Friday, December 14, 2007

Freedom and Religion

So here's something that's peaked more than a little interest recently. Last Thursday, in his speech on religious tolerance, Mitt Romney said:

"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.... Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."

Now, first let's assume that Romney actually meant to say that freedom and religion can only survive in a society together, and not just that religious liberty is both a major part of freedom and demanded by religious principles. (As an aside, I'll take even a tangential mention of religious liberty as a chance to link to Milton's Areopagitica; if you haven't read it, you need to.) If so, is Romney right?

Charles Krauthammer offers an answer:

But this is nonsense — as Romney then proceeded to demonstrate in that very same speech. He spoke of the empty cathedrals in Europe. He’s right about that: Postwar Europe has experienced the most precipitous decline in religious belief in the history of the West. Yet Europe is one of the freest precincts on the planet. It is an open, vibrant, tolerant community of more than two dozen disparate nations living in a pan-continental harmony and freedom unseen in all previous European history.

In some times and places, religion promotes freedom. In other times and places, it does precisely the opposite, as is demonstrated in huge swaths of the Muslim world, where religion has been used to impose the worst kind of unfreedom.

As far as the "religion requires freedom" part goes, Krauthammer's line of argument seems to me to be almost indisputable. Indeed, he could have (and with more space, almost certainly would have) pushed it much further: the history of the last 1500 years shows that religious belief, as a practical matter, can complement authoritarianism as well as it does freedom.

The more interesting matter is whether "freedom requires religion." The evidence from modern Europe certainly seems to support the position that it does not, but I'm not yet entirely convinced.

Any thoughts?

Hat Tip: The Corner

(By the way, I'm also uncertain about Krauthammer's argument that the principle behind the Constitution's prohibition on religious tests for federal office means that citizens should not directly consider the religious beliefs of presidential candidates in casting their votes. More on that, and on the "freedom requires religion" issue, later. )

Update: Re-reading Krauthammer's quote that "[i]n some times and places, religion promotes freedom. In other times and places, it does precisely the opposite . . . " it was struck that it is, in fact, pretty close to the argument I thought was pushing "much further." My blogging rust is showing a bit.

No comments: