I’m a Bad American
I make it point to assume initially that Mitt Romney doesn’t believe the words that come out of his mouth, but the convictions he expressed in his VFW foreign policy speech may be just in the ballpark of sincerity:
I am an unapologetic believer in the greatness of this country. I am not ashamed of American power. I take pride that throughout history our power has brought justice where there was tyranny, peace where there was conflict, and hope where there was affliction and despair. I do not view America as just one more point on the strategic map, one more power to be balanced. I believe our country is the greatest force for good the world has ever known, and that our influence is needed as much now as ever. And I am guided by one overwhelming conviction and passion: This century must be an American Century.
Well, there’s some dandy religious apologetics for you! And patriotic to boot! Regrettably, Romney supporters among my fellow Christians will eat this up. Regrettably because calling the country “the greatest force for good the world has ever known” is kind of a diss to Jesus. Assuming that Romney meant by force something more than violence. I hope we can assume that. Time was when Christians opposed such nationalistic sentiments as idolatrous and sinful, but we are living in America now, so really how can the apostles and saints compete? Step aside you martyrs. Put not your faith in the powers of love and forgiveness and hospitality. This must be an American Century. Capital C. For
Christ Country. “Believe in America,” says preacher Romney.
My own flamboyance aside, I recognize that the people of my country have done great things. So have our public servants. I’m not always ashamed of American power. I’m next to eternally grateful for the Bill of Rights, most other Amendments to the Constitution, and the sacrifices Americans have made in the service of freedom. We have a good thing going here; we don’t need to pride ourselves on being Earth’s mightiest heroes. This “greatest force for good” crap, in addition to being an insult to the multitudes our power has harmed and destroyed, is a false gospel. I am an unapologetic non-believer in this salvific narrative. If that makes me a bad American, so be it.
Romney says, “This is very simple: if you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your President.” He’s got that right. The measure of a great country is not its strength. Romney’s not my candidate.
Of course, given that Romney is a member of a sect that believes Christianity is heretical and Christ’s true message was preserved in the Americas, this might not be any more heretical given his priors than a Muslim saying that Mecca was the center of all the world’s good.
That said, I would tend to assume that when Romney said “the greatest force for good the world has ever known” he was implicitly referring to political forces, not religious revelations, and so not putting America in opposition to Christ and the Apostles, but rather to all other countries.
In that case, I still think he’s wrong. I’ve enough of the virtuous pagan about me to say it hasn’t been nearly long enough to say that. I’d still rate Rome as the greatest force for good the world (as in, the worldly world) has ever known. And that’s despite the major minus of their having put God to death.
Well, Darwin, you might want to think a bit about that whole “enslavement of every man, woman, and child that survived the war for the private profit of the general who laid waste to the territory” thing the Romans used to bankroll their military.
But, you’ve got some credibility behind your point, yeah, credit where it’s due — they did bring sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health.
Well, sure, but what *else* have the Romans ever done for us?
Also, not sure what ‘considerable numbers’ means, but this PBS primer on freeing slaves (either formally, which conferred citizenship, or informally) seems to state it happened with some frequency and was in fact one of the ways that ‘good behavior’ was encouraged:
So even in terms of slavery, the Roman Empire was somewhat more enlightened than many others that preceded, and succeeded, them.
I’m not sure about this assumption, Darwin. The expression implies more than just political institutions like countries, and, moreover, religious leaders and founders often have political consequence. But let’s assume this for the sake of argument. What does it tell us? That Romney and those who also assent to his words associate “greatest force for good…” with the political. This may not be a theological problem for Romney, but it would be for any orthodox Christians who share the sentiment and its accompanying association.
But let’s assume this for the sake of argument. What does it tell us? That Romney and those who also assent to his words associate “greatest force for good…” with the political. This may not be a theological problem for Romney, but it would be for any orthodox Christians who share the sentiment and its accompanying association.
I’d agree that it’s a theological problem for Christians (I’m honestly not sure if it’s a theological problem for Mormons or not) if taken literally, but I think that what we’re seeing is not a claim that the political is the source of the “greatest good in the world”, but rather an implicit pigeon-holing in which people think of topics like “political action in the world” as separate from topics like “family” or “spiritual direction” or “moral values”.
It’s certainly arguable that this is the result of a heretical tendency towards dualism which is all to present in American culture — but do you really think that if someone cornered Romney and said, “Which do you think has been a greater force for good the lives of people over the last 2000 years: The United States of America or the message of Jesus Christ,” he’d say, “Oh, definitely American. Christ might come in second or third.”
He may be implicitly thinking of “religion” and “the world” as separate spheres in a way that one might argue implies religion to be a secondary force in this world, and if that’s so, you and I would disagree with him on this. But I’m not at all clear that he’s explicitly saying the USA is the greatest force for good in the world in the total sense that you’re taking him to.
(You know, kind of like building a whole worldview into Obama’s un-artful “you didn’t build that” statement…)
I’m not sure what Romney would say if cornered. This is the guy who once responded, “I stand by what I said, whatever it was.” But, anyway, unlike Obama’s unfortunate grammatical mishap, Romney’s words here are not un-artful. They very concisely convey a worldview. And “greatest force for good the world has ever seen” covers a lot of ground.
Well, that’s why I think it’s a pretty good analogy. For those who think that Romney worships the nation state and sees the US as more important than God, then this is very clear evidence.
For those who see Obama as a socialist, who thinks that all good are social rather than individual in origin, his statement is very clear as well.
Personally, I suspect that Obama is not as much of a socialist as he sounded, and Romney is not as much of a nationalist as you’re taking him to be, but given that all we have to go from is the words, who knows?
If we’re taking nominations for greatest force for good in the world, I nominate the Buddha and the religion/traditions launched in his name. Fewer (more than zero, I concede) warlords and states have launched wars in the name of spreading Buddhism than have those launching wars in the name of spreading [the correct version of] Christianity. The religion/teaching tradition itself is intensely peaceful and morally stringent. Also, for much of human history, more humans were Buddhists (India, China, Indonesia) than were Christians, and the religion/tradition is about five hundred years older than Pauline Christianity, so it’s had a longer period of time to work its effects on the cultures it has touched.
A strong contender. I’m afraid my knowledge of Buddhism is next to nothing. What have been its concrete contributions to the good?
Kyle, isn’t Burt spelling that out? Or does his comment not answer your question because as expressed, rather than being a ‘contribution to the good’, Buddhism’s contribution is a more Hippocratic ‘first do no harm’ kind of thing?
Its central message “Every man for himself”.
Kyle, I guess I’ll take the bait, despite not particularly caring for Romney either.
First, at least in the speech excerpt presented, I do not see any overt religious sentiment at all, unless you always take the word ‘conviction’ as meaning ‘religious conviction from God’ as opposed to ‘I am convinced’.
Secondly, it seems to me that *you* are the one wishing Romney would act *more* like a preacher, spreading a message of love and forgiveness, instead of what he appears to me to be – no preacher, but a man campaigning to be elected the nominal leader of a nation-state, and using the attendant political rhetoric in an attempt to garner the votes. That this rhetoric does not appeal to you is unsurprising, but hardly makes it apparent to me that he is calling for some worldwide US-led theocracy backed by violence.
Third, stipulated that American power has been, and will be again, used to disreputable ends in Central/South America, and the ME, and even HERE IN THE US, etc., etc., it seems disingenuous to pretend that power’s exercise is never a prerequisite for good, unless you think the South Koreans would be better off as North Koreans, or that the Soviets stayed out of the Fulda Gap simply because we had better moral values than they did, etc., etc.
On that note, and because it’s never a bad time to quote ‘Enter The Dragon’:
Han: “It is difficult to associate these horrors with the proud civilizations that created them: Sparta, Rome, The Knights of Europe, the Samurai… They worshipped strength, because it is strength that makes all other values possible. Nothing survives without it. Who knows what delicate wonders have died out of the world, for want of the strength to survive.”
I do not see any overt religious sentiment at all, unless you always take the word ‘conviction’ as meaning ‘religious conviction from God’ as opposed to ‘I am convinced’.
I call the quoted rhetoric “religious” not because it’s God-centered, but rather because it puts the good US of A in the role of world-savior. We are the light of the world, the greatest force for good since ever. This isn’t theocracy, but it is idolatrous from a Christian point of view.
Secondly, it seems to me that *you* are the one wishing Romney would act *more* like a preacher, spreading a message of love and forgiveness, instead of what he appears to me to be – no preacher, but a man campaigning to be elected the nominal leader of a nation-state, and using the attendant political rhetoric in an attempt to garner the votes.
No, I’m not asking Romney to play the role of preacher on behalf of love and forgiveness. Although I wouldn’t mind a president who believed in such things. My issue with Romney here is his professed beliefs in the greatness of America due to America being the greatest force for good the world has ever seen. He’s a preacher of this idea.
OK, I think I see better what you are getting at now. It’s not the calls for ‘strength’ qua strength that are bothersome to you, but the casting of the US in the role of ‘savior’. I think you perhaps overstate this, because to me the excerpt above isn’t a whole lot different from Coach Taylor giving the Panthers another variation on the ‘Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose’ speech before they go out to play, and it’s given for similar reasons.
‘We’re the best team ever and we are gonna win this thing!’ is rhetoric used by everybody, everywhere.
Most everybody knows it can’t really be true, not all the time, but what is the alternative? ‘We are average-to-pretty good on most days, and there is at least some chance that this will not end in total failure for us!’
I wouldn’t have cared if Romney had said America is the greatest country ever. It’s the association with goodness itself that bothers me.
Kyle, I submit that if Romney made reference solely to being the US being ‘strong’ sans any reference at all to the US being ‘good’ that would probably rankle just as much or more, since that would imply a celebration of the exercise of power in amoral fashion, without any expectation that it ever has been, will be, must be or should be in the service of good.
You don’t like Romney. That’s OK, many don’t. I don’t either, really. I am not sure it is any more than that.
I think that it’s a mistake, or a folly perhaps, to ever expect the practice of any institutionalized religion to bring about social or political good. The goal of any religion is the spiritual perfection of the individual. Now, if some religion could bring about the spiritual perfection of all of the citizens of some nation simultaneously, I suppose that a perfect society would be the result. That society would almost surely be very quickly destroyed from without; but at least it would have been achieved.
Institutionalized religions, however, play ball with the political world and pretty much eliminate any possibility of greatest percentage of their adherents coming anywhere near spiritual perfection. They always allow their faithful way too much latitude in the areas of greed, gluttony, etc. They wants their followers rich, fat, and successful, with plenty of surplus gelt for the collection plate.
The implications of the blogger’s thinking are actually quite radical. If Romneyism represents idolatry – an evil – and also represents what Americanism has become, then a new “American Century” would be a century of deepening evil, and America might stand as the greatest force for evil that the world has ever known. This view is the view that in fact many people of faith around the world, including in America, feel compelled to adopt.
This observation shouldn’t be taken to indicate approval of all of the measures in defense of their beliefs that they turn to.
(the above not actually intended as a direct reply to Rodak)