Freedom Requires Religion Like a Fish Requires a Bicycle

Joe Conason offers an important rejoinder to the religionizing of politics, particularly by presidential candidates Romney and Huckabee.

Whatever bland assurances they may offer to the contrary, both Romney and Huckabee have implicitly endorsed religious tests for a presidential candidacy. Both suggest that only leaders who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are qualified to lead. Huckabee says that we should choose a president who speaks “the language of Zion,” meaning a fundamentalist Christian like himself. Romney says that among the questions that may appropriately be asked of aspiring presidential candidates is what they believe about Jesus Christ, a question he endeavored to answer in a way that would assuage suspicions about his own religion.

So if these two worthy gentlemen seek to exploit or extol their own faith, why should we bar ourselves from exploring the subject more deeply? They have invited a discussion of the sublime and the absurd in their religious doctrines, and of how those doctrines would influence them in office. We have already seen the destruction inflicted on America and the world by a dogmatic chief executive who believes that God urged him to wage war. (And let’s not forget that Rudolph Giuliani, among others, has echoed the notion that President Bush was divinely chosen and inspired.)

We can begin with Romney’s speech Thursday, in which he declared, as Joan Walsh noted with alarm, that there can be no liberty without faith. “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom … Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”

After briefly rehashing the bloody and bigoted history of religion vis a vis freedom, Conason names the elephant in the culture war room:

If Romney is going to attack humanists and secularists as “wrong,” then let him explain why they were so far ahead of his church on the greatest moral issues of the past half-century.

In his scathing “Attack Upon Christendom,” Soren Kierkegaard pointed out that “as soon as everyone is a Christian, no one is a Christian.” The Christian Religion¬†in the hands of power, as in the state church of Kierkegaard’s Denmark, becomes a vehicle to dismantle Christianity and substitute for it a means to keep people in line.

Christianity is a threat to power, regardless of the Apostle Paul’s apparently ironic musings in Romans 13. The brutality of greatest empire in Western history toward this rag tag sect is evidence that it was so threatened that it felt extreme suppression was necessary.

But a religion like that Kierkegaard confronted? It is, in a word, useful, as historically it always has been. The masses must be held in check so that consent, as Walter Lippmann pointed out, could be engineered:

This phrase quite simply means the use of an engineering approach — that is, action based only on thorough knowledge of the situation and on the application of scientific principles and tried practices to the task of getting people to support ideas and programs. Any person or organization depends ultimately on public approval, and is therefore faced with the problem of engineering the public’s consent to a program or goal…The engineering of consent is the very essence of the democratic process the freedom to persuade and suggest. The freedoms of speech, press, petition, and assembly, the freedoms which make the engineering of consent possible, are among the most cherished guarantees of the Constitution of the United States…

Today it is impossible to overestimate the importance of engineering consent; it affects almost every aspect of our daily lives. When used for social purposes, it is among our most valuable contributions to the efficient functioning of modern society…The responsible leader, to accomplish social objectives, must therefore be constantly aware of the possibilities of subversion. He must apply his energies to mastering the operational know-how of consent engineering, and to out-maneuvering his opponents in the public interest.

Leaving aside whose public interest Lippmann means, three things remain relevant:

1. Lippmann’s engineering project remains the raison d’etre of the MSM.
2. Religion has a place in this project.
3. Blogistan and its internet cousins, as Al Gore encouragingly implies, can be a powerful antidote to Lippmannism.

So thank you Joe Conason. Thank you.

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