All religions are weird. They ask us to believe in gods that can't be known, in dogma that can't be proven, in revelations that can't be duplicated.
So how weird does a religious belief have to be before it screams to voters, "Anyone who subscribes to this bullshit isn't qualified to be president of the United States?"
That's Mitt Romney's problem. He's a Republican candidate for president. A Mormon. And Mormons believe in some of the absolutely weirdest stuff.
Like, that in 1827 Joseph Smith dug up some golden plates in New York that had been protected by an angel named Moroni and engraved by Mormon, a pre-Columbian prophet-warrior.
The plates supposedly were written in something called "Reformed Egyptian." Smith translated the plates by looking into seer stones called Urim and Thummim. And that's how the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormonism, got started.
It's all a bunch of garbage, obviously. In his book "God is Not Great" Christopher Hitchens describes how Smith was a con man who ended up pulling off a magnificent fraud: the founding of a new religion with him as the leader. And with multiple wives.
Slate has an excerpt from Hitchens' book that shows how utterly unbelievable Joesph Smith was. Yet Mitt Romney believes in him. The question becomes: So? Blogger Chuck Simmins says:
The former governor of Massachusetts is a Mormon. Should it matter? If the criteria for acceptance as a viable candidate is a logical belief system, than anyone who believes in a religion is disqualified.
Absolutely. I've been told by a native German friend who visits Europe regularly that if anyone running for high political office in a European country made a big deal of their religious faith, there's no way they could be elected.
That sounds like an eminently enlightened attitude to me. Slate editor Jacob Weisberg looked at Joseph Smith's extravagant assertions and wrote:
He was an obvious con man. Romney has every right to believe in con men, but I want to know if he does, and if so, I don't want him running the country.
We currently have a faith-based presidency. George Bush has absolute faith that Jesus Christ is the son of God who died for our sins. He also has absolute faith that invading Iraq was the right thing to do, despite all the evidence to the contrary. It's difficult, if not impossible, to separate these faiths.
When you're repeatedly willing to deny evident facts about reality in favor of a dogmatic belief, this points to a fundamental mindset. Lots of people do this. I have myself, back when I was a true believer in a religion.
But I wasn't running for president. Romney is. A politician's religious belief definitely shouldn't be off limits for questioning. I'd love to hear a reporter ask Romney, "Now, tell us what you think about those golden plates…"
Hitchens relates how Joseph Smith's wife destroyed the first 116 pages of her husband's revelation. The translation process took place behind a blanket, because "for other eyes to view them would mean death."
Mrs. Harris was having none of this, and was already furious with the fecklessness of her husband. She stole the first hundred and sixteen pages and challenged Smith to reproduce them, as presumably—given his power of revelation—he could. (Determined women like this appear far too seldom in the history of religion.)
After a very bad few weeks, the ingenious Smith countered with another revelation. He could not replicate the original, which might be in the devil's hands by now and open to a "satanic verses" interpretation. But the all-foreseeing Lord had meanwhile furnished some smaller plates, indeed the very plates of Nephi, which told a fairly similar tale.
With infinite labor, the translation was resumed, with new scriveners behind the blanket as occasion demanded, and when it was completed all the original golden plates were transported to heaven, where apparently they remain to this day.
Christianity, Islam, Judaism—they're all unbelievable. Mormonism—super duper unbelievable.
I wouldn't be for Romney even if he was an agnostic or atheist . But his credulity about those ridiculous golden plates is one more good reason to look elsewhere for our next president.
Mitt Romney says that his favorite novel is L. Ron Hubbard's "Battlefield Earth." Hubbard is the founder of Scientology. Romney claims that he doesn't agree with Scientology. Just loves this thousand page really bad science fiction.
John Dickerson wonders what we can learn from Romney's favorite book:
You simply need a deep level of weird to like Battlefield Earth. The speed with which some of his aides tried to distance the governor from his remarks suggests they think he now looks a little too weird.