Monday, September 17, 2012

Why there won't be religious rioting in American streets anytime soon

Jonathan Turley, I'm going to have some fun with you for a few minutes here. On religion, you're a dummy, (I mean that in the best possible way). And your ignorance breeds some really unfounded fears. Here you are  fretting your little ol' self that America is on the verge of some Libyan style street violence. Really, you're smart enough to do better. On one hand, you accurately call out Romney's, ehhh let's just say, "suspect", pro-life credentials.
"While it’s fairly obvious that Romney  has no firm convictions on the issue, he does firmly believe that the issue is a winner among the religiously conservative base that now grips the Republican Party."
The idea that Romney would outlaw abortion, much less score more than minor points for pro life, even if he has a clear line, well, that's just silly. Sooooo, what are we to make of this?

Obama launches an insincere attack ad aimed at Romney's insincere views on life as if he is some crusading pro-life radical, (we should be so fortunate). What a charade. It's not like Turley has some keen insight on the cynicism of the Romney campaign that fresh and earnest campaign managers like Axelrod, (who employ the same cynical tactics themselves), aren't going to see right through. If the Obama campaign really believes that Romney wants to outlaw abortion or overturn Roe v. Wade, they're pretty much alone on that position. By contrast, the alternate Obama track of insane, full throttle, celebration of abortion anytime, anywhere, anyway is a freaky sort of radical and I'll settle for small token victories and scraps from the Republicans, (at the Executive level anyway). So Turley, in the interest of honest dialogue and a campaign that gets at the real issues of governing, when are you going to call out the Obama campaign for this sort of obfuscation that's only real aim is to pit tribe vs. tribe? Well anyway...he goes on to the polls to try to  extrapolate some discernible consistent meaning on American religious views, (as if that's even remote possible!).
"But the question remains about how well this strategy of placing God squarely on your side will do among the general voting population. Polls show Americans are more and more rejecting traditional religion for something spiritual but less dogmatic. Atheists/agnostics are the nations’ fastest growing “religion” category even though their numbers are still quite small at 15%.  There is no reliable data showing that a candidate’s religious beliefs sway voters one way or the other. If they did, Romney’s Mormonism would be more of a handicap to his election bid."

How is this new? Alex de Tocqueville called this well over 100 years ago.
His work largely deals with the many, many different religious groups in America and the unique and curious spectacle of their mutual toleration of one another. This was a toleration that came at the expense of doctrinal integrity and accompanied a doctrinal vagueness. No one cares. Americans have never really battled out theological specifics in presidential elections, (and once JFK promised to pretty much keep his Bishops at arm's length Catholics were finally welcome to participate as well). Of Americans, politics and faith, Tocqueville wrote:
"Religion should therefore be considered as the first of their political institutions.From the start, politics and religion have agreed and have not since ceased to do so."
So in politics, Americans reserve the right to be just as vague and inconsistent, while still just as passionate and heartfelt, as we are in our religion.
Anyway, Turley, on Romney and abortion, you're right. But since you're so smart, how is it that you somehow think Romney's defense of religion or even the mention of God in the public square is somehow tantamount to escalation of sectarian rioting in American streeets?

"Will Americans, seeing the carnage that religious fanaticism has wrought at America’s foreign outposts, begin to question the wisdom of electing leaders who pursue political goals through religious rhetoric?"

Ugh...puts head in hands. Because all talk about God or religious rhetoric will result in mass violence? Yes, that has soooooooo been the American experience. Gosh, we've never had religious rhetoric up till now. This mention of God, is just so radical.Give me a break!Sure, we've got our fringe wackos in America but we've always had our fringe wackos. And honestly, we've always done just fine with plenty of religious talk in the public square. In fact, the idea that elected leaders pursuing political goals through religious rhetoric is a new thing is just plain wrong. As Turley points Obama claims a Christian faith. And certainly Mrs. Obama has pursued political goals through religious rhetoric in the last few months:
“To anyone who says that church is no place to talk about these issues, you tell them there is no place better—no place better,” Michelle Obama told those in attendance at the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s general conference in Nashville. The First Lady defended her words, blending political issues with issues of morality: “Because ultimately, these are not just political issues – they are moral issues,” she said. “They’re issues that have to do with human dignity and human potential, and the future we want for our kids and our grandkids.”
Mass violence ensued.
Oh wait, no it didn't. Everyone pretty much agreed with her.

America has a strong history of religious activism. In fact, you could argue that almost all public activism in America has had a religious component, (certainly the pro-choice and gay activists claim their clergy). The religious component has always been there, and until we stop making an appeal to universal human rights based on an objective standard, it always will be there. It is a strength.Even when we err, we err about the right thing. The religious standard may be the reason that Tocqueville also said of us:
"The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults."
Mixing talk of religion and politics, (both as a healthy point of discussion and as a wedge tool for scoring points), is not new in America. Both of our current candidates and both parties would like to vaguely say, "I'm for God." They would also like to avoid religious liberty as a campaign issue, because that requires some real skill and nuance to parse through. But, religious liberty is an issue in this campaign and everyone knows what side fares worse on that one.
So far, the Obama has some major dings on his record in how he wants to set policy to limit the autonomy of both religious organizations and religious individuals:
  • HHS Mandate: Probably the boldest effort to squelch religious freedom and force people to violate the tenants of their religion that our country has ever seen. That is not hyperbole. The guy wants to force Catholics to fund abortion, contraception and sterilization.
  • Hosanna Tabor vs EEOC: The Administration tried to dictate who a religious organization can appoint as ministers. They were quickly and firmly swatted down 9-0 by the Supreme Court
  • Assist in Migration and Refugee Services: Catholics need not apply. 

Folks, you really should go back and re-read Kennedy's 1960 campaign speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. I think it has some flaws in what it asserts as a solution to the dilema of the elected representative, (Catholic or otherwise), resolving conflicts between public interest and personal conscience. However, I think it is extremely helpful in gaining insight into the nature of religious and political discourse in America and it very accurately frames the strengths and weakness of our dialogue. That's not going to get Turley to see Romney in a necessarily more compelling light, (that's not the point), but it should calm down his fears that Romney is going to incite a US version of Middle Easetern rioting. 

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