Like any member of the left in good standing, I despise religious people with a passion. At least, that’s what conservatives would have you believe about liberals any time one dares to suggest that government and religion shouldn’t mix. With that in mind, I’ve been confused this week to see two strongholds of “sensible liberalism” run hit pieces on Mitt Romney for the crime of being outspoken about his faith, but not being a mainstream or evangelical Protestant. From Slate :
Objecting to someone because of his religious beliefs is not the same thing as prejudice based on religious heritage, race, or gender. Not applying a religious test for public office, means that people of all faiths are allowed to runâ€”not that views about God, creation, and the moral order are inadmissible for political debate. In George W. Bush’s case, the public paid far too little attention to the role of religion in his thinking. Many voters failed to appreciate that while Bush’s religious beliefs may be moderate Methodist ones, he was someone who relied on his faith immoderately, as an alternative to rational understanding of complex issues.
Nor is it chauvinistic to say that certain religious views should be deal breakers in and of themselves. There are millions of religious Americans who would never vote for an atheist for president, because they believe that faith is necessary to lead the country. Others, myself included, would not, under most imaginable circumstances, vote for a fanatic or fundamentalistâ€”a Hassidic Jew who regards Rabbi Menachem Schneerson as the Messiah, a Christian literalist who thinks that the Earth is less than 7,000 years old, or a Scientologist who thinks it is haunted by the souls of space aliens sent by the evil lord Xenu. Such views are disqualifying because they’re dogmatic, irrational, and absurd. By holding them, someone indicates a basic failure to think for himself or see the world as it is.
By the same token, I wouldn’t vote for someone who truly believed in the founding whoppers of Mormonism. The LDS church holds that Joseph Smith, directed by the angel Moroni, unearthed a book of golden plates buried in a hillside in Western New York in 1827. The plates were inscribed in “reformed” Egyptian hieroglyphicsâ€”a nonexistent version of the ancient language that had yet to be decoded. If you don’t know the story, it’s worth spending some time with Fawn Brodie’s wonderful biography No Man Knows My History. Smith was able to dictate his “translation” of the Book of Mormon first by looking through diamond-encrusted decoder glasses and then by burying his face in a hat with a brown rock at the bottom of it. 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.
While I largely agree with the sentiments in the Slate and New Republic articles, I can’t help but remember all the times these same publications have bashed the left for making the exact same points about evangelical politicians. Needless to say, I think we’re going to see a lot more of this over the next couple of years as more and more pundits find new ways to make the argument that “Yeah, religious appeals by politicians are okay, but Mormons are weird.”