Lowell was among the first to point out the religious uniqueness of the Romney/Ryan ticket, but he was hardly alone. It was noted at National Review, the Wall Street Journal and Fox, among leading lights. At Patheos, Catholic Deacon Greg Kendra rounds up some of the early deep reaction on the matter. All this analysis is fascinating, but it all shares one interesting trait – it all treats Roman Catholics and Evangelicals as pretty much part of the same political group. Effectively they are, and have been for a while, thanks to some pretty hard word by the late Fr. John Neuhaus and the late Chuck Colson. What I find astonishing is that in an election cycle where everyone and their uncle has examined the problems JFK had due to his Catholicism because of “parallels” to Romney and his Mormonism, no one his talking at any length about what an extraordinary shift this demarcates.
What seems obvious to this observer, and completely unremarked upon anywhere else, is that this also marks a shift in who is in front of the Evangelical/Catholic coalition. After a couple of decades of Evangelicals in the lead, it is now plain that Catholics have assumed that position. This would, I think, be a fascinating topic for a thesis by some grad student out there. Evangelicals and Catholics are roughly equal demographically in the nation, but Protestants generally, which includes Evangelicals, enjoy a huge demographic advantage. At first glance it appears a major failure for Evangelicals to have lost the lead. It really would be interesting to chronicle the why’s and wherefore’s of this decline in political clout. But such is a long term project for someone with more time and a different education than I.
To the politics of the moment – people poo-pooed last week when Romney released an ad about Obama declaring war on religion. And yet it has not taken long for opening salvos to be fired Ryan’s way. Jeffrey Weiss at Real Clear Religion and Sarah Posner at Religion Dispatches have both “called Ryan on the carpet” for the fact that his budget proposals are seemingly at adds with some things that have comes from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Let’s think about this for just a minute. If everything Ryan ever proposed lined up exactly with the teachings of the USCCB (or Romney with the teachings of the Quorum for that matter) would we not be treated to endless speculation that they were merely puppets for the religious authorities and that by electing them we would be ushering in an effective theocracy? Of course we would! Both pieces are so politically partisan that they simply cannot be taken seriously.
Both pieces do; however, sense the real political strength of the Ryan choice. They seek, by calling into question the sincerity of Ryan’s Catholicism, to hurt his appeal to the base. They are trying to drive the wedge back into the social conservative vote that this selection has clearly removed. Not only has the Ryan selection sealed any possible divisions it hs done so with a politician that is extraordinarily effective and smart.
Meanwhile, The Mormon Front Remains Active
Jim Geraghty says Romney needs a “heroic narrative,” and Ross Douthat seems to think that Romney’s religion can supply it. I don’t think so. For reasons that are largely superstitious people simply fail to take Mormonism seriously. Despite the fact that its claims, while newer, are no more fantastical than those of other religions, it is often dismissed as “bunk.” As evidence, I offer up Salon’s recent “The Book of Mormon’s foggy origins.“ I guess Ms. Barnes is unfamiliar with the stories underlying the prophetic books of the Old Testament or the Revelation of John for that matter. (I’ve been to Patmos – I wonder if she has?) If one wishes to dismiss the writings of Joseph Smith, one must be a little more sophisticated that basically just dismissing him as a “kook.” Consider some very academic treatment of Smith’s writings by a noted Mormon scholar. But then illustrated here is the fact that lefties are really warring with religion generally with Mormons as the stand in. More on this in a minute.
The Detroit News in bringing up posthumous baptisms – again. I may not be a Mormon, but I have learned enough about it to know that anybody who gets worked up about this has no understanding of the meaning of the ritual. For the believer it creates opportunity, it does not actually convert anyone. But then why should theological details matters when there are political points to be scored. I mean when you have leftie Mormons trying to talk out of both sides of their mouth about whether Mormons are “encouraged” to lie, can you have any doubt that the politics are coming before the faith?
What’s Really At Stake In The “War On Religion”
Christian Post recently interviewed Oz Guinness about his latest book. This exchange, starting in the middle of a Guinness answer to a previous question, may be one of the best synopsis possible of the deep stakes in the current cultural battles. It is far more than abortion and same-sex marriage.
I would argue that, while the framers did have their blind spots, they certainly did, we need to acknowledge the brilliance of some of their ideas and their ideas about how freedom could be sustained are incredibly important. Now, they didn’t give a name to it. I call it the golden triangle of freedom, but whatever you call it, Tocqueville calls it the “habits of the heart,” it’s something that desperately needs to be understood today.
CP: Could you explain the role of religion in that golden triangle?
Guinness: The triangle is this: freedom requires virtue, virtue requires faith of some sort, and faith of any sort requires freedom. And like the recycling triangle, it goes round and round — freedom requires virtue which requires faith which requires freedom which requires virtue, and so on.
You can break down each of those three legs in great depth, as the framers did. For example, freedom requires virtue: virtue was one word that covers things like honesty, loyalty, patriotism, character, and in many ways their discussion was very profound, but we’ve ignored it. For example, the president said today, they often don’t look for character they look for competence, and yet the framers said that character would be decisive.
Or you take the second leg, that virtue of any sort requires faith, the framers are very, very clear that the strongest inspiration, content and sanction for virtue comes from faiths, and, therefore, religion is very important. So they certainly granted freedom of conscience to atheists because they granted it to everyone. But they were not sanguine, for example if you read John Adams, about a society of atheists because they wouldn’t have sufficient virtue.
It’s not about religion, it is about the heart of the nation.