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December 10, 2007

Mitt Romney’s Tolerance Ends With Atheists


I’m told that Mitt Romney gave a heck of a speech last week on the subject of religion, specifically his Mormon faith. He was supposed to have made the case that his faith shouldn’t preclude him from being president.


As such, he was talking to a Republican audience. Those who spend the most time complaining that the nation is intolerant to their faith themselves poll the highest when it comes to practicing intolerance towards others. Almost half of evangelical Christians polled recently said they would hold Romney’s faith against him when it came time to cast a ballot.


The speech was less Kennedy than it was a campaign gimmick. Attacking those intolerant of most religion in America these days is like attacking people with disabilities. Politicians, especially liberals, go to great lengths to pat themselves on the back over their tolerance of any notion, including those that are worthy of ridicule.


These days, in America, it’s pretty well accepted by most people that being any kind of Christian is acceptable. It’s also mostly OK to be Jewish, and once people get past their lack of understanding of Eastern religions, even those are tolerated. It’s not until the conversation turns to Islam that we start to see anything approaching real religious intolerance. But, there is one element of this nation’s religious life in which it is entirely acceptable to engage with prejudice. That element are those who don’t believe in God.


Most polls place the popularity and level of trust in atheists right down at the bottom, below terrorists and used car salesmen. For some people, it might even hover somewhere just above child molester territory.


Why is it so? Well, for starters, because they are an easy group to whip on. They don’t believe in God, which means they don’t believe in the afterlife. That means that their good behavior isn’t based on the threat of eternal damnation, but based on something they have internalized. For Americans, a people who like to think of themselves as skeptics about everything they’re told (to the point where they tend to think themselves better informed than they really are), this means two things.


The first is that Americans don’t really appreciate skepticism as much as they say they do. If Americans were truly a skeptical people, they’d see no problem in questioning the existence of God or the veracity of the Bible. It was, after all, written during the Bronze Age, when people didn’t understand why rain falls.


The second is that, at the end of the day, they are a cynical people, who believe that the only way you can get someone to do the right thing is to offer carrots and sticks. Morality is reduced to a game of incentives.


We tell each other that someone’s religion doesn’t matter when it comes to holding office, but polls tell us that we don’t really mean it.


Atheists get branded with all kinds of horrible things. They want to banish Christmas. They don’t want the Ten Commandments sitting in front of our courthouses. They keep telling us that cherished religious figures weren’t nearly so religious as we keep telling ourselves they were, and certainly not in the same way. Ultimately, the argument is that atheists, and their so-called movement (secular humanism), is all about destroying America.


It’s not surprising that Romney’s speech, hailed as an expression of tolerance, made no mention of those who don’t believe in God. That’s because it wasn’t really an expression of tolerance, but a campaign gimmick meant to put a candidate on the high road to the president. If we were really about tolerance, we’d start with those who don’t believe, and let the details fill themselves in . . .  instead of devoting considerable media coverage to them.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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