Friday, December 07, 2007

Religion Does Not Require Freedom

Mitt Romney came to Texas yesterday to give his much anticipated speech on his religious views. He really did not have much to say about Mormonism, as he instead focused on embracing America's tradition of civil religion. High on patriotism and suffused with a certain kind of moralism, American civil religion was designed from the beginning to be general enough theologically to include Christian and deist -- and ultimately any other theist in the broadest sense of the word. Yet, even America's most conservative Christians have long convinced themselves that its generic language was somehow meaningful in a religious sense, and so they would be highly hypocritical were they now to criticize Mr. Romney for praising and claiming it.

Even so, one of the most widely noted statements and key points made during the speech should be regarded as erroneous by Christians who understand either their Bibles or their heritage. That Christian leaders who have been widely quoted in response to the speech seem not to have noted the mistake -- which is profound in its implications -- perhaps speaks volumes about the quality of current Christian leaders and their ability to think critically about their own faith.

Mr. Romney declared:

Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.

American evangelicals, whose weekly worship all too frequently nowadays consists of singing sappy and repetitious choruses followed by sermons providing 6 steps to a happy life or some sort of similar insipidness, perhaps require reminding that they claim to worship a Savior who was executed by a civil government. Eleven of his twelve original disciples met somewhat similar ends. The author of most of the New Testament epistles was also executed by the Roman government. Does such an encroachment on the freedom of Jesus and the disciples represent a closed window that restricted His and their ability to "discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God?" In addition, through much of the last 2000 years, Christianity has survived -- and even thrived -- at times and in places that were most inhospitable to its existence. American Christians used to read classics such as Foxe's Book of Martyrs or The Life of David Brainerd and revel in the courage of their forebears. That they now are more likely to read books about how believing in God helped someone achieve personal success partly explains the lack of notice of Mr. Romney's comments.

It is generally true that what makes one a good Christian will also make him or her a good citizen -- and, thus, likely to contribute to exercise freedom in civicly responsible ways. Christians should also be thankful -- both to God and to the state -- when government acknowledges and protects the fundamental right of freedom of religion. That being said, religion without freedom does not perish. Christianity -- at least the healthy variety of it -- has never depended on the protection of the state. It only requires the transforming power of the Gospel.

Christians used to know this. That we have largely forgotten explains much of what is wrong with the religious right.


Blogger Mary Beth said...

Good article.

Also, Althouse has an article pointing out (among other things) that the other part of the statement, that freedom requires religion, is also untrue.

2:15 PM  

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