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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Religion in the public square

The buildup is probably more dramatic than the speech will be -- we're talking about Mitt Romney after all.

Some bill it a crucial test of of his political future. Others suggest it is a moment for Romney to prove his faith. Still others see a chance to explain their faith to others.

And of course, there's a contingent of Iowa voters who plan to support a Baptist pastor over the Mormon deacon simply because of his faith.

Romney himself has said only the speech will not be an explanation of his Mormon traditions but about religion in the public square. And that is as good a topic as any, because the role of religion and values has overwhelmed our secular society -- and not for the better.

We can breeze right past the flagrant conflict between faith and values represented by George Walker Bush, who wears his faith on his sleeve, using it as a political cudgel -- all the while mocking what it stands for by lying, condoning torture and soiling this nation's reputation for morality and doing the right thing.

Members of the world's second largest religion, Islam -- itself distorted by the action of a small minority of radical fundamentalists -- has come to despise what we claim to stand for in the name of the world's largest religion.

In the process, millions of Americans who do not share the narrow tenets of evangelical Christianity or prefer to pray to Yahweh, Buddha or other deities, are dragged into the mud because they are not part of the so-called "values voter" coalition that succumbed to the fear and smear tactics of George Bush.

Romney is right to look at the role of religion in the public square. It's role is out of control. Faith is something that should be private -- acknowledged in the home, houses of worship and in daily conduct that matches deed with Word.

It should not be a battle cry for Crusades against anyone who disagrees with The One True View, though history shows that sadly that happens far too often.

Yet in America in 2008, religion is worn on a sleeve. We've reached the point where race and gender are receding from the forefront of qualifications for the presidency while faith is becoming the new divider.

It would be wonderful if Romney focused on all of this in his remarks. But he won't. Romney is the ultimate salesman, who shifts his beliefs (as opposed to his faith) to close the deal. And right now, fundamentalist Christians are in his sights.

Romney's speech will be designed to pry voters away from Mike Huckabee, the good-natured Arkansan who does not believe in evolution despite a century of scientific proof.

For Romney, this is not about faith. It's about votes -- and whatever he needs to do to get more than the competition. He has proven himself capable of saying and doing anything in that quest. I would be shocked if today were any different.

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