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 hieroglyphics-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.
Don’t hold back, Jacob, tell us what you really think! Anticipating the obvious response, Weisberg tries to inoculate himself against the charge that he doesn’t trust anyone who’s religious. But here his argument starts to fall apart.
One may object that all religious beliefs are irrational – what’s the difference between Smith’s “seer stone” and the virgin birth or the parting of the Red Sea? But Mormonism is different because it is based on such a transparent and recent fraud.
Right, the fact that it’s “recent” is important, because, what, the laws of physics have changed over the last few thousand years, so the virgin birth and the parting of the Red Sea were more likely to “really happen” back then? I don’t think so. And as for the “fraud” being “transparent,” well, that one’s in the eye of the beholder.
Perhaps Christianity and Judaism are merely more venerable and poetic versions of the same. But a few eons makes a big difference. The world’s greater religions have had time to splinter, moderate, and turn their myths into metaphor.
“Turn their myths into metaphor” and “moderate” are, it seems to me, nice ways of saying that reasonable people don’t actually believe any of this stuff; rather, says Weisberg, reasonable people see biblical stories of miracles as interesting ways of discussing moral and ethical issues. I’m guessing that a lot of people wouldn’t go along with that. As for “splinter,” it’s not obvious to me why a religion that can boast of more than one sect is necessarily better suited to a President. In any event, to say that the Mormon church doesn’t have splinter groups is not accurate.
As for Weisberg’s claim that “a few eons make a big difference,” doesn’t that imply that Christians should not have been taken seriously until, what, 500 A.D.? 1000 A.D.? What’s the cutoff date at which a particular religion’s adherents graduate from Tom Cruise to Thomas Aquinas?
The Church of Latter-day Saints is expanding rapidly and liberalizing in various ways, but it remains fundamentally an orthodox creed with no visible reform wing.
I’m not sure what this means. As everyone knows, the mainstream Mormon Church has abandoned its earlier embrace of polygamy, and much more recently (1978) abandoned its original racially discriminatory tenets. Sounds like “reform” to me. So … what is Weisberg looking for? Neither Reform nor Conservative Judaism is much older than the Mormon Church. Would Weisberg so easily write off religious Jews from before the mid-19th century, when those movements took shape?
All of which is to say that, as “exotic” as Mormonism may seem, it’s not as easy as Weisberg apparently thinks to write it off as a cult born of a con man’s wild imagination — as, in his words, “Scientology plus 125 years.” But this point is worth considering:
It may be that Mitt Romney doesn’t take Mormon theology at face value. His flip-flopping on gay rights and abortion to suit the alternative demands of a Massachusetts gubernatorial election and a Republican presidential primary suggests that he’s a man of flexible principles – which in this context might be regarded as encouraging.
Leaving aside whether Romney’s unfortunate resemblance to a chameleon can in any context be considered “encouraging,” the question whether Romney “really believes” Mormon theology is interesting. In the past, he’s been quite cagey on the subject:
I finally asked Romney, “How Mormon are you?”
“How Mormon am I?” he said. “You know, the principles and values taught to me by faith are values I aspire to live by and are as American as motherhood and apple pie. My faith believes in family, believes in Jesus Christ. It believes in serving one’s neighbor and one’s community. It believes in military service. It believes in patriotism; it actually believes this nation had an inspired founding. It is in some respects a quintessentially American faith, and those values are values I aspire to live by. And I’m not perfect, but I’m one aspiring to be a good person as defined by the biblical Judeo-Christian standards that our society would recognize.”
“Do you wear the temple garments?” I asked uncomfortably, referring to the special undergarments worn by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. (The underwear has markings denoting the covenants of the Mormon faith, and is meant to serve as a reminder of the high standards Mormons are expected to uphold. The rules governing its wear and disposal seem as complex as those pertaining to, say, the American flag.)
He answered, “I’ll just say those sorts of things I’ll keep private.”
What to make of this? Although Romney is routinely described by others as a “devout Mormon,” I could not find (via a couple of Google searches) an instance where he has described himself that way. So, is that description of him truth, or truthiness? Like everything else about what Mitt Romney actually believes, it’s hard to tell.