Friday, December 14, 2007

Religiosity now seems at least as important for public office as leadership qualities

Secular Europe’s Merits By ROGER COHEN Op-Ed Columnist NYT: December 13, 2007
But Bush is no transient phenomenon; he is the expression of a new American religiosity. Romney’s speech and the rapid emergence of the anti-Darwin Baptist minister Mike Huckabee as a rival suggest how estranged the American zeitgeist is from the European.
At a time when growing numbers of Americans identify themselves as born-again evangelicals, and creationism is no joke, Romney’s essentially pitted the faithful against the faithless while attempting to merge Mormonism in mainstream Christianity. Where Kennedy said he believed in a “president whose religious views are his own private affair,” Romney pledged not to “separate us from our religious heritage.”
“Religiosity now seems at least as important for public office as leadership qualities,” said Karl Kaiser, a German political scientist. “The entrance condition for the American presidential race is being religious. If you’re not, you have no chance, which troubles Europeans.”
Of course, the religious heritage of which Romney spoke is real. The Puritans’ vision of America as “a city upon a hill” was based on a covenant with God. As the Bill of Rights was formulated, George Washington alluded in his Thanksgiving Proclamation to “that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.”
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.

Correction: I wrote last week of the Tudor-Stuart alternation; I meant succession.
Blog: Nicholas D. Kristof is on book leave.
Next Article in Opinion (6 of 18) » Past Coverage
FEAR AND FAITH; A Mormon’s Ultimate Doorbell (December 9, 2007)
Romney, Eye on Evangelicals, Defends His Faith (December 7, 2007)
THE LONG RUN; Pulpit Was the Springboard for Huckabee's Rise (December 6, 2007)
Crucial Test for Romney in Speech on His Religion (December 6, 2007)

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