I didn’t see Mitt Romney’s speech about religion last night, so I can’t comment on it intelligently, although I do plan to read the transcript. Here, though, is a very interesting take on the speech from an expert on Middle Eastern affairs. Juan Cole is a very well-informed man; he speaks Arabic and follows the news in the Middle East (with a special emphasis on Iraq due to the war there) both as it’s reported here and as it’s reported in Arabic.
Anyway, his take on Romney’s speech was not very positive. If you don’t feel like clicking through, here’s the money quote:
Kennedy wanted to be accepted as an American by other Americans. Romney wants to be accepted as a conservative Christian by other conservative Christians.
This conundrum is the price the Republican Party is paying for pandering to the religious Right. Can a secular person even win the Republican nomination any more? If you make yourself captive of the Protestant Right, then you will discover that they believe Mormons are heretics. The Republican Party has established its own litmus test, and since it has been a dominant party in recent years, we’ve all been affected by it. Romney’s plight in finding it hard to be accepted by that constituency mirrors the plight of secular and unchurched Americans, on whom the very people Romney is sucking up to want to impose their narrow and sectarian values.
I have to say, as an agnostic, I find the Republican party scarier every year. While it isn’t the party for me anyway – I don’t agree with many of their positions, even if I do agree with others – the progressing religiosity of the Republican party is scary to me. Perhaps this is good context for my earlier post about religion being scary, to which some folks took a bit of exception. I believe quite strongly in the concept of the separation of church and state, for the very good reason that our nation has many different religions represented. Since many religions take it as an article of faith that theirs is correct and others are not, no religion in a pluralistic nationa like ours can be trusted to have power over others. That protects Christians from Muslims, Muslims from Jews, Jews from practically everyone, and Mormons from Buddhists. Or, you know, whatever.
But there seem to be those elements in the Republican party who want America to be, not just a Christian nation, but a Christian-only nation. The idea of a nation with many Christians? I have zero problems with this. I live in one. But a Christian nation? That wouldn’t be a very happy place for someone who is (a) not Christian, or (b) not religious. And in the last few years I’ve heard an awful lot about how people like me are evil, inspired by Satan, and undermining the former righteousness of America. Remember how Jerry Falwell blamed 9/11 on the ACLU, gays, feminists, and various other groups whose opinions don’t fit with his? I’m sure he was only the most public, not the only, religious leader to draw that conclusion.
This kind of thing has lent itself to the somewhat cranky tone of many of my posts of late. Frankly, being agnostic is sometimes kind of a rough gig. I find myself being drawn to the more inspired and all-embracing aspects of religion, and then driven away by the religiously political folks who think they aren’t for people like me and aren’t afraid to say so. And with every campaign cycle, they say it more and more. They talk about how judges who don’t rule on cases the way they want them to should be assassinated. They talk about how women who want control over their own lives and bodies are murderers. They talk about how gay people shouldn’t have rights like everyone else, and some of them even suggest that they should be executed.
I don’t have to be gay or a woman or a party to a lawsuit to find that terrifying. I don’t have to be anyone, in fact. I just have to read history (or the newspaper) to know how religious feelings sometimes become so intense that they override any sense of justice, fairness, or empathy with others. I used the example of the Taliban the other day, and I’m reading a book right now about how anti-Jewish polemic in the Bible, subsequent events in history, and the characteristics of German Lutheranism (and the leadership of a genuine wackjob) led to the horror of the Holocaust (or the Shoah, as some Jews prefer for it to be called).
I don’t have to believe that America is headed for anything like that to be worried at the prospect of what would happen to me or my fellow nonreligious folks if extreme political Christians ever found a way to impose their beliefs on our government.
Since I’ve posted about this before, I suspect that folks will suggest that I should focus on matters spiritual rather than the craziness of the political. Believe me, I try. But I’m guessing that I’m not the only agnostic/unchurched/secular person who feels this same fear. And as discussed in yesterday’s post, fear upsets the balance between reason and faith. I find that I can’t relax into the kindness of a religion when I feel the need to defend myself from many of its followers.
I would almost argue that in this day and age, Christians who want to spread the good news might have to come to grips with this problem first.
Consider what’s happened to Islam. It’s a venerable religion with more than a billion followers. Yet the acts of extremists who have twisted the tenets of the religion to fit their violent agendas have firmly associated Islam with terrorism, at least in some parts of the world and certainly here in America. If Christianity becomes too fully identified with intolerance and repression, what is its chance of spreading the good news?