become of this country if we keep electing pastors instead of presidents.

Romney is quite impressive, with the hair, the chin, the voice and the sanctimony to become president. But his speech fundamentally (pun intended) denies history and law.

That “our Creator” gave us liberty is a humble rhetorical gesture, but recall He is cited as the author of freedom in the Declaration of Independence and not in the Constitution, which is, of course, the supreme law of the land and a document that specifically says, “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

The Founding Fathers were believers, but mostly deist, Unitarian or Episcopalian, not given to public demonstrations of piety.

And what to make of the absurd assertion Romney makes that "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom?” Nice trope, but come on, Mitt! There is liberty in France and Italy, for sure, and they are among the most Catholic of countries. Except very few French or Italians bother to practice their religion. Take Israel, a state directly found upon religion. Israelis are free, and most are not pious nor even particularly observant, and the most devout Jews – Hasidim – do not even support the existence of Israel.

For Romney to talk of other religions as “the evangelicals,” “the Lutherans,” “the Jews” or “the Muslims” is to marginalize them as another “group” instead of celebrating them as individuals. By calling them “the” whatevers is exactly what leads to the kind of prejudice Romney claims to be the victim of.

There are other oddities in his speech, not the least of which is his constant reference to “some” or “others” – the unnamed straw men who would demand he renounce his faith or dare to believe God has nothing to do with political freedom or who want to banish God from public life. “They” exist, sadly, only in his imagination.

Romney's entire thesis linking God with liberty is undone by his own words: "No people in the history of the world have sacrificed as much for liberty. The lives of hundreds of thousands of America's sons and daughters were laid down during the last century to preserve freedom.”

That is, from the Revolution through World War II, liberty was neither discovered nor given to us as the result of anything other than fighting for it, bleeding for it and dying for it in warfare against other people who prayed to the same God, or same prophet.

And what to make of this bizarre imagery: “As I travel across the country and see our towns and cities, I'm always moved by the many houses of worship with their steeples, all pointing to heaven, reminding us of the source of life's blessings.”

Now, I know Republicans are not particularly friendly to science, but if Romney is moved by rooftop architecture “pointing to heaven,” I suggest he renew acquaintanceships with Messrs. Copernicus, Galileo and Newton to remind himself that there is no other place a spire can point. (I would not even ask what he thinks of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.)

The fact of the matter is that Romney and his chief tormentor, Huckabee, are playing a popular political game of cloaking themselves in the robes of the Almighty, which is quite modern, really, starting with Ronald Reagan, the least church-going of any recent president.

Professor David Domke at the University of Washington studies presidential rhetoric and finds that:

“On average, presidents from Franklin Roosevelt --the beginning of the modern presidency -- to Carter mentioned God in less than half of their major addresses. In contrast, Reagan, Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush (through year six) all did so in more than 90 percent of theirs. Further, the total number of references to God in the average presidential speech since 1981 was an astounding 120 percent higher than the average speech from 1933-1980. References to broader religious terms, such as faith, pray, sacred, worship, and crusade increased by 60 percent.”

Invoking God has given us the most intolerant, meanest political landscape of our history – not to mention an unnecessary war and the torture of nonbelievers. No matter what you believe in, what you don’t believe in or how you believe, remember that John F. Kennedy – the first candidate required to explain his faith, told us: "Here on Earth, God's work must truly be our own."

2 comments:

  1. David8:34 PM

    Bush I speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote a lauditory piece on the Romney speech in today's Wall Street Journal. http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/pnoonan/?id=110010955 .

    She says that Romney "started with a full JFK." Not quite. The key section of JFK's speech was his clear, unambiguous affirmation of the absolute separation of church and state. Romney's view seems more akin to the view that the Constitution meant that the government could not pick and choose among Christian denominations (with a little dispensation for the Jews).

    Ms. Noonan also gets the principal thrust of the speech backwards. After lauding the speech, she ends on this note:

    "There was one significant mistake in the speech. I do not know why Romney did not include nonbelievers in his moving portrait of the great American family. We were founded by believing Christians, but soon enough Jeremiah Johnson, and the old proud agnostic mountain men, and the village atheist, and the Brahmin doubter, were there, and they too are part of us, part of this wonderful thing we have. Why did Mr. Romney not do the obvious thing and include them? My guess: It would have been reported, and some idiots would have seen it and been offended that this Romney character likes to laud atheists. And he would have lost the idiot vote. My feeling is we've bowed too far to the idiots. This is true in politics, journalism, and just about everything
    else."

    Ms. Noonan is right. But she errs in failing to recognize that the whole point of the speech was specifically to omit such a statement; the entire speech was to "bow" to those Ms. Noonan sees as "idiots."

    I think the reality is that we have nothing to fear from Romney's theological beliefs per se, because he has shown that he will always jettison them for political convenience. That is why he ran in Massachusetts as a pro-reproductive rights, pro-gay candidate. One of the memorable
    quotes from the movie Casablanca is when Capt. Renaud explains that his principles depend which way the wind is blowing, and "the prevailing wind is from Vichy." The prevailing GOP wind is still from Colorado Springs, headquarters of James Dobson's Focus on the Family.

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  2. Anonymous11:30 PM

    Ira, who regularly makes statements of fact which often bear no trace of reality wrote:

    "The fact of the matter is that Romney and his chief tormentor, Huckabee, are playing a popular political game of cloaking themselves in the robes of the Almighty, which is quite modern, really, starting with Ronald Reagan..."

    Which of course has no bearing on reality whatsoever. Witnesseth...

    "...it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities from which the event has resulted can not be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage...."

    "....I shall take my present leave; but not without resorting once more to the benign Parent of the Human Race in humble supplication that, since He has been pleased to favor the American people with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquillity, and dispositions for deciding with unparalleled unanimity on a form of government for the security of their union and the advancement of their happiness, so His divine blessing may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations, and the wise measures on which the success of this Government must depend."

    And I'm sure that the big "G" in the center of the Masonic apron he was wearing when he delivered the address was for 'geewillikers,' eh?

    Cloaking is quite modern, starting with Ronald Reagan. ROFL

    I'm sure you're an accurate reporter too.

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