In today’s New York Times, Roger Cohen points out what’s wrong with the vision of America that Mitt Romney projected in his speech last week:
Religion informed America’s birth. But its distancing from politics was decisive to the republic’s success. Indeed, the devastating European experience of religious war influenced the founders’ thinking. That is why I find Romney’s speech and the society it reflects far more troubling than Europe’s vacant cathedrals.
Romney allows no place in the United States for atheists. He opines that, “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.” Yet secular Sweden is free while religious Iran is not. Buddhism, among other great Oriental religions, is forgotten.
He shows a Wikipedia-level appreciation of other religions, admiring “the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims” and “the ancient traditions of the Jews.” These vapid nostrums suggest his innermost conviction of America’s true faith. A devout Christian vision emerges of a U.S. society that is in fact increasingly diverse.
Romney rejects the “religion of secularism,” of which Europe tends to be proud. But he should consider that Washington is well worth a Mass. The fires of the Reformation that reduced St. Andrews Cathedral to ruin are fires of faith that endure in different, but no less explosive, forms. Jefferson’s “wall of separation” must be restored if those who would destroy the West’s Enlightenment values are to be defeated.
And there stands the irony.
Radical Islam, which neo-cons like Romney tells us is the gravest threat facing America today, recognizes no distinction between church and state. That’s why we have nations like Iran where the people are ruled by mullahs, or nations like Saudi Arabia where religious police roam the streets looking for people who violate the strict rules of Wahabism with the permission of the Saudi royal family, or examples like Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
And our own history is replete with examples of what happens when church and state are allowed to intermingle. From the excesses of the Inquisition to the horrible manner in which Catholics were treated in post-Reformation England, Western Civilization learned a lesson long ago that, based on Romney’s speech and Mike Huckabee’s candidacy, we seem to be forgetting.