I listened to Governor Mitt Romney’s talk on religion last Thursday. It was moving, at times stirring, and deeply disconcerting. What troubled me the most was the Governor’s notion that you cannot have freedom without religion or religion without freedom. This is patently false, and disenfranchises millions of Americans who do not have a formal religion.
Freedom implies that one is free to think, believe, and do what one will (within the obvious limits), but none of the Abrahamic religions allows this. Nowhere in sacred scriptures of the three Abrahamic faiths are we told to think for ourselves, to free ourselves from the dictates of rabbis, priests, pastors, and imams. Religion is about obedience, not freedom. Look to Spinoza, Galileo, Salmon Rushdie, the evangelical Protestant war on science, the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, the intramural fighting among differing Christian sects in the original thirteen colonies, and the Danish cartoons of Mohammed and it is abundantly clear that religion is not interested in freedom.
As far as I know, only Buddhism says one should investigate reality for oneself and not believe something simply because it is said to be holy (Dhammapada), and I doubt Governor Romney was thinking of Buddhism when he made his claim that there is no freedom without religion.
Nor is the flip side of this notion—that there can be no religion without freedom—any more true. To cite but one example, look at Islam in Saudi Arabia. Certainly religion is strong there, but can we say the same for freedom? Religion needs power and the capacity to punish those who seek to free themselves from its power; it doesn’t need freedom or support freedom.
True, in the United States we have shown that religions flourish in a free society, but that was imposed by the Bill of Rights. It was not a religious ideal, but came from the secular realm that sought to protect America from theocracy and the horror of inter-religious warfare all too common in Europe.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable rights rooted in the Creator, he was trying to keep those rights out of the control of religion and politics. He knew what Governor Romney seems not to know: that freedom is the first thing to go when religion rules.
Freedom, not religion, is what makes the United States so important. Freedom not religion is what makes this country worth sacrificing for. Freedom not religion is the true faith of America. I may trust in God, but I do not trust anyone who claims to speak for God.