Mitt Romney’s Curious Speech on Faith Excludes Many, Answers Little

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I rarely write about or even discuss my point of view about religion, in part because I think it is an intensely private issue, and one that far too often is another reason for division and conflict. Though I have deep respect for many of the ethical and moral teachings of Christianity and Judaism, I simply cannot accept that my destiny is controlled by a higher power, or that a profoundly illogical universe is the creation of such a power. My beliefs aside, I have confidence that a particular religious faith is neither a requirement for higher office nor a factor excluding one from it.

Unfortunately, one of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination does not share my beliefs. In a speech hailed by the likes of Rush Limbaugh today, Mitt Romney made it clear that his vision of American political life does not include people like me:

“Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I lack the arrogance to define which people are capable of discovering their most profound beliefs and promoting freedom. I would think that Mr. Romney, a member of a religious faith long smeared by rumor and dismissed through prejudice, would hesitate before making such claim. It’s significant to note that faith isn’t enough; in Romney’s vision of the world, one must accept religion. What room, then, I wonder, does Mr. Romney leave for the 30 million Americans who do not subscribe to any religious identification?

Next, Romney misinterprets the Constitution to his advantage:

“There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church’s distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution.”

This is wrong in almost every imaginable way. The Constitution does not place any sort of limit on the voters; it prohibits the government from excluding candidates because of their religious faith, or lack thereof. Certainly the framers of the Constitution did not intend to deny voters information about the religious beliefs of candidates, because those beliefs can certainly factor into decision-making.

Worse yet, Romney wants to have it both ways. He claims (many would say falsely) that Mormonism is a Christian faith, asserts non-controversial doctrine that will not offend evangelicals, but will refuse to answer other specific questions about his faith? It’s simply dishonest.

Finally, Romney makes a blatant appeal for Bill O’Reilly Republicans. You know, morons:

“We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders – in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests.

No one who has watched American politics in the last generation with a modicum of interest or a shred of credibility actually believes what Romney is implying: that faith is being driven from the public square. Our public life has become increasingly defined by a narrow vision of Christianity that has all of the punishment and far too little of the mercy. It’s significant that Romney defines meaningless, un-threatened symbols as the bedrock of American faith, not the mercy and love that defines the New Testament.

I guess those concepts don’t play too well to the base.

It’s a neat little rhetorical trick, too. Without defining what his beliefs are, Romney wants to assure evangelicals that he shares their values at the lowest common denominator. In his attempt to boldly claim the importance of his faith, Romney has cheapened it by politicizing it in the most crass terms.

I know that the media likes simple narratives, and the comparisons to JFK’s famous 1960 speech are almost inevitable. They’re just wrong. Kennedy’s speech, while certainly political, was not exclusively about winning an election. It was a call for tolerance of his faith. Romney’s speech is rhetorically vapid and nakedly political: a set of trial-balloon tested bromides an nudges to interest groups he hopes to either appeal to or manipulate.

There may be no room for me in Mitt Romney’s America. Really, that’s okay. There’s no room for him in my White House, either.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it’s a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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  • Seriously…having just written a paper on the British political process that defined American Revolutionary dialogue, I must say: questioning religion is a fundemental part of it. Our finest foundations rest in the English Enlightenment, where religiosity or lack thereof is a topic for continuous discussion just like any other philosophical or metaphysical question. The finest political thinkers (like Locke and Paine) of the English Enlightenment, which the American revolution was entirely a child of, were dissenters in one way or another.

    On a related note, the world really needs more Spinozists, to keep things interesting.

  • How does being a “good Christian” pertain to a person’s ability in the realm of governance?

    Religion, be it evangelical Christianity, Mormonism, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, should play no part in the political arena. Just as politics should play no part in the realm of religion.

    There were some U.S. Presidents who were very good, and who were avowed Christians; however, there were also some very bad presidents, who were also avowed Christians. Ergo, being a “good Christian” does not, necessarily, a good president make.

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