Obama and Romney Get Warm and Fuzzy over Faith

Here’s something you probably didn’t know: The Washington National Cathedral has its own magazine. And here’s something you probably did know: Both of the presidential candidates really, really like faith.

Cathedral Age has just published a dual Q&A (PDF) with President Obama and Mitt Romney, asking each the same set of questions about their faith and its role in public policy. Their answers will surely not shock you, but they are illuminating in some ways.

For example, the President talks about religious belief as engendering compassion for our fellow humans:

For me, and I think for many other Americans, faith tells us that there is something about this world that ties our interest to the welfare of a child who can’t get the health care they need, or a parent who can’t find work after the plant shut down, or a family going hungry.

He doesn’t say that the nonreligious do not find compassion within themselves (how could he, since his own parents were mostly nonreligious), but rather turns it around against opponents of an activist government, implying that their lack of concern for such things suggests a lack of faith. Clever.

(In case you’re wondering, nonbelievers are never mentioned in this entire interview by either candidate.)

Funnily enough, Romney, answering the very same question (about faith’s role in public life) rattles off a laundry list of things that make atheists’ heads explode, but does not touch on notions of fellow-feeling:

We should acknowledge the Creator, as did the Founders—in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our Constitution rests.

Romney is, however, capable of saying things that we can all pretty much get behind. When asked what a person’s faith says about them, Romney avoids declaring that one must be religious to possess “Americanness”:

. . . so much depends on deeds, not words. Perhaps the most important question to ask a person of faith who seeks a political office is whether he or she shares these American values: the equality of humankind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty. They are not unique to any one denomination. They belong to the great moral inheritance we hold in common.

Obama is more succinct on this point:

I think it is important that we not make faith alone a barometer of a person’s worth, value, or character.

Those looking for more clarity from the president on his disappointing bolstering of Faith-Based Initiatives will not find it here — his answers show he is clearly pleased with how it’s all working — and Romney takes the opportunity to lament the nonexistent problem of God going unacknowledged in public life, trotting out this old canard:

The Founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation “under God,” and in God, we do indeed trust.

Are you done rolling your eyes? Cool.

Like I said, no surprises here, and the entire piece has a similar tone to the Rick Warren ring-kissing that Obama and John McCain engaged in last time around: General piety, a warm fuzziness about belief in general, both implicit and explicit assertions that faith is central to the American experiment (if not a prerequisite for taking part in it) and no knocks made by either man against folks of the “wrong” kind of religion or of none.

That final point, I should note, stands in contrast to Romney’s 2007 “Mormon speech,” the address he gave (somewhat aping John F. Kennedy) to put to rest any discomfort about his Mormonism. In that speech, Romney did, in fact, exclude atheists from this Great Big Thing We Call America, when he said:

Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.

So keep that in mind, oh ye who must not be free.

About Paul Fidalgo

Paul is communications director for the Center for Inquiry, as well as an actor and musician. His blog is iMortal, and he tweets as @paulfidalgo, and the blog tweets as @iMortal_blog.
The opinions expressed on this blog are personal to Paul and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for Inquiry.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/A37GL7VKR3W6ACSIZPH7EID3LI rlrose63

    I wonder how long the interview with an atheist (not just secular) publication would be.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson


    I think it is important that we not make faith alone a barometer of a person’s worth, value, or character. ”

    faith alone?  How very generous.

    Now I’m depressed.  And angry.

  • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

    Since it’s popular to assume values are bound up with faith, why don’t we just co-opt the term “faith” to mean values…including secular values? It sure sounds like Obama is on the verge of doing that already.

    I have faith in the goodwill of humankind, in the scientific discovery of truth, and potential of a better world for the next generation.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    It is all about the battle for what freedom of religion and separation of Church and State means.

    Does freedom of religion mean the freedom to choose and practice your religion as long as you are part of a religious denomination. Or does it mean that you are also free not to be part of a religious denomination?

    Does separation of church and state mean that the state should not solely advocate one particular denomination (like the Catholic Church or the Anglican Church) over others but the state can promote generic religious activities like leading non-denominational prayer, having God language in pledges and currency, and passages from the bible in court-houses. Or does it mean that the government should remain silent about all aspects of religion and leave religion to the free expression of private citizens – where if you are employed by the state, you will have to wait until you are off-the-clock before you can lead others in religious activities (although you can pray to yourself anytime you like; even at work).

    • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

      I should add the Republicans are basically saying that government should get out of the social welfare business and have churches step up to provide all the country’s social welfare needs. They want a world where everybody goes to church and tithes at the 10% (or higher if necessary if government stops social welfare) and non-church-goers are basically vilified and considered something less than full citizens.

      The Democrats want the government to continue providing social welfare in a secular way which only as a side-effect undermines the ability of churches to run all aspects of life. The democrats are more used to diversity in their ranks which includes accepting both non-believers and people with same-sex attraction. The Republicans have a more narrow view of what a person should be and if you don’t meet the criteria, then you are out.

      The irony is that the Republicans say they want lower taxes and government out of social welfare, but what they are really saying is that they want the portion of money that goes to the government for social welfare to go instead to churches and have churches provide all social welfare (with evangelism). The only way this could be an equal shift of money is if everybody who used to pay the larger taxes to the government then made up for the difference in tithes to churches. The government would probably need to make church tithing mandatory (like taxes) for the Republican plan to really work.  Scary stuff.

  • Deb Fohringer

    I took note of Romney’s “question to ask a person of faith who seeks a political office is whether he or she shares these American values:  the equality of humankind . . .”  Wouldn’t that mean he’s in favor of everyone’s right to marry?  Too bad the interviewer didn’t have the testicular fortitude to ask a follow-up question.

  • Coyotenose

    Religion requires freedom?

    News to Jesus.

  • Glasofruix

    From where i live, your country looks more and more like a circus directed by monkeys. It’s been ages since i’ve ssen any of our politicians even dare to utter something remotely religious.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

    I don’t think Obama believes most of what he’s forced to say about religion. If you read The Audacity of Hope, it doesn’t sound like he’s at all convinced that there’s any kind of afterlife. While he’s pretty much required to pander to religious voters, at least he tries to do it without throwing atheists under the bus.

  • Guest

    President Obama did make at least one reference to non-believers (seemingly not noted in this particular article).

    “The constitutional principle of a separation
    between church and state has served our nation well since our founding —
    embraced by people of faith and those of no faith at all throughout our
    history — and it has been paramount in our work.”

  • Kimpatsu

    …”
    these American values: the equality of humankind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty.”
    And Romney is wrong again. These are HUMAN values, not uniquely American ones. And Rick Warren disagrees with them; he things gay people are less than equal. Is Romney really saying that Warren isn’t American? This is just the myth of American uniqueness brought up again in order to play to the gallery.


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