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.
Wow. Wow. I have to say, somebody who likes L. Ron Hubbard as a writer has even more issues than someone who likes L. Ron Hubbard as a spiritual leader.
Posted by: michael5000 | June 03, 2007 at 10:41 PM
I have felt the same way about Romney for assorted reasons. Barbie doll, wind up toy candidate for president but given Republicans (as well as a lot of so-called independents) bought Bush's line, I have no faith they won't Romney's say-anything-to-get-elected spiel and it's okay if you say it prettily. But then, to me, all of the candidates from the right (at this point) seem like worse, worser and worsest. The Democratic ones only slightly less so (still withholding judgment on Obama...)
Posted by: Rain | June 04, 2007 at 06:36 AM
The notion that religion sways peoples actions is a reasonable concern. Fortunately, Romney has a long resume of business, public service experience - so all we need to do is look and see if his religion has had a negative impact.
Romney is not running as a Mormon Candidate - it is the MSM and his oposition that is trying to typecast him as such. While is his not asshamed of his religious beliefs - he does not wear them on his shoulder.
He was an exceptionally accomplished businessman - turning around many faililng businesses, and saving thousands of jobs. The people who worked for him did not think of him as a Mormon.
When he ran for the Senate and later the Governorship of MA - it was not as a Mormon. Religion did not play a significant role in those campaigns. I don't think that most citizens of MA knew that he was Mormon - or at least did not give it much attention.
I have never heard of ANY examples of how his being a Mormon has had any negative impact on his ability to lead and solve nearly impossible problems.
I don't see it as anything more than bigotry. I certainly don't see the MSM or Liberals concerned that Harry Reid is a Mormon, or are worried that Mormonism will effect his functioning as the Leading Democrat in Washington today. Likewise, I don't see liberals objecting to Hillary or Barrack's similar Christian beliefs. No one asks them if they believe in Adam and Eve, a physical resurrection, or if there wil be a Second Coming, etc.
Posted by: Joel | June 04, 2007 at 06:59 AM
Joel, good points. Romney indeed has been a successful businessman and manager. And you're right about Harry Reid getting a pass on his Mormonism from progressives like me.
My only rejoinder would be that anyone running for president should have their religious beliefs examined more closely than a "mere" Senate President.
There are few checks and balances on presidential power, as we've seen with George Bush. So it's reasonable to carefully consider how reasonable a presidential candidate is in all areas of his or her life, including religious.
Posted by: Brian | June 04, 2007 at 10:46 AM
So... on with this debate about others' religious beliefs... Where is it? Why don't the other candidates speak of their religion? They're not asked... Romney only brings it up if and when asked - just like he did as Governor, and just like the Harry Reid does in the Senate. Why is this such a big deal? I let plenty of "completely unbelievable" religions into offices of power and what have you, without EVER complaining or questioning their beliefs - whatever happened to our freedoms and rights in this country... Oh well - back to studying for finals next week.
Posted by: Peter | June 04, 2007 at 02:24 PM
While I'm not opposed to the idea of "examining a candidate's religious beliefs" I don't think it terribly relevant at all whether the beliefs are "unbelievable" or "super duper unbelievable". The only question to me is whether and how those religious beliefs shape one's political and social views.
I've known people of many different faiths, including LDS, who maintained eminently reasonable social and political views. Viewing religion, as I do, with a great deal of skepticism, I don't see a whole lot of merit in debating whose beliefs are weirder than whose - as Brian points out, they're all based on faith in the unknowable.
Me, I don't really have that faith, but it doesn't necessarily bother me that others do - unless they expect/demand that others share their beliefs, or they let those beliefs shape their decisions contrary to reason and logic.
I think the problem for Romney (at least as far as his faith is concerned) is not how unbelievable it is, but rather that it is seen (rightly or wrongly) as out of step with our society.
If you believe something completely illogical, but other people share that belief, then we seem to be fine with that. But if your beliefs are not shared by, or at least similar to, those of the majority then you're gonna have a problem, even though the faith itself may be no more illogical than traditional Christian/Jewish/Islamic dogma.
Personally, I think it's a whole lot more productive to evaluate the candidate based on his track record and policy decisions. I'm much more concerned by Romney's support for, then subsequent rejection of, a woman's right to choose than by the fact that he's a Mormon.
Posted by: nader | June 05, 2007 at 11:55 AM
Just because someone believes in a giant invisible omnipotent ghost that flies through space, is everywhere at once, and has supernatural powers, but chooses not to use them and prefers to let disasters befall the Earth and humanity due to a rule He defined called "Free will", doesn't mean they are gullible, loopy, or lacking in intellectual curiosity.
It just means they can't stand the idea that this is the only life we have, so they have to believe their pitiful existance has some special supernatural meaning. It's quite understandable, even though it's a purely fiction.
Posted by: Chim Chiminy | June 06, 2007 at 12:20 PM
I have to say to all who have commented and to the originator of this blog, life would stink if I shared your thoughts and beliefs. It's the kind of cynicism that you all share that has destroyed this countries original foundation. First of all, Mitt Romney would already be president if it weren't for this silly Mormon issue, theres something terribly wrong with that. That notion that someone can be disqualified from the presidency because of his faith destroys the very founding laws and regulations this country set up. That no one would be subject to religious tests, and no one would be disqualified because of his faith. My second point would be how horribly wrong the blogger is on his comments on the Mormon church. If your going to slam the church, first of all your way behind, every church has anti on the Mormon church already, at least get the stories and facts right. Anybody can display any religion in this world and make it sound silly if they want. Did you ever wonder why theres more anti on the LDS faith then any religion in the world, why do people waste time on destroying someones faith if there so sure its foolishness. That has always amazed me, but yet at the same time the Church is the second fastes growing church in the world. Why? Please somebody tell me why. I leave that to everyones own conclusion, but before you destroy someones beliefs, at least get it right and the look at it again and find out what they really belief. Don't just focus on the easy to pick apart points. What about the fact that they believe in God, they believe in Jesus Christ, they follow the commandments, they have very high morals, they respect the civil law, and they don't knock any or your alls religions even though you all make it a point to knock theres. Think about it, don't spread your ignorance.
Posted by: Scott Peterson | June 19, 2007 at 04:59 PM
Scott, Christianity is crazy, like all religions. Mormonism is even crazier. People are entitled to their faith, no matter how weird it might be.
But if you're running for president, and you believe in strange stuff, you've got to be prepared to have those beliefs looked at. If Romney wanted to keep his religion private, he shouldn't have said anything at all about it.
Instead, he wants people to vote for him because he's a Christian, but he doesn't want people to know that he's a weird Christian.
Posted by: Brian | June 19, 2007 at 08:54 PM
I am not a Morman, but,I have never met a Mormon I did't like. Mormon are just like any other church. I don't agree with the Church of Christ. But that does not make everyone in the Church of Christ bad. People are people some are good some are bad. I would say, forget about the church, the church is not running for president. Only a person that is a member of the Mormon church.
If a Baptist be came president, would we all become Baptist? I think Mitt is a good man, will be a great president. He believes in being fair.
Posted by: Lutrher Brines | October 12, 2007 at 12:56 PM
I am more concerned with Mitt's obvious disregard for all us sinning "secularists". A literal reading of his remarks could lead one to believe that in Mitt's World only believers have the knowledge, need or the right to be Free. Wrap your mind around that one!
Freedom does not require religion, unless of course you have a theocracy in which only believers are "citizens"...
Would someone please show me the word "God" in our Constitution? And with all due respect for T Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence, as important as it is, is not part of the Constitution or one of our Laws.
America is a democratic secular Republic, governed by a Constitution to which all officials swear an Oath, an Oath to protect and defend the Constitution, not protect or defend a political party or religion. The Powers and legitimacy of the the Federal and other levels of our government derive ONLY from the consent of the governed. God granted us nothing, our Rights are inherent in our humanity, not in a divinity of any description
In the public affairs of this Republic religions may form and inform men and women, and these men and women may indeed be motivated primarily by their Faith. But any attempt to formalize or codify a role for any specific Faith in our government, an attempt that we see in full court press today, will inevitably result in backlash and blowback, things which can result in results that are unpredictable.
So I caution Christians, tread lightly on the Constitution, for it is ultimately all that protects us from tyranny, a tyranny that in its early stages pays tribute to your cause, just as Hitler did, but in the end Christian values are really not compatible with Power for the sake of Power.
Deadlock in Denver!
Posted by: Dallas112263 | December 13, 2007 at 08:30 AM