Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Romney and Religious Tolerance

A poll just released showed that about 1 in 5 Americans wouldn't vote for an otherwise qualified Presidential candidate if he were Mormon (insert Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman).

When you look at political affiliation, the breakdown of people unwilling to vote for a Mormon President breaks down like this:

  • 18% of Republicans won't
  • 19% of Independents won't 
  • 27% of Democrats won't

The difference in political opinion probably stems from the fact that Mormons are usually very conservative, and have vociferously supported anti-gay-marriage legislation in states such as Hawaii and California. Conservative block-voting, blurring boundaries between church and state, and trying to legislate personal religious views are not very popular ideas among liberal Democrats. The only other real differences in opinion toward Mormon candidates is determined by level of education, where college graduates were less likely to not vote for a Mormon candidate (12%) than someone who hasn't gone to any college (31%). However, it  didn't seem to matter where you are from, your gender, age, or what religion you belong to.

This doesn't mean the writing is on the wall for Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman. An article from the LA Times highlights the fact that in 1959 - the year before John F. Kennedy became president - 25% of Americans said they would not vote for a Catholic. So Mormon politicians have an uphill - but not insurmountable - battle.

But what about people who don't believe in God (or at least admit it)? What's their chances of becoming President? Virtually nil;  According to the same Gallup poll, only 49% of people would vote for a well-qualified Presidential candidate if they were atheist.

And Romney, who is trying to convince voters that a candidates religious beliefs are irrelevant (at least his own), seems to agree that atheists have something fundamentally wrong with them.  Ironic, isn't it? In his 2007 speech, where he tried to summon the spirit of JFK and convince people to vote for him despite his Mormon faith, Romney took the time to throw some rocks at America's real enemies of freedom: atheists!

While trying to make the standard conservative point that our freedom is ensured by religious belief, Romney said "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. […] Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”

He then goes on to make the point that separation of church and state are necessary, but that "in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong."

"The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust."

"We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders – in ceremony and word. He 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. 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.'"

Here is the problem with Romney's views:

1. Political, individual, or religious freedom does not rest on belief in God.  Atheism just means you don't believe in God, not that you don't believe in freedom. However, the association between atheism and communism was branded into the American psyche during the Red Scare of the 50's, and continues to linger today. Our form of government was derived from classical Roman and Greek political ideals; not from belief in God. Our Constitution doesn't even mention God.

2. If you are trying to convince people that religious belief does not affect political qualification, then don't turn around and say that another misunderstood religious minority (atheists) are somehow unqualified. At least he didn't say, like George H.W. Bush did, that atheists shouldn't even be considered as citizens. But saying that people who believe in the separation of church and state "are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism" - and that "religion and freedom endure together, or perish alone" comes pretty close.

3. Our Founding Fathers were suspicious of religion. That is why they were insistent that there be no state sponsored religion, and that there be a wall of separation between church and state. However, isn't the insistence by conservatives today that our country was founded on the principles of Christianity - or even on the principles of theism - nothing more than support for the state sponsored religion of theism? Why marginalize people, as Romney does, simply because they don't believe as he does? Isn't this the definition of religious intolerance?

This is all very ironic, coming from a guy hoping that more religious tolerance be showed towards him, but seemingly unwilling to give it to others.


  1. I read a post on here yesterday morning that listed several beliefs you once held that you now consider to be absurd. What happened to that post?

  2. I took it down. I didn't think I said anything interesting in it. I guess I had bloggers remorse with that post.

  3. Oh... fair enough. Here is my comment on that post anyhow.

    Great post Josh. I was 27 when I finally realized I didn’t actually believe all of the things I had been taught as a child. I guess that makes me smarter than you by about 8 years HA! Honestly I wish I could articulate my thoughts as clearly as you are able to…. You really have a gift. I enjoyed the list you put together but I noticed it was focused mainly on Mormon beliefs (I realize you are the “Skeptic Mormon”) but I thought I would point out that most of these Mormon beliefs are simply spin-offs or additions to equally absurd main stream Christian beliefs…. And of Course most of those Christian beliefs are in turn spin-offs or additions to Jewish beliefs mixed with Pagan traditions. It is impossible to overstate the power of Tradition…. Which of course helps explain where we all get those “false premises’ that we build our beliefs on. To illustrate this point I’d like to share from Thomas Paine’s “The Age of Reason”.

    When also I am told that a woman, called the Virgin Mary, said, or gave out, that she was with child without any cohabitation with a man, and that her betrothed husband, Joseph, said that an angel told him so, I have a right to believe them or not: such a circumstance required a much stronger evidence than their bare word for it: but we have not even this; for neither Joseph nor Mary wrote any such matter themselves. It is only reported by others that they said so. It is hearsay upon hearsay, and I do not choose to rest my belief upon such evidence.
    It is, however, not difficult to account for the credit that was given to the story of Jesus Christ being the Son of God. He was born when the heathen mythology had still some fashion and repute in the world, and that mythology had prepared the people for the belief of such a story. Almost all the extraordinary men that lived under the heathen mythology were reputed to be the sons of some of their gods. It was not a new thing at that time to believe a man to have been celestially begotten; the intercourse of gods with women was then a matter of familiar opinion. Their Jupiter, according to their accounts, had cohabited with hundreds; the story therefore had nothing in it either new, wonderful, or obscene; it was conformable to the opinions that then prevailed among the people called Gentiles, or mythologists, and it was those people only that believed it. The Jews, who had kept strictly to the belief of one God, and no more, and who had always rejected the heathen mythology, never credited the story.
    It is curious to observe how the theory of what is called the Christian Church, sprung out of the tail of the heathen mythology. A direct incorporation took place in the first instance, by making the reputed founder to be celestially begotten. The trinity of gods that then followed was no other than a reduction of the former plurality, which was about twenty or thirty thousand. The statue of Mary succeeded the statue of Diana of Ephesus. The deification of heroes changed into the canonization of saints. The Mythologists had gods for everything; the Christian Mythologists had saints for everything. The church became as crowded with the one, as the pantheon had been with the other; and Rome was the place of both. The Christian theory is little else than the idolatry of the ancient mythologists, accommodated to the purposes of power and revenue; and it yet remains to reason and philosophy to abolish the amphibious fraud.