OK, I'll be honest. I'm ambivalent about Mormonism, and, be it Mitt Romney or any other Mormon, I'm ambivalent about the idea of voting for a Mormon. And I'll bet that a lot of Christians, if they're honest too, agree with me.
My ambivalence stems, I suppose, from my ignorance. I'm skeptical of a religion that admonishes its adherents to wear sacred undergarments (Andrew Sullivan caused quite a dust-up when he blogged about this last December), that didn't allow non-whites to be clergy until 1978, and that follows the teachings of Joseph Smith, whose scriptures I find highly dubious. I don't agree with the Mormon teaching that Father, Son, and Spirit are three distinct gods and that the Father and Son currently have bodies, nor with the teaching that only those who achieve the "Celestial Kingdom" will be united with their families in eternity. There's a lot to be dubious about.
But listen, I get it. I know that much of orthodox Christianity is irrational, too: I eat flesh and drink blood every Sunday. As Andrew Sullivan has written compellingly in his recent debates with atheist Sam Harris, orthodox Christianity does require faith, but it does not neccessitate an abandonment of reason. So I'm walking a fine line between what I consider reasonable (orthodox Christianity) and what I consider unreasonable (orthodox Mormonism).
What does require an abandonment of reason is biblical literalism, a.k.a., fundamentalism. And, as with any religion, there are literalist Mormons and non-literalist Mormons - I've met some of each. The non-literalist Mormons tend to roll their eyes and say, "No, of course I don't believe that dark-skinned peoples are cursed by God, even though the Book of Mormon says that." That's pretty much how I respond when someone asks me if I think that homosexuals and adulterers should be put to death, as stated in my holy book.
So this is the question that Romney will have to answer: Are you a literalist in your reading of the Book of Mormon? Thus far, I haven't heard him answer that question. People will ask about his underwear, his view of "dark-skinned people," and his view of homosexuality. What they're really wanting to know is, are you a fundamentalist? It's basically the same question that JFK was asked about his relationship with the Vatican.
When Romney was heckled last week, he responded by saying, "We need a person of faith to lead the country." For that, he received a standing ovation from his audience. But that statement is nearly meaningless, for even Sam Harris is a person of faith. Strident, angry, atheistic faith - a faith in human reason alone.
We all have faith; it's part and parcel of the human condition. So, indeed, a person of faith will be our next president. But, what fashion of faith? Strident fundamentalism or thoughtful centrism?
P.S. I picked this interesting poll and commentary off of Moby's blog:
a recent gallup poll asked americans how likely they would be to vote for a qualified
presidential candidate if they were black, latino, gay, female, etc. here are the results:
A woman 88%
Married for third time 67%
72 years of age 57%
A homosexual 55%
An atheist 45%
so, basically, 94% of americans would happily vote for a black candidate for president, but only 45% of americans would vote for an atheist.
the reason this is kind of funny is that the 3 leading gop candidates are:
a-a mormon(mitt romney, 72% of americans would vote for a mormon)
b-72 years old(john mccain, 57% of americans would vote for someone 72 years old)
c-twice divorced(rudy giulianni, 67% of americans would vote for someone who was on their 3rd wife).
Tony Jones is the National Coordinator for Emergent Village.