Carol Platt Liebau: Nina Easton (Doesn't) Get Religion

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Nina Easton (Doesn't) Get Religion

The Boston Globe's Nina Easton -- a liberal through and through -- attempts to tell us about the impact that Mitt Romney's Mormonism may have on his standing with the religious right. In discussing the attitudes of the Christian right, of course, she's writing with the same level of insight born of personal experience that I could bring to a piece about leather clad biker babes and their life on Mars.

This kind of piece is a thing of beauty and a joy forever, from a perspective like Easton's. Not only can she kick some dirt onto Mitt Romney by suggesting he may have no real shot for the Republican presidential nomination, she can also try to make people of faith look like narrowminded theocrats. It's a two-fer!

Well, I don't know if Nina Easton would include me in her classification of religious right. But here's how I feel about Mitt Romney and his Mormonism: I have some serious misgivings about Mormon theology -- which may, in part, explain why I'm an orthodox Episcopalian rather than a Mormon . . ..

That being said, I'm not really worried about what Mitt Romney believes or what he says to whom when he prays, if he's sincere about his faith. As long as his official acts and policies -- as President -- are largely in conformity with my political views (which, inevitably, are informed by my religious views), that's what matters to me.

In any case, I'd rather have a President of almost any faith than of no faith. It's a prerequisite in my book -- because I believe it's important for any President to be bound with the moral constraints that come only from an honest belief that he is answering to a higher moral power and authority than any on this earth (including himself!). Religion is a guard against tyranny.

As Ms. Easton reports, I have heard Mitt Romney on The Hugh Hewitt Show. And I liked what I heard -- a lot.

I thought in this country we didn't impose religious tests. And I'm willing to bet that many on the Christian right are much more fair than Ms. Easton believes them to be.

14 Comments:

Blogger The Flomblog said...

I read the linked article and was quite confused - was it satire?

I am Jewish. I don't follow any form of Christianity, however I firmly agree with Ms. Lieebau. As long as a person is grounded in a set of moral principles, I can go on to other issues.

As a Jew - I am gratefull for the freedom of religion that I have been given by the Christian right. I respect and admire their honesty and faith.

Can we now move on to other items like Plotical Philosophy?

11:14 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the piece irritated me because the author -- even after talking to prominent LDS scholars and a Church spokesman -- still was not able to correctly state basic tenets of our faith;i.e. this statement, "it took Smith's discovery of the Book of Mormon -- a historical account that asserts ancient Hebrew tribes landed here and became the ancestors of Native Americans -- to ''restore" true Christianity", mistates LDS beliefs. But why bother with facts when you can use half-truths against a religion you don't agree with?

I am also insulted by the idea that as a Mormon, I will vote for Romney just because he is one. When it comes to choosing people to lead my community, my state and my country, I am more concerned with their politics than I am with their religious affiliation. I didn't support Orrin Hatch for the Presidency in 2000 and I can tell you at least one LDS politician I can guarantee never to support -- Harry Reid. Members of my Church aren't mindless drones. They will support the candidates who they believe deserve their support, whether they are LDS or not. I don't see why people of any other faith should feel differently. There are some who are so blindly prejudiced that they would refuse their support based on that fact alone, but I would hope that there aren't as many as this article would lead us to believe.

12:30 PM  
Blogger HouseOfSin said...

I will never vote for Mitt for president. And it has nothing to do with faith. It has everything to do with adherence to principle.

He was not living in Massachussetts when he ran for governor. He was ruled to have enough assets in the state to run, but your average college-bound Joe could not use that logic to get in-state tuition at some of the costliest campuses in the nation in that state.

This issue is not a light one as illegal immigration becomes more and more of an issue. People not on the soil legally can still get in-state tuition in many states, where legal citizens from other states often cannot. This is not an issue that Mitt can address with any credibility.

He does not have my trust.

2:56 PM  
Blogger Patrick O'Hannigan said...

"Leather-clad biker babes and their life on Mars?"

I just liked that turn of phrase.

4:12 PM  
Blogger Draino said...

If religion is our guard against tyranny - who guarding us against religious tyranny?

7:30 PM  
Blogger Mr. Twister said...

Hey all, for fun let's compare and contrast...

Religion is a guard against tyranny.
--Carol Platt Liebau, this blog post


In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.

--Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814

Who do you think is closer to being correct? Explain.

7:50 PM  
Blogger Draino said...

So let's see, You don't agree with Romney's religious views but that's not a problem so long as his politics which are shaped by his moral views which are shaped by his religious views conform to your political views, that are shaped by your moral views that are shaped by your religious views. Wow, I'm getting dizzy. I'll make it simple for you Carol. I live in Massachusetts. I know first hand how effective Mitt Romney is. The guy doesn't believe in anything except power. I mean a couple months ago he was pro-choice. His views shift with the political wind. He'll probably change religions a couple times before the next convention. But if you want a Massachusetts flip-flopper, he's your man.

7:55 PM  
Blogger Tim Ellsworth said...

Carol,

We share the same opinion. I also blogged about this today:

http://www.timellsworth.com/?p=253

9:16 PM  
Blogger Patrick O'Hannigan said...

Mr. Twister,

This is one instance where Jefferson was wrong, especially if you know anything about xenophobia and anti-Catholicism in the early American republic. Maryland was a designated "Catholic colony" because "priestcraft" met with such suspicion from Presbyterian and Congregationalist leaders elsewhere. Note that in spite of his comments, Jefferson appealed in the Declaration to the "laws of Nature's God" as justifying the colonial struggle for freedom.

Carol's assertion is more true than false, unless you lump religions totalitarianism of the Wahabbist or early Calvinist variety in with mainstream Christianity today, and it's a safe bet that wasn't her intent.

Religion protects freedom by keeping the state humble and reminding Christians that the state is not the source of their rights.

Author Harry W. Crocker adds the following:

"What was most at stake in the Reformation was freedom. The Catholic Church was freedom’s defender, and not merely by defending Europe against the Turks. It was the Church that nurtured the artistic freedom of the Renaissance and the Baroque. It was the Protestants who smashed religious art as idolatry and sensualism. It was the Church that sponsored the literary freedom of the humanists, and the Protestants who condemned it as paganism. It was the Church that affirmed man’s free will, and the Protestants who insisted that every man’s fate was determined before he was born. Most of all it was the Catholic Church that stood opposed to the absolute power of the state. It was the Church that claimed to be a universal, independent, and superior court of appeals to the edicts of kings, while the Protestants made religion a department of government to be controlled by princes (in Germany), or the city council (in Geneva), or the monarch (in England and Scandinavia). There is, in fact, a much underappreciated libertarian streak within the Catholic Church. It was seen in Pope Gregory IX’s alliance with republicans and the capitalist city-states of Italy against the Emperor Frederick II; it was seen in Renaissance Catholicism, to the scandal of the Protestants; and it was seen most especially in the conflict between the Church and the Tudor Dynasty in England."

You can take issue with Crocker, but to do so you should bring evidence to the table. And before you say "Galileo" or "Salem Witch Trials," read the book, "Christianity on Trial" by Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett. Consider also that devout Christians like Anglican hero William Wilberforce led the abolitionist and civil rights movements.

11:02 AM  
Blogger Mr. Twister said...

Patrick, first off, I enjoyed your post. A clear cogent answer to the essay question.

You also started a quite nice riff on your own related specifially to the Roman Catholic Faith. This is worthy of a response that I, unfortunately, am not the person to make. So, I will turn back to the more general question...

Consider also that devout Christians like Anglican hero William Wilberforce led the abolitionist and civil rights movements.

Okay, I have considered it. Now, let us also consider the following...

Countering the efforts of the antiapartheid community, the Christian League of Southern Africa rallied in support of the government's apartheid policies. The Christian League consisted of members of Dutch Reformed and other churches who believed apartheid could be justified on religious grounds. The group won little popular support, however, and was criticized both for its principles and for its tactic of bringing religious and political issues together in the same debate. [Cite]

So different branches of the Christian religion both support racial equality and oppose racial equality. Given that we have a counter example to your Wilberforce example, we would almost return to step one except for one thing.

The Dutch Reformed Church was the official church of South Africa's ruling party and used its moral suasion to promote apartheid. Explain how religion in this case served to guard against tyranny?

4:44 PM  
Blogger Patrick O'Hannigan said...

Ah, Twister, you've posed the old "false dilemma" in your hypothetical:
"The Dutch Reformed Church was the official church of South Africa's ruling party and used its moral suasion to promote apartheid. Explain how religion in this case served to guard against tyranny?"

There are several possible answers:
1. Religion failed in this case, because the Dutch Reformed Church didn't live up to its own stated beliefs.
2. The Dutch Reformed movement has never been ambitious enough to consider itself representative of Christianity in general.
3. A closer look at the evidence may reveal that a minority of Dutch Reformed clergy had undue influence on their bretheren, which is possible because as humans we all make mistakes.
4. Your counter-example is not of equal weight to my original example, in that Wilberforce, an Anglican, had support for the abolitionist cause from Quakers, Catholics, and other Christians as well, whereas support for South Africa's "peculiar institution" was never widespread.
5. A one-name rebuttal refutes any attempt to tar religion generally with the Dutch Reformed conduct in South Africa. His name is Archbishop Desmond Tutu. You'll remember that he's a Christian clergyman who most emphatically did not agree with the people you cite.

10:00 PM  
Blogger Mr. Twister said...

Ah, Patrick you are falling prey to the logical fallacy of assuming that which you are trying to prove. You start from the assumption that religion must restrain tyranny and using that to argue that religion must restrain tyranny. Any nasty evidence that conflicts with your belief is thrown out as spurious.

I can play the same game in reverse for all of your points. Let demonstrate by hitting on the last two.

4. Your counter-example is not of equal weight to my original example, in that Wilberforce, an Anglican, had support for the abolitionist cause from Quakers, Catholics, and other Christians as well, whereas support for South Africa's "peculiar institution" was never widespread.

In the 1830's the Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches all split on the question of slavery. Despite the support Wilberforce received from memebers of various religious faiths, the abolitionist position was by no means a universal within the mainstream US Christian denominations.

As noted in my original quote on this issue, support for apartheid was not solely a position of the Dutch Reformed church. There were other aligned churches.

5. A one-name rebuttal refutes any attempt to tar religion generally with the Dutch Reformed conduct in South Africa. His name is Archbishop Desmond Tutu. You'll remember that he's a Christian clergyman who most emphatically did not agree with the people you cite.

And as noted above, I have already refuted your attempt to claim that Christianity was an abolitionist religion. In the years leading up to the Civil War the US religious community was split about the question of slavery.

The historical fact (in both the US prior to the Civil War and in South Africa during aprtheid) is that Christian denomination have been on both sides of the question of racial equality. How does this fact impact on the claim that religion guards against tyranny?

11:35 PM  
Blogger Patrick O'Hannigan said...

That Christians themselves have been on both sides of the issue of racial equality is indisputable. That doesn't speak to Carol's point about religion (more specifically, Christianity) being a safeguard against tyranny; it's just the kind of data you'd expect from human (i.e., fallen or fallible) nature.

Were it otherwise, Lincoln's appeal to the "better angels of our nature" would not have made sense (in that it correctly presumed that there are also "worse angels of our nature," for want of a better phrase). Similarly, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s moral suasion benefited from the fact that it was based, in part, on the American promise of "all men created equal," and the sharp observation that we hadn't lived up to it.

Mainstream Christianity may repent of having looked the other way sometimes when it shouldn't have, but at its root is St. Paul's injunction that "in Christ there is no slave nor free, no Jew nor Greek" because we're ALL children of the God who makes us free-- irrespective of class, wealth, ethnic group, position, race, whatever. It's for that reason that the Christian record on human rights, despite its obvious blemishes, is orders of magnitude better than any other religion's.

9:37 AM  
Blogger Mr. Twister said...

Patrick, I was really enjoying this exchange both for the tone and content. And your last post was a fine continuation of the discussion.

Unfortunately, watching the news coming out New Orleans from Crescent City and the Civic Center has left me more than a little despondent.

We'll call this one a victory for you.

Hopefully we can cross swords again at some happier time in the future.

9:23 PM  

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