Lisa Miller is not just anyone. She is a “former senior writer at the Wall Street Journal, is a senior editor at Newsweek and oversees all of its religion coverage and writes the regular ‘Belief Watch’ column.” So when Ms. Miller says something strident and relevant to our focus here, we pay attention.
Over the weekend Lisa Miller published in the Washington Post’s “On Faith” section a piece called “Romney, Santorum and archaic ideas on fertility,” about which we write today. It’s just another foreshadowing of what we can expect in the general election.
Any reader could be excused for thinking Miller’s piece is intended to be a parody of liberal orthodoxy. Alas, she appears to be quite serious and to mean what she is saying:
Between them, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have as many children — 12 — as there were tribes of Israel. Ron Paul has five of his own, and in an early debate, perhaps unwilling to be outdone by Michele Bachmann’s fostering of dozens, Paul boasted that when he worked as a physician he delivered “4,000 babies.”
There’s nothing wrong with big families, of course. But the smug fecundity of the Republican field this primary season has me worried. Their family photos, with members of their respective broods spilling out to the margins, seem to convey a subliminal message that goes far beyond a father’s pride in being able to field his own basketball team. What the Republican front-runners seem to be saying is this: We are like the biblical patriarchs. As conservative religious believers, we take seriously the biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply.
Especially worrisome is the inevitable corollary to that belief: Women should put their natural fertility first — before their brains, before their ability to earn a living, before their independence — because that’s what God wants.
Oh, where to begin? First we have a prominent liberal religion writer expressing alarm about religious political candidates taking the Bible seriously. That alone raises our antennae. But then she leaps right to the gut-punch: in the minds of such candidates, a woman’s fertility trumps her intelligence, employability, and independence.
“There’s nothing wrong with big families, of course. But….” It’s the “but” that is most revealing. Miller’s piece really seems to be an exercise in liberal projection.
Consider: The rest of the Miller’s piece reads like a screed from the late 1970s. The Catholic bishops, she says, are running a “crusade [note the choice of words there] against birth control.” Some of us thought the bishops were fighting a government mandate that would require Catholic institutions to violate their religious beliefs by providing health insurance covering abortifacient medications, among others – in violation of core Roman Catholic doctrines. Who’s crusading against birth control?
We’ve been saying here for some time that because both Romney and Santorum are religious men who take their faiths seriously — albeit in different ways — if one of them is the GOP nominee there will be multiple attacks from the left, mostly focusing on “weirdness.” That will be an easy plan of attack for many reasons, one of which is the deeply personal nature of religion. And there may be nothing more personal than a couple’s decision to have children.
My family is an example. Among many of my coreligionists, my wife and I are mere pikers, with only three children. We would have loved to have more, but that was not to be in our case. Families of four and five children — or more — are not unusual among Mormons. Still, many of my acquaintances who are not Mormons or Catholics refer to my “big family.” That always makes me smile.
Having a large family today is often a courageous decision. Doing so flies in the face of societal trends, invites condescending judgment from elites like Ms. Miller, and requires numerous and lasting sacrifices. My guess is that usually, religious parents who decide to endure all of that do so out of a desire to do God’s will, along with their love of family.
Back to the notion of projection – “a psychological defense mechanism whereby one ‘projects’ one’s own undesirable thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings onto someone else.” As Senator Santorum has noted, many liberal fears about religious conservatives’ intentions seem to say more about a certain set of liberals, who tend to project their own orthodoxy on others, than it says about conservatism. That subset of liberals generally tends to think that if a candidate holds a personal view about correct human behavior, if elected he’ll try to impose that view on others. After all, that’s what that liberal subset itself generally wants done, isn’t it? If you don’t see this, just think of the campus speech codes in place at various American universities.
What worries me about the Miller op-ed is that because of the way many liberals in the MSM tend to think, such personal matters will now become a means of attacking political candidates as weird, out of the mainstream, and not someone we want in the White House. “Don’t vote for that man — he’ll try to impose his view about large families on you!”
If that’s not how Miller is thinking, why this paragraph?
Smaller families allow everyone in the family to be healthier and better educated. Healthy, well-educated people live longer and are more prosperous than those who are not. In the poorest parts of the developing world, the average woman has six children; in the richest parts, that average woman has three. This is the reality, Mitt Romney the outlier. As a man who earns $20 million a year, he can afford to have as many children as he can manage to conceive.
To which we respond: So what? What on earth does Mitt and Ann Romney’s personal choice to bring five sons into the world have to do with Mitt’s qualifications to serve as president? (The Romneys made that choice, by the way, before they were wealthy.) It matters only if Romney intends to take action to impose his religious views on others — a fear that is simply absurd.
No, what Miller and others like her really seem to be saying is, “These people are weird and leave me feeling threatened because they don’t see the world the way I do.” Ironically, it’s because Romney doesn’t see the world her way, and doesn’t want to impose his deeply personal religious preferences on her, that she has nothing to fear from him in that regard. If Miller wants to pick a bone with Romney, she should do it over tax or foreign policy, not the number of kids he and Mrs. Romney have had.
On a more hopeful note, perhaps such attacks on Romney or Santorum will produce some valuable discussion of liberty and the right to practice one’s own faith without imposing it on others. We’ll try to be optimistic about that.
Weird – a meme we predicted – a tasteless, derogatory, dismissive and sometimes bigoted meme. But what we did not predict was how easily people would slide from that meme into something that serves not to categorize but to dehumanize the object of the scorn. Real efforts by real government authority to distort the public perception of efforts to restrict religious freedom are sadly turning into efforts to flat out demonize faith – make it appear monstrous, not just weird.
We wrote last Friday and again Sunday on the dehumanizing that has swirled around the death of Andrew Breitbart. Hugh Hewitt, in his weekly column in the Washington Examiner has been far more eloquent:
Everyone can, who is any good. Boxers hit hard, but not below the belt, though sometimes a shot goes awry.
Which is why I try and remind myself at least occasionally of the injunction of C.S. Lewis in his essay “The Weight of Glory,” to recall that “[t]here are no ordinary people,” and that we “have never met a mere mortal.”
“Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations, these are mortal,” Lewis continued, “and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.”
“[I]t is immortals,” Lewis concluded, “whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”
This admonition should inform the limits for a Christian pundit, and perhaps we can see in the fading of the nation’s historical attachment to the Judeo-Christian understanding of the rules that ought to govern the public square the lowering of the walls against unrestrained commentary.
Pardon the cliche, but it is hard to be shocked by anything when nothing is sacred.
If the country abandons the right of religious people to keep their own creeds, it can hardly complain when no creed at all exists to restrain conduct or prompt apologies when they are indeed deserved.
In light of all that I must apologize for something highly important that this blog missed. With a hat tip to The Catholic Exchange, it seems we missed a Larry Doyle HuffPo piece of February 24 in which he proclaimed Catholicism a “Jesus Eating Cult.“ To proclaim this piece “vile” is to give it more credit than it deserves. I refuse to quote even a single word – most pieces discussing it refuse to link, but I think we have to link for the sake of facing one’s accuser. On February 28, Doyle claimed “satire” and issued this, under the guise of apology:
It’s traditional at this point for me to half-apologize, to say that I’m sorry if anybody was offended, but I really don’t mind if anybody was offended. I hope they will now think twice before they question the faith of progressive Christians, or Mormons or Muslims. I doubt they will.
WOW! – how sick has this become? He claims to be defending faith by setting aside “the nation’s historical attachment to the Judeo-Christian understanding of the rules that ought to govern the public square….” In other words, “I am going to work so hard to defend faith that I will act in a completely faithless manner.” I don’t know what’s worse, the astonishing levels of hypocrisy or the sheer indefensible ugliness of the original piece.
It is rare I find myself struck this dumb. I have nothing save prayer for Mr. Doyle. Someone this consumed with hatred can only be pitied. That does not mean he should keep his job – it’s gonna take a much bigger mea culpa than has been issued to date for me to think this guy deserves a platform again. But I do pity the man on a personal level.
And I worry about the campaign to come. If this is where we are right now, where is it going to go?