Editor’s Note: In case you’re wondering, the picture on the right is Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), also known as the Mormons. If you’d like to know more about the Mormons, you can find out everything you need to know by watching the “South Park” episode (season 7, episode 12) that dealt with the religion. You also might want to see the Broadway play, “The Book of Mormon,” written by the creators of “South Park,” which is funny, clever, educational and also has some really catchy tunes (it cleaned up at the 2011 Tony Awards). This article generated one Letter to the Editor, which was less than complimentary toward yours truly; however, I didn’t take it too personally, because its author seems like a moron.
The choice of candidates for the next election could cause some extremists at both ends of the political spectrum to sit this one out. On the Far Left, there’s widespread disenchantment with President Obama’s conciliatory centrism. And, on the GOP’s Taliban wing, the Religious Right faces the specter of voting for a member of a cult.
It looks increasingly likely that Mitt Romney will be the country’s first Mormon presidential nominee. This prospect already has Baptist pastor and Rick Perry backer Robert Jeffress calling Romney’s faith a “non-Christian cult.” For many Southern evangelicals in the Republican base, voting for a Mormon could be problematic.
The idea that the GOP has become more a religion than a political party has been posited by pundits from liberal talk show host Bill Maher to conservative journalist Andrew Sullivan. With Perry, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum and Michelle Bachmann all claiming God has called them to run, GOP voters may find it hard to decide whom the deity has actually endorsed.
Like any fundamentalist sect, Republicans have canonized creation myths based on faith, rather than facts. For example, right-wingers believe the Founding Fathers were conservative Christians — not Age of Reason deists, such as Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin, or agnostics, like Thomas Paine — and, if they were alive today, the framers of the Constitution would reject church/state separation and be giddy for Sarah Palin.
Like a religion, the GOP has inerrant articles of faith, such as trickle-down economics, which are untethered from reality. Conservative dogma proclaims lower taxes on rich people reduce deficits, a creed the smarter President Bush called “voodoo economics.” (By this logic, drop their tax rates to zero, and deficits will disappear entirely.) Demanding ideological purity, GOP fundamentalists shun any politician who even considers enhanced revenue for any purpose, reproductive choice, any form of gun control and the science of global warming.
Science has historically been religion’s bête noire, and Republicans have adopted a fundamentalist mistrust of scientists. GOP presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman has warned that becoming the “anti-science party” is a bad idea, but this is the sort of rationalism that renders him unacceptable to social conservatives.
After opposing stem cell research during the Bush years, it’s now a conservative precept that climate change is a hoax, even though 98% of climate scientists affirm it, according to the National Academy of Sciences. And, because its evangelical base reveres creationist myths, Republican stalwarts from George W to Palin to Perry reject evolution, despite the fact that 97% of scientists polled in a nonpartisan Pew survey accept it.
Like all religions, the GOP has its holy men. While Christians ask, “What would Jesus do,” conservative campaigners must also divine what Ronald Reagan would do. And, because saints require sinners, their demonization of the Antichrist, Barack Obama — a communist, a foreigner, a radical and a Muslim — makes the Left’s disdain for W seem practically worshipful.
Fundamentalist Christians dislike Democrats, atheists, Muslims and Buddhists, but what really stokes their hellfire is internal unorthodoxy — i.e., heresy. Hence, they readily apply the word “cult” to any Christian minority, such as the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, with whom they have doctrinal disagreements.
One oft-repeated evangelical talking point is that Christianity “isn’t a religion; it’s a relationship” with Jesus. But what they’re talking about is a “correct relationship,” with the proper doctrines and no unorthodox beliefs. Mormons may believe they’re followers of Christ, but they’re considered cultists by fundamentalists who disagree with what Mormons consider scripture and how they interpret it.
Mormons are certainly not a cult in the sense that Jim Jones’ People’s Temple or the Manson family were cults. And their “magic underwear” is only marginally weirder than the claim that wine literally turns into blood during the Eucharist or the notion that snake-handling is fun. Mormons are personable Christians with some outside-the-box beliefs, but, for the Religious Right, cults are simply religions they don’t like.
Mormons span the political continuum, from Romney’s somewhat slippery conservatism, to the more-centrist (hence, unelectable) Huntsman to center-left Democrat Harry Reid. However, the Christian conservative tail wags the GOP dog, and many on the Right will find a Mormon standard bearer difficult to support. So, conservatives continue looking for someone, anyone to supplant Romney, but each “white knight” — from Donald Trump to Bachmann, Perry and Cain — has quickly flamed out.
It would be heartening to see Romney nominated, and even more heartening to see evangelical Republicans enthusiastically support him. This would indicate they recognize that, historically, incestuous marriages of state and religious power create theocracies that have proved to be toxic. There’s a good reason that God, Jesus and the Bible are nowhere mentioned in the Constitution, and that Article VI specifically prohibits any religious test for holding office.
Too much mixing of church and state yields the craziness of a Congress that wastes time reaffirming the motto “In God We Trust,” during a fiscal crisis. It would be nice if we ended up looking at that sort of crazy in our rear-view mirror in 2012.
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