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Friday, December 7, 2007
posted by Kyle Hampton | 9:49 AM | permalink
As I’ve browsed the blogosphere and listening to just a little talk radio today, a few questions keep popping up from reporters, pundits, and the general public. These are a significant minority of the overall reactions. Mostly they sound something like this: How can Romney invoke his faith and not discuss the details? How can he claim that America wants a man of faith, yet not any particular faith? How can Romney assert that faith is important in a secular nation?

One of fundamental values upon which our constitution is built is balance: balance between federal and state governments, between branches of government, between the citizens and the government, etc. We use several different phrases to describe this balance (federalism, separation of powers, etc.), but the underlying premise is the same. We want a government with enough power to enforce the laws, but not to tyrannize its citizens. We want a strong central government, but not complete or even significant concentrations of power.

All of these require balancing by embracing both values without rejecting either. It is sometimes difficult to find the precise balance, but that’s what we have to do. Through experience and maturity we increase our ability to find this balance and approach new situations.

Such is the case with religion in the United States. The Constitution specifically eschews the enshrinement of a national religion or religious test for office. On the other hand, the Constitution does not decry the practice of religion. Thus, we have a nation of religion without a national religion. The Constitution only sets the framework from which we begin to balance the two competing values. However, the wisdom of this framework is self-evident.

Taking either value to its logical extreme shows the fallacy of holding too tightly to one value at the expense of the other. There is no more wisdom in a theocratic Iran than an atheistic Soviet Union (back when it was such). But of course Mitt explained all this in his speech.

The questions asked above similarly seek for a logical extreme to facets of the religion question. They conclude that if Romney’s religion is known and going to play a role in his politics, he must fully explain it. However, this type of extremism is at odds with the types of balancing discussed above. The question, then, is what is the proper balance? How do we value the competing concerns of maintaining a proper distance from religion in politics without removing it from that sphere? Mitt has struck a balance as evidenced in his speech. He embraces religion and religious people, but will not exalt that religion to dominate his political life. Thus, it is important to be aware that he is religious while it is the specifics of his religion are not important. This is a balance.

Would other people have struck a different balance? Certainly. JFK’s speech concerned the almost complete rejection of religion in politics. Alternatively, former candidates like Pat Robertson would have exalted religion as the defining characteristic of their governance. Experience has proven to us that neither extreme is desirable. Where should the balance be struck? That’s an individual question and reasonable people can disagree. However, the extremist questions listed above are outside that range of reasonable disagreement. They exhibit a rejection of one value or another on the role of religion in the public sphere.


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The most bizarre thing I keep hearing on tv and radio is the number of times he said, "Mormon", "Christian", "Muslim", etc. What a strange thing to harp on since it has absolutely nothing to do with the substance of the speech. It's a complete distraction from what really matters.

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