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Monday, December 17, 2007

Krauthammer on Religion: Concurring in Part and Dissenting in Part

Now I know how a Supreme Court justice feels when he writes a separate opinion “concurring in part and dissenting in part.”

I have tremendous respect of Charles Krauthammer. His commentaries are typically fresh. His views are usually grounded in reality rather than the politically correct, smooth, wave washed bromides so common among the columnists both Left and Right.

And Krauthammer has written a very good column An Overdose of Public Piety.

When he writes:

This campaign is knee-deep in religion, and it's only going to get worse. I'd thought that the limits of professed public piety had already been achieved during the Republican CNN/YouTube debate when some squirrelly looking guy held up a Bible and asked, "Do you believe every word of this book?" -- and not one candidate dared reply: None of your damn business.

Instead, Giuliani, Romney and Huckabee bent a knee and tried appeasement with various interpretations of scriptural literalism. The right answer, the only answer, is that the very question is offensive.

…I stand up and cheer.

Just as I cheered when Fred Thompson got tired of the insufferable Carolyn Washburn and refused to act like a third grader raising his hand and comply with her demand for bumper sticker answers. There are questions that are simply rude or so utterly stupid that they do not deserve to be answered by serious men.

But there are assertions about religion that are simply a-historical and deserve to be debated rather than dismissed.

Romney has been faulted for not throwing at least one bone of acknowledgment to nonbelievers in his big religion speech last week. But he couldn't, because the theme of the speech was that there was something special about having your values drawn from religious faith. Indeed, faith is politically indispensable. "Freedom requires religion," Romney declared, "just as religion requires freedom."

But this is nonsense -- as Romney then proceeded to demonstrate in that very same speech. He spoke of the empty cathedrals in Europe. He's right about that: Postwar Europe has experienced the most precipitous decline in religious belief in the history of the West. Yet Europe is one of the freest precincts on the planet. It is an open, vibrant, tolerant community of more than two dozen disparate nations living in a pan-continental harmony and freedom unseen in all previous European history

First, he did not “throw a bone” to non-believers because his speech was about religion, not its absence. Non-believers of good will realize that speeches about religion in America don’t dwell on people who are not religious just as speeches about patriotism don’t dwell on Benedict Arnold except perhaps as a bad example.

Unfortunately today there are many among those who profess no faith who attempt to equate all religions as a way of smearing some religions. It is a despicable commonplace on the Left to equate the Islamist bomber on Jihad as somehow equivalent James Dobson of “Focus on the Family” or the Methodist at prayer. Somehow the Left cannot condemn Islamofascism by itself, using its violence only as a way of condemning all religion.

Second, the dominant religion of the American people is Christianity. It is the Christianity that made its peace with the “enlightenment” and not the Christianity of the Inquisition. It is the Christianity of multiple denominations who live well together. There may be inter-faith disputes, but they are carried out by theologians in print, not by mobs rioting in the streets.

There is also a common American piety about people who come from humble beginnings. Abe Lincoln was a rich railroad lawyer but campaigned as a humble rail-splitter who grew up in a cabin on the frontier. This image is designed to connect with the average American since it is assumed that the candidate who grew up poor relates to the concerns of the typical American family. Bill Clinton perfected the technique with is famous phrase “I feel your pain.” Today, John Edwards, a multimillionaire trail lawyer, is talking up his humble roots. Why is it OK to tell people that you grew up poor, but it’s not OK to tell people you are a devoted Christian?

Third, Krauthammer used the example of modern Europe as a free society in the absence of religious belief. Yes, and Teddy Kennedy is a rich man in the absence of any effort on his part. He obtained his wealth the same way that Europe obtained freedom, by inheriting it.

The fact is that free societies are a rare thing in the history of the world. If history teaches us anything it’s that freedom is not free. Most countries have been ruled by kings or tyrants, and most still are. Many counties that experienced “freedom” of some kind have found themselves eventually unfree. Western Europe has only been “free” since 1945; Eastern Europe since the collapse of the Berlin wall. Russia has never been truly free and is rapidly reverting to rule by its present-day czars. It is sometimes startling to realize that the American experiment in freedom is unique for its longevity.

Throughout history, religion was state imposed. America is unique in that it rejected that model and let many religions co-exist. But it is also true that a free society requires a great deal of self-restraint on the part of its people. A society that does not practice individual self-restraint is a society in which restraint is imposed by a spider web of laws. In the case of America, that self-restraint derives from the religious beliefs of its citizens. And those citizens are, for the most part, Christians who believe in the Golden Rule and who try to follow, imperfectly, the Ten Commandments. Christianity is woven in the fabric of American society and it is literally impossible to conceive of the shape of American society separated from that heritage. It is written in our laws and guides our habits, even the habits of those who profess no faith at all.

It should not be necessary to point out that the bloodiest tyrannies of the last century were tyrannies that specifically rejected religion. Instead they were guided by human centered philosophy and/or racist beliefs in the perfectibility of mankind. So we see where the rejection of religion takes us.

So, yes, I agree with Romney that freedom requires religion. Even Europe, like the Kennedy family, is living on its patrimony of Christianity. When that patrimony is exhausted, Europe could very well fall to a belief system that does not require, or specifically rejects, freedom. Modern Europe has already imported immigrants who reject freedom and pluralism. Its people are already bowing to the wishes of the most violent among them. Its laws are being written to bend society to the dictates of Islam.

Some yokel asking the candidates of they believe if every word in the Bible is literal truth should be met with contempt. But it is perfectly legitimate to try to determine where a candidate for public office gets his ethical foundation. When it comes time to make policy decisions, the office holder will make those decisions based on his belief system.

If the office holder’s faith is based on the rock of political power, we get Bill Clinton: policy dictated by public polls, private detective digging up dirt on women who have been victimized by Bill and lies told with a straight face.

We have been well served by leaders who professed a faith in God, bringing us through the war of our founding and the tragedy of the Civil War. We currently have a President whose faith has allowed him to withstand unpopularity to turn the corner in the Iraq war and overcome the onslaught of Islamofacism.

The people who hurry past the empty cathedrals of Europe do not appear to be holding up as well.

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