Earlier today, I mused about whether Mormon candidate Mitt Romney would emphasize the distinction between government office and religious practice or simply cheer on the religious right as a distraction from his theological indiscretions. Turns out that he decided to rather incoherently just do both, apparent contradictions be damned. And it also turns out that what I expected might be an interesting and authentic political moment was just plain trite and insulting, as usual.
His convictions will inform his decisions… but apparently only for show, never in any significant way that might scare people off. Religious beliefs are really really important… but their particular content is apparently irrelevant. He will be true to the beliefs of his forefathers… but what that entails is apparently up your (hopefully optimistic) imagination.
Essentially, Romney played the Kennedy card without really understanding the values that made Kennedy’s declaration meaningful. And, hot off his recent declaration that Muslims should not expect place in his administration, he apparently decided that a few casually ignorant swipes at non-believers would shore up his religious credentials better than any attempt to explain his own beliefs.
The biggest such religious right red meat moment was when he declared that “freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom.” A claim that he justified with the sort of scatterbrained logic we’ve come to expect from amateur theologists:
“Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God.”
Uh, ok: and how again does any of that mean that freedom (which was just being discussed as a political, not philosophical, idea) requires religion? Is the point supposed to be that atheists cannot truly be free: that our tiny “soul windows” are closed? That our beliefs and convictions aren’t profound, or at least that we’re ignorant of them? I’d be more irritated with those apparent implications if I thought that anyone had thought this flowery pabulum through aside from just liking the sound of it.
What remains irritating, however, is the continuing gross misrepresentation of what “Secularism” and the Separation of Church and State are all about.
Romney said he thought some have taken the idea of separation of church and state beyond its original meaning by trying to remove any acknowledgment of God from the public arena.
“It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America — the religion of secularism. They are wrong,” he said.
Are secularists really trying to remove God from the public arena? It really depends on what you mean by “public.” To some, it generally means things that fall under government activity: the government should not be in the religious business. To others, however, it means civil society as a whole: anything ordinary citizens do and say or put up on their front lawns in public. Secularism is almost entirely about the former meaning. But by exploiting this ambiguity, people like Romney can dishonestly imply (without quite outright lying) that secularists are out to rid private individuals from their rights of public religious expression. Given that most secularists would lay down their lives defending those rights to free expression and freedom of religion, however, claiming that we’re the biggest threat to these rights is nothing short of vile.
Secularism is not a religion. It’s a legal and political framework, not a belief system. And, ironically, the whole point of this framework is to enhance and respect religious freedom, not restrict it. It’s a set of rules laid down in order to make the playing field open and equal for all points of view. Claiming that secularism is a religion is like claiming that a buffet is forced feeding. It’s basically claiming that if Christianity in particular doesn’t get special government goodies and shout outs, that this somehow is a boon to non-belief. That’s utter nonsense.
And a man who cannot understand that, or who at least won’t be honest about it, is either intellectually or ethically unfit to be President. No matter what else he believes.