Sunday, December 09, 2007

A call to self-service

As a lifelong atheist who's somehow managed to get through her life without murdering, raping and torturing, I of course was miffed by Mitt Romney's speech about his faith. Instead of using the opportunity to denounce bigotry and invoke the nobility of a Constitution that treats all Americans equally, he encouraged the faulty reasoning that bigotry thrives on, and directed it at an easy target.

Religion describes what a person believes, not what they are. This isn't a surprising thing to hear an atheist assert, but you would think that a member of a religion that puts such a strong emphasis on evangelism would be likely to agree. This occurred to me after the visit I received from two LDS missionaries yesterday. It was a polite interaction, only mildly awkward given the subject matter, and not very memorable. But it brought Romney to mind, and his attempt to use my unpopular view of the Universe to wedge himself into the White House. If he won't acknowledge any kind of value in including nonbelievers in American life, he can't have had a great time on the mission he spent in France in the 60's. Why would he waste his time trying to convert people who have already proven their worthlessness?

When you believe in the inherent dignity of every human being, secularism is a pretty simple concept. It bestows rights on every individual and leaves them to decide how best to exercise them. Ideally there are no exceptions, there is no test. If you believe your rights are not bestowed by the State but by God himself, it gets more complicated. A person's rights are defined by God, enforced by people who can only have so much knowledge about a person's religiosity, and can't really be considered "rights" to begin with when they're dependent on how you exercise them.

Romney said that "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom," but this doesn't make a bit of sense when you use any kind of normal definition of freedom. Disallowing people to not choose a faith doesn't sound very free to me. And what's more, it doesn't respect the concept of freely choosing a religion, something that Christian evangelism relies on.

Either Romney's years of service as a missionary were an empty exercise that confirmed his belief that nonbelievers are the "them" to his "us," or he's willing to invalidate a major tenet of his faith for a chance to be come President. Whichever it is, his support of bigotry has strengthened the underpinnings of anti-Mormon bigotry, and I'd be disappointed to see someone who was operating under either notion in the White House.

Cross-posted at Cogitamus

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