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December 06, 2007

Romney makes no place at table for non-believers

Mitt Romney declares there is no place in America for those who don't believe in God.  In his entire framing of the issue and of his view of American liberty, it places the rest as second-class citizens with no claim to being part of his America.

Re: Romney's Speech, Annotated:

“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.”

Furthermore, “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom”, which is obviously an attractive turn of phrase, is too facile but worse is self-evidently false.  What sort of historical proof is there that “religion requires freedom”?  Great oppressions throughout human history have been due to religion.  So although a pluralistic society incorporating multiple religions probably requires freedom, religion as commonly understood does not require freedom.

Does freedom require religion?  Not in the (as written) sense that only a religion can create freedom.  There are free societies that are not obviously based on a religion.  Rather, the reasonable formulation would be that freedom ... must allow for religions ... but that's basically by definition.  If it didn't,  we wouldn't really be free, would we?

More accurate would be “Freedom must allow religions (by definition) and religions require freedom in order to co-exist as co-equals.”

Update (12/7): EJ Dionne notes similarly:

Well. Religion can certainly be conducive to freedom. But does freedom require religion? Is religion always conducive to freedom? Does freedom not also thrive in far more secular societies than our own? Isn’t the better course for our nation to seek solidarity among lovers of liberty, secular as well as religious? After all, it was a coalition of believers and secularists, as the Princeton scholar Jeffrey Stout has noted, that sent a communist dictatorship tumbling down in Pope John Paul II’s native Poland.

When Romney says,

“Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence of government.

Obviously atheists don't ”acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God“.  I'm not sure Hindus (world's third largest religion) or Buddhists would see it this way.

Gods have been around a long time without giving liberty, including strains of Christianity.  They want freedom for them, but not necessarily for others.  The Christian right in America itself promotes its religion as superior and the basis from which all else should be based.  This is not liberty.

If from anyone, liberty is a gift of the Founders, a gift more fragile and requiring more upkeep than many of us realized growing up in the 60s and 70s, to our dismay in the last 30 years of religious attacks to present versions of Christianity as the ”true“ basis of being American.

It is easy to see how DemocratDad reaches this conclusion from Romney's speech:

Although he addressed the speech to all Americans, he was not talking to me when he gave this speech. Romney made it perfectly clear that as President he would represent non-believers like me with reluctance at best. We do not fit into his idea of Americans; we are an after-thought.

If the two political parties in this country are headed towards the conclusion that, as an atheist, I am not a true American, then my family and I will, in effect, be sent into political exile. For me (as for the ancient Athenians, who also valued political partipation as a part of the core of a person's identity), exile robs life of its meaning.

Romney, unwittingly or not, for reasons of political expediency or not, threatened me with political -- and therefore, for a non-believer, spiritual -- exile in his speech today.

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