Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Long Post on Mitt Romney's Religion in America

Earlier this week Benazir Bhutto, a champion for democracy and freedom, was assassinated by some religious kook. Several weeks ago, there was an equally horrendous attack on Ms. Bhutto that killed 140 people. This assasation was not a lone gunman, but a concerted attempt to stifle the dream of democracy in the Middle East.

These political/religious motivated killings going on in the Middle East are horrific.

On a more civil tone, one of the highlights of the American primary election was Governor Mitt Romney's Faith in America speech delivered earlier this month.

The relation of government and religion is the central issue of our age. If we cannot find a way for religions to live in tolerance, we will see a nuclear war.

Unfortunately, the political class seems to have taken to the idea that the way to fight religious extremism irreligion. The political elite seem set on forcing scientific socialism (a world ruled by pure reason) on the world.

I find this approach foolhardy. I believe strongly that the founders of the United States were on a much better path.

With the exception of Thomas Paine, few of the American founders were dreaming of an age ruled by perfect reason with no religion. I believe that the founders of this nation were of a more pragmatic sort. They envisioned a structure where people continued to encapsulate their imperfect understanding of the universe in religion. They would meet, however, in civil discourse in elected assemblies to create a small government that provided the basic necessities of governance.

I founders' ideal of secularism could best be described as one with limited government and where the people were free to develop and pursue their beliefs. The classical liberalism of the founders respected private religious expression but demanded public tolerance.

This classical liberal view of secularism is in sharp contrast with modern secular progressivism that seeks an unlimited government with extremely tight constraints on the thoughts of the individual.

Unfortunately, this model given to us by the founders is not the most stable of social orders. It falls apart when government gets too large, or when a sufficiently large number of people adhere to a religion (or belief system) that demands political domination.

The greatest fear of Pioneer Americans seems to be that the top down hierarchical Catholic Church would find a way to dominated a nation full of small protestant sects.

To early Americans, the domineering papacy was the great Satan.

John F. Kennedy experience was important as his election seemed to be recognition that American Catholics were American first. Like Protestant, Catholics were committed to a limited secular government.

JFK's speech can be seen as a height of secularism. In the early sixties, the United States had become a much more tolerant nation.

Unfortunately, it is not in human nature to let good things stand.

While Americans were achieving the classical liberal ideal of secularism, a new insideous ideology was forming in the wings. This new ideology is often refered to as "secular progressivism."

Secular progressivism arose as the result of two political trends. The first is the very human tendency to push any good idea to an extreme. If a little secularism is good, then a lot of secularism must be great.

If the idea that people should leave their religious pontifications at the step of the Capitol is a good idea, then ridding ourselfs of all religious sentiment must be great.

The second force behind progressive secularism is the hope of the left to transform the United States into a socialist state. While it is possible for a small limited government to allow free epression of religion, a socialist state must find a way to either incorporate a religion or stifle all religion.

Most attempts at socialism involve elevating the state to a religion or by adhering to a relgion that demands domination of the popel.

The classical liberal ideal of secularism was premised on a small government with a restricted scope. The secular progressive envision a state with unlimited power and extremely little freedom of expression.

To progress our nation from a free market to socialism, the progressive has to find a way to neutralize all religious sentiment. The obvious path to acheiving the goal of socialism in the 1960s was to form an alliance with those wanting to advance secularism to the next level and socialism.

The result is alliance is a paradoxical belief that is well described as "secular progressivism." Secular Progressivism does its dirty work by trying to make irreligion the religion of the state.

The idea is paradoxical from the start. We are told to imagine a world without religion; However, this act of imagining a utopia is itself a religious act. The ideology of a world without religion is precisely the type of ideology the American founders wanted people to check at the door before discussing government policy.

Irreligion is a religion. We can find an analogy in mathematics. Negating a number does not make a number disappear. Multiplying 3 by -1 does not make the number go away. Negating three makes minus-three. Attempts to negate religion simply creates a religion of irreligion.

The religion of irreligion is inherently irrational. It tends to have even worse results than religions that recognize themselves as religion. People who've deluded themselves into thinking they have achieved a transcendent state by adopting nihilism as their religion tend to become intolerant in their beliefs and actions.

While the classical liberal secularism attempted to create a platform of tolerance where people of different faiths could engage in civil discourse to create a government, the secular progressives have created an irrational belief system that ends with absolute intolerance to those not holding to the group think of irreligion.

Anyway, Mitt Romney was speaking to a completely different world than JFK. In our brave new world order, the left sports a secularism has been radicalized.

As with all radical movements. Radicalized secularism has spawned a reactionary movement. Reactionary movements can be as dangerous as radical movements. This reactionary movement appears to have created a new type of rightwing-mega-church that seems intent on legislating-morality.

The culture war has become a shrill tirade of groups seeking total domination.

The culture war isn't just an American phenomenon. Worldwide, the reaction to secular progressivism has reached epic proportions in the Islamic world. The Islamic world sees the marginalization of Christianity in the West. The Islamic response has been to breeding a particularly insipid reactionary ideology often referred to as radical Islam. The adherents of Radical Islam are willing to kill large numbers of people in a march to domination.

Islamic Radicals have essentially declared a war of extermination against the West.

In our post 9/11 world, the West is in the position of Missouri Governor Boggs. In 1838, the LDS Prophet Sidney Rigdon declared an extermination war on the gentiles of Missouri. Governor Boggs reacted to the extermination war by his infamous extermination order.

In the very heart of America, an elected official of the people ordered the genocide of his political opponents.

The act of an American state issuing an extermination order for a group of citizens was clearly one of the lowest points in this nation's history.

Fortunately cooler heads prevailed. The Mormons left Missouri and migrated to Navou, Illinois where people were anxious to demonstrate the power of tolerance.

This experience is relevant to the middle east. The world needs to find a way to create a structure where different beliefs are tolerated.

Secular progressivism can't do it. The very beating heart of modern progressivism is intolerance. The Islamic world recognizes secular progressivism as nihilistic.

To avoid a war of extermination, we must find a way to confront radical Islam in a way that maintains a positive role for the religious sentiments of the Islamic world.

In this regard, I think Romney's speech was very important. There simply must be a way for people to have different beliefs while having the opportunity to engage in world discourse.

As Mitt Romney approached the podium at the George HW Bush Library, he needed to give a JFK style speech to mitigate fears of his Mormonism while assuaging the sentiments of the reactionaries to secular progressivism.

Romney took a very interesting tact by skirting any discussion of how Mormonism might affect the decision making process. Instead his speech concentrated on differentiating the classical liberal ideal of secularism to the totalitarian visions of radical Islam.

In many ways it is fortuitous that one of the leading candidates for the Republican presidency belongs to an extraordinarily quirky religion.

1 comment:

Scott Hinrichs said...

While Syndey Rigdon was known for his firey rhetoric, he never called for the extermination of anyone.

Rigdon's Salt Sermon famously likened disaffected Mormons still residing in Mormon communities to the salt that Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount as having lost its savor and so was good for nothing more than to be thrown out. Rigdon did not directly instruct anyone to throw anyone out, but he seemed to advocate the idea that such ought to happen with dissenters that were causing problems.

Rigdon's 7/4/1838 sermon directly addressed the issue of mobocracy, as many Mormon communities in the area had been subjected to depradations at the hands of mobs. Rigdon only suggested that since the government was unwilling to defend Mormons and their property, Mormons would be forced to do so themselves.

Rigdon's speeches were misrepresented to Gov. Boggs, who had long been opposed to the Mormons, especially because of their anti-slavery stance. Boggs chose to believe the lurid tales brought to him without any type of proper investigation, because he saw an easy way to rid his state of an anti-slavery voting bloc (among other reasons).

When you say that cooler heads prevailed, this only happened after the state militia sacked the Mormon community of Farr West. Their actions included vandalism, plunder, rape, and murder of unarmed citizens. The Mormons, who had been forced to relinquish all weapons, were left with little choice but to flee the state in the dead of winter. Many, including children, had to walk to Illinois in the winter with no shoes or boots.

Within a few years of settling in Illinois, Mormons were driven from that state by mobs. Appeals to the federal government yielded no help. While the Constitution guaranteed freedom of religion, the government was apparently unable or unwilling to prevent infringements of that right.

Although the ideal existed, the facts on the ground were that the U.S. did not "create a structure where different beliefs [were] tolerated." When Mormons left Illinois for the West, they thought they were leaving the U.S. Only, the U.S. annexed the area to which they were headed. Thus, problems persisted for the next half century.

The Supreme Court ultimately ruled -- not in some kind of ancient, obsolete ruling, but in a ruling that is regularly cited today as precedence -- that certain tenets of the Mormon faith were incompatible with democracy, and could not, therefore, be tolerated. It was not just polygamy they were after, but any kind of political power wielded by Church officials.

After decades of struggle, LDS Church leaders sensed that holding to the problematic tenets would result in the church's demise. They finally began to yield in 1890, but the process did become complete until 1904. By 1911, Mormons had become enthusiastic Americans.

Thus, we see that it is not possible for American society to tolerate all religious beliefs. Perhaps this can be done with very small groups, as they pose little threat to our society. However, as the case of the Mormons shows, religious beliefs by groups large enough to hold political sway can only be tolerated within certain limitations. If the positive aspects of Islam can be contained within those boundaries, then I think we have a successful model that can be followed.

But it is easier to tolerate a diversity of religious freedom with limited government. The more government power grows, the more it infringes on those areas of life where free excercise of religion could occur. Those that see government as their god, of course, want to pursue this path. In the age-old battle of religious competition, they would stifle all other religion.