Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"Romney's Strange View of Faith," from The Rocky Mountain News

October 16, 2007

By Paul Campos

The sociologist Peter Berger once observed that, if India is the world's most religious country and Sweden the least, the United States is a country of Indians ruled by Swedes.
He made this comment at a time when there was something of a consensus among our elites that religion was a basically private matter - one which ought to play little or no role in public policy debates.

That consensus has broken down, to the point where it's routine for presidential candidates to parade their supposed piety, and even to claim it's important that the nation be led by, as Mitt Romney recently put it, "a person of faith."

This view regarding the role of religion in American politics has given birth to its own set of rather bizarre orthodoxies. On this view, it's crucial that our political leaders be sincere religious believers. But apparently it's of no importance what religious beliefs they actually hold, as long as they have "faith."

When you think about it - which is something people like Romney don't want you to do, for reasons that will become clear - this makes no sense.

What would one think of someone who said that it was important for our leaders to be "persons of politics," while remaining indifferent to just what sort of political beliefs they held? Imagine taking the view that it made no difference whether one was a Maoist or a royalist or a Republican, as long as one's political beliefs were sincere.

Or consider a scientist who claims that, while he personally believes that global warming is going to destroy civilization, his opinion has no more value than that of a scientist who denies that global warming represents any sort of serious problem. The important thing, he says, isn't the truth or falsehood of their respective views, but rather that he and the holder of the diametrically opposed opinion are both "persons of science."

In the context of political or scientific belief such assertions would obviously be absurd on their face, but when it comes to religion, people say things like this every day. Just look at what happened to Ann Coulter when she was impolitic enough to point out that, as a Christian, she thinks Christianity is true, and therefore by logical necessity truer than, among many other belief systems, Judaism.

Coulter has a long history of making comments that are as idiotic as they are inflammatory, but in this case much of the criticism aimed at her illustrates the weird etiquette that dominates our public discussion of religion. For example, American Jewish Congress president Richard Sideman claimed "Coulter's assertion that Jews are somehow religiously imperfect smacks of the most odious anti-Jewish sentiment."

In other words, religious belief is apparently a unique kind of belief, which requires believing that one's views regarding the most important questions in the world - compared to which all political and scientific disputes are insignificant - are no better or worse than anyone else's views regarding these questions of supposedly infinite importance.

Which brings me back to Mitt Romney, Person of Faith. Romney is a Mormon, which means that, to the extent he adheres to the tenets of his religion, he believes in various doctrines which, in the eyes of orthodox Christians, are abominable heresies.

Now according to Romney this should be a matter of indifference, because, after all, what counts is whether or not one has "faith." In this way a disagreement about, for example, the divinity of Christ - something which innumerable people have been burnt at the stake for denying - is transformed into a trivial detail, of no real importance.

With "faith" like this, who needs atheism?

Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado. He can be reached at .


Anonymous said...

Doug - yes, good article. It puts shoe leather to the silly philosophical notion of denying propositional truth claims when it comes to religious matters of belief. In Francis Schaeffer's view of the matter,in The God Who is There, he would most certainly agree with Campos, tagging contrary opinions as falling below the line of despair.

john alan turner said...

It seems to me that placing faith into a special, untouchable category like this is precisely what leads vitriolic critics like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins to believe that the concept of faith should be disallowed entirely.

Daniel said...

There is a difference between merely subscribing to a "faith" and actually living it out. While Romney is not a Christian, from what I can tell he is at least living out his Mormon faith-- that which values ethics and social ethics very highly. I will be voting for Romney for that reason and that he takes his "faith" seriously, and it's not just another tool to use to snag votes. Besides, he's not running for Pope here!

Jeff S. said...

Great article by Campos!

I'm curious what Romney actually said. If he was trying to downplay his religious affiliation by saying that he was simply a man of faith, then yes, that would be an odd statement indeed. If he believes the LDS church to be true, then he should stick by his guns.
I'm curious how many Christians would vote for a Mormon president. If he was the best person for the job, I think I'd be ok with it. Just as if my boss at work was LDS: if that person was an excellent manager, I wouldn't have a problem working for them either.

evagrius said...

"Our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is."

Dwight D.Eisenhower

Paul D. Adams said...

I deeply and religiously feel that Eisenhower's comment makes no sense.

Ed Darrell said...

I always had the idea that Jesus rather thought it more important to consider the character of a person than the faith to which that person subscribed, or the money that person held, or the color of the person's skin, or the name of the person's tribe.

Consequently, merely writing "Romney's strange view of faith" merely tells us that the author is a pharisee or publican, anxious to be seen in public as one who prays loudly and always has the best seat in the synagogue.

Nothing in the piece about Romney's actions.

Peter Berger may have been right, but was that such a bad thing? Madison thought it unwise for the government to know that person was a preacher -- none of the government's business, Madison noted. Of course, Madison had been affected by his early life experiences, visiting Baptists and Presbyterians imprisoned in Virginia -- for being Baptists and Presbyterians. Madison saw what "good Christians" could do when the first questions they ask is "what do you believe?" Madison knew the evil inherent in the way the question was asked at that time, and he had tried to get aid to the families of the men imprisoned, away from their farms, for the crime of believing that people should be immersed at baptism, and that they should be old enough to know why they were being immersed.

Are we so much better than the founders, morally, that it is safe to allow such inquisitorial questions?

I challenge Campos to tell us one policy adversely affected by the Mormon faith of any senator, congressman, chairman of the Federal Reserve, or cabinet member. If this is an important issue, show us why.

Otherwise, railing on about Romney's faith is just so much elbowing to get that favored seat at the synagogue, the better to be seen at praying loudly. At best, that's what it is.

Romney's family has deep enough Mormon ties they probably still tell stories about the bounty placed on the heads of their Missouri ancestors, as if they were coyotes or other vermin, for having the temerity to believe differently from others. The bounties were justified because, after all, they weren't "real Christians."

Was there an issue, or only biased gossip, that Campos wanted to discuss?

Ed Darrell said...

[quote]Just look at what happened to Ann Coulter when she was impolitic enough to point out that, as a Christian, she thinks Christianity is true, and therefore by logical necessity truer than, among many other belief systems, Judaism.[/quote]

That's calling a lump of coal, a diamond, ain't it?

Had Coulter phrased it that way, I doubt anyone would have noticed. Instead she questioned the humanity of Jews. Those of us who remember how the Holocaust started were shocked. I'll speak up when they come for Campos, but I sure as heck won't stake my life that he'll do the same for me.

Abbi said...

gotta agree with Ed Darrell here... any (positive) use of Coulter to make a point is probably a bad move. She didn't phrase her point the way Campos suggests.

Rick said...

This is truly a time of spiritual confusion. I have heard several conservative hosts/bloggers refer to their "Christian faith." Yet there are insults and name-calling, immodesty and etc.

The "Strange View of Faith" seems to sell well. I recently noticed all the new titles in a secular bookstore that dealt with something religious, even including a book called "God and Hillary Clinton: A Spiritual Life".

The public is hungry for spirituality and they know that it is necessary. Thus they look for it in their leaders and on bookstore tables. The problem is they do not want "true truth" as Schaeffer calls it. So they buy into semantic mysticisms and believe all is well.

Ed Darrell said...

Why all the worry about Mitt Romney's Mormonism? Ron Paul is in the race, too -- no worry about his Dominionism? Is that Christian?

Why all the concern about a proven good manager, when there are people with views that really should cause concern in the race?

Craig Fletcher said...

I have personally studied the truth claims of Mormonism extensively and have found them to be easily falsifiable, and yes... even ridiculous to believe intellectually. Given Romney's sharp business skills and excellent leadership character, his gullability and lack of discernment in being Mormon are quite surprising.

I know that this will sound insulting to some readers, but really... look into the claims of Mormonism from an "is this objectively true?" perspective and then ask yourself: Do I want someone who believes what Mormonism teaches to be the most powerful person in the world, politically?

Also, I am concerned that if he does get elected the "power" given to Mormon leaders could get so great that their influence could be dangerous!

Jeremy Pierce said...

I don't think Romney meant that his Mormonism is of no significance at all, just that it's of no significance politically in terms of why people should want to support him as president. It's his positions that matter, not his views about the atonement or the Trinity.

If Ron Paul is a dominionist, you'd never see it affecting the federal level, which is where he's serving. He's a hyper-federalist, with a strong view how restricted the federal government ought to be in doing things that local governments should have no problem doing.

Christian Prophet said...

I think Romney could convince EVERYONE to support him with the following speech on religion:


Jeremy Pierce said...

Are you kidding? Most evangelicals would see such a speech, conclude he is a relativist, and worry about whether any of his ethical statements are genuinely principled. Romney's already got too much of a credibility problem with conservatives because he's changed his view on abortion (and because his opponents are pretending he's changed his views on lots of other things). He doesn't need to aggravate that by saying things that sound as if there's no important religious truth, just experience.

What he should say is that he and evangelicals disagree on important theological questions that are politically irrelevant and agree on lots of important moral and political questions that are very important.