Why do self-reinvention, flip-flopping and flat out lying come so easily to Mitt Romney? Could it owe something to his religion (cult?) that he dare not speak its name that was forged in its own cauldron of fantasy and delusion?
When it comes to religion I consider myself to be very ecumenical––I am contemptuous of all of them—however, not equally so. Held in less contempt are those religions that are non-evangelical. Buddhism and Judaism win points on that score. Religions that have extreme, fundamentalist factions––and this includes just about all of them––earn extra contempt. I hypothesize that the world would be better off without religions altogether, but since it seems that the world has never been free of them, I have no way of knowing. Still, it would be worth a try.
All religions are silly and self-delusional. Based in a fear of the unknown they are nothing if not creative in their attempts to fill that cognitive void with comforting mystical narratives designed to assuage both temporal and eschatological terrors. And so we have sky gods and earth gods, polytheisms and monotheisms, angels and demons, creation times and end times, prophecies, scriptures and sacred books and incantations, etc. etc., all of it invented for the purpose of diminishing the fears of the credulous and enhancing the power of religious authorities. In the process there is no end to the silliness of the magical thinking by which the liturgies and dogmas of religious faiths are elaborated.
Meanwhile, I regard religion as anything from a scourge to a stupid comedy. I’m not sure where Mormonism belongs on this scale. I am inclined to hold with those detractors who regard it as a cult. Although I grew up only thirty miles or so from its original holy ground, Palmyra, New York, and had a few Mormons as students over the years, I have had little contact with these abstainers in all things except money and marrying young virginal girls. I do know that there are some 60,000 of them out in the world soul snatching converts on their “missions,” and I did run into a few in Hong Kong about who I have written unflatteringly.*
Because they are evangelists, because they are people who run around telling other people that they have a better faith for them, because they are in our face, they are justly open for examination of their beliefs. Moreover, with the prospect that we could soon have our first Mormon president of the United States, an automaton devoid of soul, personality, or a modicum of social empathy, I think this system of beliefs, both theological and lifestyle, is open for special scrutiny.
The sheer sleaziness of religion in current Republican political posturing is evident in the manner in which church is accorded at least parity, if not superiority, with state, but in which it is also employed to profess or disguise different degrees of faithfulness and piety. Sanctimonious Rick Santorum never appears without several members of his obsequious offspring (one with a permanent St. Theresa-in ecstasy smile) produced by his faithful wife on the limited occasions on which they practiced exclusively procreative missionary-position sexual intercourse. Myth Romney does his damnedest to not mention that he is the practitioner of a faith that engages in secret baptisms of people of other faiths. (You just can’t make this shit up, because these guys have already made it up)** Ron Paul doesn’t say much about religion because he already worships the goddess of selfishness, Ayn Rand. That leaves Newt Gingrich, on at least his second religion, Roman Catholicism, and his third wife, but who says little in specific because he really worships his own penis.
Obama haters love to go on and on––without the slightest bit of evidence––about the president’s supposed connection to Islam, Socialism, and Saul Alinsky (who they know as much about as they know about Islam and Socialism). They like to create this cloud of obscurantism and un-Americanism about him. False as these allegations are, they would ring much truer leveled at Mormonism, a religion, or cult you prefer, that is as goofy as Scientology and as secretive and mysterious as the Knights Templar or a bunch of Masonic wankers who meet on Thursdays to exchange secret handshakes and favorite porn sites. In a complex and increasingly “globalized” world that needs to be governed with increasing realism, those with mystical interpretations, denials of scientific realities, and judgments based upon sectarian differences rather than reason, are more likely to hasten its doom, which is indeed a scriptural denoument devoutly wished especially by those seeking martyrdom or “rapture.”
Mormonism occupies a place in America’s religious history similar to what Apple occupies in America’s technological history. Shunned and criticized at their origins for their insularity and dogmatism, they are today robust and prosperous. But there the analogy ends. Mormons, or “saints” as they like to call themselves, got their start back in the 19th century when their founding father, Joseph Smith, started seeing things like angels and the alluring figures of young girls. He started meeting up with some angel he called Moroni, who gave him a sort of golden tablets inscribed with some strange text from which Smith obtained the tenants of his newfound religion. Moroni appears these days mainly on finials of Mormon temples, and the golden tablets, which Moroni supposedly has taken back to heaven, and not available for validation.
So it’s not a very original beginning. Angels, and the handing down tablets inscribed with divine instruction, are rather hackneyed religious stories. These weren’t the only borrowings; Mormons refer to non-Mormons as “gentiles,” called Native Americans the “lost tribes of Israel,” and referred to their promised land as Zion. At this point just about anybody could have cobbled together a bunch of superstitious bullshit with the same “historical” ingredients.
But Smith’s new religion was at sufficient variance with prevailing American Christian sects, especially having added the new wrinkle of polygamy, to get his ass run out of upstate New York, and several other states. Smith got himself defenestrated and killed in Illinois in 1844, and leadership passed on to Brigham Young who this band of ”saints” on their Exodus to their Zion in Utah. There they have prospered financially and politically, and from there they operate a successful and expanding global evangelical/economic enterprise. They pretty much run Utah.
Okay, nothing wrong with making a buck and getting some political hegemony over your turf. Most religions do that, and some have done worse to get their foothold in the secular world. But the Mormons have not been content with hunkering down in the lee of Utah’s mountains and porking each others’ teenage daughters. Soon enough they were confident to go evangelical. But first they had to bowdlerize a bit of their own history. For example, in 1857, a wagon train of one hundred and twenty families migrating to California was massacred in southwest Utah at a place called Mountain Meadows. The Mormons had long denied any responsibility for the massacre, blaming a few renegade church members and a band of Paiute Indians. But in 1999 when, at the request of the descendants of the victims, the Church rebuilt a small monument at the site, a public-relations disaster exploded on them when construction workers discovered many bones that indicated that the women and children had been shot at close range, apparently by Mormons, rather than killed by the arrows, clubs, and knives of the Indians.
Since then the Mormon Church has gotten a lot better at public relations, although they have many critics, many of them people who have left the church. The Mormon hierarchy is intensely secretive, run by a group of white men who seem to live into their nineties. They realized that polygamy was a handicap to broader acceptance and renounced in the 1890s, although a breakaway sect continues the practice. It took them longer to recognize Blacks as human beings, but gave way in 1978. But it is their highly successful evangelism, conducted through an army of missionaries around the world, that threatens other religions, many of which regard Mormonism as little more than a cult. (Mitt avoided any service in the Vietnam war by bringing the word of Mormonism to Parisians in wretchedly-accented French.)
It is easy to see why they are regarded as a cult. They call themselves Saints, and believe that they will transit to a “Godlike” eternal life. Their history/theology it is an amalgam a fantasy and biblical borrowings concocted by Joseph Smith that rivals in its bat-shit goofiness Scientology. I won’t go into more of its silliness of invented nations and tribes here. You can read it online it will fully appreciate why Mark Twain once called the Book of Mormon “chloroform in print.”
Our main concern should be that, like all religions, the Mormons hanker for secular power to combine with the hold they have on the minds of their adherents. They have for some time hankered for the grand prize of the presidency, but they like to operate from behind the curtain. Over eighty percent of Americans have little idea what Mormonism is. Small wonder when faithful practitioners like Romney in getting a lengthy speech about his faith mentioned its name only one time. A strictly hierarchical paternalistic, white male dominated organization run by plenipotentiary “prophets” is hardly an organizational model from which one would choose someone to lead a putatively democratic nation.
© 2012, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 5.3.2012)
*I did write about an encounter with a couple of Mormon missionaries who accosted me in Hong Kong back in 1997.
**it was recently reported in the New York Times that the Mormon church was forbidding its women from making secret baptisms while they were menstruating. One wonders if Mr. Romney would address a question about this matter as one of church dogma or women’s rights. Either way he would likely flub it.