Oct. 19: The Mormon Moment?

Mitt Romney claims membership to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. As a Mormon, he accepts not only the more unbelievable claims of Judaism and Christianity and Islam and Evangelicalism, but he also believes in the following strange religious tenants laid out by founder Joseph Smith in his Book of Mormon:

1. Columbus didn’t found the New World. It was the Jews. Back in Bible times, two Jewish tribes sailed to America and became the first people to set foot here. No lie.

2. Then the two Jewish tribes got in a fight. One was murdered by the other, which was then punished by God, who turned their skin brown. That’s how the Native Americans came into existence. Duh. No wonder the LDS church didn’t allow black Americans into the priesthood until 1978.

3. Later on, Jesus visited America, too. (He can teleport, you know, like in Star Trek.)

4. Let’s not forget the magical underwear that Mormons wear so that God can recognize them. (He’s got bad eyes, I guess.)

5. Romney also adheres to the more minor but still silly practice such as Baptism for the Dead, according to a profile of him in The New York Times. The ceremony consists of a living person (like Mitt) getting baptized in place of a deceased (the roll call includes many non-Mormons, including … wait for it … Adolf Hitler and Ann Frank).

6. By conservative estimates, Joseph Smith entered into plural marriages with 29–33 women, 7 of whom were under the age of 18, according to Wikipedia. A role model for Hugh Hefner, maybe. But for Mitt Romney?

7. And that wasn’t a typo about Islam also being a forefather to Mormonism. As Christopher Hitchens wrote in an Oct. 17 essay in Slate: “Smith also announced that he wanted to be known as the Prophet Muhammad of North America, with the fearsome slogan: ‘Either al-Koran or the Sword.'” Hitchens concludes that Romney “should be asked to defend and explain himself, and his voluntary membership in one of the most egregious groups operating on American soil.”

Not that rival GOP candidate Rick Perry is much less crazy, as Hitchens points out:

Perry has not just accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior, but has expressed the view that those who do not join him are headed for eternal damnation. He has sought to revise and extend his second set of remarks, but not by much. And he believes in miraculous births from virgins, talking snakes, walking cadavers, and other things that feel distinctly weird and cultish to me. The fact is that what we have here is a clash between two discrepant forms of Christianity, in which the good Pastor Jeffress holds no especially high ground and in which the Latter-day Saints, unless they lie, are among the fastest-growing churches in the United States.

To each his own, to some extent. But the President of the United States of America represents more than just his own. He represents, well, ME! And you! And I will not elect as my representative someone who believes in such preposterous notions.

This seems to be lost on Senator Joseph Lieberman. He tries to paint the Mormonism debate as an opportunity for Americans to show how “tolerant” and “accepting” we are toward all faiths, just as when Lieberman himself was the first ever Jew nominated for vice president. He wrote in The Washington Post on Oct. 13:

I hope and believe that Americans of all faiths — and of no faith — will not base their votes on the fact that Romney’s Mormon faith seems “different.” Just as Americans rose above differences when John F. Kennedy’s Roman Catholic faith was “different” in 1960, and 16 years later when Jimmy Carter’s Christian evangelical faith was “different,” and again in 2000 when my Jewish faith was “different,” Romney must be judged on his personal qualities, experience and ideas for America’s future.My experience in 2000 gives me great confidence that the American people will again reject any sectarian religious tests for office and show their strong character, instinctive fairness and steadfast belief in our Constitution. That truly is the American way.

Lieberman completely overlooks the simple fact modern-day Judaism is more cultural than religious, while Mitt Romney believes in some super-wacky things based on what Joseph Smith supposedly read on some golden plates that he found buried on a hill in his backyard in 1823. His column was written in response to Evangelical minister Robert Jeffress’s Oct. 7 comment that “Mormonism is not Christianity. It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity.” Lieberman was just one of many people calling for Jeffres to apologize.

Jeffres struck back at critics in a column in yesterday’s Washington Post, titled “Why a candidate’s faith matters.” I’m no apologist for Evangelical Christianity, but I do agree with Jeffress that if a person’s religion does not affect his/her actions/outlook then that person is a hypocrite. In light of that, voters have every reason to be concerned with the religious affiliations of our political representatives.

Any candidate who claims his religion has no influence on his decisions is either a dishonest politician or a shallow follower of his faith.

Those on the left and right have been disingenuous in suddenly claiming a candidate’s faith is off limits. Just a few months ago, David Gregory of “Meet the Press” asked candidate Michele Bachmann how her religious belief about submission to her husband would affect her performance if she were president. That was a fair question: If she had to choose between obeying her husband or obeying the Constitution, what would she do?

(As a side note, the Wikipedia entries on Mormonism are curiously upbeat and absent of criticism. The LDS Church, like the Church of Scientology, obviously has a powerful media arm that’s closely monitoring and editing the online encyclopedia and other potential outlets for critics. For example, the entry on “Mormonism and blacks” attempts to argue that Joseph Smith was really an abolitionist, disregarding the fact that his Book of Mormon said all blacks were cursed by God, and also that his second-in-command Brigham Young wrote the following in his Journal of Discourses: “You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind.” And yes, Mitt Romney is an alumnus of Brigham Young University.)

November 5 update: Vice President Joseph Biden has come to the defense of Romney’s Mormon faith, saying it was “outrageous” for anyone to suggest he should not be president because of his religion. … “I find it preposterous that in 2011 we’re debating whether or not a man is qualified or worthy of your vote based on whether or not his religion … is a disqualifying provision,” Biden told an audience at the University of Pittsburgh. “It is not. It is embarrassing and we should be ashamed, anyone who thinks that way,” he said in a long response to a student’s question about how his own religious faith affected his philosophy of government.

Reuters: “Biden, who is Catholic, cited the prejudice John F. Kennedy faced in his run for the presidency in 1960, which he said had ‘totally legitimized’ Catholics for high U.S. public office. … A Gallup poll of the broader electorate in June showed 47 percent felt comfortable with [Romney’s] religion while 21 percent did not. ‘I think it’s outrageous,’ Biden said about the polling data he had seen.”

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