There were a few bright spots in the way the media reacted to Romney’s disgusting speech. Keith Olbermann offered these characteristically wise words:
In a milestone speech in 1960, the national candidate for the Democratic Party, John F. Kennedy, told this nation why his Catholicism would not interfere with his responsibility as president, explaining he believed religion was a private matter, that separation of church and state should be absolute, that his presidential decisions should be made without any regard to any outside religious pressure. Tonight in our third story on the COUNTDOWN a shameful and shameless self-comparison to the 35th president by a man who did not abdicate that separation, nor say that privacy was sacrosanct in religion nor insist that you have as much much right not to believe as he does to believe. Willard Mitt Romney, introduced but not endorsed by former President Bush at the latter’s presidential library in Texas, Romney sought to dispel Republican fears about his Mormon faith while only once using the actual word, Mormon.
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WILLARD MITT ROMNEY, PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL: Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law.
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OLBERMANN: Notice the careful phrasing there: he will not allow any church to influence his presidency but as for religion as a whole, specifically a monotheistic religion, well, according to Willard Mitt Romney, that is at the very core of what makes us American.
And, of course, Christopher Hitchens offers offers these worthy sentiments over at Slate:
According to the admittedly very contradictory scriptures of the New Testament, Jesus of Nazareth warned his disciples and followers that they should expect to be ridiculed and mocked for their faith. After all, how likely was it that God had decided to reveal himself to only a few illiterate peasants in a barbarous backwater? Those who elected to believe this stuff were quite rightly told to expect a hard time, and the expression “fool for God” or “fool for Christ” has been with us ever since. That concept has some dignity and nobility. Entirely lacking in dignity or nobility (or average integrity) is the well-heeled son of a gold-plated church who wants to assume the pained look of martyrdom only when he is asked if he actually believes what he says. A long time ago, Romney took the decision to be a fool for Joseph Smith, a convicted fraud and serial practitioner of statutory rape who at times made war on the United States and whose cult has been made to amend itself several times in order to be considered American at all. We do not require pious lectures on the American founding from such a man, and we are still waiting for some straight answers from him.
Over at The New York Times David Brooks, after spending the first half of his column praising Romney, manages to come up with this:
And yet, I confess my own reaction is more muted.
When this country was founded, James Madison envisioned a noisy public square with different religious denominations arguing, competing and balancing each other’s passions. But now the landscape of religious life has changed. Now its most prominent feature is the supposed war between the faithful and the faithless. Mitt Romney didn’t start this war, but speeches like his both exploit and solidify this divide in people’s minds. The supposed war between the faithful and the faithless has exacted casualties.
The first casualty is the national community. Romney described a community yesterday. Observant Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Jews and Muslims are inside that community. The nonobservant are not. There was not even a perfunctory sentence showing respect for the nonreligious. I’m assuming that Romney left that out in order to generate howls of outrage in the liberal press.
The second casualty of the faith war is theology itself. In rallying the armies of faith against their supposed enemies, Romney waved away any theological distinctions among them with the brush of his hand. In this calculus, the faithful become a tribe, marked by ethnic pride, a shared sense of victimization and all the other markers of identity politics.
In Romney’s account, faith ends up as wishy-washy as the most New Age-y secularism. In arguing that the faithful are brothers in a common struggle, Romney insisted that all religions share an equal devotion to all good things. Really? Then why not choose the one with the prettiest buildings?
I was not aware there was anything New Age-y about secularism, but otherwise this is pretty good. I would add simply that it is not because of atheists that there is a culture war in this country. All we ask from religious people is an understanding that they do not get to use the power of government to promote their faith. It is people like Romney, a serious contender for the Presidency of the country, who say bluntly that this modest request is asking too much.