Romney’s Religion Speech

“I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith.”

That’s from Mitt Romney’s much ballyhooed “Faith in America” address. I’ll just link to the memeorandum page with the bazillion people commenting on it if you want to see what they have to say. I don’t care what the pundits say about the speech because the whole idea that he needs to explain, in this day and age, that he can be President while Mormon just pisses me off. I understand he’s competing with Huckabee for the religious vote, but it galls me even more that he has to pander and try to reassure people who might have a problem with his religious beliefs. Yes, I come from a different vantage point because I’m not a religious person, but what do these people think will happen if a Mormon is president? Do they think he’ll revive polygamy? What is their problem? I read in a couple of places that some folks are upset because supposedly Mormons believe Jesus and Lucifer are brothers. If so, who the heck cares if that’s what they believe? Do they think he’ll force everybody else to believe it, too?

There are other reasons to have qualms with Romney, such as his apparent flip flops on social issues that “values voters” are concerned about, but for crying out loud – the Mormon thing is just stupid.

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13 Comments

Filed under Elections, religion

13 responses to “Romney’s Religion Speech

  1. I agree with your point of view! I wish other Americans could get to this point. 🙂

  2. Thanks. But keep in mind I’m not a Romney supporter (Go Giuliani!!). I just find it offensive that Romney has to assure people that his religion shouldn’t be a disqualification for the presidency.

  3. I’ll play devil’s advocate. What exactly is the difference between a religion and a cult, or is there none?

  4. I believe the difference has to do with longevity of the group and/or how out of the mainstream or large it is. With respect to Mormonism I don’t believe it’s a cult any more than say Protestantism is in relation to Catholicism. I wonder if at the time of Martin Luther the Catholic establishment considered his group a cult.

  5. I didn’t say Mormonism was a cult. All I wanted to do was advance the argument one small dialectical step forward, that all religions are not created equal. For good reason we may not vote a Scientologist President, nor someone who worships Satan.

    Now, if you accept that all religions aren’t equal, we can get to the question of what criteria makes a religion a cult or not.

    But if you do hold that all religions have the same content in a sense, then I can’t really continue the inquiry. The next question I was going to ask was whether ethical criteria alone make something cultish.

  6. As someone without a religion (I consider myself agnostic), in one sense I view them as the same, namely as beliefs I don’t share. However, I recognize that they’re not all the same in what they teach and believe. It’s difficult to define the differences between a cult and a religion (other than the standard dictionary definition) because believers tend to see their own religion as the true one and the rest as outsiders.

    Ethical criteria is a good starting point for defining what, in my thinking, would be a cult.

  7. Pingback: Romney’s Mormonism Is Only A Problem For Other People « Bilby’s

  8. I was going to do this dialogue wise, but I think the best thing is to sketch out a devil’s advocate answer.

    A religion is never strictly ethical. Nowadays we think that’s because they’re loaded with superstition, but the older argument was that a religion was concerned with how the origins of things matched up with goods we wished to pursue. The idea was that if one didn’t commit to a particular religion, one would be worshipping (sp?) something else without knowing it (i.e. money, power, the self). The classical treatment of this issue is the Myth of Er in Plato’s Republic: there is something about self-knowledge, a willful alienation from the self, that is redemptive.

    Nonetheless, the older wisdom does not concern us, because we are quite literally beyond it. The only thing that concerns us is that a religion being “mainstream” or lasting a long time doesn’t quite account for the fact that human sacrifice was practiced for a while in religions that lasted thousands of years (the Near Eastern religions, contrast with the story of Abraham and Issac). And we can also conceive of a religion exhorting its followers to be ethical, and then asking them to drink Kool Aid with poison at some random moment.

    So we’re looking for a meta-ethical criterion with which to distinguish religions from cults. We’re looking for something that says a religion is not prone to insane tendencies and has acceptable ethics already.

    I think the discussion we’ve had so far destroys the relativism behind the idea that Romney’s Mormonism in and of itself is acceptable because we have freedom of religion. I think it also shows that being an agnostic means that one might have a responsibility to know more about religions so one doesn’t lump them all in one category.

    Most Protestants and Catholics used to find Mormonism directly offensive not merely because it added another book to Scripture, but because it adds a book that directly empowered another as a religious leader with political means. The Pope had nothing on Joseph Smith, neither does Billy Graham. The threat to civic order way back when was real. Now no one remembers this, but the point is if they could cite this – as well as the battles over polygamy – then the argument “well, it’s just another religion” loses force. These problems don’t go back more than two hundred years, and the polygamy/child molestation issues in some Mormon break-offs are still being grappled with.

    The meta-ethical criterion here is that a number of our ethical sentiments – whether we are religious or not – come directly from Scripture as part of the Western tradition. Even if all one reads is Nietzsche, Nietzsche in targeting the Bible at points brings it up so many times that the gist of the Bible is inescapable (in fact, the theologian von Balthasar argues that they’re more on the same page than one thinks, but that’s another story). Furthermore, Scripture as a part of the Western tradition means both secular treatments of what was considered sacred (historicist criticism) but also an intrinsic working through exactly what is stood for (Church councils, Calvin’s Institutes, etc.).

    If a majority of voters who have been bred in this tradition find a religion directly offensive to them, because it challenges the legitimacy of the tradition in both sacred and intellectual ways (and formerly in political ways rather directly), isn’t it their right to not vote for a candidate that holds those peculiar views?

    Again, I’m just playing devil’s advocate. I don’t think one can just dismiss all religion as equal. Deists and Masons are responsible for the founding of this country. Puritans gave us town meetings and even Tocqueville seems to hint that their sort of strictness goes hand-in-hand with the truest democracy. What an adequate counter-argument would consist of is a clear demonstration that Mormonism contains a good that others are not merely irrational in denying, but purposely evil in not catering to.

  9. I agree that religions haven’t always been concerned with ethics, but in the modern day ethical considerations are one way in which religions are differentiated from cults, apart from the dictionary definitions.

    I don’t believe that religious practices in the ancient past should be held up as representative of the modern derivatives. Even though I’m agnostic I do know a bit about the history of the major religions. My agnosticism isn’t a function of not knowing about religion, but of not finding any satisfactory. What I don’t know about is the ultimate question of how and why the universe was created. None of the religions that I know of adequately answer the question.

    Mormonism is a relatively new offshoot so it has a more recent history. However, even though there are some weird variants of it around today, aren’t there strange sects associated with other Christian faiths (snake handlers for instance)?

    As I said, I know all religions aren’t the same, but I don’t subscribe to the idea that more recent ones are disqualified because they don’t have the histories of the older ones. Mormons weren’t involved in the founding of the country because there were none around then.

    People have a right to vote for whoever they want for whatever reasons they have, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with their reasoning. Mormonism doesn’t have to contain a particular good for it to not make sense to disqualify someone from office for having those religious beliefs. It’s just as wrongheaded as it is for Protestants to shut out Catholics (which was the case not too long ago).

    In fact, wouldn’t it make as much sense for Protestants to refrain from voting for a Catholic because they fear the influence of the Pope as it does being wary of someone’s Mormon beliefs? Again, not too long ago that was a common concern.

    In short, the reasons people have for not voting for someone simply because they’re Mormon, namely different histories and scriptural interpretation, could be used against any other religion.

    BTW I don’t know if you’ve seen my recent post with polling data suggesting most people are willing to vote for a Mormon – they just don’t think most other people are.

  10. Mormonism doesn’t have to contain a particular good for it to not make sense to disqualify someone from office for having those religious beliefs.

    Again, if Romney’s the nominee, he’ll have my vote, but that statement is just way too relativistic to let stand. I can safely tell you that you don’t use this principle (via analogy) in anything else you do in your life.

    It’s precisely because Mormonism informs Romney a certain way and we feel, therefore, he’s a good candidate that we vote for him. Whether he’s trustworthy, whether he treats people well, whether he continues to treat people well – all those matter more than his capability, because if he’s capable and unethical he’ll destroy the government (it should be noted that Federalist #72 opposes this reasoning entirely. But no sane voter nowadays would argue Federalist 72).

    If Mormonism didn’t inform any good we see in Romney, then it’s perfectly useless and can be liked/disliked for any reason.

    What you want to argue is that the candidate we vote for is separate from his religion. I’m not going to let you have that argument, because religion is a matter of belief, and belief is a matter of the opinions you form.

    In other words, how you form opinions – incl. opinions about going to war, trade agreements, etc. – is precisely the issue at stake. If I’m voting someone into a position where they will always act with less than perfect knowledge, that ability matters immensely. We try to get by this nowadays with a distinction between practical things and ethical things, and you know full well that distinction doesn’t hold up. You wouldn’t take your chances with a mechanic who was good at fixing things but bad at treating people well. Neither would you care if he treated people well but couldn’t fix anything. Written into the definition of “good mechanic” is the idea that he does his job and can be trusted, both at once.

    There are many good arguments for Romney. That “his religion doesn’t matter” is not one – we as the American people are understanding faith less and less, and not realizing that “freedom of religion” itself is a belief, and something that has to be fought for just like any other belief, and contradictions wrestled with. It just so happens we live in a time when ethical people can be agnostic or atheistic. That’s a very fortunate occurrence, nothing more.

  11. His religion doesn’t matter to me. Perhaps I should phrase it as Mormonism should have a particular bad in order for it to disqualify someone from office. (It’s the same thing just phrased positively) As far as I’m concerned his religion isn’t any worse than say Baptist or Catholic. I don’t see how that is relativistic.

  12. Pingback: Romney, Huckabee, and Religion « Bilby’s

  13. ashok, I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve started a new thread based on our discussion in hopes that others might be interested to join. I believe it’s an excellent line of discussion and I don’t want it to get lost in a post from last week.

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