Mormony, More Problems
When one attempts to even broach the topic of the intersection of religion and politics, one inevitably gets the feeling that there is no way to make any headway. Sadly, the religious dictum “there is nothing new under the sun” is the correct one here. I could rehash the old saws about how the wedge between faith and rationality is driven by community and long-established peer pressure, but that seems hackneyed. I could lay down a passionless defense of religious freedom, citing its positive effects on morality in general, and pointing out that it is only the corruption of religion and other effects such as narcissism, but I don’t think I’d be doing anyone any favors by wasting your time with that either.
And yet, America will face this question in the course of the next few months as the presidential election ramps up into full gear. With Mitt Romney as the candidate of the party of religious fundamentalism (regardless of how much sensationalism the new media accords the primary season–in order to pump their ratings), false dichotomies will abound on both sides. Inevitably, commentators will raise questions–valid or not–about whether Obama or Romney best embodies the religious values of religious constituencies. The problem is that these values are often in conflict or contradiction with one another, and yet we ask a president to embody everybody’s values simultaneously.
The hypothetical solution to the problem of multifaceted and diverse approaches to faith proposed by the founders was that would be no establishment of a particular religious viewpoint, even if the Constitution and American government embodied the religious ethical values and ideals that each of the founders may have had to varying degrees. Hence the Jefferson Bible, devoid of references to deistic authority and cult of personality as a necessary source for moral precepts, and instead using Jesus as an exemplar of moral values worthy of adoption for their own reasons.
Politics needs to be able to operate, regardless of the path people arrive at their moral precepts. The problem of course is that people arrive at different moral precepts. For the most part, American history is rife with examples of accommodation or non-accommodation. And it’s not just abortion or contraception that has required accommodation or non-accommodation of belief; slavery abolitionists (such as John Brown), for example, were largely animated by religious ethics. So, even though we can recognize that politics requires consensus, many debates invite the presumption that one is on the “right side of history,” which makes that fight worth the retrenchment.
The problem is that these divisions may be animated by religion where religion has no place in the decisions that need to be made where viewpoints may conflict, as in the case of the description of historical or scientific facts (e.g., global warming, whether nukes will bring on judgment day or just a radiation-filled wasteland, etc.). The reason that the sciences, as opposed to religion, provide acceptable decision-making principles is that they rely on neutral criteria that can be evaluated by any observer and therefore justified to all involved in a polity. And yet, Republican attitudes toward science have declined for the last several decades because the conclusions drawn by science are sometimes opposed to the religious/political views that predate and/or ignore the scientific evidence.
If the Republican primaries are any indication, these battle lines have already been drawn, and will continue to be drawn. And when Obama comes into the crosshairs, those with predetermined conclusions and who do not adopt an evidence-driven approach to policy (even when it comes to evaluating the evidence on which Presidential candidate best represents the teachings of Jesus Christ) will have a really tough choice to make. Plenty of of Republicans have already shown that they don’t feel comfortable with Romney’s religious orientation, given that the Mormon Church has doctrinal god complexes, historically sanctioned polygamy (rescinded in 1890) and racism (rescinded in 1979), and absolute authority to demand what it will of an adherent.
One example is a doctrine known as the God cycle, which was put as a couplet by past Mormon prophet and president Lorenzo Snow: “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.” In short, God once had a body on an Earth, was tested, and became edified and the God of our world. If we are righteous, we may also be able to fulfill that divine potential.
The church also officially discriminated against anyone who had “even one drop of Negro blood” until 1979. Prior to that, black men were not allowed to have any authority within the church, interracial marriages were not permitted in the temple, and black people could not lead a prayer in church, among other things.
In the temple ceremony, Mormons do make a covenant to obey the church absolutely if they were ever asked, essentially giving the church veto power over your life. That possibility is scary to people who are looking at Romney as a president, but Roman Catholics essentially give the papacy the same power; and Evangelicals give the Bible (as interpreted by some leaders) the same power.
But what I suspect the religion debate will really come down to is passion. Though some conservatives passionately hate Obama, they really don’t passionately love Romney. In all likelihood, they’ll just stay at home (sort of an inverse of the Evangelical get-out-the-vote that Bush 43 benefited from). It’s just really tough to passionately stump for a Mormon robotic millionaire who used to govern the most liberal state in the union, and instituted a version of the dread Obamacare before it was Obamacare.
Because according to the latest theories, the “Mitt Romney” who seems poised to be the Republican nominee is but one of countless Mitt Romneys, each occupying his own cosmos, each supporting a different platform, each being compared to a different beloved children’s toy but all of them equally real, all of them equally valid and all of them running for president at the same time, in their own alternative Romnealities, somewhere in the vast Romniverse.
And all of them losing to Barack Obama.
So when folks consider whether or not they are voting “on the right side of history,” 2012 may be a boon year: the GOP’s internal collapse and inability to produce a moderate (or even reasonable) nominee as an alternative to Obama may strengthen the ability of this country to act moderately. The lack of a reasonable alternative could strengthen the appearance that Obama has a mandate to deal with a slightly less obstructionist/interest group dominated congress, and govern from the middle on neutral principles (because, at least he’s not Mitt Romney). Maybe we will make some headway by showing that the conflict between religion and practical politics is an unproductive one.