Secular or sectarian: Pick one or the other

“I think there is a desire to establish a religion in America known as secularism.”

Mitt Romney, April 2, 2012

Once again: the opposite of secularism is sectarianism.

Those are the choices. Pick one.

Romney chooses sectarianism.

Next question for everyone who, like Romney, rejects secularism: Which sect do you think should be established as the official one?

Because if you don’t want a secular government, then you’re going to have to tell us which sect should be in charge.

* * * * * * * * *

Offer health care to women and this guy will call you "Hitler."

Catholic Bishop Daniel Jenky is the demented, misogynist love-child of Glenn Beck and Father Charles Coughlin.

Allow me to “clarify” that.

Based on the current bishops’ threatened embrace of right-wing paranoia, I offered historical context and comparisons as a means to prevent a repetition of historical attacks upon the common good. I gave several examples of people in history whose delusional fantasies harmed the common good.

Bishop Jenky certainly has not reached the same level of far-right paranoia. However, history teaches us to be cautious once we start down the path of tinfoil-hat demagoguery and a seething contempt for women.

* * * * * * * * *

Dan Scalf, a spokesman for the anti-gay lobby Truth in Action “Ministries,” lashed out against Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for saying that LGBT people deserve the same human rights as the rest of us.

Scalf did so by citing John 8:1-11 — the story of the woman about to be stoned by a mob of religious people. You know the story, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

I would explain how this story has anything to do with Scalf’s objection to human rights, but since Scalf himself was unable to do so, I can’t even venture a wild guess at to what sort of wild leaps his brain was trying to make.

Note to Mr. Scalf: A story about Jesus’ refusal to allow the persecution of someone whom religious leaders regarded as a sexual sinner is not the best choice for supporting your agenda of persecuting people that your religious leaders regard as sexual sinners. Seriously, have you even read that story?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    “I think there is a desire to establish a religion in America known as secularism.”

    Does he even understand that what he just said is utter and complete crap?

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    So, let me see if I have this right, once upon a time a bunch of people brought a woman to Jesus and said, “The law commands that we kill her, how about you?”  That was a trap and Jesus sidestepped it by creating a loophole that allowed her to live and shamed the bastards* saying to kill her.

    In present tense, Hillary Clinton is saying to the world that the law commands that we not kill people.  That is just like what the bastards did to Jesus.  Exactly the same.  Therefore we must find a way to sidestep it by finding a way to keep on killing those people?

    Is that the argument?

    -

    *For some reason I have an unusual pedantic need to point out that I’m not using this term literally, perhaps because the only literal bastard identified in the story would be the bastard child of God (if you accept his stated parentage), whom I am not classifying as one of the bastards.

  • aunursa

    Secularism – indifference to or rejection of or exclusion of religion and religious considerations.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Exactly.  In the absence of indifference there is preference, and preference would necessarily be sectarian.

  • John Magnum

    Apparently the idea is that, uh, Jesus rejected the moral presuppositions of the debate. Instead of allowing the debate to proceed under the predefined terms of clean and unclean, he destroyed those categories, rejected their assumptions, and provided his own. So, um, we must be like Jesus and annihilate Hilary’s assumptions and restart the debate on Christian terms, which apparently in this case mean “terms which disenfranchise more people than the non-Christian alternative”. Which doesn’t sound super great.

  • hapax

    I think there is a desire to establish a religion in America known as secularism

    Well, OBVIOUSLY.  It’s right there on the back of the dollar bill:  ANNUIT COEPTIS NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM.

    Eny fuhl noes that translates into “I knew it! Accept this new order:  secularism!” 

    That’s why Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama want to replace the dollar bill with coins, you know;  they’re afraid of the secret getting out…

    In other news, I am delighted to notice (and probably the very last person to do so) that the links to the next and previous posts are back!

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic


    In other news, I am delighted to notice (and probably the very last person to do so) that the links to the next and previous posts are back! 

    It’s wonderful, isn’t it?

  • AnonymousSam

    Secularism is not a religion, Romney-you-bloody-idiot. In the context to which you are referring, it’s the inane idea that some poor fool got in his head that the first amendment prohibits the establishment of a state religion, which you’re so determined to prove wrong by creating a theocracy in which Republican Christians determine not only the spiritual rights of all Americans, but also their legal rights as well, using the system to further your ends of shoving your twisted interpretation of Christianity down our throats.

    So yes, secularism. Not a religion.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    From the Right Wing Watch link:

    There is little doubt as to where President Obama stands in this question. His [...] all-out effort against the traditional definition of marriage have been swift and decisive.

    Swift? Decisive? His position has been “evolving” for over 15 years, and not always in the same direction. I’ll be voting for the President in November, but man would it be nice if he was half the things the right pretended he was.

  • ReverendRef

    Hmmm . . . Maybe Mr. Scalf cited that story using the scholarly critique that the passage wasn’t part of the original text of John’s gospel, but added at a later date, possibly around the 4th or 5th Century.  If it is the case that this was an added story, then we don’t have to concern ourselves with Jesus showing mercy to outsiders, outcasts, women, etc.  If Mr. Scalf is, in fact, using it in that way, and referring back to the earliest texts known, then he would be the ultimate biblical literalist.  And if that is the case, then I must applaud him for his dedication to biblical scholarship and his ability to get people to think about how Jesus probably didn’t really forgive a woman caught in the vice of religious intolerance, and that we should work to do the same.

    Either that, or the guy is just a dope. 

    I’m leaning towards the latter.

  • Nathaniel

     Aunursa- Indifference to or rejection of or exclusion of reality and factual considerations.

  • friendly reader

    When I’m in a generous mood and feel like following Luther’s advice to give your neighbor’s motivation the benefit of the doubt (advice he rarely took himself), I think that by “secularism” they mean “secular humanism,” i.e. the idea that morality and ethics should be determined by human-based reasoning rather than religious dogma, and that belief in God is not necessary for being moral. And to be sure, that idea is definitely behind the foundation of secular states – it’s what many of our founders believed, though arguably they were theistic humanists, which is not a contradiction when your theism is Deistic or Unitarian (or any other idea of God that is focused on human thriving rather than divine dictate). And if you deeply believe religiously that all law must come from (your interpretation) of the Bible, then any attempt to derive law from human-based reasoning would seem like a limitation of your religion, because in a way, it is.

    But then that little parenthetical “your interpretation” becomes vital, because as Fred puts it, your option to go with anything other than a humanist model of government demands that you choose one scriptural interpretation over another, and as a member of a religion that was persecuted for having a heterodox interpretation of scripture, Romney, you should know better (more on that in the last paragraph). “Secularism” and “humanism” work as models of governance for a diverse planet. Centuries of religious war in Europe forged that idea. You can be as theocratic as you like for yourself and (to a certain extent) your family, but trying to do it on a state level results in catastrophic tragedy and injustice.

    So in a way, we are pushing a religious model, an anti-theocratic one that does reject scripture as a source for law. But (1) even interpreted loosely, it may be a religious model but it isn’t a full blown religion that excludes other modes of belief, not is it even true secular humanism; and (2) this viewvitally necessary for maintaining peace and harmony and not having the Thirty Years’ War all over again.

    When I am in less of a generous mood, I think Romney and his ilk are disingenuously pandering to a poorly educated audience who doesn’t even know what the Thirty Years’ War was, and who have been deliberately misinformed by a nationalistic history curriculum, a deceitful right-wing media, and a theocratic religious environment to believe that this secular, humanist outlook is some evil new thing that emerged thanks to Hippies and isn’t the very foundation of our entire governance. And this is probably the correct view, since a guy with two Harvard degrees really oughta damn well know better. I think he does. I don’t think he believes this. I think he just really, really wants to get elected and so he’s going for the lowest common denominator.

  • Matri

    The lowest common denominator that he helped to create.

    So he definitely knows his audience.

  • http://lightningbug.blogspot.com lightning

    Next question for everyone who, like Romney, rejects secularism: Which sect do you think should be established as the official one?

    Romney’s a Bishop in the Mormon church.  Which one do you think?  That little fact is going to give the Evangelicals some serious heartburn.

    All of the folks wanting a sectarian society think that *they* will be the ones setting the rules.  Looking at the way revolutions really work, let’s just say that *none* of them will get to make the rules.

  • friendly reader

     I don’t think it will be Mormonism per se, but rather the Fourfold Orthodoxy:
    1) abortion is murder
    2) homosexuality is sin
    3) evolution is nonsense
    4) environmentalism is a farce

    By that standard, Mormons and Evangelicals are the same religion, deeply variant beliefs about God and Jesus notwithstanding.

    The only reason conservative Muslims who believe the same set haven’t been accepted into the fold is because they’re perceived as foreign and non-white, whereas Mormonism is a homegrown religion/Christian branch.

  • Chris Kern

    Re: The John story, I assume the important part is “Go, and do not sin again” — any time I’ve heard fundamentalists refer to this story, it’s only for that line to show that Jesus condemned sin, therefore we should too.

  • Tonio

    Yes. Romney is parroting people who misinterpret the concept as hostility to all religion, or who know better but also know that publicly equating it with atheism is an effective demagogic tactic.

  • christopher_young

    It’s quite possible that Romney doesn’t distinguish between secularism and secular humanism because he’s never given a moment’s thought to either. This is not a recommendation.

    On the substantive point though, I think it’s slightly misleading to imagine that the anti-secularist agitators believe that they will have to pick a sect to promote, or that they can be persuaded that this is the logic of their position. In the immediate term they would be quite happy to allow freedom of religion/worship to any sect which agreed with their political programme (the “big four” plus handing all welfare provision over to the churches so that they can use it to blackmail poor people into joining). It’s only everybody else who can STFU.

    In practice, of course, the infighting between all the self appointed experts and leaders would begin about next Tuesday and would continue over increasingly minute theological and political distinctions until the last two surviving members of the Committee for Public Decency threw each other off the bridge, screaming “Die, heretic scum!”

    But at the moment they can’t see this. They can’t see it because they’ve been indoctrinated with the idea that because they are fighting the good fight, there can’t be any negative consequences; so they shouldn’t think about them. Which is why, I fear, that if you were to confront them with Fred’s arguments, they simply wouldn’t understand what you were talking about.

  • Lori

     

    It’s quite possible that Romney doesn’t distinguish between secularism
    and secular humanism because he’s never given a moment’s thought to
    either. This is not a recommendation. 

    It’s also possible that Romney shares the view of that idiot Ross Douthat and believes that secularism is just Christian heresy in disguise. That is also not a recommendation, but comparisons to Douthat never are.

    http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/the_book_club/features/2012/ross_douthat_s_bad_religion/bad_religion_by_ross_douthat_reviewed_liberalism_and_christianity_.html

  • christopher_young

    As an unbeliever, am I allowed to say that the thought of a Mormon worrying about Christian heresy has its amusing side.

  • P J Evans

    Sure. I was amused by the Mormons arguing about same-sex marriage, because their history on marriage is … at least as unorthodox. (And one of the lawyers in the Prop8 trial used an argument that would allow polygamy, if anyone was to take it seriously in a legal sense. It ran something like ‘if a man marries one woman, and then marries another woman, it’s legal, because those marriages are both one man, one woman’.)

  • Lori

     As an unbeliever I’m certainly not going to complain. :)

  • http://from1angle.wordpress.com emilyperson

    It has its amusing side in the same way the “Constitutionalist” party in my country being the same one that doesn’t give a crap about the Establishment Clause does.

  • Tricksterson

    And sfter that we will establish a new direction.  It will be called downup.

  • Tricksterson

    Nope, that would be me.

    And I’m not even going to comment on that last segment because it made my head asplode.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    Is it possible that Romney meant to say “sectarian” and mispronounced it?

    It just seems bizarre that someone can essentially make what is simultaneously two or three different arguments that are all diametrically opposed to one another:

    1. America should be dominated by religion.
    2. Secularism is a religion
    3. Secularists hate and want to destroy (or at least marginalize) religion

    These things can’t all be right. If secularism is a religion, is it fair to say that secularists hate religion? If secularism is a religion, then wouldn’t it be an acceptable choice for the state religion?

    (OK, I lied about the “bizarre” thing. This is classic Romney double-speak. He can’t possibly be this stupid and ignorant. He can’t possibly think that Mormons would be any better of than any other religious minority if they suddenly found themselves in the territory of the repressive fundamentalist regime that Romney is (pretending?) to endorse here.

     I don’t think it will be Mormonism per se, but rather the Fourfold Orthodoxy:1) abortion is murder2) homosexuality is sin3) evolution is nonsense4) environmentalism is a farce

    By that standard, Mormons and Evangelicals are the same religion, deeply variant beliefs about God and Jesus notwithstanding.

    This is the most likely.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    When I read Mitt Romney’s comment about secularism being a religion, the first thought that popped into my head was (as many are) from an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation:

    “How many lights do you see there?”
    “I see four lights.”
    “No.  There are five.”

  • JonathanPelikan

    This guy’s the head of the movement that spent the past, say, three years screaming constantly that the lawfully elected President of the United States was simultaneously a Muslim, a Liberation Theologian,  a Marxist, a Socialist, a Communist, and a Fascist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

     True, but he’s brand new to this sort of thing. Romney has a record of coherent thought and marginally-competent decision-making. He was always a weasel, but he usually changed his opinion over the course of months or weeks. Now he’s regressed to the point where he changes his opinion over the course of a few hours (“Stay-at-home moms do work!” vs. “However, what stay-at-home moms do isn’t really ‘work’ per se…”) or, in this case, in the same sentence. That’s actually pretty impressive, since most politicians can’t flipflop in mid-sentence like that unless they misspeak or flub a line.

  • Tricksterson

    Wouldn’t get that far.  More like:
    “How many lights do you see there”
    “How many do you want?”

  • aunursa

    When Romney referred to “secularism”, did he mean “indifference to religion”?  Or ” rejection of religion”? Or “exclusion of religion”?  It’s not clear that he meant all three.

  • Tricksterson

    Pick the one mostlikely to appeal to the drooling masses.

  • Beroli

     Because he gets to redefine any word he pleases in whatever ways mean he didn’t say something simultaneously idiotic and vile.

    Well, of course he does! He’s a Republican!

  • aunursa

    he plainly did not mean any of those three, since neither “I think there is a desire to establish a religion in America known as indifference to religion,” “I think there is a desire to establish a religion in America known as rejection of religion,” nor “I think there is a desire to establish a religion in America known as exclusion of religion” is a coherent sentence.


    2. A personal set, or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and atitudes.
    4. A cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.

    Examples…

    “Hockey is a religion in Canada.”
    “Politics are a religion to him.”
    “Where I live, high school football is a religion.”
    “Food is religion in this house.”

  • P J Evans

    the problem is that ‘secularism’ is not a religion by those definitions either: it’s not a philosophy, and it’s not a political movement. In fact, I don’t believe that ‘secularism’ exists outside of the right-wing political movement.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    What do you think Romney meant? Your last posts have basically been just parsing alternative definitions of words like “secularism” and “religion”, but Romney had to have meant something by this statement. When he accuses someone of waging a “war on religion”, which of the definitions that he listed do you think he intended his listeners to take away from that?

  • Beroli

    Possible meanings…

    “I think there is a desire to establish a religion [definition #4] in America known as rejection of religion [definition #2].””I think there is a desire to establish a religion [definition #4] in America known as exclusion of religion [definition #2].”

     So your contention is that, if you can get something that just sounds really stupid but doesn’t, quite, sound absolutely incoherent, by parsing the same word into different definitions in the same sentence, you’ll…be able to chalk up a point against those evil liberal words-mean-things people?

    Are you seriously capable of being willfully stupid enough to ignore how staggeringly dishonest even your incredibly stilted phrases would have been, had they actually been what Romney said? You impress me, aunursa. Truly.

  • ReverendRef

    “Hockey is a religion in Canada.”

    I’d vote for someone running on a religious hockey ticket.

  • aunursa

    Based on the context  - a so-called “war on religion” – it appears that he considers secularism to be not only rejection or religion, but hostility to religion.  Probably he was inartfully saying that proponents of the contraception mandate for religious-based organizations are hostile to religion (Definition #2.)

  • AnonymousSam

    Heh, I could say that the worst of atheists practically worship their own lack of worship, but no, it’s still a recursive loop of insanity to state that there is a religion about not having a religion.

    Unless you automatically fail by becoming a member. Then it makes sense. I think.

  • aunursa

    I’m trying to understand what he actually meant.  I’m not suggesting that he suceeded in articulating the thought he was trying to express.  If my understanding of the idea he was trying to express is accurate, I would not have advised him to use those particular words.

  • EllieMurasaki

     Is that like how Rush Limbaugh wouldn’t have used the word ‘slut’ about Sandra Fluke, but still finds the underlying concept something perfectly acceptable?

  • Beroli

     

    I’m trying to understand what he actually meant.  I’m not suggesting
    that he suceeded in articulating the thought he was trying to express. 
    If my understanding of the idea he was trying to express is accurate,
    I would not have advised him to use those particular words.

    And being the advocate of balance in judgment that you are, I’m sure you’d be spinning just as furiously had President Obama said something that overtly stupid.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    it appears that he considers secularism to be not only rejection or religion, but hostility to religion.

    I also think that he thinks that, which is pretty disturbing considering the only real alternative to secular government either a theocracy or a system in which the government works hand-in-hand with religious officials to set public policy. It doesn’t take a historian like Newt Gingrich to know that sort of thing usually turns out, and Mitt Romney must know this.

    If my understanding of the idea he was trying to express is accurate,
    I would not have advised him to use those particular words.

    I don’t think he would take your advice. Romney is borrowing heavily from the Rick Perry/Rick Santorum/Newt Gingrich playbook here, which as you might remember actually predates the contraception mandate debate by several months.

    In fact, the whole “Democrats/liberals/secularists hate religion” is pretty old. (War on Christmas, anyone?) I thought it was pretty obvious that that’s what Romney was playing into here.

  • Tricksterson

    Me too, I’ve always wanted to reinstitute blood sacrifice


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