Monday, December 10, 2007

Romney's sad speech

I wasn't going to write about Romney, but my local paper printed a column about it which riled me enough to spur me to write to the columnist. If I were starting out to write a blog entry about Romney, I might have written a different kind of piece. Maybe I will later. But this is what I have now:

Dear Kathleen Parker,

I'm afraid the point of his speech and the point of your column are both not in accord with historical facts. Freedom and religion are not inextricably linked. All you have to do is remember the obvious: the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, Franco's Spain. As a Jew, I can't help but think of a long series of oppressions by Christian nations, as well as their own religious wars and mutual oppressions. And as one who had intellectual contempt for Christianity, I can assure you that my passion for freedom was no less when I was non-religious than it has continued to be since my baptism as an adult.

Romney's mention of the "ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages" is laughable. The old temple religion is gone and the rabbinic tradition is cumulative and varied. I was bar mitzvahed in a Conservative temple that had a Reform rabbi; it was quite different from the Orthodox synagogue down the street.

Take a look at Christian Reconstructionists if you want a clear idea of how intense religious commitment can be linked to a desire for domination and the absence of freedom. Gary North, for one, is enthusiastic about the benefits of death by stoning. In his view, when Reconstructionists become the overwhelming majority, death by stoning will be a normal punishment for adulterers, homosexuals, rebellious children, and religious apostates, not to mention witches, blasphemers, and many others. He's enthusiastic about it because it's cheap, it builds community since everyone can participate, and it symbolizes God's ultimate "breaking open the head of Satan".

Perhaps his most famous line is this: "We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God."

Freedom from religion helps keep freedom of religion honest. Romney, in effect, would rule the non-religious out of order and somehow dangerous to freedom. In addition, he papers over the immense differences in religious values in the USA by overstating the existence of shared values among the religious. Just try to reconcile Quakers and Christian Reconstructionists!

All in all, I think it was a very poor speech. But what would a Jewish Episcopalian know about religion?



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