European Cathedrals: “So Inspired … So Grand … So Empty” – Mitt Romney’s “Faith In America” Address [UPDATED with Video]

If you haven’t watched Mitt Romney’s “Faith in America” address, you should take twenty minutes or so and do so. A copy of the address as prepared for delivery is available. However, I recommend watching the speech rather than just reading the script. His delivery was great and he exhibited a great deal of charisma, passion, and eloquence. If you only read the transcript you will miss out.

I’ll update this post with embedded video when it becomes available.

Watch the video on Youtube

There were many memorable and quotable parts the speech. I liked that Romney referred to Abraham Lincoln’s 1838 address before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield Illinois on The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions in which Lincoln describes our nation’s “political religion” as the commitment to defend the rule of law and the Constitution. The relevant part of Lincoln’s speech referred to by Romney is as follows:

Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap—let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges;—let it be written in Primmers, spelling books, and in Almanacs;—let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.
While ever a state of feeling, such as this, shall universally, or even, very generally prevail throughout the nation, vain will be every effort, and fruitless every attempt, to subvert our national freedom.
When I so pressingly urge a strict observance of all the laws, let me not be understood as saying there are no bad laws, nor that grievances may not arise, for the redress of which, no legal provisions have been made. I mean to say no such thing. But I do mean to say, that, although bad laws, if they exist, should be repealed as soon as possible, still while they continue in force, for the sake of example, they should be religiously observed.

Lincoln’s address is also worth reading in full if you get a moment.

Primarily I want to draw attention to one part of Romney’s address in particular, if only because it is something I have been meaning to write about myself for some months.

Romney said:

I’m not sure that we fully appreciate the profound implications of our tradition of religious liberty. I have visited many of the magnificent cathedrals in Europe. They are so inspired … so grand … so empty. Raised up over generations, long ago, so many of the cathedrals now stand as the postcard backdrop to societies just too busy or too ‘enlightened’ to venture inside and kneel in prayer. The establishment of state religions in Europe did no favor to Europe’s churches. And though you will find many people of strong faith there, the churches themselves seem to be withering away.

This statement reminded me of an article I read back in July from The Wall Street Journal entitled In Europe, God Is (Not) Dead that I have been meaning to blog about.

Basically, the thesis of the article is that Europe is less religious than America not because of modernism but because established religions thwart religious competition:

Now even Europe, the heartland of secularization, is raising questions about whether God really is dead. The enemy of faith, say the supply-siders, is not modernity but state-regulated markets that shield big, established churches from competition. In America, where church and state stand apart, more than 50% of the population worships at least once a month. In Europe, where the state has often supported—but also controlled—the church with money and favors, the rate in many countries is 20% or less.

In 1776, he says, around 17% of Americans belonged to churches.

In the U.S., the American Revolution ended ecclesiastical hegemony in the 11 colonies that had an established church and unleashed a raucous tide of religious competition. As Methodists, Baptists, Shakers and other churches proliferated, church-going rose, reaching around 50% in the early part of the 20th century, he says.
Europe never developed such a religious bazaar. The Church of Sweden, the Church of England, the Catholic Church in Italy and France, state-funded churches in Germany and others lost their de-facto “monopoly” status to other denominations over a century ago. But they retained their ties to the state and economic privileges.

Mitt Romney appears to be propagating this theory in his speech. It is an intriguing idea, with a lot of room for debate.

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