Friday, December 07, 2007

Religion And Freedom, According To Romney

I know that this looks like an obsessive-compulsive disorder about the Romney speech, this deluge of posts on that one topic, but then he does give us so much material. It is only now that I am getting to the part of the speech that I found the weirdest. I couldn't stop thinking about it while doing the dishes, while walking the dog, while arguing with the burner-repairman (who still hasn't fixed the burner, despite the third visit inside a month). And all the time I was doing these chores I was trying to sort out Mitt's argument that freedom depends on religion.

What did he mean by it? To remind you of this fascinating topic (I'm sure it fascinates someone, somewhere, as much as it fascinates me), here is Mitt again:

There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator. And further, they discovered the essential connection between the survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In John Adams' words: ``We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. ... Our Constitution,'' he said, ``was made for a moral and religious people.''

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.

What is your take on that? Does Mitt mean that "freedom" (however he might define that concept) is only possible if the religious authorities use the buggy whips on the backs of all the sinners, to keep them in line? That is what the quote from John Adams suggests to me: that human beings are too evil to be allowed to have freedom without some external restraints, in the form of fear of eternal damnation.

If my reading is correct, Mitt argues that secular freedom (where? only in the marketplace?) should be combined with some kind of a religious authoritarianism. The latter would actually not be freedom at all, but a set of rules which limits the freedom people are actually allowed to have. Now, given the misogynistic nature of most of the older religions, this could well mean that men can have freedom and a religious blessing for it, while women can have freedom only if the religious rules allow them to have it. Which would be rather seldom.

Here comes my confusion: If this is the reading I'm supposed to give these parts of Mitt's speech, how does the religious liberty argument sit with it? Is it that everybody is free to pick their own set of rules which constrict that freedom by keeping the old Adam (old Eve???) in check? But if these rules are all quite different from each other, doesn't it mean that different people will then end up having very different amounts of real freedom? And given that most of us are born into a religion, rather than choosing it on these types of grounds, how is this helping freedom in general?

And of course Mitt also seems to be arguing that freedom is not possible with atheism or secularism in general. Why not? Because those religious restraints, such as the fear of hell, would be missing? Does Mitt suggest that atheists would always choose to do truly horrible things, just because they don't believe in a punitive god? If someone proved to Mitt, in some odd way, that there is no god, would he go out to rape and pillage, right away? I doubt it. But I have read similar arguments from religious people, implying that all that keeps them on the straight-and-narrow is the fear of later divine punishment, that they only do good because otherwise they get to burn to a crisp over and over again, all eternity.

What a tangled web we weave here. It is even more tangled than it looks, because I can never be quite sure what politicians mean when they say "freedom." It's just one of those words that push your feel-good-buttons. But if you stop for a moment and ask what it is that people are free to do, in what fields of life and who it is who will be given freedom your buttons get tired pretty fast. All that stuff about "your freedom ending at the tip of my nose" crops up, at least in me.