“The Continent has paid a heavy price in blood for religious fervor and decided some time ago, as a French king put it, that “Paris is well worth a Mass.” Romney, a Republican presidential candidate, was dismissive of European societies “too busy or too ‘enlightened’ to venture inside and kneel in prayer.” He thereby pointed to what has become the principal transatlantic cultural divide.
Europeans still take the Enlightenment seriously enough not to put it inside quote marks. They have long found an inspiring reflection of it in the first 16 words of the American Bill of Rights of 1791: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Thomas Jefferson saw those words as “building a wall of separation between church and state.” So, much later, did John F. Kennedy, who in a speech predating Romney’s by 47 years, declared: “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.”
The absolute has proved porous.
…Religion informed America’s birth. But its distancing from politics was decisive to the republic’s success. Indeed, the devastating European experience of religious war influenced the founders’ thinking. That is why I find Romney’s speech and the society it reflects far more troubling than Europe’s vacant cathedrals.
…Romney rejects the “religion of secularism,” of which Europe tends to be proud. But he should consider that Washington is well worth a Mass. The fires of the reformation that reduced St. Andrews Cathedral to ruin are fires of faith that endure in different, but no less explosive, forms. Jefferson’s “wall of separation” must be restored if those who would destroy the West’s Enlightenment values are to be defeated.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
There was an interesting column by Roger Cohen in the Times today that provided "secular Europe's" response to the Romney speech on faith.