Thursday, December 06, 2007


Reprising a similar event that took place 47 years ago, Mitt Romney, a contender for the GOP presidential nomination, stepped up to the lectern today to address the “issue” of his Mormon faith.

It’s a sad commentary on how little progress our country has made in half a century.

Back in 1960, John F. Kennedy came to Houston in order to defuse the concerns of southern Protestant clergymen - and, no doubt, of many Regular Citizens - that, as a practicing Catholic, he would somehow be beholden to Rome in his running the country. His speech was a brilliant defense of the principle of separation of church and state, a principle that - not incidentally - has been under particular threat by the current administration.
“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute - where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote - where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference - and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

“I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish - where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source - where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials - and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.”
Read the whole thing.

Say what you will about Kennedy, a man who was, alas, full of human failings. Like most of us. But this was one of his Shining Oratorical Moments. Who would have the balls to use the word “ecclesiastical” in a speech today?

The separation of church and state is one of the Great Principles that has allowed this, our country, to stand as a shining City on the Hill above the benighted theocracies of Europe and the Middle East. Properly construed, it means that our government cannot - must not - favor any particular religious belief system. For government involvement in religion is a double-edged sword that is ultimately destructive of human freedom.

It also means that there is no religious test that a candidate for political office must be subject to. And with that, I wholeheartedly agree. I do not give Shit One what someone believes. I care only what that person does.

Apparently, the evangelical Protestant folk who made such a foofaraw about Kennedy’s being a Catholic all those years ago have plenty of Philosophical Brethren today. But Romney is not a Catholic. He’s a Mormon - a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - which apparently raises the hackles of those who believe in the literal truth of the King James Bible. The same enlightened folks who believe the Catholic Church to be the “Whore of Babylon.”

These people believe that Mormons are members of some kind of cult - that they are not Christian. Well, maybe they’re not the same kind of Christian as your Happy Snake Handlers, but - hello! - if their belief system includes a divine Jesus, I’m reasonably comfortable in calling them Christians.

Of course, what do I know? I’m a Jew. To me, Catholics, Protestants (of every variegated stripe), Greek Orthodox, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses - they’re all Christians. Whatever their differences, they all believe in a divine Messiah in the person of one Jesus of Nazareth.

How important those differences are all depends on your point of view. Three years ago, I wrote about a long-ago incident in which a Japanese colleague asked me what our family’s holiday plans were: “Elisson-san, what will your family be doing for Christmas?”

[Actually, this sounded more like “Erisson-san, what wirr your famiry be doing for Kurisumasu?” But the meaning was plenty clear enough.]

And I answered, “Not a whole lot. We are Jewish, and we do not celebrate Christmas.”

My colleague considered this for a moment, and replied, “Oh, that’s OK. All you Western religions are the same to us.”

So to me, a Jew, the spectacle of evangelical Protestants being worried that Mitt Romney isn’t a “real Christian” is just plain fucking ridiculous.

And if he weren’t? Remember what JFK said at the Rice Hotel 47 years ago. It was true then. It’s just as true now.

If you like Mitt Romney’s stated positions on the issues, then vote for him. Otherwise, don’t. But this religious Red Herring? Just remember...after a couple of days, herring begins to stink.

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