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Dec 18th 2007

thoughts on the reaction to romney’s speech

mitt_romney.jpg

here are my random thoughts following romney’s ‘faith in america’ speech. i did not post this earlier because i had final exams.

1. “separation of church and state” does not mean “separation of religion and state.”
from the beginning of our nation, our political discourse has included general references to a higher power. it is invoked in our founding documents, in our civil ceremonies, and now on our money, buildings, and monuments. ironically, god is even invoked in the supreme court of the united states, which heard a case recently challenging the constitutionality of the mention of god in the pledge of allegiance.

an aside: the same party in the pledge case, atheist michael newdow, is now bringing a claim against the phrase “in god we trust” on our currency. somehow, with a straight face, he told judges on the 9th circuit court of appeals this month that the phrase on money causes him such distress that he cannot use any currency other than credit cards.

mitt called this erroneous thinking out: in his speech, he noted that some believe the separation of church and state means a complete ban on religion in government. but if we were to examine the way the founders of this nation talked about god, we would see that secularist interpretation fall flat.

the phrase simply means there should be no one state church (like the church of england). it does not mean atheists are free to live their lives without ever hearing the word “god” from an official government source. the freedom of religion (and freedom of no religion) can be practiced by atheists despite what government does. otherwise, i would argue the government violates the constitution by establishing the church of atheism.

as should be obvious, civil religion benefits america by fostering gratitude, humility, service, love, and goodness among citizens. as long as one church is not favored over others, and as long as minority religions are not excluded from government endorsement, government should be free to invoke religious ideas in appropriate, recognized ways.

2. after romney’s speech, commentators wondered why he left out atheists from his speech. first of all, a careful reading of the speech will show that he did not. he said he will reach out to any who value religious liberty (“any believer in religious freedom……has a friend and ally in me”). presumably romney will be an ally to the atheists, as long as they respect americans’ right to the free exercise of religion and take a reasonable view of the establishment clause. michael newdow, however, probably would not qualify under this definition.

that said, between 91 and 97% of americans say they believe in god, according to a 4-second google search i just conducted. yet CNN’s lou dobbs program (hosted by a fill-in anchor thursday night) had atheist barry lynn on the show, along with a university professor, neither of whom seemed to be able to provide much perspective on how romney’s target audience (the 19 out of 20 americans who are not atheists) might react to the speech. the result: CNN spent its time lamenting that romney “missed his chance” to “reach out” to atheists.

3. in the lead up to the speech, many clamored for mitt to “answer questions about the doctrines of mormonism.” people must not realize that he is busy with a time-consuming endeavor called a “presidential campaign” and he couldn’t even begin to scratch the surface of “demystifying” an entire religion or clarifying it to the satisfaction of most people.

to me, those who say this just seem lazy. logging on to a slew of reputable sites, like mormon.org, lds.org, or mormonwiki.com is much more efficient than asking a candidate for president to talk about his church’s religious beliefs. and i wonder how many of the people saying, “mitt romney needs to explain his mormon faith to my satisfaction” have turned away mormon missionaries who have knocked on their door. i’m not sure how many LDS missionaries serve in the US. there are over 50,000 worldwide. if the numbers of missionaries reflect membership numbers domestically and abroad, then there could be upwards of 20,000 missionaries walking the streets in the US. they would be great people to ask about the church’s beliefs. there are also 6 million mormons in the US. you could ask almost any of them, including this one, or maybe one who lives in your neighborhood. you can also read their magazines, check with their PR department, watch their semi-annual worldwide conference and other broadcasts, read the scriptures they revere alongside the new and old testaments of the bible, or watch their TV spots.

all this information is out there, yet NBC would prefer mitt take an apologetics sabbatical and ignore his commitments to people that have donated millions upon millions of dollars to see him conduct a vigorous campaign for political office.

4. most of the eye-roll-inducing obsession by journalists and political talking heads is over the single reference to the word “mormon” in romney’s speech (for three hours on thursday, during the “situation room” with wolf blitzer on CNN, the tagline at the bottom of the screen read, “romney barely says mormon.” implicit in pointing this out seems to be that he is afraid to mention it. never mind “mormon” isn’t even the church’s name.

was there even one single person in america who tuned in to see the speech without knowing what romney’s religion is? everyone watching the speech knew why he had to give it (because he’s “mormon” and evangelicals feel threatened by mormonism which claims to have more eternal truth than other sects).

the media fixation with how many explicit mentions the word “mormon” got during the speech reminds me of something else: i heard somewhere that TV news rarely goes beyond the 5th grade level. IOW, it is broadcast at a level fifth-graders can understand. i have tried to google this and get a source, but i can’t think of the exact phrase i need to use to bring up focused results. anyway, keep the fifth grade level thing in mind.

romney talked extensively on how his religion is relevant to his presidential candidacy, and the values of his religion that have shaped him, but journalists at CNN, fox, NBC, and elsewhere wanted to know a really important question: how many times did he say the actual taboo word? that seems to fit with the immature fifth grade level analysis we are stuck with on our news shows.

5. during CNN’s broadcast of the speech, the “most trusted name in news” posted half-truths or complete misstatements about mitt’s church. details are here: CNN gave factually inaccurate information about mormonism.

6. now that romney gave the speech, many are saying it was a big mistake because “now people will see him one-dimensionally as ‘the mormon candidate'” or because “now he has opened himself up to more questions on his religion.” this, of course, is hilarious because these were the same people who, six months ago, wondered when he would ever get around to giving the speech that so many were waiting to hear about his mormon faith.

that’s it for my reaction to the reaction. and if you’re counting, i said “mormon” at least a half dozen times in this post.

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