Mitt Romney spoke about the relationship between religion and politics again last week, continuing and clarifying the argument he made in December while still a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. The occasion for his recent remarks was his receipt of the prestigious Canterbury Medal awarded by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The award is given to recognize “Courage in the Defense of Religious Liberty.”
The Becket Fund, a Washington, D.C. based non-profit organization is named after Thomas Becket (1118-1170 A.D.). This great man served as Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry II and resisted the king for meddling in church affairs. The organization bearing his name is “dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions."
For being a man of his convictions, Becket was brutally murdered by Henry’s knights.
The Romney speech echoed some of the points he had previously made, but paid special attention to a people-group inadvertently left out in December - NON-believers. Noting that he had received some criticism about this, Mitt told the audience listening to him at the Metropolitan Club in New York City that he “had missed an opportunity…an opportunity to clearly assert that non-believers have just as great a stake as believers in defending religious liberty.” He further argued that: “Religious liberty and liberality of thought flow from the common conviction that it is freedom, not coercion, that exalts the individual just as it raises up the nation.”
It’s not likely that Mr. Romney’s eloquent words will assuage the darker passions of some nouveau atheists (better: anti-theists). Men like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins very much see religion (of whatever sort) as a scourge on society – the very root of all modern evil.
Their kind of thinking was reflected in a story out of the United Kingdom a couple of years ago. BBC History Magazine conducted a poll in its January 2006 issue asking the question: “Who was the worst Briton in the past thousand years?”
Mr. Becket – a man who has been venerated by both the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches – came in SECOND. The 5,000 people who participated in the poll ranked only JACK THE RIPPER higher. I guess a killer is just slightly worse than a cleric.
Apparently, the desperate question uttered by King Henry II way back in 1170 A.D. (pardon that religio-centric date citation) – “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” – would have plenty of respondents in century number twenty-one.