I’ve alluded many times to my fairly low opinion of Christopher Hitchens as a thinker, but there’s simply no denying that he’s a great writer. And when habitually great writing meets the phenomenon of “even a stopped clock is right twice a day” the result is a masterful piece of well deserved character assassination. Mitt Romney’s recent speech on religion, at times both bland and bizarre, is the target of Hitchens’ latest Slate piece. As ever, Hitchens is delightfully nasty and unfair, which is to say that I enjoyed reading it more than I learned much from it. David Brooks has a far more balanced take on things, but as with just about everything Brooks has ever written, it’s no fun.
Meanwhile, it is nice to see how far we’ve come that Romney is actually facing some open and hard questions on his attitudes towards non-believers, and not even from any one side of the political spectrum: Ramesh Ponnuru at the National Review makes the point without caveats. Predictable old K-Lo, on the other hand, endorses a sneeringly dishonest bit of spin trying and failing to wave away the idea that Romney’s idealized country club America might not like atheists.
Oh, the horror! Unfortunately for this spin, the first part of the sentence is usually omitted: “Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me.”
Are we to believe that atheists, agnostics, Satanists, and the other sundry non-believers supposedly shunned by Romney here are opponents of religious freedom? I think not. That was as much of a shout-out to those fringe segments of our society as this speech could reasonably have been expected to include.
I mean, try to follow that warped logic. If you think that Mitt wasn’t patting atheists on the head by not mentioning them at all except to imply that they were all out to destroy good Christian society, then you must be an enemy of religious freedom, right? Right? It’s like claiming that saying “any good person, any atheist, is a friend of mine” is some sort of special compliment for Christians to be proud of. In fact, it rather coyly tells us nothing at all whether the speaker even considers Christians to be good people, and if you go on to argue that Christians are doing evil things or that being good requires non-belief… well.
As to whether Mitt is going to clarify his stance on the atheist issue anytime during the Republican primary… I think skepticism is probably warranted:
A spokesman for the Mitt Romney campaign is thus far refusing to say whether Romney sees any positive role in America for atheists and other non-believers, after Election Central inquired about the topic yesterday.
Finally, it’s worth yet again noting the surprising winner of the President or Presidential candidate most likely to provide fair and respectful mentions of atheists is and remains… George W Bush, who has many times seen fit to include “and people with no faith at all” in his list of good Americans, regardless of how outrageous they still might find the rest of the ideas he’s pushing at the time. No sitting President that I’ve ever observed has been as, well, religious about including such language in his public addresses, and it’s particularly laudable given how politically counter-productive it is. I suspect that this sort of unexpectedly kind consideration for non-believers comes from having a close personal/professional relationship with one.