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MITT ROMNEY: FAITH, FREEDOM, AND MORMONISM UNSEEN

 

 

By Edward F. Mitchell

"Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man."

— David Whitmer, early LDS adherent and witness to the Golden Plates

 

SAN FRANCISCO, 7 DECEMBER 2007— Governor Romney spoke yesterday morning about why he should be President and why his Mormon faith should not be a factor in the election.  Neither of the two most important reasons he has given has even superficial validity:

1.            He says that religion and freedom exist together or die alone, and his faith therefore is a force for political freedom: "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.  Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God.  Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."  Romney does not tell us which philosphers or theologians have convinced him that religion is the sine qua non of liberty, or, if he figured this out on his own, how or on what grounds he formulated the doctrine.

        Political freedom actually has little to do with religion, except this: throughout human history, religion has been political liberty's most malignant affliction.  Christ himself, by many accounts a libertarian and advocate of earthly political reform and personal liberty, was crucified by an odd confluence of religious forces, in part because he disbelieved polytheistic paganism and in part because he challenged the Sanhedrin orthodoxy.  Romney should see Milos Foreman’s fine (despite a critical lynching) movie, Goya’s Ghosts if he has forgotten how political freedom in Spain was so cruelly abated by the Grand Inquisitor in his religious orthodoxy, zeal, and barbarism.  Has Romney familiarized himself with the religious laws and traditions in Saudi Arabia which approve ritual stonings and assasinations of women who assert personal freedom?  It would be a fool’s errand to try to list all the ways in which religious movements have, throughout history, constrained political freedom and established themselves as freedom’s most dangerous enemy.

                One wonders where Romney has been while the world's agenda recently has been hijacked by religious fanatics assaulting rationality, enlightenment, and liberty.  It is ironic that Romney seeks to become the West's leader in a struggle with violent, radical Islamism, a religious movement George Bush says "hates freedom", while asserting that religion is an essential precondition for political liberty, and that religion and freedom are, in natural law, conjoined and inseparable ontological twins. 

2.            Romney says that religious tolerance, which is at the heart of our political and religious freedom, would be set back if his religion is held against him in his bid to become President: "A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith . . . .  Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance. Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree."  This confuses religious tolerance and comity, as a social value, with qualifications for high office.  One might well tolerate belief in various religions and membership in various cults and sects without wishing the follower of a strange doctrine or organization to hold the most powerful political and military position in the West.  We, as do the Europeans in their domain, tolerate rather narrow and aggressive forms of Islam in this country, but this would not seem to be the right time to vote for an aggressively fundamentalist Muslim as American President, any more we should hope for such action by the voters in Germany, France, or Spain .

And what is the origin of this pose that it is improper to quiz a candidate about his religious beliefs?  Who, in his right mind, would want a President who believes that planet Earth was formed 6,000 years ago (Huckabee); or that Darwin was a lunatic and mankind was fashioned in just a few hours by a Creator who looks just like us (most GOP candidates, if they are to be believed); or that God and Jehovah convened a heavenly conclave of all Spirits (one for each human) and laid out to the convocation their plan for Salvation, which was opposed by Satan, who was followed by one-third of the Spirit delegates at the ethereal convention, who now live among us on Earth, tempting and undermining us (Romney); or, for that matter, one who believes that certain hand gestures and incantations can transform the actual chemical constitution of liquids, such as grape wine to human blood (as would be the case for a literal-minded Roman Catholic who strictly adheres to the Church's primitive doctrine of actual transubstantiation)?  It seems fair to assume that poor John Frith, for example, before he was burned alive for questioning the scriptural basis for transubstantiation, would have been curious to know in what way religion was thus nurturing his personal freedom, and might have liked an opportunity to ask a few questions about the credentials of the Bishops who set him ablaze.  Would it have been un-American, unconstitutional, or unfair to inquire into Jim Jones' religious views had he sought public office in San Francisco, or those of the religious zealots at Waco, or the views of  Utah and other Southwest polygamists controlling de facto harems of virtual sex slaves?

The United States Constitution constrains government, not private, action.  The first amendment to the Constitution precludes governmental discrimination based upon religious beliefs, prohibits government from respecting one religion over another, and prohibits unreasonable restrictions by government on the free exercise of religion; article VI of the Constitution provides that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States", but this simply means that government may not require or apply such a test, not that citizens are forbidden to consider religious criteria of their own choosing when making voting decisions.

The Constitution says nothing to suggest that a citizen may not choose to associate with members of one sect or another or to exclude them from his life altogether, or that a citizen may not or should not take the religious views of candidates into account when voting.  Romney has wrapped himself in the Constitution, religious freedom, and religious tolerance to distract the public from the highly irrational, bizarre, and politically problematic tenets of his faith, to which, he has said, he adheres entirely and literally, rather than in any selective, metaphorical, or allegorical way.  He knows full well that the voting public simply does not agree with him that the biblical Garden of Eden actually was in Jackson County, Missouri, fine a county as Jackson always has been.

Frazer, Graves, Campbell, Northrup, Joyce, Eliot, and countless others have helped us to understand that religion, sacred art, literature, and music, mythology, and folklore reveal truths about the world and about the human condition in it. These truths can be enlightening, comforting, even healing, when apprehended symbolically, metaphorically, allegorically. They are a constituent of wisdom.  But when such material is taken literally, as it so often is by immature or troubled minds, it can lead to the least wise of decisions, with disastrous consequences.

Should a citizen not be able to take into account, when voting, whether the candidate for whom he votes is metaphysically sensitive and aware, or simply delusional?  Have we learned nothing from the Bush experience about the consequences of shirking the heavy, solemn responsibility of gathering and weighing evidence upon which to base policy decisions, and of replacing this process with freewheeling, thoughtless decisions emanating instead from "faith" and from unexamined, grandiose and adolescent religious impulses?

Edward F. Mitchell is an attorney practicing in San Francisco and is General Counsel to Euromedia Group Ltd. He last wrote on Iraq: Would It Be So Wrong to Get Out?

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