Mitt, JFK, faith, and freedom

This’ll just be a roundup, since I don’t have time to do the entry I’d meant to do on this.

Romney attempted to answer the broad questions about his faith and how he’d handle it in office recently, and made more than casual attempts to paint himself as a sort of JFK figure in the process. Kennedy, as you may recall, gave a similar speech to the Greater Houston MInisterial Association in 1960 (right here in Houston) wherein he attempted to put to rest worries that a Catholic president would be little more than the Vatican’s proxy.

The primary problem with Mitt as Jack in this situation, though, is the message of either speech. As Maureen Dowd put it:

The problem with Mitt is not his religion; it is his overeager policy shape-shifting. He did not give a brave speech, but a pandering one. Disguised as a courageous, Kennedyesque statement of principle, the talk was really just an attempt to compete with the evolution-disdaining, religion-baiting Huckabee and get Baptists to concede that Mormons are Christians.

“J.F.K.’s speech was to reassure Americans that he wasn’t a religious fanatic,” Mr. [Jon] Krakauer [author of Under the Banner of Heaven, a history of Mormanism] agreed. “Mitt’s was to tell evangelical Christians, ‘I’m a religious fanatic just like you.’”

Fred Clark has more, mostly analyzing Romney’s charming but hopeless and frighteningly wrong cuplet “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.”

That’s a nice bit of parallelism. It pleases the ear even as it disturbs the brain. In a formal sense, the statement is valid. The first part is not true “just as” the second part is not true.

Romney repeatedly says in his speech that his topic is religious liberty and his own faith. Given that, it’s not surprising that he would argue that “freedom” and “religion” are compatible or complementary. But he goes beyond that, arguing that each requires the other — that religion is necessary for freedom and that freedom is necessary for religion.

Let’s deal with the latter assertion first: “religion requires freedom.” There are far too many counter-examples for this to be true. Think of China, where the government denies religious freedom to millions of Christians and Falun Gong adherents and Tibetan Buddhists. Yet despite this lack of freedom, despite this active oppression — and, in a way, in response to this oppression — these faiths are all thriving. This is what the early Christian theologian Tertullian was getting at when he said, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Religion can survive, and thrive, in the absence of freedom.

and more:

But as potentially troubling and unfactual as the latter part of Romney’s assertion is, the first part of it is worse.

“Freedom requires religion,” Romney said. Had he said, “Freedom requires religious freedom,” then I would agree, absolutely. [...]

But Romney did not say that freedom requires religious freedom. He said, “Freedom requires religion.” And that’s a contradictory statement — a very different, and very frightening, thing.

If freedom requires religion, then the a-religious and irreligious, the non-religious and un-religious are the enemies of freedom. Romney believes, in other words, that atheism is incompatible with freedom. Whatever it is he means by “religious liberty,” he does not believe it can safely be applied to atheists.

Keep in mind that this is Mitt “double Guantanamo” Romney talking — he’s made it clear what he wants to do to those he regards as the enemies of freedom.

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