You don’t need a Ph.D. in American history to realize that freedom OF religion does not just mandate a government with freedom FROM established religion but also fosters freedom FOR religions. Roger Williams and his fellow Puritan fanatics certainly understood the dangers of mixing church and state – and wanted to protect their church from any state meddling. These seeds of freedom scattered throughout America’s land mass have resulted in one of America’s glories – the flourishing of all kinds of ideologies as well as the flowering of individuals with diverse worldviews.
Alas, amid the lush fields of freedom-nourished thoughts, poisonous bigotry has also festered. A definitive religious history of the United States and a definitive intellectual history would also require a definitive history of American intolerance, theologically and intellectually. True, European intolerance, let alone Asian, African, and South American intolerance, has often been more virulent, systematic, brutal, and lethal. Still, Americans need to stand guard, making sure that the noxious fumes of bigotry do not pollute our free, diverse atmosphere.
So far, Mike Huckabee is not only failing to be suitably vigilant on this score, he risks poisoning the 2008 campaign by stirring the already too-powerful undercurrents of anti-Mormonism shaping the Republican debate. Huckabee was already playing with fire with his heavy-handed appeal as a “Christian Leader” – a term used to describe him in his television commercials until just days ago. All of a sudden, he’s a “Proven Leader.” But Huckabee crossed the line in his already-infamous New York Times Magazine interview to be published this Sunday. Huckabee asked the reporter Zev Chafets during an interview: ‘‘Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?’’
Huckabee’s morning-TV show apology – and private apology to Mitt Romney – are not sufficient. Huckabee has to make it clear that he is not running for America’s pastor in chief – and that he understands the distinction between his roles as preacher and political leader. Moreover, those Mormons who in Utah and environs tend to blur church and state may now understand why distant from the state protects the church, by creating barriers against bigotry and irrelevant religious tests. Defenses of freedom of religion should not only be coming from Romney and his camp. Huckabee’s provincial and small-minded appeals should trigger a wave of disgust and denunciations.
And as we exorcise these demons from our midst, let us also pat ourselves on the collective backs. Less than half a century ago, John Kennedy’s Catholicism played a major role in his candidacy. Today, the fact that Rudy Giuliani, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and Bill Richardson are Catholic is not just irrelevant it is barely noticed by most voters and commentators. Let us not forget that if politicians had to be pious to be elected president, none of the great leaders whose faces are carved into Mount Rushmore would have even made it into office.
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Gil Troy - 12/21/2007
I agree with you Oscar -- and with Peggy Noonan's comments in the Wall Street Journal that Romney should have acnowledged atheists in his speech -- however, I sympathetize with his predicament, so I cut him some slack and applaud him for trying to fight off the bigotry that surrounds him.
Oscar Chamberlain - 12/19/2007
I don't disagree with your comments about Huckabee's bigotry, but I do wish you had used a similar standard in looking at Romney's speech, when you reviewed it below.
No, Romney did not attack Evangelical Christianity. But he did rather clearly define American freedom in a way that united believes in God against agnostics and atheists.
Agnostics and atheists are a small minority, to be sure, and are likely to remain so. But to suggest that their vision of the world is less capable of supporting freedom than any theistic vision is surely tinged with at least a bit of bigotry.
Gil Troy - 12/17/2007
I'm thrilled that you agree with me, but I have to disagree with your broader generalization. Religion, like nationalism, has been a force for good and bad historically. The worst criminals of the 20th century, especially Hitler, Stalin and Mao, had nothing to do with religion. Moreover, many of our concepts of goodness, many of the ties that bind us together in the West, come from our common religious traditions. So, yes, I don't want religious tests; but no, that doesn't mean I don't want religion...
Tim Matthewson - 12/16/2007
I strongly agree with the points made by Gil Troy, but it is also possible to extend them in the direction spelled out by Christopher Hitchens, author of "God in Not Great". Religion poisons everything. Even the New Testament is not free from the poison of bigotry, as when it claimed that Jews asked to be persecuted because of their collective guilt for killing the Savior. And the Old Testament is filled with such jewels of hatred and intolerance as in Leviticus which called for the murder of gays.
What we need is tolerance of all for all, but count on it people, tolerance will not come from religious leaders or their followers. Religion is a major font of racism, bigotry and hatred.
Jon Hill - 12/16/2007
Every Presidential Candidate knows that he must take an oath of office swearing in. All candidates should conduct themselves in such a manner as to reflect their 100% support of the US Constitution--all through their lives and most especially when they enter politics.
Sadly, Mr. Huckabee falls way short of that as it relates to the spirit of and letter of Article Six (6). He has disqualified himself by lack of upholding Our US Constitution.
Will you? If you support Mr. Huckabee,
what do you think you ARE doing?
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