Freedom of religion is a very good thing. Freedom FROM religion, though promoted by some as the wave of the future, is not.
A simple look back at the eighteenth century gives us a case study. It was the “age of revolution.” Here in America, very much in the spirit of Becket, we rejected tyranny. Over in France they tried to do the same thing.
It worked out very well here. Not so much for France. For all the cries of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” – they instead wound up with a period of violent chaos only somewhat resolved when that despotic secularist Napoleon took over. Hello short man, good-bye freedom.
What made the difference? Well, an often overlooked factor is that it was RELIGION that may have made the difference – particularly something that happened here in the years immediately leading up to 1776 and beyond. It was called THE GREAT AWAKENING. Inspired by men such as George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, there was a period of deep religious reflection in the land – one that ultimately served to temper human passions – even those inflamed by injustice and revolutionary fervor.
Anti-theists notwithstanding, we need religion as part of the glue that holds civilized society together. When we get to the place where values get turned so upside down that men like Mr. Becket are thought to be as evil as mass murderers, it’s time to pull down the curtains and turn the light off. Life as we have known it is just about over. It’s getting close to that in Western Europe – we are lagging somewhat behind, but we shouldn’t be in that race at all.
Sure – when religion and the state are “one” tyranny can happen. No thinking non-Muslim religionist wants that kind of thing for America. But the other extreme, one that so marginalizes religion as to dismiss it from social discourse, is just as bad. Yes, there are some predominately secular nations in Europe functioning as democracies. But they tend to have that socialist quirk that makes the state itself a religion. Let’s see how it looks over there in twenty-five years.
Religion has always been important in America and that should not change. To the extent that it’s a part of a would-be president’s lifestyle, it should be on the table as people make electoral choices. When Mr. Romney made his first speech on the general subject several months ago, the issue at hand was his Mormon faith. The subject, not to mention the speech itself, reminded many of when John F. Kennedy appeared before The Greater Houston Ministerial Association less than two months before he narrowly defeated Richard M. Nixon for the presidency in 1960.
He effectively neutralized the idea that his religion (Catholicism) should somehow disqualify him for the nation’s highest office. The subject had been an undercurrent in the campaign.
Even before he announced his candidacy in 1960, Kennedy was talking about the issue telling one national magazine in 1959: “Whatever one’s religion in private life may be, for the officeholder nothing takes precedence over his oath to uphold the Constitution and all its parts – including the First Amendment.” That was the essence of his argument before the Texas ministers.
Eugene McCarthy was a Senator from Minnesota at the time, though he is best known to most of us for what happened in the 1968 campaign. He was a devout Catholic who actually took issue with Kennedy’s handling of issues of faith. Writing in America, a Catholic weekly, at the time he said:
“Although in a formal sense church and state can and should be kept separate, it is absurd to hold that religion and politics can be kept wholly apart when they meet in the consciousness of one man. If a man is religious – and if he is in politics - one fact will relate to the other if he is indeed a whole man.”
McCarthy, in my opinion, hit the nail right on the head. Yes, the mixing of politics and religion will always be tense. It might even threaten at times to become toxic. But a nation without religious influence will…well…let me let John Adams, our 2nd President (quoted by Mitt Romney in his speech last week) say it for me: “Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean Hell.”