I have to say that Mitt Romney exceeded my hopes and expectations with his speech about Religious Freedom in America. It wasn't a perfect message, of course, but it deserves praise for what it did well. That speech was Romney at his best. I'm even going to revise the title of my previous blog post criticizing his potential speech; to my way of thinking, at least, that was a speech that mattered and made a good difference in the world.
I truly admired his clear and unabashed references to religion in the lives of our founders, in the "symphony" of faiths in our current populace, and in his personal life. He focused on common beliefs, bore a sincere testimony, didn't back away from his beliefs, and really delivered . . . maybe Paul could use him in the cabinet somewhere. I'd back that. :]
I still think he is over the top when he cites "radical Islam" itself as America's greatest danger, but he was pretty careful in that speech to both openly praise the good, common beliefs of many faiths in America (including Muslims) and specify that it's only the radical Muslims he believes we need to fear. I'll stick my neck out and profer that I honestly fear radical Christians and Secularists in this country (like those inventing some of the belligerent-imperialist worldviews that Romney seems to have bought into so deeply) as much or more than radical Muslims. Somehow Romney seems blinded to this. Radical Muslims frighten him. Radical Secularists worry him. Heck, I'm concerned about both of those as well. But he doesn't seem to see the common thread that would indicate that radical anything is pretty scary.
Nevertheless, any mainstream politician that is willing to speak out in such an eloquent and sincere way in the defense of the good in religion – and a brazen belief in God – impresses me. It is simply a fact that such beliefs defined our Founding Fathers. The idea that a number of them might have been skeptical about specific denominational observances is not necessarily anything derogatory – in fact it illuminates both their sense of reason and tolerance. Likewise, the fact that a few expressed a sense of deism in personal belief, for instance, still puts those founders a long way from secular atheism.
As Romney emphasized, our laws and principles were predicated on and informed by religious laws, principles, and a sincere belief in God. A thorough study at the University of Houston [examining nearly 15,000 political essays written between 1760 and 1805] shows that overwhelmingly the Bible was the most frequently quoted text informing political thought. (After that it was Blackstone, Montesque, Locke, etc. - but far behind the Bible.) You simply cannot understand the worldview of our Founding Fathers without considering their readings of the Bible and their beliefs about man's divine origin.
On the other hand, sometimes Romney seemed to go too far in his pandering to hard-core evangelicals. Not only did he not seem too worried about weaving in his traditional Islamic scare, but he didn't show much awareness or tolerance for those who might currently be lacking a specific faith. It would have been wonderful for Romney to reach out in tolerance, understanding, and exemplary confidence with a more inclusive and less condemning message but quite frankly I didn't expect the full wisdom of President Hinckley at the podium. Of the candidates who are in the race, if you want Romney's observance of our Christian foundations plus a thoughtful and inclusive message plus true regard for liberty then you should probably vote Ron Paul.
But Romney's heartfelt speech was successful in its ability to convey both his own sincere convictions and the central role of religious expression in the foundation of this great nation. Romney highlighted that role and celebrates it – and he is right to do so.
That unique balance of devoutness and tolerance exhibited by our forbears – and laid out in our Constitution – is one of the most revolutionary characteristics of this great experiment we call the United States of America. It is still providing strength and liberty more than two centuries later.
[I'll post a youtube when I can get one. For now you can stream the speech from KSL]