The Republican primaries have certainly given us some food for thought, though it’s probably giving foreign observers the heebie-jeebies. This was one of the most interesting moments:
[Mitt Romney] assailed “the religion of secularism” he said was creeping into American life, and drew chuckles from his invited audience as he complained that‘s picturesque cathedrals are largely empty amid societies “too busy or just too `enlightened’ to venture inside and kneel in prayer.”
Ha Ha. “Religion of secularism.” I like the sound of that.
As Tim Burke and others have pointed out, there is an interesting set of self-contradictions getting performed here, while each of the Republican candidates scrambles after the job of leading one of the most powerful nations in the world. That’s temporal power, we’re talking about, by the way.
In any case, after affirming his own and others’ faiths as part of an indispensable tradition of religious tolerance, Romney denounces the only principle that could justify his appeal to those with a different creed (like, say, the Republican Protestant Evangelical base that he must win over to become the Republican nominee). By praising all these faiths uniformly (with the notable exception of the “religion of secularism”), he effectively treats every form of Christian as indifferent when it comes to otherworldly salvation, and merely instrumental when it comes to temporal power. Nonetheless, his chosen audience of “pietistic autocrats” might well disagree about the interchangeability of their doctrines.
And this is where the discussion of secularism stands right now, in the mainstream of American political discussion.