Freedom and Religion

Mitt Romney.JPG

Today I was watching an interview with Republican hopeful, Mitt Romney, on the Meet the Press podcast. A significant portion of the first half of the interview was dedicated to Romney discussing his religious faith. This is understandable to the degree that he could potentially be the first Mormon president of the U.S., and nevertheless, I was incredibly embarrassed by the whole thing. I kept thinking about how I would justify this type of “political” interview in Europe. In Europe, politicians would simply not be professing their faith to the electorate, and with the exception of “God Save the Queen” would not constantly be talking about “in God we trust” and their faith. Politicians do need to go to church or talk about God to win elections. Probably talking about religion would make them lose.

As a matter of fact, the U.S.’s fascination with religion is not only incredibly ironic, considering its birth as a land of religious freedom, but its politicians and voters’ insistance on using faith-based rationales for policies makes them more like Christian-style Shari’a-ists and sounding like the same “Islamofascists” that they are constantly waging war against.

In any event, Romney started off justifying a quote he had given in a recent speech about how freedom came from religion and religion from freedom. I am still not quite sure exactly what he meant, but theoretically it had something to do with the natural law that our forefathers set forth in the Declaration of Independence. According the Romney, the U.S.’s values flow from Judeo-Christian morality, without which there would be no freedom today. He did concede, though, that agnostics and atheists still had a place in society and add value of that freedom.

Then as he continued to explain his recent policy shifts (all towards the right), it was interesting to see just how he viewed the entire notion of freedom. People had the freedom to decide their faith and to describe their faith in a way that even insulted his own. Women should not have the freedom to have abortions, but unborn humans should have the freedom not to be aborted (try getting their votes, Mitt). Americans had the freedom to carry guns. This, of course, he nuanced. We should have the freedom to bear arms, as long as we use our guns for lawful purposes (I suppose that means killing animals and killing others in self-defense). The government also had the right to abort your life if you committed a serious enough crime. Finally, no one in the world should have the freedom to be within the U.S. borders without proper documentation. In other words, there is no freedom to be in the U.S.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not disagreeing per se with any of Mitt’s policies. But what I noticed was that the concept of freedom that we all hold so dear to us in the U.S. really does not mean what we think it means. And I am not proposing an anarchist state by any means; I simply think that we should call a spade a spade.

The idea of political freedom does not really mean that we have an inalienable right to the pursuit of hapiness or even to life. If that were the case, I don’t think that we’d have borders to keep others from trying to pursue happiness in our country. I am sure you all know that having the proper documentation is not easy, either in the U.S. or in Europe (and I can vouch for that). Freedom in American political life is really about procedural justice and how freedom is actually limited. The substantive laws tell us what we cannot do, and the procedural laws tell us that we must all be treated similarly in the limitation of those rights.

For example, in Romney’s America of freedom, you can have guns and be born, but you can’t learn about contraception or stop unwanted pregancies, the government can kill you, and you definitely cannot pursue happiness in the U.S. without having the right credentials.

The most absurd moment of the interview was when Romney was asked about how the Mormon church had not permitted racial equality until the late 1970s. Minutes before, Romney had explained how the Judeo-Christian moral faith had given Americans their freedom in 1776. Now he told, almost with tears in his eyes, the very touching story of how he cried when he heard the news (while driving in his car) that his faith had finally given full rights to black Africans and black Americans some 200 years late.

Maybe it’s time we start talking about how our policies can make our lives better — isn’t that what politicians are paid for — and not about how freedom can make our religion policy.



Filed under Essays

12 responses to “Freedom and Religion

  1. ReWrite

    I saw that interview as well. Tim Russert is a joke, it is like he doesn’t even listen to his interviewees. Bill Moyers is about the only good interviewer left.

    Although, I do not agree w/ most of Romney’s politics, i think he is the most classically “presidential” of all the candidates. And I think he is by far the most capable of the Republican candidates. But then again look at his competition, Rudy G., Hutchinson, McCain, etc. They are a bunch of crazies.

    I also saw the Mclaughlin Group yesterday and I was surprised how tolerant all of the reporters/journalists on show were of Romney’s religion. It is going to be a pretty nuts election as 3 of the 4 top candidates are part of a race, gender or religion that was previously considered unelectable.

  2. eric

    Romney’s problem isn’t his religion, it is that he has changed his positions so overtly to get the Republican nomination. It’s absurd. Russert did a good job of highlighting that, but then he didn’t follow through. I suppose he can’t. It’s NBC and he needs to be nice in order to get people to come back. Why don’t you think that the candidates allow themselves to be interviewed by Bill Moyers.

  3. ReWrite

    Lack of viewership is the main reason. the 2nd is how an interview w/ Moyers will be perceived by the general public… that the candidate is too far to the left. the last reason is that Bill Moyers will ask the real questions and wait for real answers.

    As for Romney, I thought he did an excellent job w/ handling the questions on flip-flopping. All of these candidates are flip-floppers, i think that is part of the job description. I think his religion is his biggest crutch. The election is taking place in America, where personality, star power, soundbites, presentation, being commercial/marketable, etc. is what wins elections, not one’s stance on real issues. Americans did elect Bush into power twice for god’s sake… it certainly wasn’t for his political views.

  4. Charlie

    It has been tiresome watching Russert spend all his time trying to catch the republicans on flip flopping, but I suspect that’s what his NBC bosses expect him to do. If Romney had given his good answer earlier, regarding being a person that does change his mind, and always will reconsider matters, he might have cut that off. I too thought he did well answering the flip-flopping questions. As I recall Russert never got a chance to address Iraq, Iran or terrorism in general. Very telling on the latter – I don’t think Russert’s ilk feel it is a huge problem. I think Romney’s executive (governor) and business experiences are huge advantages over the other candidates other than Guliani (mayoral)- especially over Obama – (I hope I don’t even have to think about Huckabee much longer). I like Romney, but Guliani is still in the ball game for me. I’m guessing religion will not be a big issue for Romney, especially in the national election.

  5. ReWrite

    The other interesting thing about this election is how well Ron Paul is doing. Unlike many other quasi-independents, R. Paul does not have loads of cash or even a big name to carry him.

    I think basically, and this is huge positive, American’s are sick of the political establishment (the Republicans and Democrats). I didn’t think American’s were quite at that point… they still aren’t willing to take it to the streets, but they are willing to break out the plastic (credit cards) and send this guy $50-100. The funny thing is that most of these people don’t realize how unrealistic and idiotic being a libertarian is, but they do recognize the fact that the current course of politics in America does not have their interests in mind.

    So just imagine what would happen if a charismatic third party candidate (that represented the middle and lower classes) came on the scene. Prior to the recent success of Ron Paul, I wouldn’t have imagined much of such a candidate, now I think they could really gain some momentum.

  6. eric


    Do you remember Ross Perot? You used to do a pretty good imitation of him. A third party candidate most likely benefits the Republicans.

    Re Romney, changing positions is reasonable. The problem is that when you compare his rationales for changing his position on the same issue from anti-abortion to abortion to anti-abortion it becomes absurd. He just ends up looking like a Hillary-will-say-or-do-anything-to-win candidate. And we don’t need that.

  7. ReWrite

    I do remember Ross Perot, and I tried to distinguish the two by stating that “you see, had lots of money, see.” Whereas R. Paul has little cash and his movement is straight up e-grassroots… many would argue even more grassroots than Howard Dean. Howard Dean pimped himself out on the internets and w/ the help of, whereas R. Paul has nothing to w/ the e-grassroots fundraising/organizing that is growing now. There is a network of R. Paul supporters where even top level organizers have never met w/ or even communicated w/ R. Paul or his staff.

    I think many of those supporters, don’t even know what libertarians stand for (let alone what R. Paul stands for), other than that they want to be anti-establishment.

  8. Rewrite,

    You pegged that one, definitively. Libertarian sounds great, until you understand the platform, then you have to wonder what kind of whack jobs are promoting it.

    A lot of things are great in theory; pragmatically, they should never leave the lips of the speaker.

    Not withstanding, Americans aren’t educated enough to understand how a libertarian government would effect their ability to live, comfortably coddled by the fed and state bureaucracies, as we are now.

  9. ReWrite

    Although I do not side w/ the Libertarians, on all issues, I do appreciate (and am pleasantly surprised) what this Ron Paul movement stands for… that Americans are willing to give $100.00 for a change in the political establishment. They aren’t close to taking it to the streets, they aren’t quite ready to be democrats (w/ a small “d”) and actually vote in significant numbers, but they are willing extend their consumerism to anti-establishment candidates.

    For people like me that are interested in social change, this is kind of exciting.

  10. Just on the short side cugino, I’m personally tired of candidates religion being an exigency of Presidential applicability, at all.

    How about this. How about a former physicist, geneticist … or professor for president? How about an atheist or a philosopher?

    How about someone who doesn’t care about religion at all?

    Now that would create the possibility of real social/societal change.

  11. eric

    Unfortunately, that is going to be a tough one. It is ironic that in a country that prides itself so much on the separation between church and state, that religion is so important in political life, at least in a very superficial crowd pleaser way.

    About a year ago, I saw a poll that indicated that something like 95% of Americans did not see anything wrong with premarital sex amongst adults. So why then would we have policies against family planning or teaching about contraception or promoting safe sex other than abstaining altogther? Go figure.

  12. What? The American populace superficial and disingenuous?

    Lies, damnable lies I say!!!

    On the second point, that’s an easy one: anyone under the age of 18 cannot possibly be considered to have sexual desires ~ that’s utterly perverse and an abomination against God … LMMFAOROTFL … even though just a century ago, 14 year olds getting married wasn’t unusual.

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