The former liberal Governor of Massachusetts, who before being born again to the theo-conservative movement, was a pro-gay-rights-pro-choice-pro-socialized-medicine Country Club Republican, finally gave The Speech. The Speech is being compared to JFK’s “I am a Catholic” speech. Indeed, the similarity of the Speeches is not in what they declare, but in what they deny. That most commentators on the Speeches have missed the great difference between them shows how little we really pay attention to what the candidates say.
JFK said he believed “in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” Romney believes in an America where “freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.” Kennedy wanted us to ask not what a President’s religion would do for our country but Romney asked what a President’s country can do for religion. The private Catholicism of JFK has given way to Romney’s public civil religion: syncretized and sanitized, devoid of conflict and devoid of distinction.
Romney said that “the founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square.” And it here that Romney’s speech does depart from Kennedy’s: its explicit contention that “freedom requires religion.” Romney has advocated the establishment of a state religion, where the only beliefs that are not worthy are those of people without faith.
It’s an ironic evolution in theo-conservativism. Ronald Reagan used to speak of an America founded on “traditional Judeo-Christian values.” Romney, claiming his mantle, describes an America that has faith in faith itself. Romney’s pantheon of “God(s) in whom we trust” is actually a denial of the faith he so publicly declares . The Mormon church claims to be the only true church, much as JFK’s Vatican does. When Romney said that being true to his beliefs means “that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God,” he is denying his religion, just like Kennedy did. Kennedy said he wouldn’t let the Pope tell him what to believe and how to act. Romney said that the Apostles of Salt Lake City will not tell him what to believe either, whether about the Pope or the Prophet. And in so doing, each ultimately denied their religion.
The United States of America is not a Judeo-Christian nation, but the product of a Enlightenment, where all religious expression is a pitiable attempt to describe the ineffable; the cave drawings of a primitive and puny creation faced with the wonder that is the cosmos. In that vision, even those who choose not to explain the cosmos through a declaration of faith are free to do so. However, Romney’s theo-conservatism creates a nation where the religious test prohibited by the Founders is now a nation where “freedom requires religion.” It’s only a step away from saying that if one does not believe that way, one is not worthy of freedom. Romney has denied his religion, but unlike Kennedy, he has denied the American heritage of religious freedom as well.
That’s reason enough to deny him the White House.