The Mormon Question

Sarah Posner at Salon explores the question of when and how to ask tough questions about a presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s religion. Romney was a Mormon bishop for several years in Massachusetts and had religious authority over Mormon women and men who came to him for counseling. He saw his church through profound political changes. Posner says it’s fair to ask how he felt then and feels now about those times. I like her concluding words…

In my perfect world, presidential candidates wouldn’t talk about their religion. They would practice it freely, but they would neither use it to prop up their candidacy nor use their opponents’ (real or fabricated) religion to bring them down. Lawmakers wouldn’t use religion to justify policy positions.

I remember a world where there was much less of this, when presidential candidates did not stand before the people and claim that Jesus endorsed them. And now it’s much worse– they are attacking their rivals for not being religiously correct– those heretics.

Debasing politics is kind of like throwing mud on a dirtpile, but this also debases religion. Cynical use of religion to grab votes is a disservice to all the Americans who have religious beliefs- most of whom are not sheep. ‘God, please let my team win!’ is not an inspiring prayer.

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15 responses

  1. Kiersten Marek | Reply

    It seems like the whole question of how Mormons treat women should be discussed. It was my impression from knowing a few over the years that women are not generally given the same rights and freedoms in Mormon culture as men.

  2. Donald Wolberg | Reply

    The world is not perfect, and never has been. Selection of leaders with awesome powers does raise issues of capability and understanding, and the substrate that is their lives. As the late and delightful iconoclast, Christopher Hitchens, wrote, Mr. Romney’s core beliefs do matter if he wants to be considered for the presidency. Of course, anyone and everyone is free to believe or not believe anything they wish as long as no harm befalls their fellow citizens, no matter how silly. Unfortunately, Mr. Hitchens was candid enough to raise issues in Mormon core beliefs that he felt, and any objective person must concur, do impinge on serving as President of the United States. For example, does Mr, Romney really believe that Jesus landed in America and preached the Gospel to the Lost Tribes of Israel (the American Indians)? Does Mr. Romney really believe the silliness of golden tablets in upstate New York was it, found by one scalawag named Joseph Smith, and written in a strange script that God allowed him to read before they vanished? Does Mr. Romney wear the odd Mormon underwear required of males? Does Mr. Romney condemn the Mormon practice of “tampering” with the souls of dead Jews slaughtered by the Nazis and their allies? One could go on and on, and of course there is much that is silly in many beliefs, whether the Prophet actually ascended to heaven on the back of a white horse and I assumed returned, for example; or burning bushes and the dead rising to walk again. However, there is a cultish peculiarity of Mormonism, well documented as is the sociological and justice issues, that do require a statement of belief by a potential presidential candidate. It would be no different than if Tom Cruise ran for anything with all the nonsense of the Scientology baggage. This is most certainly not a John F. Kennedy moment; there is a real difference between the history of the Mormon cult and that of “normative” religions. Unfortunately, we seem to lack a Christopher Hitchens replacement for candid and on point journalism.

  3. Mr.Romney hasn’t made an issue of his religious beliefs.If he keeps them within his family life,okay.He didn’t bring Mormonism into his role as Governor of Massachusetts.
    Kiersten-as long as no one makes YOU join the Mormon church,what is it to you about the “place”of women in it?They’re not in prison,you know.They can pick up and leave.Some certainly have. Would you question the “place”of women in Hassidic Judaism or Islam?Probably not,since there are no Muslims or Hassidic Jews running against Obama.
    I’m frankly more concerned with Rick Santorum playing preacher to America-I agree with him on a lot of things,but I cannot abide his mixing of religion and politics.

    1. Donald Wolberg | Reply

      Mr. “Joe” seems to be mirroring Ms Clinton’s comments on Hasidic women and one must wonder if Mr. “Joe” knows any Hasids or has read Martin Buber on the Hasids, Ms. Clinton clearly knew nothing regarding the subject nor, as possibly is the case with Mr. “Joe,” knows little about Hasidic history or lifeways. The Hasids apart, yes, if a Hasid wished to be President, he would need to explain himself to folks like Mr. “Joe” about the substrate of his life, and its impact on his decision making. This is not a Jewish-Catholic-Protestant issue–the mainline belief core of America is well known and documented and has been explained by each President, from George Washington on. As I noted, Mr. Romney has a very odd set of tenets to account for–if he does believe in all the strangness of Mormon history, from golden tablets in upstate New York, to strange languages and Jesus in America, I submit, as did Christopher Hitchens, there is a problem. As I aslo said, anyone is free to hold any views, or believe any nonsense from Roswell saucers and aliens to Jesus in America. However, being President of these United States does and should require an eligibility test of rationality that may “excuse” some folks from sitting in the Oval Office. This is 2012, not 1827 in upstate New York.

  4. I grew up around Hasids in Brooklyn.I don’t need to explain anything to you-I know what I saw and what other older Jewish people who were observant thought about them.I have to say I haven’t read a word by Martin Buber-I find theologians about as interesting as accountants.

  5. Mr.Wolberg is heading down a very dangerous path by suggesting that a person can be disqualified from holding the Presidency for having “weird”religious.
    I don’t care if the President prays to a fire alarm box as long as he or she does their job well.

  6. Donald Wolberg | Reply

    Mr. “Joe” doth protest a bit much. Martin Buber was a psychologist, philosopher and historian of some note. He might do well to expand his information base and might also read Hirtchens on the issue. I am certain Mr. “Joe” has many interesting observations about the Hasidic community in Brooklyn. However, one wonders what those observations have to do with anything substantive, and it appears Mr. “Joe” and his observations are more relevant to the origin of his buzarre views regarding Jews than the subject they purport to address. If Mr. “Joe” is comfortable with a President who might pray to a fire alarm box, I suggest that he will find happiness with dogs and fire hydrants in the paradise that is Brooklyn. The issue raised by Mr> Hitchens is whether a person wishing to be President with a belief in the bizarre renderings of history of a particular cult, as well as equally bizarre social practices, needs to address where he or she stands vis a vis those issues. But I will leave Mr. “Joe” to his fire box alarm, and issues with Hasids.

  7. My bizarre view of Jews?I’m Jewish,at least by upbringing and since I haven’t followed another religion,I guess my opinion is based on more than listening to nitwit Hillary Clinton.
    I also mentioned Islam and women but you chose to ignore that.

    1. Unfortunately, you seem to completely miss the point, and frankly whether you are a non-observant Jewish person, or Orthodox, or Conservative, or Reform, or a member of Mordechai Kaplan’s Reconstructionist movement, says nothing about your (or my) knowledge of the Hasids, the Bal Shem Tov, or anything else that deals with the issue of a President who may be a “cult” member. “Cult” has a specific definition, widely recognized and as others suggest does require explanation. If a President really believes that Joshua ben Joseph, brother of James, etc., actually sailed to America or somehow appeared to Native Americans and preached his message, or all the rest of the “message” of this cult, we do have a problem. The issue of Ms Clinton’s pronouncements seemed to mirror your early statements and seemed more than coincidence, no matter what you may think of the Clintonian catalog. I do think the question is an interesting one, and does matter. Everyone is free in this nation to believe anything or say anything as long as it is not shouting fire in a crowded theater. However, I suggest that we should have at least a moderately higher standard of rationality for a President.

  8. Was Richard Nixon rational?He seems to have been psychotic and yet in some respects did a good job.
    To answer your question I was brought up in a home where my grandmother was an observasnt Conservative Jew and my parents weren’t much for going to synagogue(my father never went as far as I know) and they did keep a kosher home during my grandmother’s lifetime-I got Bar Mitzvahed,but frankly,it was just going through motions for me,and the only other time I attended synagogue was in the military service where it was cumpulsory during training.
    My wife was raised Catholic,but disliked the religion and became an Episcopalian,where she met a whole bunch of other former Catholics.
    I have noticed in Israel that Hasids are not subject to the draft,and in Israel required military service is what keeps the country in existence considering they have daily threats made aginst them by their neighboring states.60 minutes did a piece on that which was disturbing-I make no claim to have any meaningful knowledge of Jewish religion principles or practices.I actually mentioned Hasids in passing but you seemed to want to concentrate on that aspect of my comment.
    I actually can’t stand Hillary Clinton.

  9. Thank you for the interesting narrative. I find the Clintons difficult and always have. Mr. Nixon was certainly a driven character and clearly lost his sense of balance if he ever had it, of course. It is interesting that he and JFK were actually more friends than not while in the House and Senate. The pathology of Nixon likely arose from several sources, but he had a peculiar sense of history, tried to “cure” cancer with federal spending, and was an early environmentalist—now that is really a mix of contradictions.

    As an aside, you might like reading Buber, or John Dominic Crossan, and I would suggest looking at a really interesting book, “The Kingdom of Cults,” by Walter R. Martin…the Mormons are certainly not alone!

    Best regards for a spirited discussion

  10. What if the very best candidate was Islamic? Should religion rule out the best person?
    Where’s the Flying Spaghetti Monster when you need Him?

    1. How about an atheist humanist? How scary would that be? Despite all the evidence, we think we can judge people by their professed religion, or ir-religion. And when someone from a nice religion does bad things we say it’s an exception. When someone a the bad religion does nice things we say it’s an exception. Heads I win, tails you lose.

  11. Nancy-an atheist /humanist is a person with a belief in no ,power higher than ourselves.
    that can be dangerous-some famous atheists:Mao,Stalin,Hitler,Pol Pot,just to name a few.
    When someone refuses to acknowledge there is something greater which created the Universe and all the intricate manifestations of what we call “Nature”then that person is far too likely to consider themselves the ultimate source of judgement.
    As far as an Islamic I’d have to know if the person believed in the Islamic principle of the government and religion being inseparable.If so,no problem-if not then forget about it-I’m not interested in a theocracy of any type-just a leader who realizes we are not the be all and end all.I realize you amy think I sound self-contradictory,but then you aren’t really reading what I’m writing.Nothing new there.

  12. I DID get something above backward-if the person thought religion and government were part of one entity,then they would be unfit to be President.
    BTW that’s not Obama’s problem.I just don’t like him or his policies and his appointments suck.

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