I know I’m going to be out of line here, especially for an anthropologist, but why is talking about the fact that Mitt Romney is a Mormon off limits? I have a problem with this.
First of all, there’s the tithing thing. I’m not comfortable with the idea that 10% of the President’s income would wind up in the hands of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. That’s the people’s money. That’s my money. I’d sooner see him spend it on another private jet than have him hand it over to a church. Any church. Something feels vaguely unconstitutional about it.
Second, anyone who believes in the literal truth of any religion is intellectually challenged in a manner that should disqualify him from seeking higher office. I’m sorry, but it has to be said: The miraculous foundations of every deist faith are patently ridiculous. This is easily explained by the fact that these things date to a time before the advent of science and technology, when humans beings were still in the intellectual Dark Ages. First they thought that the sun was pulled across the sky by an immortal charioteer; later, they were certain that a man had parted a river to allow his people to escape their captors. Still later, a virgin gave birth to the child of God, who then went on to turn water into wine.
Yeah, sure. Tell me another one. That’s what passed for knowledge in those days, before the scientific revolution. Before anyone was aware of the facts of reproduction, at least as far as the ovum was concerned. Back when people believed in alchemy and were busily trying to turn lead into gold. Back when being left-handed or epileptic was the work of the Devil, for crying out loud!
The Mormons are a special case because their faith dates to the 19th century, long after our intellectual awakening; they have no excuse for their ignorance. In the 1820s, an established con artist claimed to have received a series of revelations including the “fact” that Jesus Christ traveled to the New World after his resurrection, where he ministered to the Native Americans — who, by the way, were a lost tribe of the Jews who migrated there several hundred years before the birth of Christ. Never mind the fact that people have been present on this continent for a minimum of 10,000 years. And while the Old and New Testaments at least contain elements of history and records of real places, the Book of Mormon has a cast of characters acting in locales that do not actually exist. Joseph Smith wasn’t big on fact-checking the crap that came out of his hat.
It’s one thing to be a religious literalist, but it’s another thing entirely to base your politics on it. Politics cannot be faith-based; they must be reality-based. This does, of course, disqualify the entire Republican field at the moment. Mr. Romney, however, has the special distinction of membership in a Church that baptizes Holocaust victims and tells its people that they can themselves become gods. God himself, by the way, is an alien man from another planet.
As an anthropologist, I want to say that all religions are valid, legitimate and deserving of respect, but they do not represent a reality on which everyone can agree. They are composed of metaphors, allegories, histories, and outright fictions intended to bind a people together in a specific time and place, and they are not applicable outside of their own particular temporal, cultural, and geographic boundaries. They are best understood as products of and exclusive to the cultures that create them. They have no place in the politics of a modern, multicultural nation. You might as well go put your face in a hat.