Thursday, 13 December 2007

That Romney Speech...

I’ve watched several online conversations following Romney’s speech last week. And yet I find it hard to join in enthusiastically. I think its because I look at things from a European context.

Such a speech would not be made here. Our former prime minister has since gone on the record stating that he didn't talk about his faith because he would be viewed as a "nutter". Whilst it made an amusing soundbite, I think the real reason is deeper contemporary European resistance to the role of religion in public life.

We resist for several reasons; secularism/multiculturalism, the decline in religious practice, historical precedent.

We in Europe, unlike the United states have either had wars of religion, or conflicts which used religion to further secular/political causes (unless you count the Governor of Missouri's 1938 Mormon "extermination order"). These wars have affected pretty much every country in our continent over the last thousand years, so you can see why we are weary of people in power who argue theta religion and freedom are inseparable- that simply hasn't been the European reality. We also look back and see examples of where the state has co-opted religion. Hitler's first speech declared that he saw that "both Christian denominations the most important factor for the maintenance of our society". The German church was largely subverted by the Nazi regime (the church was used by Franco in spain too).

We are also weary, because historically our rulers claimed a divine right to rule. This led them to act, often in the interests of a small minority without accepting dissent. It was the abuse of this claim that led to the down fall of several of Europe's ruling dynasties (through revolt or rebellion) and the beginning of constitutional secularism. So you can see why we get shivers down our spines when someone like Franklin Graham saying G W Bush was president because "God wanted him to be" (I thought he was president because the supreme court wanted him to be) or when Mike Huckabee tried to claim, God was behind his recent improved poll showing last week..

Europe is also a continent where religion is in decline. In Western Europe (even in the few countries which still have established churches) church attendance averages between 3-15%. So we recognize we are in a minority and so Christianity can't claim to be a dominant tradition anymore. Within the 27 EU states religious discrimination (either negative or positive) is illegal, so Europe is a de facto secular or multicultural continent. (This also leads to some interesting questions about popular Adventist eschatology, for example how can one envisage a universal Sunday law in such a context?)

We also worry whenever anyone tries to use a Christian "tradition" as an argument is that in Europe this is often code for nationalism/neo-fascist/"white" supremacy movements.

For all these reasons, we Europeans find it hard to believe that Mitt Romney not only said what he did, but that he felt he needed to in the first place. We find it hard to believe that a country which claims it is so advanced and is an example to the rest of the world would want advocate a medieval view of church and state. We understand that the USA lacks the history, but we hoped it would look to Europe and see the problems we had.

I'm not convinced (as many in Europe are) that faith has no place in politics, however the contemporary, evangelical US example does little persuade me that European lessons have been learnt.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Roger Cohen puts it better than me (damn CFS ruining my command of the english language...)