19 May, 2008

Mitt Romney Gets Something Right - And So Much More Wrong

As I was spelunking the internets tonight during dinner (chicken tikka masala, if you were wondering, purchased from the same Indian restaurant Bill Gates enjoys, mmm), I came across this little gem on the Bad Idea Blog: a little speech by Mitt Romney entitled "Freedom Requires Religion." (.pdf)

No need to reach for the airsick bag. It's not as odious as you might think, given the title.

For one thing, Romney's rethought a few things since his wanna-be Kennedy speech about religion and decided that atheists deserve freedom, too:

Several commentators, for instance, argued that I had failed to sufficiently acknowledge the contributions that had been made by
atheists. At first, I brushed this off – after all this was a speech about
faith in America, not non-faith in America. Besides, I had not enumerated the contributions of believers – why should non-believers get special treatment?

But upon reflection, I realized that while I could defend their absence from my address, I had missed an opportunity…an opportunity to clearly assert the following: non-believers have just as great a stake as believers in defending religious liberty.

If a society takes it upon itself to prescribe and proscribe certain streams of belief – to prohibit certain less-favored strains of conscience – it may be the non-believer who is among the first to be condemned. A coercive monopoly of belief threatens everyone, whether we are talking about those who search the philosophies of men or follow the words of God.

We are all in this together. Religious liberty and liberality of thought flow from the common conviction that it is freedom, not
coercion, that exalts the individual just as it raises up the nation.

I might be more inclined than your typical atheist to feel he really means it for one reason: our Mormon neighbors used to let us drink beer.

Page, Arizona is one of the most religious places I've ever lived, and the bulk of its religious folk are Mormon. I find the religion ridiculous and it's missionaries pathetic, but I can't deny that my Mormon neighbors were decent bloody people. We hadn't had neighbors so kindly since living among the mostly-godless in Flagstaff. We threw block parties, at which my dad drank beer and they drank soda (reformed LDS, the branch of it that can get away with caffeine), and they never cared that my dad and I were heathens. Aside from the occasional missionary bleating at my door, I never heard much about religion out of the Mormons. Probably because they have missionaries for that.

One of my friends did give me the Book of Mormon once because she wanted me to understand her faith better. I tossed it on the couch and didn't give it another thought until my big calico cat came in, looked at it, puffed up and hissed, walked waaaay way around it, and sat down staring me in the eye with a "What are you going to do about that evil thing?" look on her face. I trust my cats. I got rid of the book.

Anyway. Aside from my old calico thinking that the Book of Mormon was evil incarnate, Mormons for all their foibles have, on the whole, been less obnoxious than the more enthusiastic sects of Christianity, such as those energetically attempting to crowbar IDiocy into the nation's schools. And so it doesn't surprise me that Mitt Romney came down on the side of freedom from belief as well. The more churchy Mormons I knew in Page were snooty as hell and much holier-than-thou, and there are some branches of the Mormon tree that are, shall we say, too fucking twisted to make good lumber, but Mitt reminds me of those neighbors who had absolutely no problem with people being different than them, and didn't think it would sully their perfection to be seen in the presence of people who drank beer and said "Fuck" a lot.

Like my old neighbors, Mitt proved he has a rational brain, employs it, and thus we can have a basis for conversation. He said what many of the Christians who work cheek-by-jowl with such apostates as the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and the ACLU say: there's a place for everyone at this table, and religious freedom benefits us all.

It's in the next bit of the speech, answering further criticisms of his previous speech, where he fucks up.

The more controversial assertion, however, was that freedom requires religion.

One critic dismissed this idea by pointing out that there are countries in Europe which have become godless but nevertheless remain democratic. But I was not speaking about Europe’s recent experiments in state secularism, I was speaking about America and the larger family of
free nations; and I was not speaking about a moment of time, but rather about a span of history. Would America and the freedom she inaugurated here and across the world survive – over centuries – if we were to abandon our faith in God?

I don’t believe so.

Oh, Mitt. Mitt. Where oh where did that brain go? Rotted out by religion, I see.

If Europe survived their loss of faith, and saw freedom and democracy flourish, America would survive just as well, you silly shit.

He yawps on for a good several paragraphs about all of the buggers who've yawped about the importance of religion and freedom before. I grant you, some views of religion were important to freedom - then. Back when everybody was a God-botherer and kings ruled by Divine Right, of course freedom had to be defended by saying rights were given to humans by God. Only way to trump the king, wasn't it?

We hardly need that kind of justification now. We have a long humanist tradition to draw on. We have reason, law, and when it comes down to defense, an atheist can shoot a gun as accurately as a Christian, and may shoot just that little bit straighter for not having an afterlife as a consolation prize. I can guarantee you that if some fanatical buggers came in guns a-blazin' to take our freedoms away, we'd all be getting armed in a hurry.

Not having God doesn't mean we don't have the conviction and the passion to champion freedom. Quite the contrary. Freedom is all the more precious when the alternative is enforced belief.

And you want to talk about bastards likely to take freedom away, I have news for ye: religion has been the enemy of freedom far more often throughout history than it's been it's bosom companion. Don't you tell me how much religion loves freedom, Mitt. It loves it only so long as it needs it.

So when you say shit like this:

Nor can we overlook the fact that people of faith have a unique appreciation for freedom. Because the practice of religion requires
freedom, liberty is especially precious to people of faith. They are willing to sacrifice much to protect it.

I say, "So the fuck what? So are we. You've proven bugger-all on the 'freedom requires religion' front, matey."

And when you conclude with some inane personal anecdote explaining why freedom requires religion, well, I'm sorry. I know it's your deeply-held conviction, but I just have to laugh my ass off:

There is one more reason why I am convinced that our freedom requires religion.

One day as a boy when a sermon at church was unusually boring, I asked my Dad to give me a dollar bill so I could look at something more interesting. On the back, there is a curious picture of a single eye surrounded by rays suspended over a pyramid—the great seal of the United States.What’s that, I asked? My father explained that it was the eye of God, and that the Founders believed that He watched over the affairs of this nation. And I later learned that the words on the
seal were from Virgil - Annuit Coeptis – “God has favored our undertakings.”

That's it? That's your compelling reason? God's eye is on the dollar bill, previous presidents prayed, and that's evidence God blesses America and freedom can't survive without religion?

Maybe in your world, boyo, but in mine, freedom actually survives a fuck of a lot better without religion. But since you were so kind as to give us a place at the table, I expect we'll return the favor. At least you've got the general idea: it's freedom, not coercion, that'll keep this nation great.


Unknown said...

I like how religious debate is a fight over monotheists and unbelievers. As a Buddhist, I find most of the debates funny. In Buddhism, faith is very important, but so is skepticism. God, however, is seen as a possibility since it exists in the mind just like colors, flavors, sights, and sounds. But there's no belief specifically in the Christian God and the prescriptions on what we need to do to be "saved."

As for the book of Mormon, I have not read it yet. For me, the main thing with religious books is not whether it is true or not, but rather how it can help my life. I am reading the New Testament right now, and it doesn't offer me much help. Not to insult Christians or anything, it just doesn't connect with me in any deep way. It is highly humerous, though, and it raises more questions than it answers.

Efrique said...

What was actually necessary to freedom and democracy was the Enlightenment. Which was much more a throwing off of religion.

I've seen Romney's attitude come up a lot from theists. It (as so often with theists) just consists of assertion of opinion, absent facts.

The position seems to be, basically, that since religion was still hanging around at the same time as a growth in political freedom, that it was somehow necessary to it. No real evidence that it was anything more than that is forthcoming.

It reminds me of the old TV ads for suger-laden breakfast cereals, where there'd be a shot of a whole lot of breakfast stuff - juice, banana, toast, etc, and a bowl of sugar-coated-chocolate-bombs.

They'd say "part of this complete breakfast!" when it looked a hell of a lot more like "adjacent to this complete breakfast!"

Religion. "It happened to be hanging around when freedom increased."

Dana Hunter said...

LOL, Efrique! Love the slogan! Mind if I take that up as my battle cry?

Welcome, Leroy! You and I will have to talk Buddhism one o' these days. It's about the only religion out there that makes sense to me... other than Pastafarianism, of course!

Efrique said...

Sure. I'd like to make it punchier, but I couldn't figure out how.