Thursday, December 06, 2007

Til we crack the code

Mitt Romney gave a speech today somewhere in Texas, purportedly to rescue his campaign from the rise of Mike Huckabee, who is a Southern Baptist preacher. Romney is, of course, a Mormon, and he gave this speech hoping to calm fears about his religion among the evangelical base. I remember, when I was young, seeing books and pamphlets and videos that warned of the Evil Cult of Mormonism and equated it with Satanism and the Heaven's Gate cult (I really think that in some ways Heaven's Gate was preferred, as at least they had the decency to off themselves and save Good Christians the trouble), and so it amazes me that he thinks he ever had a chance of getting elected in 2008. The idea of the fundies being forced to choose between the Evil Cultist and Hitlery is amusing, but I really think they would mostly just stay home instead of voting.

Religion is a terribly political issue in this election, right up there with gender and probably more so than race. I've seen people freaking out because Obama's middle name is Hussein, which means he's a Muslim, never mind that he's a member of the United Church of Christ (I think). I've read at least three or four different articles about how the Democrats, those filthy atheists, have suddenly discovered the religious voter. Issues are cast in religious terms; even global warming is 'stewardship of the earth,' health care laws are moral because Jesus said to take care of the poor, and of course the War on Terror is an apocalyptic battle between Islam and Christianity.

While I've known enough religious people who are genuinely good to believe that religion in the public square is not necessarily pernicious, I think that it often can be. Christianity in the form of modern evangelical millenialism has influenced American public policy in subtle ways; I think it was at least partially responsible for the invasion of Iraq, it is certainly responsible for our support of Israel's rights over the rights of other countries and peoples, and it's responsible for things like abstinence-only sex ed and reduction in government support for contraception. Religion can be very very harmful.

Which is why it irritates me that the current electoral climate requires Presidential candidates to say things like this:

"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."

like Romney did today, in order to reassure voters that they're electable.

Contrast this with someone who did, in fact, get elected to the Presidency of the United States:

"In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own."

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814

(Ok, so maybe "elected to the Presidency" is a simplification, but he was Vice President and then President and, of course, wrote the Declaration of Independence and was a genuine Founding Father, and so maybe he ranks a little higher than Mr. Romney in the conservative hierarchy of political thought.)

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