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And the dogmas of Mitt Romney’s sect are breathtaking. They include these: that in 1827 a young man named Joseph Smith dug up a set of golden plates covered with indecipherable writing; that, with the help of a pair of magic spectacles, he “translated” the plates from an otherwise unknown language (Reformed Egyptian) into an Olde English that reads like an unfunny parody of the King James Bible; that the Garden of Eden is in Missouri; that American Indians descend from Hebrew immigrants; that Jesus reappeared in pre-Columbian America and converted so many people that the result was a series of archeologically unconfirmable wars in which millions died; that while polygamy had divine approval for most of the nineteenth century, God changed his mind in 1890, just in time for Utah to be allowed into the Union; and that God waited until 1978 to reveal that it was O.K. for blacks to be fully paid-up members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
One might ask, What of it? Plenty of religions have curious doctrines. (Several, for example, hold that on Sundays millions of people drink blood and eat flesh.) The Framers knew this was dangerous territory, which was one reason they tried to rule it out of political bounds. And Romney himself warned, in a speech, titled “Faith in America,” that he delivered on December 6th, “There are some who would have a Presidential candidate describe and explain his church’s distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited.”
The weasel word here is “distinctive.” Romney had no problem describing his church’s not-so-distinctive doctrines. “There is one fundamental question,” he
continued, as if he were speaking on tax cuts, “about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Saviour of mankind.” (But please don’t ask about Jesus’ post-Resurrection travel schedule.) The candidate went on to patronize rival religions, administering quick head pats to Catholicism (“I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass”), evangelicalism (for the “approachability” of its version of God), Pentecostalism (“tenderness of spirit”), Lutheranism (“confident independence”), Judaism (“ancient traditions”), and Islam (“frequent prayer”—a bit feeble, that).
Missing from this litany, of course, was something to the effect of “I appreciate the deep commitment to reason of the agnostics and atheists.” Indeed, the only “religion” that Romney had anything rude to say about was “the religion of secularism.” He pointed scornfully at the “empty” cathedrals of Europe as evidence of “societies just too busy or too ‘enlightened’ to venture inside and kneel in prayer,” adding a little later that “any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty” has “a friend and ally in me.” Take that, NATO. On your knees.
Secularism is not a religion. And it is not true that “freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom,” as Romney maintained. What freedom, including religious freedom, requires is, precisely, secularism—which is to say, state neutrality in matters of religion. (Nor does religion require freedom, as the European past and the Middle Eastern present demonstrate; religions, plural, do, however.) “Americans do not respect believers of convenience,” Romney thundered in his “faith” speech. “Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world.” These were strange observations, coming as they did from a man whose campaign has consisted largely of jettisoning the beliefs he found convenient as a Massachusetts politician but finds highly inconvenient now that he stands to gain the Republican nomination for President. But then those were merely political beliefs. . . .