Thursday, February 15, 2007

Damon Linker Says, "Get Your Religious Beliefs Out of This Public Square!"

The previous post mentioned the article by Damon Linker (photo left) in the January 1-15 issue of The New Republic, which questioned Mitt Romney's fitness to be President of the United States, solely on the basis of Mr. Romney's Mormon faith. In the current (2/19/2007) issue of The New Republic, a letter to the editor echoed the suspicions of The Hedgehog Blog that Mr. Linker's article amounted to a partisan attack based on a cynical appeal to religious bigotry. Pamela Hamblin of Albuquerque, New Mexico, noted:

If Romney's religion is such a concern, why didn't Linker fret about its impact on Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader? Reid is an active and believing Mormon, but Linker failed even to mention his name or explain why far more than half of Senate Democrats voted to make him their leader. Religion is only dangerous in the hands of conservative Republicans, it seems.

Mr. Linker responds with a defense equivalent to the proverbial parent murderer who pleads for the mercy of the court on the grounds that he is an orphan. He writes:
As for Hamblin's contention that, in my view, "[r]eligion is only dangerous in the hands of conservative Republicans," I unapologetically plead guilty, at least if we limit ourselves to the present moment in U.S. political history. It is, after all, the religious right that has injected piety into the nation's politics in recent years. Having done so, it now wishes to declare the religious views of candidates off-limits for public debate, discussion, and scrutiny. Sorry, but the right can't have it both ways. If believers want to keep their religious convictions private, I wholeheartedly encourage them to follow the lead of such Democrats as John F. Kennedy and Harry Reid in doing so. If, instead, they insist on bringing their faith with them into the public square, then they would be well-advised to drop their defensiveness and get used to reading articles like mine.
So Linker admits that his is a partisan attack, but justifies it because he is on the side of the angels (only figuratively speaking, of course), also known as left-wing Democrats. One problem with his response is that every objection to a Mormon President that he raised in his article, based on the tenets and practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and especially his objection to the Mormon belief that the President of the LDS Church is a prophet, would apply equally to a devout Mormon of the political left. If the Church President could prophesy as arbitrarily as Mr. Linker seems to believe, he could just as easily reveal a prophecy calling for the institution of a socialist welfare state as he could one opposing gay marriage.

Or perhaps Mr. Linker's point is that liberal Democratic Mormons don't really in their hearts of hearts believe in all that silly religious stuff, and therefore won't muck up our laws with it. That would certainly be an offensive affront to Senator Reid. Nonetheless, that very possibly is what Mr. Linker thinks, because his response in The New Republic echoes the theme that underlies his career as a political pundit.

Mr. Linker is a rebellious disciple of Father Richard John Neuhaus, the conservative Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher who advocates the active involvement of religious citizens in public affairs and the influence of religious values in public policy. A former editor of First Things, the magazine founded by Father Neuhaus, Mr. Linker apparently has undergone his own conversion to a radical political secularism, and now dedicates his career to forcing religion back out of the public square with all the vigor that Father Neuhaus has applied to returning religion there.

In short, Mr. Linker feels that religion is a very nice, private matter. Let's just not take it too seriously, to the point of where it actually influences our lives and our relationship with larger society. Mitt Romney has no place in Mr. Linker's public square, and neither, one would suspect, does Joe Lieberman. But what about the Reverend Martin Luther King, Bishop Desmond Tutu or even Mahatma Ghandhi. If Mr. Linker is sincere and even-handed (as opposed to a partisan hypocrite), then he should find the careers of these men as objectionable as he seems to find Mr. Romney's presidential aspirations. After all, these men all considered their political activities to be natural extensions and expressions of their religious faiths and beliefs. None of them kept "their religious convictions private." All of them insisted on "bringing their faith with them into the public square." Thank God.

Lowell the Hedgehog adds: Linker is clearly a polemicist more than a thinker, which helps explain his rather embarrassing reasoning. One glaring example: As Ralph notes, Linker's basis for justifying the attack on Romney is that religious conservatives "bring . . . their faith with them into the public square." Excuse me, but like just about every Mormon candidate for public office I have ever known, Mitt Romney never mentions his faith in public; others do that for him, and unceasingly. The irony in Linker's fuzzy thinking is delicious, but it doesn't make his argument any less silly.

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