« Peace in the Middle East? | Main | Hardballin' »

December 06, 2007

You Gotta Have Faith

The first 846 words were profoundly beautiful. There's something deeply touching that, in America, even a speech in which you leverage your faith for political gain and use devotion as a tool of division requires a lengthy preamble emphasizing that it is our Constitution, not our religion, which we hold in common and, in our politics, transcendent.

But after that, Mitt Romney worst instincts reemerged. As his speech began, Romney eloquently explained that "I am an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith." But Mitt Romney is not only an American running for president. He is an opportunist running for president. And so, after taking the principled stand that the specifics of his faith were not relevant to his pursuit of the presidency, Romney spat upon the bright line he had just drawn, and proclaimed himself safely within the bounds of the dominant religious groups whose votes he desires. "There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked," he said. "What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind."

I don't know whether Mitt Romney believes that or not. I don't really care. But I don't believe that. My beliefs, or lack thereof, are less broadly accepted. And Romney, by prominently proclaiming his fealty to traditional Christian doctrine, just said, essentially, that they are illegitimate. That they should be a source of debate. That even in speeches where you tell the American people that "a person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith," you must profess a default belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ.

"We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust," continued Romney. I was never asked whether I was part of that "we." But according to Romney's rhetoric, the rhetoric of the man who would be my leader, I either accept that tenet, or accept that I am not part of the nation in which I was born. Indeed, if I "seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God," I display my intent to establish "a new religion in America – the religion of secularism."

And that's the heart of Romney's argument. Not the beautiful 846 words in the beginning, the words that assured me that my beliefs, or lack thereof, would not impinge on my prospects in this realm. "A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith," Romney had said. When I heard that the first time, I thrilled to it. Reading it again, I realize I'd simply misunderstood: You had to have faith for that faith to be irrelevant. In a speech Romney was forced to give because he feared unfair discrimination, Romney did not stand against intolerance. Instead, he simply asked that it not be directed against him, a man of faith. You can be intolerant, but do it to them, over there. They're even more different.

December 6, 2007 | Permalink


"You can be intolerant, but do it to them, over there. They're even more different."

A better "Shorter Mitt Romney" I have not seen.

Excellent post, and excellent coverage over at TAPPED. Thanks.

Posted by: verplanck colvin | Dec 6, 2007 4:20:29 PM

Ezra, you've said what I've come to know is wisdom well beyong your years, yet again. And said it shorter and more effectively than nearly all of the public commentators on this subject.

Your parents raised a good son, and you, the son, has justified in abundance the efforts of your parents and your own efforts to cast light into the shadows.


Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Dec 6, 2007 4:29:59 PM

I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind."

I don't know whether Mitt Romney believes that or not. I don't really care. But I don't believe that. My beliefs, or lack thereof, are less broadly accepted.

True...and they would be just as less broadly accepted whether Romney proclaimed his own faith or not. It matters not. And if he were not to be elected and had not made this speech about his faith, your beliefs would *still* be less broadly accepted. And if Hillary wins, your beliefs would be less broadly accepted.

So what?

Posted by: El viajero | Dec 6, 2007 4:30:14 PM

I'm no Romney fan, Ezra, but I think he was not excluding non-Christians, even implicitly, by his speech.

He addressed the "Jesus as Savior" theme, I think, because he's worried that Christians don't understand what Mormons mean in calling themselves Christian. So that was basically his attempt to settle their worries, I think.

It does seem that he consciously (how otherwise) omitted mention of the freedom not to believe, which is a very significant omission, as far as I am concerned.

But I don't interpret the bit about his faith in Jesus as a slap at non-Christians.

Posted by: Bill | Dec 6, 2007 4:47:22 PM

I do think that was a goofy and, as you also suggest, somewhat contradictory section of the speech--but then I think the whole event of a presidential candidate's "speech on religion" is wrong in a lot of ways, only some of which Romney himself is responsible for.

Posted by: Bill | Dec 6, 2007 4:58:37 PM

Bravo Ezra, best thing I've read on the speech all day

Posted by: gregh | Dec 6, 2007 5:03:51 PM

Mormons do not believe in the divinity of Christ, so they cannot be considered Christians. (Where are the crosses at LDS churches? Their temples
are adorned with a statue of Moroni.)

Posted by: steelhead | Dec 6, 2007 5:28:09 PM

The problem with Mitt Romney is that he's the kind of politician that kisses babies with his tongue.

Posted by: James F. Elliott | Dec 6, 2007 5:44:33 PM

Either faith matters, in which we should be able to dissect the tenets of a candidate's faith, or it doesn't. Romney can't have it both ways. It's asinine to think that our leaders have to believe SOMETHING and not set any criteria as to what that something is.

Posted by: Royko | Dec 6, 2007 5:45:02 PM

He's not trying to fight religious bigotry, he's just trying to deflect it. Freedom requires religion, after all.

Posted by: SDM | Dec 6, 2007 5:49:03 PM

I was reading a bio of Sufjan Stevens, the musician, last night. When asked about his Christian beliefs he answered that those things were irrelevant and inappropriate to public forums...let's talk about the music I make.
Well, that's kind of how I feel about politicians talking about this stuff too...I don't much care about your religion, show me what you got.

Posted by: Texican | Dec 6, 2007 5:53:01 PM

I'm no Romney fan, Ezra, but I think he was not excluding non-Christians, even implicitly, by his speech.

Really? So why no mention of non-Christians? Why only the Christian references? Romney is currently pandering to the Fundagelical Republican base. I'm sure he'll morph to "Judeo-Christian" when addressing a broader audience. Everybody who is not a Likudnik Judeo (I support Likud Israel! very very much!) or a Christian (which includes Mormons, really it does, it does, please vote for me, it does!) can go hang. It's not really your country, so you evil heathens can just get stuffed.

Posted by: paperwight | Dec 6, 2007 5:55:15 PM

As a person of faith, I'm always bothered when politicians don't defend the right *not* to believe. What does it mean to believe in the Divine if you don't have a right *not* to believe? How heartfelt is a mandatory public prayer? I wish all these hypocrites praying on the street corners would shut up. Quit telling us about your faith. Why don't you try *showing* us for a change?

Posted by: greennotGreen | Dec 6, 2007 5:58:39 PM

I agree with your views entirely, but this post smells faintly of wank.

Posted by: ethan salto | Dec 6, 2007 6:02:00 PM


It helps to read what one wishes to critique; as Ezra's link shows, he said this:

"I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God. And in every faith I have come to know, there are features I wish were in my own: I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims. As I travel across the country and see our towns and cities, I am always moved by the many houses of worship with their steeples, all pointing to heaven, reminding us of the source of life's blessings."

He also said this:

"And you can be certain of this: Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me. And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: we do not insist on a single strain of religion – rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith."

So he cannot be accused of failing to mention or accommodate other faiths in his speech. He can be criticized, as he was by me above, for failing to mention the freedom of those who do not believe at all.

How is that you concluded he did not mention non-Christians?

Posted by: Bill | Dec 6, 2007 6:08:04 PM

What was wrong with Romney's speech wasn't any slight of hand omission of non-believers. This seems to be the position many at the Corner and elsewhere are taking: yeah he didn't mention non-believers but he didn't mention Hindus/etc either. This is simply not an accurate reading of what he said. Read the speech: Romney didn't merely omit non-believers, he explicitly excluded them from the concept of freedom and membership in the American nation. There is no other characterization of that but as bigoted and reprehensible.

Posted by: gregh | Dec 6, 2007 6:09:34 PM


I guess I'm somewhere between you and whatever you read at the Corner. I think he didn't explicitly exclude anyone, but perhaps you can show me the explicit language. Unless by explicit you meant implicit, I don't know.

I agree that it's more serious than not mentioning every form of religion, though, since he mentioned enough other religions that the exclusion of a specific religion such as Hinduism is not the same as his treatment of atheism.

I'll look again for that explicit exclusion, but perhaps you could just quote it?

Posted by: Bill | Dec 6, 2007 6:25:07 PM

Religious test: Do you have the right beliefs to become POTUS?

Romney: "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust."

US Constitution
Article VI. - Debts, Supremacy, Oaths
". . . no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

ooops! There's that damn Constitution rearing its ugly head again.

Thomas Jefferson wrote the following words to be delivered on July 4th, 1826. Unfortuantely they had to be delivered for him--he died that day.

"May (July 4th) be to the world, what I believe it will be -- to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all -- the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form (of government) which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them."

Posted by: Don Bacon | Dec 6, 2007 6:31:33 PM

You're right I meant implicit, yikes. But I don't really think the distinction matters; how else can one read sentances like "freedom requires religion" or "no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people" other than to exlude non-belivers.

Posted by: gregh | Dec 6, 2007 6:35:34 PM

But I don't interpret the bit about his faith in Jesus as a slap at non-Christians.

The point is that you can recite all the flowery rhetoric you want about how there's no religious test, but when you immediately hasten to reassure everyone that you believe in Jesus Christ as your savior, you give away that there really is a religious test and you know exactly what it consists of.

I doubt he intended it as a slap at non-Christians because he's not running against any. But it very much served as a reminder to the non-Christians out there that they're still not as welcome at the table as everyone else is.

Posted by: Steve | Dec 6, 2007 6:35:58 PM

"I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind."

But don't Mormons NOT believe that? According to Mormonism, isn't Jesus Christ just a dude, a righteous dude?

Well, all of these God-lovers are crackpot cultists. Up with atheism! Hurrah!

Posted by: Anon | Dec 6, 2007 6:40:01 PM


I was just about to post on the "freedom requires religion bit"--yes, that's the phrase that really requires some elaboration of his views of people with no faith. So that, in operation with his failure to account for people of no faith, actually comes pretty close to an explicit exclusion. I do think one could reconcile the claim, as a theolgical claim or (perhaps) as an empirical matter that freedom requires religion in some sense, but he does none of that work here.

As to those who take the Andrew Sullivan line about religious tests, this strikes me as a profound misunderstanding. The government itself may impose no religious test, but voters are allowed to, and I imagine we all would. We all might find some person's religious views so out of step with a view of reality that they would disqualify them as someone we could vote for--just imagine a jihadist, or a cultist of some sort, or even someone who just plan rejects evolution, frankly. An unbelieving voter would not violate the Constitution by only voting for unbelieving candidates, nor would a person who said "I can't vote for someone who rejects evolution on religious grounds." I'm not sure I can vote for such a person.

Not all conceivable religious tests imposed by voters would be equal, and that gives rise to confusion. But it does not ipso facto constitute religious bigotry to take note of (in an evaluative sense) the religious beliefs of another, and (as a legal matter) even if it did, it would not violate the Constitution for an individual voter to do so. (It would of course be wrong, but not everything that's wrong is unconstitutional!)

Posted by: Bill | Dec 6, 2007 6:43:45 PM

@ Bill: twenty words, mentioning Judaism and Islam in a list with three Christian denominations (oh, and the throwaway line about menorahs at Christmas the holidays. It's like "Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Christian, Muslim" or "Sufi, Sunni, Shia, Christian, Jewish, while spending the rest of the speech talking about how good it is that there are different kinds of the main religion. So, fair enough, not no mention, but just about as good as no mention.

And of course, if you don't believe in God (perhaps translated as Allah, but hard to say, given the rest of the speech), you aren't really an American.

Posted by: paperwight | Dec 6, 2007 6:47:32 PM

Bill, I agree with every word you wrote BUT Romney's problem is he claimed he wouldn't be held to a religious test, and then proceeded to take one, for the most cynical and morally vacuous reasons possible. I had no really strong feelings about the guy before, but this speech really leaves me aghast. Combined with Huckabee's ruminations today on the almighty being behind his rise in the polls, I think I might actually want Guiliani to be the republican nominee now.

Posted by: gregh | Dec 6, 2007 6:52:17 PM


I don't disagree with what you wrote, except about Huckabee, whom I do not support (as should be clear from my remarks about evolution...). That said, if I were running for President, I'd probably pray to do well, and I know my friends would pray for me to do well. If I did well, I'd thank my friends and I'd thank God. Though I would not do it publicly as Huck did.

It's just commonplace for many people to credit their success in life to God. The idea that everytime a person does so we should worry (if they are a politician) that they are trying unite Church and state strikes me as not a real worry. It's just like a football player pointing to heaven when he scores a touchdown. It is a bad idea for a politician to say it in this sense: it can give rise to the impression that he's claiming divine sanction of his platform or something. But I just highly doubt Huckabee is that crazy, so I don't myself infer that from what he says. I just think that, like the football players, he's trying to stay humble and credit God rather than himself.

Giuliani is far more frightening for a host of reasons than Huckabee, and his casual attitude toward his own religion's demands (so far as one can tell from his public behavior) are not the most reassuring feature of his candidacy.

Posted by: Bill | Dec 6, 2007 7:01:11 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.