Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Religiosity

Slate's Jacob Weisberg wrote an article about Massachusetts' governor Mitt Romney (R) and his religion. Romney is a member of the Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But if he gets anywhere in the primaries, Romney's religion will become an issue with moderate and secular voters—and rightly so. Objecting to someone because of his religious beliefs is not the same thing as prejudice based on religious heritage, race, or gender.
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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 fundamentalist—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 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.

At first I agreed with him, but then I got to thinking, "how do you prove any religion is correct?" Weisberg anticipated my question!
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. It's Scientology plus 125 years. Perhaps Christianity and Judaism are merely more venerable and poetic versions of the same. But a few eons makes a big difference.

Um, no? Just because it's been around a long time doesn't make it more sane.
The world's greater religions have had time to splinter, moderate, and turn their myths into metaphor. 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.
Alright, so the point is Christianity has had time to tone down their crazies, except in the Republican party, where the crazies seem to have gained control.

Look, I understand the Mormon religion is a little weird. From what I read a couple of months ago, part of the Mormon faith incorporates the notion that when Mormons die, they become gods of their own planets. That sounds a little crazy, but also a little awesome. It's also not any worse than other religions. Mitt Romney may not want anyone to masturbate, but on the other hand, he did push through affordable health care for everyone in his state. Which is more important? I don't want to be thrown into prison because I touched my private parts, but is that even an issue? I do know I want affordable health care, and he seems capable of driving that home.

My point is, I don't care what a person's belief system is, I only care about what their politics are, and while I understand beliefs influence politics, I don't quite understand the point of the article. If you are a Scientologist but that doesn't affect in any significant way how you want to run the country, and I agree with your policy ideas, then I will vote for you. Why address Mitt Romney's religion when it isn't even an issue yet? There are plenty of reasons not to like him for his political ideologies alone, so at least wait for Romney to come out with crazy Mormon ideas and nutty policies before you question his crazy Mormon beliefs. Since he hasn't done that yet (from my limited knowledge on his Massachusetts politics), just relax. I don't need to be told to keep an eye out for crazy people; I'm already way ahead of you.

Update 7:35 - According to a recent poll, 25% of Americans anticipate the second coming of Jesus Christ. I want to hope that those people are just crazy fundamentalists, but then it saddens me to think that at least 1 of 4 Americans are fundamentalist. If you stuck the United States in the Middle East, we'd have suicide bombers for Jesus.

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