Politics and Religion: A Mormon President?

It’s now increasingly probable that the Republican nominee will be Willard Mitt Romney. He might still lose Iowa; Paul only needs a quarter of the vote and his supporters are way more passionate. (Why such a trivial result among a small sample of comparatively extreme isolated voters should matter much is a mystery.)

 But Paul simply is not going to be the nominee; sorry, Paul fans, this is the real world. As Karen Tumulty says, the GOP is going through the Five Stages of Grief with regard to Romney – the final stage being acceptance.

So at least we’ll avoid the dismal prospect of an election with a lousy candidate against an impossible one. The Republican party had a pretty good brand – as The Economist observes, muscular foreign policy, responsible fiscal policy, emphasizing individual freedom and social responsibility, and entrepreneurial pragmatism – until the crazies took over. Just possibly a Romney presidency could make that an aberrant episode.*

Romney is, of course, a Mormon. When stuck once in a Salt Lake City hotel room with the Book of Mormon, I read much of it: an amazing work of imaginative creativity. I was particularly intrigued that its author, Joseph Smith, could get a bunch of local worthies to attest seeing the golden plates he’d supposedly “translated.” There were no plates. Smith was a consummate con artist. (I’ll resist the temptation to elaborate, except to note: 33 wives.)**

Having such a poor economic record, it looks like the Democrats will rely on a smear campaign against Romney, with personal attacks, including his religion.*** Mormonism is an easy target, what with Jesus running around in ancient America and all. Religions generally stretch credulity, but why pick one flatly contradicted by archaeological evidence?

Yet more mainstream faiths might seem less weird only by grace of familiarity. Beliefs that would be labeled clinically insane if held by a few must be considered normal when held by the many. From my perspective, Mormonism versus Christianity is a Hobson’s choice. But I recognize that I live in a nation where religious belief predominates. Thus again I do not consider the majority of Americans deranged; if a majority believes something, then that belief is normal.

And, further, separating church from state, I try to keep religion out of my politics. The Constitution (Article VI, Paragraph 3) expressly stipulates that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Thus I ignore religion when choosing a candidate. And that’s pragmatic as well as principled. If I didn’t ignore religion, there’d be few candidates I could vote for.

Admittedly, a president’s religious beliefs can influence his actions. That was certainly true of George W. Bush. Nevertheless, there is still a strong national consensus along the lines of John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech to the Houston ministers, making clear that a president’s actions cannot be in service to his particular church. This clarified a line which no president, not even Bush, could in practice actually cross. Bush did act in line with his moral code; his moral code was shaped by religion; but we all have moral codes; certainly atheists do. The alternative to a president heeding his moral code would be an amoral president.

Joseph Smith seeing double

So when it comes to Romney, I’d rather he wasn’t a Mormon, about equally as I’d prefer non-Christians, but since only in a dream world will I get to vote for an avowed atheist, it’s irrelevant to me that Romney is a Mormon rather than in some other church.

I said “avowed atheist” because in reality many presidents have been nonbelievers – from the first up to the current one. And anyway, I wouldn’t necessarily vote for an atheist, just because she’s an atheist. I didn’t vote for Obama; religious belief was indeed basically irrelevant; my vote was guided by other considerations.

But I also take seriously that this is a free country, and that includes the freedom of other people to do things I detest. It is the essence of democracy that people can vote freely for whomever they want, for whatever reasons they want. If someone won’t vote for Romney because of his religion, that’s their prerogative in a free country.

* His disgusting promise to veto the “Dream Act” admittedly does not bode well.

** Ever notice how with “religious prophets” it’s so often ultimately about getting laid?

*** Also, in contrast to 2008 when he vowed to end partisan bickering and work with both sides in Congress, this time Obama is running against Congress – thus effectively promising that if he wins, he won’t be able to get anything done.

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8 Responses to “Politics and Religion: A Mormon President?”

  1. Scott Perlman Says:

    Your post on Romney is very topical to me for many reasons. I have become so disillusioned with the field of Republican candidates (with the exception of Huntsman who has less of a chance than Ron Paul, if that is possible) that I may, actually, vote for Obama. I never thought I would do that. Ever. But it is now a possibility.

    First, let me take some issue with your view on religion. You state that “Beliefs that would be labeled clinically insane if held by a few must be considered normal when held by the many.” Can we say the same about other beliefs in history such as Germany’s belief in external public enemies or our own nation’s one-time belief in the inferiority of minorities? I think the appropriate word would be that the belief in a deity of any sort may be average but I cannot bring myself to call any form of mass hysteria normal.

    I do agree that attacking Romney on his religion makes as much sense as attacking any of the others on their hysterical beliefs. Romney’s magic underwear may appear to be kookier to others but only because it is not “average.” Can you objectively state that it is it really any more bizarre than not consuming milk with meat or a priest and penitent in separate compartments speaking to each other through a grid or lattice? If you think that please say three Hail Mary’s and get back to me.

    I have specific issues with Romney (as with many of the other Republican candidates). As you point out, he is against the Dream Act. I think that is ridiculous but will allow my past posting to explain why (http://scottperlman.typepad.com/weblog/2010/12/dream-on.html).

    He is also promotes increasing defense spending at a time when the world situation allows us to reduce it and our own economic situation requires it. We must remember that we spend more on our military than all of the developed nations combined.

    He is against Free Choice and has stated that he wants Roe V. Wade repealed by an act of congress.

    He is against any amnesty program for illegal aliens with no concrete pragmatic alternate approach. Perhaps we can start in Maine and have a giant “cattle drive” to San Diego and push them over the border into Tijuana?

    He believes that there should be a national standard for marriage and should be kept between man and woman. In other words, he believes there should be a federal law banning gay marriages. But he does allow for civil unions. How nice of him. Refer back to the impact of religion on this ridiculous position.

    He favors capital punishment.

    Of all these and more I am in total opposition to Romney.

    Yes, I think his approach to the economy is intelligent. Yes, his business background will serve him well in this regard. And yes, I generally like his “5 Bills for Day One” and his “5 Executive Orders for Day One.”

    So I am left with a choice of someone who can have some positive impact on the economy while standing for the reversing of gains made on the social front. These gains I believe to be a sign of our increasing intelligence and evolving. Or I can vote for someone who has no understanding of basic economics and cannot lead a group of diverse elected officials to consensus but stands for more of the social issues that I support.

    I am increasingly leaning towards a third choice which is not to vote at all.

    [FSR response: Scott, many thanks for your comment. First, regarding religious belief, I said “normal,” you said “average.” A thousand years ago the “average” person believed a lot of things considered crazy today. In a thousand years that perspective may well apply to people who, today, believe in God. I don’t think you’d send the 90% of Americans with that belief to lunatic asylums. Adopting a belief system that is pervasive in the culture you’re embedded in may be unenlightened but it can’t be called insane.
    Presidential politics: I too would prefer Huntsman. But in practical effect, I might as well prefer Perlman. As for how we’ll vote in November, there are two ways to look at it. One is to see it as tantamount to a choice between two different presidencies, and then picking the one which, on balance, you deem best. I would frankly pick Romney over Obama. As footnoted in my post, Obama essentially promises four more years of making zero progress on, or indeed worsening, the nation’s deep structural problems. Romney — with what’s likely to be Republican control of both houses of Congress — has the potential for breaking that impasse. At least it’s conceivable; with Obama it’s inconceivable.
    (As for social issues like gay marriage, there are far bigger forces at work than presidential authority. In national politics, such hot-button “issues” tend in practice to be bullshit issues. Republicans in particular are always making a lot of noise about things like repealing Roe v. Wade (a terrible decision in my view, by the way) or putting prayer back in schools, but it never happens.)
    The other way to see it is that there won’t be only 2 candidates. I have voted for Libertarian candidates on past occasions, though I don’t subscribe to the entirety of the Libertarian catechism. The idea that such a vote is “wasted” is dead wrong. An election is not a game where the object is to pick a winner. The only way to waste a vote is to vote for what you don’t actually prefer.
    And, ever mindful of how much blood was sacrificed to give us this transcendent right of voting — and is still being sacrificed in some places — voting, for me, is a sacrament. I would never refuse to vote.]

  2. Steve G. Says:

    “The Republican party had a pretty good brand – as The Economist observes, muscular foreign policy, responsible fiscal policy, emphasizing individual freedom and social responsibility, and entrepreneurial pragmatism – until the crazies took over. Just possibly a Romney presidency could make that an aberrant episode.*”

    Wow, what Republican Party do you refer to? The one that existed under the leadership of Ike. Nixon & Reagan would be way too liberal now. “Muscular foreign policy”? Two blundered wars. (Not to mention the idiotic “war on terror”.) “Responsible fiscal policy”? Did you know that W ran huge deficits? Of course you do! Keynes gets bad-mouthed because we are in a bind between structural deficits and the need for real stimulus. I could go on. I’ve been disappointed by Obama in many ways now, but even the most responsible Republicans, Romney & Huntsman, have to pretend to be more recklessly “conservative” (what an irony!) than they are. No wonder the likes of David Frum & David Brooks, to name but two, seem so aghast.

    In the end, the Republican Party that you describe ended a long time ago. I know, because I used to belong. Now, we have no responsible alternative to Obama’s very centrist administration. The Republicans, more than the Democrats, have been captured by a moneyed ideology that has to mix with extreme social conservatism (hardly libertarian) that is nutty.

    [FSR comment: As I said, the Republican party “had” a pretty good brand. One can argue how far in the past that was, and how far the party has trashed it. I agree with a lot of your points. Like W’s fiscal irresponsibility — the Medicare drug benefit was outright fiscal insanity. Today’s U.S. two-party structure leaves people like me (I call myself a classical liberal) politically homeless.]

  3. Elizabeth Robinson Says:

    1. you mention the economist says the republican party emphasizes individual freedom…what about their opposition to abortion and gay rights?

    2. it seems to me that romney and the other candidates are emphasizing their religion and their religious differences because theyre presently campaigning to a group of individuals who care a great deal about religion…less so than the country at large…maybe once the general comes around religion won’t matter as much.

    [FSR response: Thank you for your comment, Elizabeth. Individual freedom has indeed been traditionally a philosophical pole star of the Republican party; but religion tends to mess up their heads with all its “shoulds” and “don’ts” which makes them want to impose these dictates and lose sight of their dedication to individual liberty. So I agree with you that today’s GOP is very inconsistent in that regard. It’s one of the ways in which I think (as does The Economist) that the Republican party has kind of lost its way.
    (Of course, the Democrats are all for individual freedom in some respects like abortion, but then they too forget all about it when they want government micro-managing everything. I guess human beings are too imperfect to hope for much consistency. On balance, when it comes to individual freedom, I believe the ways in which Democrats disregard it weigh much more heavily than in the case of Republicans.)
    Yes, it’s certainly true that to get the nomination, Republicans (Romney in particular, it seems) have to try to tailor themselves to the base of activist primary voters who are far more right-wing and religiously-oriented than the general electorate. The conventional wisdom says that once the nomination is secure, the candidate will tack to the center. Let’s hope so.]

  4. Christie Says:

    The deep dark secret of the homosexual community is the high percentage of its members that seek out sex with underage boys. Consider the following:

    ” * The Gay Report, published by homosexual researchers Jay and Young in 1979, revealed that 73 percent of homosexuals surveyed had at some time had sex with boys 16 to 19 years of age or younger.

    * Although homosexuals account for less than two percent of the population. they constitute about a third of child molesters. Further, as noted by the Encino, Calif.-based National Association for research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), “since homosexual pedophiles victimize far more children than do heterosexual pedophiles, it is estimated that approximately 80 percent or pedophile victims are boys who have been molested by adult males.

    * A nationwide investigation of child molestation in the Boy Scouts from 1971 to 1991 revealed that more than 2,000 boys reported molestations by adult Scout leader.

    * A study of Canadian pedophiles has shown that 30 percent of those studied admitted to having engaged In homosexual acts as adults, and 91 percent of the molesters of non-familial boys admitted to no lifetime sexual contact other than homosexual!” (Source)

    [FSR comment: As Mark Twain said, there are 3 kinds of lies: ordinary lies, damned lies, and statistics.
    * “73 % of homosexuals had sex with boys 16 to 19 years of age or younger.” I would call a male 19-year-old (or 18-year-old, for that matter) a “man,” not a “boy,” and certainly not an “underage boy.” You might argue that a 16 or 17-year-old is underaged (I wouldn’t), but there’s no way to know what portion of the 73% pertains to them anyway.
    * “Though homosexuals are less than 2% of the population, they constitute a third of child molesters.” Where’d that 2% number come from? Smallest I’ve ever seen. Surely it’s at least 7%, maybe more (certainly more if you include bisexuals). And if a third of child molesters are homosexual, does that mean a third of homosexuals are child molesters? Obviously not. Given that child molesters are a very tiny percentage of the total population, the statistic doesn’t tell us that a high percentage of homosexuals are child molesters. Though it does tell us that two-thirds of child molesters are not homosexuals. (So heteros are the bigger problem here, no?)
    And so forth.
    But here’s another relevant statistic: 63.72% of all alleged statistics are just plain made up.
    Given the obvious kinds of problems concerning the statistical arguments in Christie’s comment, I wouldn’t bet that the statistics themselves are even true.
    Finally: homosexuals who commit pedophilic sex crimes should be punished accordingly. Homosexuals who do not commit such crimes — certainly the vast majority of homosexuals — should not suffer discrimination because a few commit them.]

  5. Scott Perlman Says:

    To Christie,

    You are quoting statistics are either unsubstantiated or inaccurate. I assume you are morally opposed to homosexuality and consider it deviant. I, on the other hand, consider it normal and appropriate assuming, like I would about a heterosexual encounter, that it was between two consenting adults. But even if you are morally opposed to the concept, it is not fair to spread inaccuracies and half-truths.
    The Gay Report has been reviewed by very experienced people in the science of surveys and determined that the method of distribution, the response rate of barely 1%, the length of time required to complete the 16 pager (which significantly biases the response) and the very slanted phrasing of questions makes the entire report statistically irrelevant. In fact, most claim that this is virtually nothing that can be taken from the results that are indicative of the gay population in general.
    You then state that gays account for 2% of the population and 33% of the child molesters. That is a disgusting statement that you cannot substantiate with facts. You should be ashamed to even type it. Then quoting NARTH, an organization based on the belief that you can talk people out of being gay is on the same level as using The Gay Report as statistical evidence of anything.
    The remainder of your quoted statistics are just plain inaccurate and sad. I advise others to read up on the subject but will offer a quote from noted authority Dr. A. Nicholas Groth who wrote:
    “Are homosexual adults in general sexually attracted to children and are preadolescent children at greater risk of molestation from homosexual adults than from heterosexual adults? There is no reason to believe so. The research to date all points to there being no significant relationship between a homosexual lifestyle and child molestation. There appears to be practically no reportage of sexual molestation of girls by lesbian adults, and the adult male who sexually molests young boys is not likely to be homosexual “(Groth & Gary, 1982, p. 147).
    Christie, please research the subject. I believe if you read the data with objectivity, you will determine that you are spreading falsehoods, hatred and bias.

  6. Joel Says:

    Very good article, as usual, thanks.

    I have read most of the old testament (I got bogged down about halfway through the prophets). Like you, I once ended up stuck in a hotel room with nothing to read but The Book of Mormon. For some reason, I found it to be tedious, not nearly as beautiful as the King James Bible. Possibly cultural bias.

    [FSR comment: Like many in his day, Smith was besotted with the Bible, and tried very hard to replicate its language, tone, and content. He was young, not well educated, and was making it up as he went, apparently just dictating it to a “scribe,” supposedly “translating” the plates he kept hidden. Given this, the book is a tremendous accomplishment, though on balance amateurish. (He used the phrase “And it came to pass” quite excessively.) But he must have been quite a powerful personality to put this over and rather quickly gain a large following of converts. A pity such prodigious talents were not used to actually improve the world.]

  7. Lee Says:

    To Christie — I looked at the actual statistics a little while back. My recollection is that sexual predation is an equal opportunity employer. There is little statistical difference between heterosexual and homosexual, little difference between rich and poor, little difference between Christian and non-Christian, little difference among the races, little difference between those with a past conviction and those with a clean record, etc. The two big glaring exceptions are that (1) 90% of the sexual offenders are male and (2) a majority of sexual offenses are committed by a person trusted by the victim, a father, uncle, cousin, minister, boy friend, etc.

    I therefore recommend that you do as I do. First, advocate that no one with a Y chromosome be permitted to marry. Second, do not let anyone male near your house or children; especially prohibit those males you know well.

  8. What Romney Should Say; What Santorum Should Not Have Said « The Rational Optimist Says:

    […] a previous post I explained (concerning Romney’s Mormonism) why I generally leave religion aside when casting a […]

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