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The Euro-American Religious Divide

Many Americans have criticized German politicians for using Anti-Americanism in their election campaigns. Now it seems that at least one US presidential candidate wants to try out Euro-Bashing. Roger Cohen writes in the International Herald Tribune:

Romney, a Republican candidate for the presidency and former Massachusetts governor, was dismissive of European societies "too busy or too 'enlightened' to venture inside and kneel in prayer." In so doing, he pointed to what has become the principal trans-Atlantic cultural divide. Europeans still take their Enlightenment seriously enough not to put it in quote marks. They have long found one of its most inspiring reflections 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.


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David on :

The hyper-religiosity among the Republican candidates - especially Huckabee and Romney - is truly disgusting. But here Romney is attacking Europeans in order to deflect attention away from his own Mormon faith - a polytheist sect that makes many Americans uncomfortable.

Pat Patterson on :

I'm not sure how one can justify constant snide references to fundamentalists in the US but then jump on canards about Mormons from the same ill-informed sources. Brigham Young did indeed refer to many Gods and worlds but as manifestations of the One God. Acknowledging that perhaps man worships the God that revealed to him, which sounds an awful lot like The Enlightenment idea of toleration. "But the attributes of the Deity are one, and they constitute the One God that the prophets speak of, and that the children of men in all worlds worship." Prophet Joseph Pratt, Journal of Discourse, Vol. 2, p.345. I wouldn't wave a polytheist label so loosely considering that on first glance the Trinity does seem to be ploytheistic and try explaining the Immaculate Conception as something other than an article of faith? Anti-religious bigotry, like Elisabetta B's reference to modern art, is the latest trend and yet reveals the shallowness of its intellectual roots in simple 150 year old canards.

David on :

My source is a 2002 interview with Gordon Hinckley in the New Yorker. Hinckley is the Chief Prophet and President of the LDS. In the interview Hinckley explains how God progressed from being a flesh and blood human being (with wives and kids!) to Heavenly Father. Members of the LDS also achieve deity status in the afterlife ... an appealing thought, don' you think?

Pat Patterson on :

That description was supplied by the author, Lawrence Wright, not the current Pres. Gordon Hinckley. But obviously strange to most ears is certainly not an admission of polytheism. Here's what was actually said; "I asked whether Mormon theology was a form of ploytheism." "I don't have the remotest idea what you mean," he said impatiently. "More than one god." "Yes, but that's a loose term," he replied. "We believe in the eternal progression. "By that he means that human beings can evolve toward godhood by following the Mormon path. "You want to be a reporter always?" he said. "You want to be a shrub forever, through all eternity? We believe that life, eternal life, is real, that it's purposeful, that it has meaning, that it can be realized. I wouldn't describe us as polytheistic." Only someone with an axe to grind would intimate that Mormons worshipped many gods other than the One God that they do recognize. So sorry to disappoint Temple Square is not filled with votive figures and hordes of relatives praying for intervention by their dead relatives or any stray desert saints. But if you really want to get excited about polytheism then one could always persecute the two Hindu Representatives or the estimated 5 million Hindus and Sikhs that are already here. Which would be 4 times the number, shrinking number, of adherents to the UCC.

Elisabetta B on :

It is a silly opinion piece, but you know that. I loved the vacuous, political phrase "faith-based presidency". As compared to the successful anarcho-vegisexual nihilistic platform of Carter? "Faith-based" is progressive shorthand for crazy baptist fundamentalist and in this case, it is not true. Point of fact, many if not most Protestants consider Mormonism to be heretical so Cohen's depiction of Romney as lock-stepping fundie rings false. Cohen gets the Establishment Clause of the Constitution wrong historically. The 'separation of church and state' until the beginning of last century was to prohibit the establishment of a federal church and compulsory participation like the UK pre-1780s. Virginia had a state chruch until 1840 something. don't think this qualifies as 'Euro-bashing' to mention that the lack of religiousity in a people can be symptomatic of cultural weakness or decline. Walter Russel Mead makes the same point about the British post Empire and Niall Ferguson wont shut up about it. More interestingly, Joerg do you think the demise of the Lutheran Church and Ultramontatist Catholicism has been a beneficial thing in Germany? Strike 'demise' and replace with relegation from the public sphere.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

"don't think this qualifies as 'Euro-bashing' to mention that the lack of religiousity in a people can be symptomatic of cultural weakness or decline." I guess it is only bashing, when someone talks about cultural weakness or decline of America.

Elisabetta B on :

Romney is not proffering an example of direct causality between falling and/or dismal church attendance and decline in economic/military/political power. I infer he was referring to the loss of spirituality and cultural confidence after WWII which manifests itself in bad church attendance blah blah blah. The op-ed does skip around a bit, doesn't it? On an related point, how many artists of international and historical note has Germany produced who were born after WWII? None, I'd say. MAybe Andreas Baader for performance art.

David on :

"On an related point, how many artists of international and historical note has Germany produced who were born after WWII? None" Funny, but the Leipziger Schule is the hottest thing in the art world just now. I attended a Neo Rauch exhibit at the Met in NY City which was packed and was reviewed internationally. I can't think of any postwar American painter getting as much international acclaim. Are you implying that America has produced greater artists because we have more church attendance? What great writing there is in English these days comes from atheist UK and (newly secularized) Ireland.

Elisabetta B on :

One, I said of 'historical note'. Not the latest fad that trade broadsheets drum up. Two, the question was posed to someone particular.

David on :

One, so I guess we'll know in 50 years which church-going American will have emerged as the next Picasso or James Joyce. None is now visible on the world stage. Two, forgive me for not realizing that we were not permitted to respond to your ridiculous comment.

Elisabetta B. on :

No need to apologize, David. You acted just as I would have expected you to, if you had not read my question.

John in Michigan, USA on :

If any criticism, no matter how mild, constitutes 'bashing', then, I suppose Romney's comment was bashing. But seriously, it's pretty mild stuff compared what one can find in European media. Bush is routinely compared to Hitler, etc. A plain reading of the text of the Bill of Rights shows that it is designed to *protect* religion, not suppress it. Even though I am an agnostic Unitarian-Universalist child of the Enlightenment, it is impossible not to acknowledge that America started as, and still is, a religious nation with a secular government, whereas most European countries are, or aspire to be, secular countries and secular governments. Hence the French headscarf ban, which was entirely consistent with Republican ideas, could never happen in America. The closest we could come to that would be to require headscarfs to be removed for ID photos or in a police line-up. The justification for this is strictly limited to the practical requirement of an ID photo. There is (so far...) no national ID card system in the US, and the individual state ID's remain optional. "Europeans still take their Enlightenment seriously enough not to put it in quote marks" This is a false dichotomy. In my opinion, the genius of the Enlightenment includes pluralism, that societies need not have to have a single, all-encompassing set of values. Romney takes the Enlightenment seriously, he just sees it as a secular philosophy governing secular affairs, and not an all-encompassing world-view. Enlightenment ideals permit a strictly secular society, such as France, but they don't require it. Besides, I'll believe that Europe has returned to its Enlightenment roots when it gets over the obsession against "Frankenfoods" i.e. Genetically Modified (GM) foods. There are sane arguments for or against GM foods, but a reasoned debate about whether the benefits outweigh the risks is a long way from the typical European rhetoric. Fluoridated water wasn't a commie plot, and GM foods are not a capitalist plot.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

No, Bush is not routinely compared to Hitler. If you think that the few instances constitute a routine, then I would say that Americans routinely make negative statements about lazy Europeans, who live of the welfare state or take three months holidays, have no values, eat chocolate and wear sandals. We could play a game. I started with Romney. Now you have to find a European politician of equal stature, who made a similar strong statement about the United States. You will probably mention Daeubler-Gmelins comment that was understood as a Bush-Hitler comparison. I will then point out that she was fired, but Romney has not resigned. Then I will respond by quoting Secretary Rice: [b]"There cannot be an absence of moral content in American foreign policy. Europeans giggle at this, but we are not European, we are American, and we have different principles." [/b] [url=][/url] Then you would need to come up with a European politican who made such a statement full of moral high ground. It's a fun game indeed.

Don S on :

You don't have to look far, Joerg. Just look for statements about the death penalty, eh? What you perhaps fail to understand is that this is a longstanding political tradition in the US. Alone among western cultures, the US grew up both as a child of many (primarily European) cultures, but from the dissident cultures. Otto von Bismark didn't emigrate to the US, Karl Schurtz did. The US developed largely in opposition to what was happening in Europe and that should and will continue. Not every European practice or trend is an enlightened or a viable one. As for what Romney said - you do it too, probabably more frequently and with more heat than We in the US do. You do it in different ways and in different forums, but often the effects have real world consequences, unlike the hot air uttered by Romney....

John Birch reloaded on :

"Fluoridated water wasn't a commie plot" No? How do you know?

John in Michigan, USA on :

@Joerg: You are correct, Germany does a much better job at speaking out against this sort of comparison than elsewhere in Europe. In my defense, I wrote that European media routinely compare, not that German national political figures routinely compare. I still think I could support my original statement quite easily, but I prefer to withdraw it. You are right, it is a silly game. I should have resisted Godwin's Law more forcefully. The point was, Romney's criticism was a fairly mild one, and not at all ad-hominem, although apparently it touched a nerve. Whereas, a lot of the European anti-American sentiment is quite harsh, and too often, is directed at Bush as a person. Maybe Romney has been harsh elsewhere, but I see nothing in the quotes in the article cites that rises to the level of "bashing". Calling it that seems like a pitiful attempt to sell newspapers. Maybe it is a language thing - maybe "bashing" is emerging as a sort of slang word that merely means "criticism"? My larger point was that religion plays a much different role in the US that it does in Europe. When Romney was governor of Massachusetts, he governed as a moderate, not a theocrat. When he ran the 2002 Winter Olympics, people of all religions, or none at all, were welcome. Our evangelical President Carter on a Saturday night was more devout than Mitt Romney on a Sunday morning! Europeans have nothing to fear from Romney's religion. And no, I am not a Romney supporter in the coming election. I live in Michigan, but am too young to remember when Romney's father was our Governor.

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