Friday, December 07, 2007

Romney's Speech, "Faith in America"

In a speech titled, Faith in America, delivered Thursday at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, Mitt Romney made the claim that “Freedom requires religion.”

The bulk of my readers, I suspect, know that this statement is nonsense. However, he said more than this. For any who read this blog who did not listen to or read Romney’s entire speech, I want to show you the degree to which Romney identified any of you who are not people of faith as unpatriotic, anti-American, and the true enemies of freedom.

Actually, I heard no criticism of the speech along the lines that I will give here, until I encountered a clip from Countdown with Keith Olbermann that seems to have noticed the same problems.

If Romney is elected President, then America will be a nation, “Of the religious, by the religious, and for the religious.” He will not likely see himself as being a leader of all Americans, but only of that subset of Americans who believe in God.

Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'

So, again, we have a Presidential candidate saying, in effect, that no atheist is qualified to be judge – that ‘we cannot long endure’ judges who do not believe in God. There is, then, a religious test for public office, in violation of the Constitution.

Perhaps the most important question to ask a person of faith who seeks a political office, is this: does he share these American values: the equality of human kind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty?

Note that Romney did not say, “a person who seeks political office,” but “a person of faith”. Does he, perhaps, have a different set of questions that he would ask a person ‘not of faith’ who seeks a political office? Or is it the case that a person ‘not of faith’ will never make it far enough to be asked these questions?

I suspect it is the latter.

"Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence of government.

So, a person who does not acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God is not an American. Perhaps he would be so kind as to tell me which country I am a citizen of, then because, apparently, I have been making a mistake every time I filled out a form in which I identified myself as an American.

Apparently my father, who chose the Air Force as his career was no American either, and that the liberty that people might think they owe to people such as him and other “atheists in foxholes” are owed to God instead.

We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust.

We? Once again, Mitt Romney tells me that I am not an American – that to be an American one must trust in God, and one must be under God. Failing these two tests means that one falls short of being counted among the “We” who are Americans.

Also, it remains the fact that the issue is not whether we are or are not “a nation under God” – but whether the government has the right to tell its citizens that patriots must support ‘one nation under God’ and that those who do not do so are not true patriots. Because this is the message written into the Pledge – not that we are one nation under God, but that we should be one nation under God and that to oppose this is as unpatriotic as opposing union, tyranny, and justice.

Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me.

And those who have not knelt in prayer, we may assume, have no friend or ally in Romney. There is nothing in this that provides any type of barrier to persecution – with utterly dismissing the idea that non-believing Americans are Americans and that they, too, have a right to a government that represents and respects them. This is nothing less than a speech proclaiming that unbelievers are second-class citizens, who can expect to have no voice in government, because they deserve no voice in government.

[God] should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places.

Of course, history should teach that a belief in God has been a part of our history – where it is true and relevant, just as it should teach that a belief in no God is a part of our history where it is true and relevant. However, should it teach that God is a part of our history? Should it teach that Jesus existed and that the bible is literally true – as a historic fact? In teaching that God is a part of our history, does this include teaching the Mormon belief that Jesus came to America after the resurrection? Is that, also, a part of our history that is to be taught in schools?

"I'm not sure that we fully appreciate the profound implications of our tradition of religious liberty. I have visited many of the magnificent cathedrals in Europe. They are so inspired . . . so grand . . . so empty.

And . . . that’s a bad thing. I can understand if Romney the private citizen thought that this was a bad thing and wanted to correct it. However, Romney seems to be saying that he takes it as his job to fill the cathedrals – or the churches (and mega-churches) in America.

Is it, perhaps, his job to fill the mosques and synagogues as well?

What would Romney’s reaction be to, say, a Muslim candidate for President who lamented the lack of Muslim faith in America, who talked about the declining acceptance of Islam in other parts of the world, and spoke as if one of his duties as President would be to change that trend? I have little doubt that he would see this as a violation of the President’s duties – that it is not in the President’s job description to fill the mosques. Nor is it within his job description to fill the cathedrals, or the churches.

If the churches and cathedrals are empty, it is because the people have come to adopt the belief that there is no need for them to be filled. This is a decision that the people themselves have made. Even though Romney may not agree with that choice, part of what it means to have ‘freedom of religion’ is that the people get to decide the religious course of a nation – and that includes the freedom to decide that religion serves no useful purpose, and to leave the cathedrals (perhaps, and hopefully, to enter the universities and science laboratories instead).

If Romney is not happy with allowing the people to choose the religious course for the nation to take – if he wants to force it along a course of his choosing, rather than allow freedom to take the society down a course of its choosing, then he must think that it is the role of government to impose religion on the people.


Before I go, what I really want to do is say something about the reaction to this speech. We can, of course, condemn Romney for his bigotry. We may easily point out how the bigot in Romney leads him to accept denigrating and derogatory falsehoods about those he hates (such as the claim that ‘secularists’ want to remove all mention of God from the public square, when what ‘secularists’ want in fact is merely not to be forced to make donations to somebody else’s church). We can find good reason for condemnation in Romney’s speech, because that speech is substantially a confession that he holds these moral failings.

However, readers, I want you to remember to shift the spotlight to the audience – those who cheered, who gave standing ovations, when he said these things. Imagine how far Hitler would have gone if, when he gave his speech, he was met with a more morally appropriate response to his words, than the response rousing cheers he received (no matter the fact that the whole audience was engineered to generate those cheers)?

Of course, in bringing up Hitler, some will accuse me of unfairly comparing Romney to Hitler. These types of responses are common, mostly because they tend to be effective at diverting attention away from the real point the writer is trying to make. In this case, the point that I am making is that, just as a speaker can be held morally accountable for (condemned, or praised, as appropriate) for what he says, every member of the audience is morally responsible for what he cheers. Those who cheer bigotry are no better than the bigot that they cheer.

The same goes for the News reporters and the commentators who have been responding to the speech elsewhere. The most common question asked since the speech has been whether it was effective – whether it might help Romney or hurt him in the election. Again, I can imagine these same reporters grading the speeches of Hitler by the same standard – judging them according to whether or not they will help him to fulfill his political agenda, without even discussing the moral merit of the agenda that he is trying to fulfill.

I have been reading quite a bit about reaction to the speech since it came out. I am struck by the fact that I have not found a single instance of a reporter asking an atheist, such as myself, “How do you feel about the fact that a candidate for President has called you unpatriotic and anti-American, and identified you as an enemy of freedom?” Or, ask somebody (e.g., former President Bush), “How do you feel about the fact that Romney has identified non-believers as un-American, unpatriotic, and the true enemies of freedom?”

I have read a few reports that noted Romney’s slight to Americans who do not believe in God. However, they quickly dismiss this fact by saying that this does not matter, because non-believers will not likely vote for Romney anyway. Again, this way of thinking is not unlike noting that a speech by Hitler vilified Jews, but that this did not matter because Jews were not likely to vote for the Nazi party anyway.

Not only do we see reason to condemn Romney for seeking political power by vilifying a segment of the population through lies and other forms of misrepresentation, we see reason to condemn those who cheer these misrepresentations, and reason to condemn those who report the speech for dismissing the fact that a candidate is using lies to vilify a segment of the population as his means to obtain political power.

It is not a healthy pattern for a country to get into.


Doug Indeap said...

Excellent analysis--suitable for framing and passing around. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Well said! I share your sense of outrage.

(Editing note: there's a broken piece of a sentence just under the Reaction heading.)

Alonzo Fyfe said...


Then feel free to pass it around.

However, I would like to suggest that where we most need to direct our complaints is against the press.

"How dare you, press person, praise a speech that is nothing more than a Hitleresque tactic of villifying a segment of the nation and calling them the enemy of all we hold dear - a segment that Romney, in the same speech, said was a (minority) religion.

You call that speech praiseworthy?"

The press themselves need to hear this condemnation, not only of what Romney said, but to their reaction.


Thank you. Correction made.

Johnson said...

Thanks for the analysis. What about all the non evangelicals or religious moderates? Since the NYT heavily criticized the speech, I'm figuring that it raised red flags for a decent amount of people.

Anonymous said...

MSNBC was critical of Romney:

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you analysis and I am posting it in every venue that I have access to.

Anonymous said...

I think the problem is that youre playing right into Romney's trap. He wants to fight with atheists/secularists and take the focus off of how strange his religion is and how different it is from christianity.

I guess if you want to complain about not being included, I think you need to mention the real (political) purpose of his speech too. If the critique is just that Romney dissed atheists, I think that will help him.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


Your warning addresses an issue that I had hoped was clear in my post.

When Hitler used the Hitler strategy it worked. The fact that it worked should worry us - because it suggests that when Romney uses the same strategy, it might work as well.

Unless people are willing to put in a lot of extra effort to make sure that it does not work.

Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis! Romney is an idiot if he is running for president and admitting he cannot represent all Americans. He is not Christian He is Mormon. I am only saying this to illustrate one point - he is trying to appeal to American protestant and evangelical "Christians" who do not like him because he is Mormon. By adopting this ignorant stance, he hopes to win them over.
Surely Hitler would be proud of Romney for using this tactic too. Hitler did the same thing only with Roman Catholics, who became complacent to everything Hitler did after that point.