Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Huckabee’s Waterloo?

Not the one in Iowa, but rather his NYT Mag profile, which is giving him so much grief from so many people. So deservedly, it seems.

Update: But wait, he has the home-school vote.

Update #2: Huckabee has apologized to Romney, making it sound as if he was set up by the NYT reporter. Read about it and follow the links here.

Update #3: Mollie Ziegler Hemingway has more here.

Discussions - 18 Comments

His debate performance was much worse than the article (though the NR people were going completely bonkers over it, parsing it like the Dead Sea Scrolls). Fred was very good this afternoon.

Yeah that was just a bunch of NR stories, who cares? They're in bed w/Romney, so most people will let them lie...

Of course, the NYT guy was going to be uncharitable, but MH should have known better, have been more careful, and have been better prepared.

Preparation is an interesting point Joe. I'm a fan of Huck, but I think that he is low on preparation-he admits he just speaks from rough notes. This is a detriment when he says touchy things once in a while. However, his lack of preparation allows him to use his huge amount of political skill to speak clearly and persuasively to exactly the heart of the issue. More preparation might help sometimes, but it can also deaden points with obscure reasons. When you plan things out too much, people hearing you have not thought through that thing as much, and hence don't understand what you are saying. Hillary and Mitt suffer from over preparation of remarks. Huck's candidacy rides on his uncanny ability to say the right thing at the right moment because he can speak to people on exactly their level.

Do you think the "off-hand" comment about Mormon beliefs was "the right thing at the right moment"?

Huckabee is a partially trained (I don't think he finished) seminary student and a Baptist preacher. I am sure he knows something about the heterodoxy of Mormonism. I do not know if his comment on the "sprit brother of Satan" was intentional or off-hand. It was certainly not worth all the hysteria at NRO.

But here are some important facts. Mormons do believe that Jesus is the "spirit brother of Satan." That is not debated, but it probably requires some nuance to decrease the shock value. And Mormons are not Christians in any meaningful (theological) sense.

If it is wrong for Huckabee to raise that issue without some nuance, then it is also wrong/disingenuous/deceptive for Romney to say he believes that Jesus is the Son of God as if he is a member of any ol' Christian denomination. When a Mormon says that they do not mean it in the way a Christian means it. Honesty requires Romney to add the nuance as well.

Huckabee can not say Mormonism is Christian because it isn't, and he knows better. If he conceded that he would be selling out his faith. So all of this feigned hysteria just seems like PC gotcha politics. It seems as if Huckabee is being asked to endorse some vague religious universalism. There is a universalist aspect of Mormonism, that people can be "saved" outside the faith. Romney can play that game and did. But conservative Christianity does not allow that or it ceases to be conservative Christianity. Do we want a system that says conservative Christians need not apply unless they agree to quit being conservative Christians?

I have never thought that Romney's faith was illegitimate or off limits. But I agree with David Frum's post speech criticism, although he does think Romney's faith is off limits. Once Romney raises the issue of what Mormons think about Jesus, then it is appropriate for Christians to clarify that. Romney can not have it both ways. Be reassured that I believe in Jesus, but any further inquiries into what I mean by that are off limits.

The Novak piece is particularly outrageous. He says:

One of my favorite texts from the New Testament is "By their fruits you shall know them." That verse has taught me to look for persons who actually love God, not so much by the churches they attend or what they say they believe, but by how they and their families live their lives. Over two public generations now, the Romney family has given us examples of upright, decent, warm lives, given to public commitment even though they did not have to be.

What kind of universalist drivel is that from a devout Catholic? Is he endorsing works salvation? I know that Catholics take a different view than Protestants on sola fide, but Christianity has always been about what you believe and Who you believe in (faith), not what you have done.

That is what is truly radical about Christianity. That is what separates it from other religions which are almost without exception works based.

Is Novak trampling traditional Christian dogma in the name of politics? Is Christian dogma subservient to his political/philosophical commitment to pluralism?

Red, Novak is just an establishment tool. They pretty much all are.

They have nothing like the authenticity of bloggers.

I could be wrong, but my hunch is that Huck was being authentic rather than Machiavellian in his conversations with the reporter for the NYT. It's not just that I've been there at the higher level of scrutiny he spoke of in the debate, but the innocent banter about Mormon theology can be found in myriads of church socials around this tolerant land. And why should tolerance eliminate attention to truth, even if sometimes embarrassed and modest--sotto voce? Michael Novak is a dear man, but he overreacts to a concern that Thomas Aquinas would certainly have had, even in America. It was not the word fitly spoken, but are we so removed from aristocratic centuries that a fleeting concern for the truth of theology is cause for political damnation? Like Michael, I have never lost a night's sleep over the weird beliefs of the Mormons, content with amusement at the human condition and grateful for the virtue, intellectual and moral, of the few Mormon friends I have had. For me, Huck's real problem was epitomized in his reply to the education question. Both he and Romney flunked it, because both adhered to an approach based on centralized planning and testing--who cares whether at the federal or state level. I'm not going to vote for our social sciency oligarch candidate Mitt, but I also think an American Christian Democrat like Huck should seek in Tocqueville what the European Christian Democrats never learned. Listen to what Fred said: Disband the NEA, but also the Margaret Spellings/George W. Bush Education Department. Home schooling rules.

Like Rob said, Huck was being authentic-Mormon beliefs are weird. Politically it was costly because the Romney tools get to play the martyr card again, but oh well.

I'm not excusing Huck's remark or anything like that. Nor am I thrilled with this being an opportunity to learn more about what Mormons believe, and I agree with those who say that being a Mormon actually makes Mitt more attractive as a candidate. Still, anyone who really looks into this will find out that the Mormons do believe that Jesus and the Devil--with a lot of nuance that I can't go into here--are brothers. The particulars are Mormon belief seem, of course, very strange to Christians who have neither the time and inclination to view them "in context" or as part of a quite distinct way of viewing all that exists. I really thorough google search would help anyone out here who wants to be helped out. But my own conclusion that there's nothing wrong with Mitt etc. believing that. It's still very clear who's good and who's bad etc. And to be as controversial as I can, Huck's offhand remark might be interpreted as just expressing his perplexity about Mormon belief, which virtually all of us share.

If I'm just having a conversation with someone who knows a lot about Mormonism--basically MH's explanation--this makes sense. But if the comparative religion expert is writing a profile of me for the NYT Mag--a profile that's unlikely to be friendly in any event--it seems foolish (or "Mayberry Machiavellian") to ask a question to which I probably know at least the "official" Southern Baptist answer.

Thanks to Kate for her laconic remark, and to Peter for mentioning the importance of context is assessing Mormon beliefs. The key of course is that for Mormons Jesus is the sum of all good and Satan the sum of all evil. This "brotherhood" gambit is apparently a staple of evangelical anti-Mormon literature, and so it is impossible that Huckabee did not know what he was doing by dropping this remark. It is good to take doctrinal differences seriously, but there is a tendency by many -- no, by certain -- on this site to dismiss complacently as "weird" something with which they are simply unfamiliar (beyond knowledge of polemical tracts). I sense insecurity behind such spirited dismissals. Whether or not Novak is a running-dog lackey of "the establishment," you might consider this (implicit) point of his: the evidence that many smart, good, morally and intellectually serious people are Mormon might motivate at least a second, more serious look at Mormon beliefs in context. There's a whole world there, one that overlaps with your mother's Christianity but is also, to be sure, very different from it. It is a richly articulated domain of beliefs and practices. Judge for yourself whether the fruits of this "weirdness" are good enough to motivate some serious study. Of course it does not matter, finally, whether it's "weird" or not; it only matters whether it's true. But politically, its fruit matters most.

And here's the essential context on the "brotherhood" issue, from

Jess L. Christensen, Institute of Religion director at Utah State University, Logan, Utah. On first hearing, the doctrine that Lucifer and our Lord, Jesus Christ, are brothers may seem surprising to some—especially to those unacquainted with latter-day revelations. But both the scriptures and the prophets affirm that Jesus Christ and Lucifer are indeed offspring of our Heavenly Father and, therefore, spirit brothers. Jesus Christ was with the Father from the beginning. Lucifer, too, was an angel “who was in authority in the presence of God,” a “son of the morning.” (See Isa. 14:12; D&C 76:25–27.) Both Jesus and Lucifer were strong leaders with great knowledge and influence. But as the Firstborn of the Father, Jesus was Lucifer’s older brother. (See Col. 1:15; D&C 93:21.)

How could two such great spirits become so totally opposite? The answer lies in the principle of agency, which has existed from all eternity. (See D&C 93:30–31.) Of Lucifer, the scripture says that because of rebellion “he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies.” (Moses 4:4.) Note that he was not created evil, but became Satan by his own choice.

When our Father in Heaven presented his plan of salvation, Jesus sustained the plan and his part in it, giving the glory to God, to whom it properly belonged. Lucifer, on the other hand, sought power, honor, and glory only for himself. (See Isa. 14:13–14; Moses 4:1–2.) When his modification of the Father’s plan was rejected, he rebelled against God and was subsequently cast out of heaven with those who had sided with him. (See Rev. 12:7–9; D&C 29:36–37.)

That brothers would make dramatically different choices is not unusual. It has happened time and again, as the scriptures attest: Cain chose to serve Satan; Abel chose to serve God. (See Moses 5:16–18.) Esau “despised his birthright”; Jacob wanted to honor it. (Gen. 25:29–34.) Joseph’s brothers sought to kill him; he sought to preserve them. (Gen. 37:12–24; Gen. 45:3–11.)

It is ironic that the agency with which Lucifer rebelled is the very gift he tried to take from man. His proposal was that all be forced back into God’s presence. (See Moses 4:1, 3.) But the principle of agency is fundamental to the existence and progression of intelligent beings: as we make wise choices, we grow in light and truth. On the other hand, wrong choices—such as the one Satan made—stop progress and can even deny us blessings that we already have. (See D&C 93:30–36.)

In order for us to progress, therefore, we must have the opportunity to choose good or evil. Interestingly, Satan and his angels—those who opposed agency—have become that opposition. As the prophet Lehi taught, “Men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (2 Ne. 2:27.)

Although the Father has allowed Satan and his angels to tempt mankind, he has given each of us the ability to rise above temptation. (See 1 Cor. 10:13.) He has also given us the great gift of the Atonement.

I thank Ralph for his exposition of Mormon theology. I also thank Peter for his modification of my point made above--"perplexity" is better. Thanks to Ralph, I'm at one level less perplexed. Perhaps it will make him feel better to know that, as one who has had a romance with the deep magic of western civilization since I first drew intellectual breath, the whole "Reformation" itself is about as "perplexing" to me as the emergence of Joseph Smith! I will resist the temptation to engage on the theology. Maybe another time, post Huck and Mitt.

I want to thank Ralph even more for translating Beneton's Equality by Default and Besancon's A Century of Horrors, both of which I'm using next semester in class.

I was hoping Ralph would show up to offer an apologetic or two on Mormonism. Thank you, Ralph.

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