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Publication: Conservative Review
Atheists Need Religion Too

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                   May 20, 2008

Atheists Need Religion Too
By David R. Stokes

Mitt Romney spoke about the relationship between religion 
and politics again last week, continuing and clarifying 
the argument he made in December while still a candidate 
for the Republican presidential nomination. The occasion 
for his recent remarks was his receipt of the prestigious 
Canterbury Medal awarded by The Becket Fund for Religious 
Liberty.  The award is given to recognize “Courage in the 
Defense of Religious Liberty.”

The Becket Fund, a Washington, D.C. based non-profit 
organization is named after Thomas Becket (1118-1170 A.D.).  
This great man served as Archbishop of Canterbury under 
Henry II and resisted the king for meddling in church 
affairs.  The organization bearing his name is “dedicated 
to protecting the free expression of all religious 

For being a man of his convictions, Becket was brutally 
murdered by Henry’s knights.

The Romney speech echoed some of the points he had 
previously made, but paid special attention to a people-
group inadvertently left out in December - NON-believers.  
Noting that he had received some criticism about this, 
Mitt told the audience listening to him at the Metro-
politan Club in New York City that he “had missed an 
opportunity…an opportunity to clearly assert that non-
believers have just as great a stake as believers in 
defending religious liberty.”  He further argued that:
“Religious liberty and liberality of thought flow from 
the common conviction that it is freedom, not coercion,
that exalts the individual just as it raises up the 


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It’s not likely that Mr. Romney’s eloquent words will 
assuage the darker passions of some nouveau atheists 
(better: anti-theists).  Men like Christopher Hitchens 
and Richard Dawkins very much see religion (of whatever 
sort) as a scourge on society – the very root of all 
modern evil.   

Their kind of thinking was reflected in a story out of 
the United Kingdom a couple of years ago.   BBC History 
Magazine conducted a poll in its January 2006 issue 
asking the question: “Who was the worst Briton in the 
past thousand years?”

Mr. Becket – a man who has been venerated by both the 
Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches – came in SECOND.  
The 5,000 people who participated in the poll ranked 
only JACK THE RIPPER higher.  I guess a killer is just 
slightly worse than a cleric.

Apparently, the desperate question uttered by King Henry 
II way back in 1170 A.D. (pardon that religio-centric 
date citation) – “Will no one rid me of this turbulent 
priest?” – would have plenty of respondents in century 
number twenty-one. 

Freedom of religion is a very good thing.  Freedom FROM 
religion, though promoted by some as the wave of the 
future, is not.

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A simple look back at the eighteenth century gives us a 
case study.  It was the “age of revolution.”  Here in 
America, very much in the spirit of Becket, we rejected 
tyranny.  Over in France they tried to do the same thing. 

It worked out very well here.  Not so much for France.  
For all the cries of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” 
– they instead wound up with a period of violent chaos 
only somewhat resolved when that despotic secularist
Napoleon took over.  Hello short man, good-bye freedom.

What made the difference?  Well, an often overlooked 
factor is that it was RELIGION that may have made the 
difference – particularly something that happened here 
in the years immediately leading up to 1776 and beyond.  
It was called THE GREAT AWAKENING.  Inspired by men such 
as George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, there was a 
period of deep religious reflection in the land – one 
that ultimately served to temper human passions – even 
those inflamed by injustice and revolutionary fervor. 

Anti-theists notwithstanding, we need religion as part 
of the glue that holds civilized society together.  When 
we get to the place where values get turned so upside 
down that men like Mr. Becket are thought to be as evil 
as mass murderers, it’s time to pull down the curtains 
and turn the light off.  Life as we have known it is just 
about over.  It’s getting close to that in Western Europe 
– we are lagging somewhat behind, but we shouldn’t be in 
that race at all.

Sure – when religion and the state are “one” tyranny can 
happen.  No thinking non-Muslim religionist wants that 
kind of thing for America.  But the other extreme, one 
that so marginalizes religion as to dismiss it from 
social discourse, is just as bad.  Yes, there are some 
predominately secular nations in Europe functioning as 
democracies.  But they tend to have that socialist quirk 
that makes the state itself a religion. Let’s see how it 
looks over there in twenty-five years.

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Religion has always been important in America and that 
should not change. To the extent that it’s a part of a 
would-be president’s lifestyle, it should be on the table 
as people make electoral choices.  When Mr. Romney made 
his first speech on the general subject several months 
ago, the issue at hand was his Mormon faith.  The subject, 
not to mention the speech itself, reminded many of when 
John F. Kennedy appeared before The Greater Houston 
Ministerial Association less than two months before he 
narrowly defeated Richard M. Nixon for the presidency 
in 1960. 

He effectively neutralized the idea that his religion 
(Catholicism) should somehow disqualify him for the 
nation’s highest office.  The subject had been an under-
current in the campaign.

Even before he announced his candidacy in 1960, Kennedy 
was talking about the issue telling one national magazine 
in 1959: “Whatever one’s religion in private life may be, 
for the officeholder nothing takes precedence over his 
oath to uphold the Constitution and all its parts – 
including the First Amendment.”  That was the essence 
of his argument before the Texas ministers.

Eugene McCarthy was a Senator from Minnesota at the time, 
though he is best known to most of us for what happened 
in the 1968 campaign.  He was a devout Catholic who 
actually took issue with Kennedy’s handling of issues of 
faith.  Writing in America, a Catholic weekly, at the 
time he said:

“Although in a formal sense church and state can and 
should be kept separate, it is absurd to hold that 
religion and politics can be kept wholly apart when 
they meet in the consciousness of one man. If a man is 
religious – and if he is in politics - one fact will 
relate to the other if he is indeed a whole man.”

McCarthy, in my opinion, hit the nail right on the head.  
Yes, the mixing of politics and religion will always be
tense.  It might even threaten at times to become toxic. 
But a nation without religious influence will…well…let me 
let John Adams, our 2nd President (quoted by Mitt Romney 
in his speech last week) say it for me: “Without religion, 
this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in 
polite company, I mean Hell.”


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