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Romney’s Mormonism

Damon Linker, who spent a couple of years teaching at BYU in one of his past lives, tells us what he thinks we need to know about Mormonism and suggests some questions we should pose to Mitt Romney:

Does he believe, for example, that we are living through the "latter days" of human history, just prior to the second coming of Christ? And does he think that, when the Lord returns, he will rule over the world from the territory of the United States? Does Romney believe that the president of the Mormon Church is a genuine prophet of God? If so, how would he respond to a command from this prophet on matters of public policy? And, if his faith would require him to follow this hypothetical command, would it not be accurate to say that, under a President Romney, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints would truly be in charge of the country--with its leadership having final say on matters of right and wrong?

Would he have us pose the same questions to, say, Harry Reid? I don’t know, but I do know that we should learn a good good deal about Mormonism in the next few months, beginning with the speech Romney promised to make after the holidays.

Hat tip:
The Friar.

Update: For more, go here, here, and here. One way of stating Linker’s issue is this: while Mormons take positions that are currently part of what might be called the mainstream, we can’t on the basis of that record predict that they’ll continue to do so. It all depends upon future revelations, which can’t be extrapolated from their situation-specific predecessors. Faithful Mormons, in other words, are less predictable than others. Even if Romney sounds attractive today (and I doubt that Linker shares that view), who knows what tomorrow holds in store, if he’s faithful?

As I said, I expect to learn a lot from this, and will likely turn to Russell Arben Fox, a Mormon political theorist who seems rather to like Linker, for some stimulation. If NLT readers have other interesting and authoritative resources to suggest, please either send me an email or put them in the comments.

Discussions - 12 Comments

Harry Reid? Heck, I wish more people had posed such questions to Bush in 1999.

how would he respond to a command from this prophet on matters of public policy

Oh, good lord, man. Word for word, this is precisely the same nonsense spouted about JFK when he ran for president. Replace this prophet with the Pope.

This is simply and clearly unveiled religious bigotry of the first order.

Damon Linker is a raging bigot, and so are you for being his willing parrot.

You should know full well that Romney has answered any questions about potential conflicts between his religion and his public responsibilities as a governor of one of the American states (Massachusetts).

If there is a black hole in a dark, dank woods where bigots ought to be confined, Linker and you sir belong there.

Shame on you. Heaps of it. Reams of it. Let it slither from your ears.

Paul,

Calm down before you start calling names. Check out some of the other things I’ve written about Linker, who I regard as smart but in many ways problematical. Also, read the Linker article, which embodies his strengths, such as they are, and weaknesses very well.

Don’t assume I agree with everything he says. And think about why I made the reference to Harry Reid.

I do believe that Romney has to offer an account of the role his faith will play in his public life, and I would love to see serious responses from serious and thoughtful Mormons, once he offers that account. I expect to learn a lot from that.

And for the record, I might could, as we say down here, vote for him, depending upon who the live options are in the primaries, and would almost certainly vote for him, if he were the nominee, against any of the likely Democratic alternatives.

Paul,
I basically agree with Paul above, but the Mormon political theorist linked by Joe actually raises some of the key theological issues as they appear to Mormons. His comments, and the comments on his comments, show us how diverse and sophisticated Mormon self-understandings really are. They ain’t simply or wacky fundamentalists, to say the least. To speak positively of their views, we can say that they avoid the extreme "otherworldliness" or "Platonism for the people" of some Christians and the tendency of some modern theologians, under the influence of necessitarian philosophy, to depersonalize God or reduce Him to a What or a It. The Mormon God[s] is definitely a person and not, as Spinoza would say, "Nature’s God." Mormon theology is great when it comes to personal moral responsibility and even personal freedom. It has many theological weaknesses, of course, beginning the polytheism that flows from the idea of a finite and carnal God. It’s most politically questionable view, though, is the theological/historical significance given to the United States. And it’s on that front that Romney may eventally take a fatal hit.

On Romney’s unpredictability, Damon is working from the obvious point that any willful God is, in princciple unpredictable. That’s why hardcore philosophers often hate the idea of such a God. Anyone who believes in a personal God has to be open to the possibility of future revelation. The Mormons, of course, have institutionalized that process. We have to note that their contemporary revelations are given to 12 pedestrian businessmen in Salt Lake City. We also have to notice the prudence of their revelations--the ones, for example, that prudently put polygamy and something akin to racial prejudice aside. The possibility that Romney might be stuck in some dilemma that would come with choosing between doing what’s prudent or following some wacky new promulgated revelation appears rather farfetched to me. Mormon social and moral teaching over the last fifty years, a cultural critic might say, has probably been more stable than that of other major religious groups.

Just to be fair, I think Linker should insist that every politician give us a detailed review of where they stand theologically. Atheists, let it fly and we’ll see how electable you are.

Peter is right about any willful God, and he’s also right, I suspect, about the "pedestrian" character of the Mormon mechanism for revelation.

It seems to me that what Linker is reduced to is telling us that we can’t rely on Romney’s record because something weird might happen in the future. Of course, given the drugs currently available, the "life-changing" experiences and/or relationships any of us might have, and the arguments (good or bad) that we might find persuasive, I suppose you could argue that none of us is ultimately predictable.

On the basis of the Aristotelian principle that what stability we do possess comes mainly from the inculcation of moral virtue, we can say that the well raised Mormons are among the most predictable of Americans

Linker should insist that every politician give us a detailed review of where they stand theologically

This might indeed seem fair, on the face of it, but it would precisely be the kind of religious litmus test that religious bigots like Linker and Knippenberg would love to enforce.

Knippenberg can intellectually careen from religious litmus tests to nonsensical mumblings about the drugs currently available all he wants, but the fact remains: Knippenberg has assumed vis a vis Mormons the same positions held by the Papist-bashers during JFK’s run for election... that of primordial bigot.

we can’t rely on Romney’s record because something weird might happen in the future.

Great. Right out of the dark ages.

Linker says this, and Knippenberg repeats it. I say again, sir: your bigotry is slithering from your ears, and NoLeftTurns and Ashbrook.org themselves will be held to account for their association with you. They should send you packing immediately. This was a reputable blog until you arrived. It’s time for you to pack up your bigotry and peddle it somewhere else.

Shame on the lot of you.

Paul, It could be you’re overreacting a bit!? I do agree that the argument of DL could be used against anyone who believes in a personal God and defers to religious authority on anything at all. I even agree that there’s some anti-Mormon bigotry around (although not from Joe K). But chill out...And thank God that the behavior of beings made in His image and likeness is strangely and wonderfully unpredictable.

Atheists electable? Hardly. 95% of people believe in God. However, there’s a lot of disagreement among them about HOW to believe in God, thus our little dust-up here.

I guess this is one of the insoluble problems of a representative government -- one guy represents a lot of people, and those people can’t possible agree with everything the one guy does or thinks. You just have to pick your dealbreakers and vote based on those. For the record, I’d like to see a person’s faith be completely exempt from public dialog, as I don’t think it helps anything. At a cocktail party you’re better off avoiding politics or religion, and this rule should hold half true in politics. The opposite should be applicable in religious circles.

Peter,

Thanks for sticking up for me. Paul apparently didn’t read my post or my comments very carefully, as when I indicated that I might actually vote for Romney, or when I noted that Linker is "reduced to" arguing for a particular position which could actually be applied to any finite being.

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