Open University

The Value Of Religious Convictions

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by Alan Wolfe

In the current TNR I have a review essay on Russell Kirk. In passing I mention that Kirk, although insisting that religion serve as a pillar of society, never bothered to select out any one religion for the task. Against this, I wrote, "give me Father Neuhaus any time; when he defends the need for religion in the public square, you are not left in doubt about which religion it is."

Or is not. As if on cue, Fr. Neuhaus writes that Mormonism is a "false religion" whose "distinctive and constituting doctrines are irreconcilable with even a very liberal construal of biblical Christianity." Americans who care about religion should take Mitt Romney's views seriously when they vote, Neuhaus adds. He suggests that Romney address the fact that so many non-Mormons have legitimate questions about his faith, although he does not offer the governor much advice about how to do so.

As Neuhaus correctly notes, non-believers such as myself do not have much of a stake in these matters. He is also right to suggest that believers do. I, for one, am pleased that he has put his ideas out there. I rarely agree with Richard John Neuhaus. But I admire the fact that he takes his convictions seriously enough to write things about the convictions of others in ways that, in our culture of niceness, are not very nice at all.

Where Neuhaus and I disagree is on this: he thinks that large numbers of Americans think, or should think, the way he does. I think that for all their religiosity, Americans are not especially creedal or sectarian and therefore do not care all that much what others believe so long as they believe it. Whether that laissez-faire approach extends to Mormonism, however, is an open question given that Governor Romney's faith has been so distrusted throughout American history. I hope that religious intolerance does not become an issue in 2008. I am not sure such a fate can be avoided if Americans take Fr. Neuhaus's thoughts to heart.

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