Worshipping Princes Romney and Obama


Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in a patriotic hazeWhatever happened to American Christians' concerns over Mitt Romney's Mormon faith?

Like concerns about Romney's conservatism and pro-life record, theological issues have been brushed aside in anticipation of November's election.

According to Tony Perkins from the Family Research Council, 'growing enthusiasm' for Romney's campaign has much to do with the Obama administration's support for same-sex marriage and his Contraceptive Mandate, which forces religiously affiliated organisations such as hospitals and universities to include coverage for contraceptives in their health insurance plans.

The Contraceptive Mandate's implications for religious freedom have convinced some to vote for Romney despite doubts about his pro-life record, and broader concerns about the 'marriage of convenience' between pro-life Christians and the Republican Party.

Prolific American Catholic blogger Mark Shea has been especially critical of the Republicans' failure to represent the pro-life movement. Shea sees Romney as merely the most recent and lacklustre avatar of a Republican Party in which 'the so-called 'pro-life Republicans' regard prolifers as useful idiots'. Shea views Romney's pro-life 'conversion' as suspect and his support for torture as typical of a moral decline in the conservative movement.

Shea cops some criticism for his position, ranging from 'Obama thanks you for your vote, your check is in the mail' to 'Evidently, there is no candidate pure and correct enough for you', and even: 'It's not that complicated: Obama wants to kill the Church and Romney doesn't. Anything after that is simple posturing.'

While Obama's attack on religious freedom might justify voting for 'the lesser of two evils', let's not forget that the lesser of two evils is still an evil. Shea concedes he respects the 'I have to vote Romney because Obama is an open and naked enemy of the Faith', but he is 'not going to pretend this makes Romney/Ryan a good ticket'.

This attitude of reluctant support can be hard to maintain in the fiercely oppositional atmosphere of partisan politics, especially in the prelude to an election. Elections demand more than a reluctant vote. They demand professions of support aimed at winning further converts. Elections are a battle in which esprit de corps outranks careful consideration. There are no bumper stickers extolling 'Romney 2012: not as bad as the other guy!'

An American Christian who rejects Obama yet has serious misgivings about Romney, might choose to vote for neither. But refusing to vote will still leave one open to accusations of supporting Obama. According to one blogger, 'A Christian nonvote is a vote for Obama in that it fails to affirmatively cancel out an Obama vote. Furthermore, any Christian who votes for Obama will get to take that up with God.'

The implication is that God wants you to vote for Romney, though lobby group 'Catholics for Romney' suggest you go further, giving 'full-hearted effort to elect Mitt Romney as the next president of the United States'.

The anomaly from this outsider's perspective is that despite a religious tradition warning: 'Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save', seemingly devout religious believers are emotionally invested in, and hoping for the victory of Romney over Obama, despite the fact that both men, by their wealth and political power, are surely princes in a modern guise. Does God truly command full-hearted support for Prince Romney?

Even reports of 'growing enthusiasm' for Romney betray a religious undertone. Enthusiasm is literally 'divine inspiration', 'en-theos'; to be 'in God', with the modern definitions: 'excitement' or 'zeal'. Ought a religious believer be excited by a political campaign? Historically, the idea of contemptus mundi or 'scorn for the world' reminded Christians that worldly affairs were not worthy of excitement or trust. Perhaps a little scorn for the world can help keep us all sane?

The temptation to trust the governance of Prince Romney or Prince Obama is magnified by modern democracy. It is easier to 'render unto Caesar' when Caesar rules by might or monarchy, because then Caesar is not our problem. But representative democracy gives us the illusion of control and responsibility. We succumb to the idea that democracy changes the world on a spiritual level, that presidents and prime ministers are entirely different from kings and princes. It's hard to have scorn for the world when you feel directly responsible for how it is run.

The problem is not voting for Romney, but trusting in him. Devout people may vote according to conscience and duty, but ought not submit their hearts to the shame of hoping and trusting in princes and men. 

Zac Alstin headshotZac Alstin is a freelance writer and part-time research officer for Southern Cross Bioethics Institute in Adelaide. He has an honours degree in philosophy, a graduate certificate in applied linguistics, and an amateur interest in Chinese philosophy. The second US presidential debate, on foreign and domestic policy, will take place today at 12pm ADST.


Topic tags: Zac Alsin, Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, US election



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Existing comments

Above you say "While Obama's attack on religious freedom..." as if that is a fact. Obama has not and will not attack religious freedoms in the USA. I am a 70 year old "cradle to grave" practicing Catholic (Roman),and physician. My freedom of conscience remains intact and infact I am hopeful that the affordable care act will improve our dismal health care corporate rip offs with appropaite goverment regulation and goverment funded research, What a terrible statement to say Obama has denied anybody religious freedom.

Mary Margaret Flynn | 17 October 2012  

Hi Mary, I hate to strike terror with my statements, but I'm surprised you seem unaware of the controversy surrounding the Contraceptive Mandate. From wikipedia: "With the exception of churches and houses of worship, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mandates contraceptive coverage for all employers and educational institutions. The mandate applies to all new health insurance plans effective August 2012. It controversially includes Christian hospitals, Christian charities, Catholic universities, and other enterprises owned or controlled by religious organizations that oppose contraception on doctrinal grounds." A number of Americans view the mandate as an infringement of religious freedom. For example, "The Catholic bishops of the United States called “literally unconscionable” a decision by the Obama Administration to continue to demand that sterilization, abortifacients and contraception be included in virtually all health plans." Or again: "“This is nothing less than a direct attack on religion and First Amendment rights,” said Franciscan Sister Jane Marie Klein, chairperson of the board at Franciscan Alliance, Inc., a system of 13 Catholic hospitals." The logic seems to be that forcing religious organisations to pay for services to which they are morally opposed constitutes an infringement of religious liberty for those organisations.

Zac | 17 October 2012  

Fine commentary, Zac. The two-horse-race that is always the Presidential Election is always going to be a 'lesser-of-two-evils'exercise for many people. Whether most people will see it that way is moot in some respects. The problem as I see it is that, evidenced at least as far back as the Reagan administration, faith based organisations have been dazzled int eh headlights of being close to the seat of power, but without any real record of seeing much change because of it. It seems to me, in this polarized current situation, that many in the pro-life community are looking for a new saviour (apologies: let me explain) And, like the line from the musical 'Joseph's Technicolour Dream Coat'it's an 'any saviour will do' type of thinking. It's bound to disappoint. Ultimately it brings us back to the question: what is to be done? And the answer, as always is: it's the culture stupid!

Paul Russell | 17 October 2012  

I knew instantly this article was written by a particular generation Australian. Why? It lacks historical background. It has a shortsighted understanding of the American people and Obama's struggle to live the Christian faith while allowing the Democratic process to take place. There are 314 milllion Americans to date. That is an increase of 14 million in 6 years. Obama has done the best he can under the circumstances and at no time has he violated the religious freedom of citizens and others.

Sharyn M Seymour | 17 October 2012  

Thanks Paul! I can see how easy it is to turn the 'lesser of two evils' into a relative 'good'. It's a little like 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'. Perhaps the ideal here is to recognise that the enemy of our enemy is just a bit less of an enemy to us! That search for a political saviour perplexes me. I wonder if it is an especially American dilemma to think that their political system should be able to correct itself and embody the moral law? We Aussies have the benefit of knowing that our political system is merely better than available alternatives and by no means ideal.

Zac | 17 October 2012  

Hi Sharyn, I'm afraid 'ageist' prejudice does not become your argument. Obama may well be doing the best he can; he might even be doing the worst he can; this is not particularly relevant to the issue of religious freedom raised in the context of the Contraceptive Mandate. As I quoted for Mary's benefit above: "With the exception of churches and houses of worship, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mandates contraceptive coverage for all employers and educational institutions. The mandate applies to all new health insurance plans effective August 2012. It controversially includes Christian hospitals, Christian charities, Catholic universities, and other enterprises owned or controlled by religious organizations that oppose contraception on doctrinal grounds." “This is nothing less than a direct attack on religion and First Amendment rights,” said Franciscan Sister Jane Marie Klein, chairperson of the board at Franciscan Alliance, Inc., a system of 13 Catholic hospitals." "The Catholic bishops of the United States called “literally unconscionable” a decision by the Obama Administration to continue to demand that sterilization, abortifacients and contraception be included in virtually all health plans."

Zac | 17 October 2012  

It would also appear that Romney may be more likely to engage in Foreign policies, leaning towards conflict, which would be anything but pro-life.

bernie introna | 17 October 2012  

Hi Bernie,

That's one of the concerns people have raised in voting for Romney, along with the issue of torture, and general skepticism of his actual pro-life beliefs.
Though it is not really possible to determine the likelihood of future conflicts based on the candidates' policy positions...Or else Obama might have earned his Peace Prize by now.

I should point out that for pro-lifers with qualms about Romney, Obama is already well and truly beyond the pale.

Zac | 17 October 2012  

Zac, excellent post and responses. (And Paul Russell, great comment.) Keep it up. A breath of fresh air. Thanks too, to E.S. for posting Zac's thoughts. I'm routinely critical of this blog's rather predictably biased content, post-wise. But in the (all too infrequent) case of Zac's posts, it's proved itself head and shoulders above, say, the taxpayer-funded ABC.

HH | 17 October 2012  

You also neglect to consider that to be pro-life should include the living. Romney's position on our poor and marginalized is the total opposite of "pro"life.

MaryAnn | 18 October 2012  

This is one Christian who cannot see why sex is the basis of so-called Christian morality.

graham patison | 18 October 2012  

This whole stand-off between Obama and the Catholic Church over the contraception mandate really has nothing to do with contraception or moral/religious values and freedom. It's a power play by the church hierarchy who are out of touch with reality and clinging to a church teaching that's irrelevant even among Catholics. A Gallup poll earlier this years showed that "82% of U.S. Catholics say birth control is morally acceptable, nearing the 89% of all Americans and 90% of non-Catholics who agree. The level of acceptability on this issue is far greater than that of the other 17 issues Gallup asked about this year." So while life goes on a usual for ordinary Catholics and even if Obama's mandate failed, they would simply access the services in a different facility, and continue on faithful and practicing Catholics in good conscience.

AURELIUS | 18 October 2012  

Hi Maryann, Economic policy and social inequality are indeed a concern to many pro-life Catholics in the US, as far as I can see. For example, Romney's now infamous '47%' comment received a great deal of attention. The expectation of 'more of the same' seems to be one of the reasons why some people are loathe to vote for Romney.

Zac | 18 October 2012  

Hi Graham, Sex is not the basis of Christian morality, but it would be unusual if a moral system did not have advice to offer on the subject. Regardless, the issue here is not really contraception per se, but the government's readiness to force religious organisations to contravene their own moral system.

Zac | 18 October 2012  

Thanks for the compliment HH, it's nice to be here!

Zac | 18 October 2012  

Hi Aurelius, On the same Gallup page it states "At the same time, when given a choice, 56% of Catholics in a Gallup survey conducted Feb. 16-19 said they sympathized with the views of religious leaders on the contraception-healthcare coverage debate, while 39% sympathized with the Obama administration's position." So even while the majority disagreed with Church teaching, a smaller majority sympathised with Church leaders rather than the government. Interesting! Perhaps I'm alone in this, but I find it refreshing that the Church does not abandon its own teachings on the basis of popularity. What about other issues such as the death penalty, and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where Catholics are also likely to diverge from Church leaders?

Zac | 18 October 2012  

How could artificial contraception not be morally wrong. It frustrates the natural functioning of one's body. The vote is irrelevant.

Gavan Breen | 18 October 2012  

Graham asks why 'sex is the basis of so-called Christian morality'. In his rapid-fire response Zac capitalises 'Sex', thereby showing his hand. What about eating, and drinking, and other bodily functions? Ah, but of course, they have also been the basis of various religious so-called 'moralities'. The regulation of eating, drinking, and copulating is a power thing; make it sinful, encourage guilt, then offer forgiveness, and thereby assert control. If the Catholic bishops in the US were really interested in affordable health care for all, they would be arguing for a universal tax-funded system, but that would mean confronting their mates on the political right. Their assertion that 'ObamaCare' is an attack on 'religious freedom' is a furphy at best and deceptive at worst. Morality is not about following rules or directions; it's about how one makes decisions when the rules don't apply.

Ginger Meggs | 18 October 2012  

To Gavan, So do sea-sickness tablets, stimulants, and laparoscopic gastric bands; are they immoral too? Have you never sought to 'frustrate the natural functioning of your body' when you are sleepy, or wide awake, or simply caught short?

Ginger Meggs | 18 October 2012  

Hi Ginger Meggs, That was quite astute of you, I didn't even notice. However, if you observe each instance in which I've replied "Hi X," you will note that they are all followed by capitals. The boring truth behind the mystery is that I type my comments like letters, treating the first word as the beginning of a paragraph. It worked for my reply to Bernie, but elsewhere the formatting does not turn up for some reason. But your interpretation is far more interesting. As far as I can see, it is quite clear that the contraceptive mandate impinges on religious freedom. You might have to elaborate more on how it is a 'furphy'. Regarding the nature of morality, I'm more of an ethicist than a moralist, but your definition seems quite novel regardless. The rules and directions are, ideally, based on the reality of human nature and the things that are and are not good for it. Yet somehow we have this idea that the problem is 'rules' per se, when it really is incorrect or misapplied rules, or rules that are overly specific, or forgetting the reason for the rules in the first place.

Zac | 18 October 2012  

So Zac, we're equating contraception with the death penalty now? And the use of contraception as a populist/popularity issue? The point I also made is that Catholics are using contraceptions in good conscience - meaning they are aware of the teachings, they are also morally informed/educated by they disagree with this teaching. So the suggestion is that this teaching might possibly be wrong. Obviously I'm not suggesting that anyone could justify killing another human being.

AURELIUS | 20 October 2012  

OK, Zac, I accept the correction on the capitals. But as to your statement that as far as you can see 'it is quite clear that the contraceptive mandate impinges on religious freedom', may I refer you to a previous article in ES where the author said 'there is a risk that the US bishops are escalating a campaign of civil disobedience in the name of conscience when they are not willing to allow members of their own church to act according to a rightly formed and informed conscience on matters relating not to their own faith and morals but to civil entitlements of others in a pluralistic democratic society'. (F Brennan ES 9 May 2012). Now you are entitled to believe what you like and to put your point of view, but if you really want to be taken seriously by the rest of us, I suggest that you begin by recognising and then refuting, if you can, Brennan's considered and well argued position.

Ginger Meggs | 20 October 2012  

Hi Aurelius, Perhaps we've misunderstood each other. In philosophy it is common practice to test an argument by looking at its further logical implications, even though these implications may not seem relevant to the issue at hand. Hence the comparison to the death penalty, merely to show that majority opinion amongst the laity does not imply moral authority. Since you have clarified your argument to focus on good conscience, my only reply is that I do not share your faith in the average person's ability/willingness to inform his or her conscience on these issues. In fact, I have significant doubts that the majority of Catholics "are aware of the teachings," and "are also morally informed/educated". So I cannot presume good conscience.

Zac | 21 October 2012  

Hi Ginger Meggs,

It might be ill considered of me to attempt to refute the considered and well argued position of Fr Brennan. Happily, I do not think it necessary to refute Fr Brennan's position, since he does not appear to deny that the Contraceptive Mandate impinges upon religious freedom. Fr Brennan's article points to potential risks in the US Bishops' campaign, and comments unfavourably on the repercussions if such a campaign were to be conducted in Australia at the present time.

It is also worth noting that an analogy between Australia's Medicare system and the US health insurance system is imperfect. In terms of 'cooperation in evil', Medicare will continue to fund abortions etc whether I contribute to it or not. Hence my contributions are considered 'contingent' in addition to being remote and material. But in the US system insurance is provided wholly by the employer, which means the employer as a moral agent is singularly responsible for the moral quality of the insurance coverage, and hence his cooperation is less contingent than mine. Basically, if I refuse to cooperate, nothing will change. If the US employer refuses to cooperate, his employees must find other means of procuring contraception.

Zac | 21 October 2012  

Ginger Meggs, sea sickness tablets and suchlike are for the purpose of maintaining or improving the natural functioning of the body, not frustrating it.

Gavan Breen | 22 October 2012  

Zac, although the first principle of Catholic morality is that we must follow our conscience, we usuallly, immediately override it with the second principle, which is that we must (in)form our conscience, ie through scripture, tradition, and prayer. But let's not forget the FIRST principle is still first!

AURELIUS | 23 October 2012  

Aurelius, First in time, or first in principle? If a person is considering something potentially immoral, shouldn't they look into it, examine the issue, and thereby inform their conscience before acting?

Zac | 24 October 2012  

Thomas Aquinas taught that if someone has carefully considered all options and believes in good conscience they must do a certain act or refrain from doing it, then it is a sin not to follow the command of their conscience, no matter what the official teachings of the Church happen to be.

AURELIUS | 25 October 2012  

Thanks for clarifying, Aurelius. I would only add that for a Catholic, dissenting from Church teaching would hopefully indicate the seriousness of the issue and the need for real certainty.

Zac | 25 October 2012  

Zac, you still miss the point. I don't think you really understand the depth of the argument. No doubt you have never worked in a poor inner city environment as Obama has. Obama understands more than many can imagine the dignity of the moral conscience and in fact Vatican 11 stressed the dignity of the moral conscience as well.

sharyn seymour | 29 October 2012  

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