Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Romney and Mormon theology

Four years ago I wrote about John Krakauer's book on Mormon fundamentalism. I've also visited the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City -- something no tourist should miss.

Between those two primary sources, and a few other readings, I came away thinking that Mormonism is no odder than any other religion, but that it suffers the great disadvantage of being born in the modern world. The Mormon church has only become socially respectable within the past 30 years (really end polygamy, deemphasize the sin of being pigmented), and we know, unfortunately, far more about Smith than Buddha or Christ.

Here's how the Enclyclopedia Brittanica describes Mormon theology:
...The Book of Mormon recounts the history of a family of Israelites that migrated to America centuries before Jesus Christ and were taught by prophets similar to those in the Old Testament. The religion Smith founded originated amid the great fervour of competing Christian revivalist movements in early 19th-century America but departed from them in its proclamation of a new dispensation. Through Smith, God had restored the “true church”—i.e., the primitive Christian church—and had reasserted the true faith from which the various Christian churches had strayed..
The Britannica article omits some interesting details. Mormons believe the ancient peoples of America fought a cataclysmic "high tech" (compared to pre-civil war America) battle. The story is no more bizarre than "Noah's Ark", but it's a different story than Christians are accustomed to hearing.

This is why I've been amazed that Romney has been able to run for president within the GOP. Socially and culturally he has a lot in common with Christian fundamentalists, but so do Islamic fundamentalists. Mormonism is no closer to Christianity than is Islam. How does this
ever play within the GOP?

This must annoy people like Christopher Hitchens who struggles in Slate to find a secular justification for asking Romney about the Mormon church ...
Mitt Romney needs to answer questions about his Mormon faith. - By Christopher Hitchens - Slate Magazine

...It ought to be borne in mind that Romney is not a mere rank-and-file Mormon. His family is, and has been for generations, part of the dynastic leadership of the mad cult invented by the convicted fraud Joseph Smith. It is not just legitimate that he be asked about the beliefs that he has not just held, but has caused to be spread and caused to be inculcated into children. It is essential. Here is the most salient reason: Until 1978, the so-called Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was an officially racist organization. Mitt Romney was an adult in 1978. We need to know how he justified this to himself, and we need to hear his self-criticism, if he should chance to have one...
Hmph. The argument feels week.

It would be interesting to know whether Romney is a racist or not, but we should be able to find that out from the Boston media who knew him as governor of Massachusetts. Otherwise Romney's religion and theology are mostly curiosities for secular humanists, agnostics, and atheists.

For Christian, particularly fundamentalists and evangelicals, the questions are far more important. I'm a bit surprised, but mostly amused, that nobody asks on their behalf.

1 comment:

JGF said...

It's pretty clear that Mormons consider themselves Christians.

I wonder what academic theologians say?