Theological Questions

Eliot Weinberger

Some evangelical Christian websites have been reproducing my LRB blog post on Mitt Romney, presumably less interested in his trochaic surname than in his Mormon underwear. One of them reprints, on the same page as my post, an article by Gary Bauer, president of American Values, chairman of the Campaign for Working Families, and perennial television talking head for the Christian right:

A thought experiment: Imagine a presidential candidate. He has spent years in politics, rising to become a trusted leader in his party. He also has spent time in the business world, has an impeccable personal life, a deep understanding of the issues, and is eloquent in speech and moderate in temperament. Sounds like a dream candidate, right?

But imagine that, along with those qualities, the candidate is also a Wiccan, a modern pagan... Wicca involves magic, spell-casting and sorcery — not exactly mainstream religious practices. But would this candidate’s beliefs make you question his fitness for office? Would you oppose him based solely on his faith?

Bauer’s article appeared in the ever-bland USA Today, so naturally he has to conclude that it wouldn’t matter, as long as the candidate held 'traditional values'. But then again, he admits, Wiccans aren’t likely to hold traditional values... The article serves its purpose: he’s blown the dog whistle, as they say in American politics – the sound that only believers can hear.

Romney is not merely one of the faithful, he is, or was, a 'bishop' in the Mormon church. And the tenets of the faith, once they gain some circulation, as is inevitable in the campaign, will be far more disturbing to many Christians than, once upon a time, John Kennedy’s Catholicism was to Protestants.

Rick Santorum, endorsed by Bauer and a recent conclave of evangelical leaders, would have no hesitation in declaring that Jesus was the son of God, who died, was resurrected, and ascended to heaven. Will Romney be equally open about his faith’s belief that, after the Ascension, Jesus returned to earth and went to America to preach to groups of descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel? That will lose him more votes than the tales of his corporate raiding.

Santorum may think the earth is 6000 years old. (Or, as Rick Perry said, 'Evolution is just one of those theories out there.') We expect these things from the Tea Partiers. But Romney, to the general public, is considered a more reasonable man. Will he be asked if, as the Church insists, he takes the Book of Mormon literally? That is, groups from the Holy Land began arriving in the Americas as early as 2500 BC; they had horses, cows, pigs and goats, and drove chariots. Does the total absence of archeological or genetic evidence for this trouble him at all? Does he ever wonder about 'reformed Egyptian' – the language of the Golden Tablets, which Joseph Smith translated and which is otherwise unknown? Will he denounce the polygamy of his not-too-distant ancestors?

The election of Obama demonstrated a greater tolerance for diversity among the American public. But this was 'diversity' only in terms of who he is – a black man with a strange name – and not his core beliefs, which are merely the left bank of the mainstream.

Americans won’t be too happy when they learn that Mitt, following the Mormon practice, is praying to posthumously convert non-believers. Great-grandma’s Baptist soul just might not want to go to Mormon heaven.


  • 19 January 2012 at 9:24am
    Higgs Boatswain says:
    Yes, chariots and reformed Egyptians in upstate New York is pretty weird. But then, some of us believe in transubstantiation. I'm prepared to bet that looks pretty strange from the outside, too. And praying for posthumous conversions (not a completely alien idea in orthodox Christianity) at least indicates a certain generosity of spirit foreign to some of the hellfire Baptists. One of the more interesting things about Mormonism is the way it gives unusual emphasis to ideas that are often present but marginalised in Western Christianity (theosis, for example).

    I'm less bothered by Romney's belief in golden tablets than I am by his belief in a 15% tax-rate. Only one of those things is self-evidently absurd to the point of impossibility.