Sunday, December 09, 2007

Mitt, Freedom, and Religion

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.


Vigilante said...

Doesn't the Republican Party owe Americans a clear choice--a Huckabee-Romney or Romney-Huckabee ticket--that would, in effect, be a referendum on the separation of church and state?

The alternative is to keep allowing the Religious Right to keep dominating the American conversation far out of proportion to be their true numbers and in contradiction to a consensus that existed in the nation's politics since 1776 until Islamic terrorists gave Bush's Christian absolutists a climate of fear in which to propagate their own extremism.

Rick said...

Believe nothing, o monks,
merely because you have been told it ...
or because it is traditional,
or because you yourselves have imagined it.

Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher.

But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis,
you find to be conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide.

- Gautama Buddha