David O’Brien: Is America the Real Religion?

Governor Romney says some wise things about faith and freedom and politics. He unfortunately joins the crowd of Christians who love to bash the straw man of secularism, but he is right to ask for respect and to challenge those who expect him to address specific Mormon doctrines. What’s missing is conscience, how religion’s claims are mediated by conscience and, as John Kennedy acknowledged on a similar occasion, a moment might come when a president, like a citizen, might be required to object, or to resign. What’s an even greater worry here is Governor Romney’s commitment to conventional civil religion: what really matters is America, for which we ask our people to risk death, and to kill, and willingness to do so is apparently the major test of genuine American religion. So the big question, for all Americans, is what is our common good and what happens to us when we confine debate about that question to those who really worship America?

David O’Brien is a historian of American Catholicism and professor of Roman Catholic studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.