Saturday, October 21, 2006
The Romney Candidacy, or Will The Saints Go Marching In? (Part 1 of 2)
For the Republican Party, particularly the Christian Right (or what I have come to call the “Ecclesio-Leninist” faction), the chief objective of modern politics is to preserve and expand executive power in order to continue the war against “Islamo-Fascism” -- and to ensure that the powers accumulated by Bush remain in Republican hands.
In the interests of achieving that objective, the Ecclesio-Leninists are willing to embrace electable candidates who may be regarded as less than ideal in terms of their positions on various social, economic, and theological issues. Their position could be summarized thus: As long as we can agree to kill 'em all, we'll let God sort out our moral and theological disagreements.
This is why Mitt Romney, who is perceived as the most conservative potential 2008 GOP standard- bearer, is gaining political traction with Christian Conservatives in the South who ordinarily wouldn't have anything to do with a Mormon politician.
As late as 2004, Romney was marketing himself as a “moderate” or “centrist” Republican. When he ran for the Senate in 1994, Romney actually tried to flank Ted Kennedy to the left on issues such as abortion and homosexual “rights.”
But in courting the Evangelical Right, Romney has made all of the appropriate noises on social issues and, more importantly, offered unqualified support to the Bush regime's seizure of dictatorial power (including the purported presidential authority to order torture of detainees). He also endeared himself to the War-obsessed Christian Right by inveighing against Mohamed Khatami during the former Iranian President's visit to Harvard. Romney, who has also been an unabashed supporter of the war in Iraq, would almost certainly support a war with Iran as well.
True, the Mormon Church teaches that all Christian denominations are apostate, and that only faithful, active Mormons will reach the highest level of “celestial glory” in the world to come. The religion teaches that God is an exalted man, and that those who dutifully follow the Mormon program will themselves be exalted to godhood as well. It diverges in many other critical matters of doctrine from Bible-based Christianity.
Romney's growing support among Evangelical conservatives demonstrates that these essential disagreements are no longer a significant political liability.
Who cares if Romney is wrong about how people can get to heaven, as long as he is willing to kill the “right” people? -- or so his Evangelical supporters appear to think.
This is a remarkable development for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that until about 116 years ago, the Republican Party targeted Mormon polygamy as one of the “twin relics of barbarism” (the other being chattel slavery) to be abolished through aggressive federal action – and Mormonism itself to be an aberrant religion akin to Mohammedanism.
Fair warning: The following portion of this blog is largely devoted to an examination of religious doctrines. Those of my readers who are of an atheist or agnostic bent will probably find it tedious and unedifying; those who are Mormons will probably find it offensive. I earnestly ask those who belong to either category to bear with me until the end, because I am driving toward a point that I think is worthy of your consideration, even if it's a little rough getting there.
When last I mused in print about the impending Romney presidential bid, I pointed out that Mormons actually have more in common with Muslims, on matters of faith and doctrine, than they have with mainstream Christians. To substantiate that claim I offered a link to an essay by the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR), a California organization of Mormon scholars whose mission is to defend their Church in the eyes of the public.
The essay(.pdf) is entitled “A Message of Friendship: Muslims and Latter-day Saints.”
I should point out that I am on record calling for a less truculent policy toward the Muslim world, since I think we have trouble enough in our dealings with Islam without borrowing any more. It is not my view that we can or should wage a “war of civilizations,” primarily because war by its nature undermines civilizations rather than preserving them, and secondarily because it's unreasonable to describe contemporary America as a civilized society in many ways.
That being said, this must be also: There are serious and insurmountable differences between the Christian and Muslim faiths; the truth claims they make are mutually exclusive. Which is why, once again, it's significant that Mormonism (as FAIR points out) shares a great deal of common ground with Islam (the following quotes are taken from FAIR's analysis):
*Mormons, unlike conservative Christians, find “truth” in the Quran:
"Latter-day Saints accept all truth, wherever it may be found, as part of our religion -- whether in the Quran or in other good books."
*Mormons believe that God as described in Islam is the same Being worshiped by Bible believers:
"Latter-day Saints recognize the terms God and Allah to refer to the same being in different languages."
As a matter of history, “Allah” was a Moon deity adored by Arab pagans (I use that term in its descriptive, rather than pejorative, sense) long before Mohammed began his career as a prophet.
*Mormons and Muslims both regard mainstream Christianity as degenerate, and the Bible as flawed and inadequate:
"Muslims and Latter-day Saints both recognize that after the coming of Jesus, divisions and apostasy arose in the Christian church.... Latter-day Saints and Muslims acknowledge that writings in the Bible, while inspired and truthful, underwent some changes as they passed through the hands of careless scribes and translators and conniving priests."
*Some Mormon leaders have actually acknowledged the prophetic calling of Mohammed as authentic:
The FAIR paper cites the opinion of LDS Apostle (and counselor to Brigham Young) George Q. Cannon: "I believe myself that Mahomed, whom the Christians deride and call a false prophet ... was a man raised up by the Almighty, and inspired to a certain extent by Him to effect the reforms which he did in his land.” Elsewhere, FAIR asserts that "revealed to Abraham and Muhammad many particulars relating to even seemingly small aspects of daily life.... Would God withhold counsel from us today in great matters when he [sic] taught Abraham and Muhammad even in small ones?"
There's a great deal to be said about trying to understand how Muslims think and what they believe, and seeking not to give offense unnecessarily. But this hardly requires that Christians concede key truth claims made by Muslims – regarding the purportedly divine origin of the Quran, the calling of Mohammed as a prophet, and the identity of Allah as the Supreme Being.
In fact, by professing two of those three tenets an individual performs shahadah -- that is, he converts to Islam. The Quranic punishment for repudiating that profession, either in word or deed, is death. Which is why countless Christian martyrs, both ancient and modern, have been willing to suffer torture and death rather than conceding even as much as FAIR did in its “Message of Friendship” to Muslims.
Mormon founder Joseph Smith was compared to Mohammed (the link is to a sectarian source, but the footnotes are reliable) in fact, during a bitter inter-communal war between Mormons and non-Mormons in Missouri, Smith actually offered the parallel himself. Referring to the Muslim refrain, “Al-Quran or the Sword,” Smith predicted that the time would come when Americans would face the ultimatum, “Joseph Smith or the Sword.”
There are other points of similarity as well between Islam and Mormonism. To name just two: Like Mohammed, Joseph Smith claimed to have been visited by an angel (Gabriel in Mohammed's case, “Moroni” in Smith's), and , through that messenger, to have received a new book of scripture; both Muslims and Mormons have practiced polygamy, and some fringe elements of both religions do so even today.
At this point, irreligious readers will ask, quite reasonably, “Yeah, and so what? Why should we care?”
It's understandable that those who are indifferent to religious matters would ignore them as criteria for evaluating presidential candidates. But how is it reasonable for professed Christians to ignore or minimize such matters when deciding whom to entrust with the immense, and ever-expanding, powers of the presidency?
Christians are taught that where our hearts are, our treasures will be also. For a large and growing segment of the conservative Christian community, the most coveted treasure is political power; so set is that cohort's collective heart on preserving the Republican Party's temporal power that it's willing to embrace a candidate whose views of eternal matters are, in some ways, probably closer to the Islamic “enemy” than their own.
"Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness"? For too many people who consider themselves Christian conservatives, power is much more important than righteousness -- power without limit, resting directly on force. Which is why, once again, I refer to such people as "Ecclesio-Leninists."
Next: Mormon theocratic politics, then and now.
at 12:00 AM