Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Whole Lot of 'Splainin' to Do

The suddenly-struggling Mitt Romney has scheduled a major address tomorrow at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas--ostensibly to address lingering concerns about his Mormonism. From the beginning, Romney has been extremely reluctant to discuss this, if not downright testy. Now it looks like he will, once again, attempt to gloss over these concerns with soothing platitudes. It won't work. It is not that American Republican primary voters are bigoted against Mormons or ill-informed about the faith. Just the opposite, actually. Most people know, like and respect their upstanding Mormon friends and neighbors. At the same time, most people know quite a bit about the tenets of the faith and frankly are weirded-out by it.

I don't usually link to Mark Davis, but he has it just exactly right, here. Davis observes:

...he will mess it up. It will be delivered smoothly, as every Romney speech is. He will make the points he wishes to make, and they will be made eloquently. But they will do him no good because he has no intention of doing what is necessary to minimize the problem his faith poses among the voter pool he is trying to attract.

Instead, a Romney spokesman indicates that he will "share his views on religious liberty, the grand tradition tolerance has played in the progress in our nation." In other words, Romney will be dishing out oatmeal to an audience looking for a little meat. Davis continues:

...questions remain, and there is only one way to address them....This is not done by telling people that Mormonism is really just another form of mainstream Christianity. Thoughtful people can argue all day about whether Mormonism belongs under the Christian umbrella, but the fact is that crafting an entire text to supplement the Bible, based on Jesus' visit to America 200 years ago, complete with wholesale revisions in mankind's status in the afterlife, will naturally raise the eyebrows of those who believe the Bible is the only faith document followers of Jesus need.

It is pointless to argue with anyone about the portions of his faith that involve the miracles that give that faith its validity. But part of Mormon belief involves an entire civilization existing in what is now America some centuries before Christ's birth and some centuries after. This society, using a hybrid Hebrew/Egyptian tongue and employing agricultural and metallurgical technologies that objective historians simply find no evidence to support, either existed or it did not. A voter e-mailed me a few months ago, with vast admiration for Mr. Romney on the issues, but asking: If he'll believe this, what else will he believe? This is not unfair. The question for Mr. Romney is how to address it. It is not with familiar platitudes about religious liberty or lectures on tolerance.

To be expected, Daniel Larison has keen insight into Romney's dilemma.

Second Terrace raises another interesting point:

But no one will notice that Romney doesn't know about the Trinity, except, perhaps, as a shibboleth. On Thursday, Romney will confess that he is a Christian. And the tragedy on that day will be -- especially for Mitt -- that no one will disagree for the right reason.

I just wish Mitt would explain about the magic underwear.


Kirk said...

"If he'll believe this, what else will he believe? This is not unfair."

My sentiments exactly. I don't know how to address my own feelings about this, but I am weirded out by the Mormon faith. I guess the difference, to an atheist, between an orthodox Christian and a Mormon is the availability of corroborating evidence. ??

John said...

Yes, I think so. The Mormon story seems so patently created out of whole cloth--existing outside of history, with no corroboration.

Kirk said...

The text of Romney's Religion Speech can be found here:

I'm digesting his words...

John said...

Thanks, Kirk. I read the speech, and it is not bad, as far as these things go--but he wrapped himself in the flag so tightly that I fear he was in danger of asphixiation.

The bottom line is this: my lack of support for Romney is not because he is a Mormon. I don't support Romney because I perceive him to be a slick huckster, round-healed on any and every issue, who has bought in hook, line and sinker with the neo-con foreign policy agenda; in short, a dangerous man.

But we should not pretend that Mormonism is just another flavor of mainstream Christianity (it is not.)

Nor should we pretend that it doesn't matter (it does.)

I am anxious to hear your take on things after reading the speech.

Kirk said...

Couple of thoughts--

"Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin."

Shouldn't the affairs of the church and the affairs of the nation overlap? Shouldn't the churches attempt to exert influence over governmental decisions? Shouldn't a good adherent consider his church's stance when making decisions?

"I'm not sure that we fully appreciate the profound implications of our tradition of religious liberty. I have visited many of the magnificent cathedrals in Europe. They are so inspired … so grand … so empty. Raised up over generations, long ago, so many of the cathedrals now stand as the postcard backdrop to societies just too busy or too 'enlightened' to venture inside and kneel in prayer. The establishment of state religions in Europe did no favor to Europe's churches. And though you will find many people of strong faith there, the churches themselves seem to be withering away.

"Infinitely worse is the other extreme, the creed of conversion by conquest: violent Jihad, murder as martyrdom... killing Christians, Jews, and Muslims with equal indifference. These radical Islamists do their preaching not by reason or example, but in the coercion of minds and the shedding of blood. We face no greater danger today than theocratic tyranny, and the boundless suffering these states and groups could inflict if given the chance."

So...the great thing about America is that we are religiously lukewarm?