Digging Back Into the Mormonism Mailbag

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Yesterday I posted a very long item about the "Mormon question," a question that keeps gaining salience with the serial self-destruction of each "anyone but Romney" candidate in the GOP field. Since it was so long, here's the executive summary of my own case:

I can imagine Mormon candidates -- or Muslim, Baptist, Jewish, Christian Scientist, etc ones -- who were so fundamentalist in applying their faith that to vote for them would be to vote in their religion. Neither Romney nor Huntsman gives off that vibe to me. I'm not going to vote for Mitt Romney, but that's because of the corelessness of his positions, and the irresponsible warmongering of his talk about Iran, and his shameless bloody-shirtism about the immigrant menace, and many other positions that have no known connection to his faith. For me, Romney the Mormon is exactly as appealing as he would be if he were Catholic, Jewish,  Episcopalian, or any other mainstream faith. The only difference is that I would actually find him more appealing if he were an "out" Muslim or atheist, because those would be gutsier stances in the America of our day.

Samples from the latest round of replies:

1) Who is anti-Mormon? Reader SK points us to a fascinating Gallup poll of who would, and would not, hesitate to vote for an otherwise qualified Mormon candidate for president. The results are not categorized by racial group, but there are some other interesting patterns:

GallupPoll.gif

In short: Democrats overall, non-college people, Protestants, and non-Christians are warier of Mormon candidates than Republicans overall, college grads, and Catholics.

1A) Bonus question: Which is a bigger handicap in running for the Presidency, being a Mormon or an atheist? According to the same poll, it's no contest.

Gallup2.gif

If these results can be believed, except for being an atheist, the greatest electoral handicap is being gay or lesbian. After the jump, a note on that front, and a few more items.

2) What about the Mormons' anti-gay views? Reader LB, who has argued with rising choler that my criticism of anti-Mormonism makes me effectively anti-gay, writes now to say:

Loved the anti-gay bigotry you threw in with your new "I love Mormons" post.

Did you even notice the hateful attitude toward gay people in this comment? [Not from me but from a reader's message I quoted - JF]

"I remember a gay(!) fundamentalist Baptist co-worker tell me, a couple years ago, softly, under his breath, that Mormons are nice people, but they are not Christian."

Because it's absurd and evil to suggest that Mormons aren't Christians. But perfectly unremarkable to suggest how ridiculous it is for gay people to consider themselves Christians. Fundamentalist yet!  Baptist!  What  a hoot!

Hideous.

I do not mean to say that you intend to endorse this attitude by printing it.  I think you genuinely didn't notice the contempt for the idea that gay people deserve to have a full participation in life.  Or just didn't think it mattered.  Because bigotry against gay people is something that you believe is inherently okay.  You don't share it, but you know lots of nice people do, and you don't want to see them pay any price for it.  That's the attitude that most "reasonable" straight people in authority have.  It's why Obama needed Rick Warren at his inauguration.

And it's that tolerance of bigotry, that belief that on some level there is nothing wrong with someone who hates gay people, that really hurts us most now.  Vocal, ugly bigotry, is mostly disapproved of.  But put on a suit and speak softly, and people like you will insist people must listen.  And so people do.  And they elect people like Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann, who are as hateful toward gay people as any Klan member could ever be.  And because that bigotry is directed at gay people, you accept it.  It's not the best thing, but it's just the way it is.  No need to ever mention gay issues, unless it's to explain why they shouldn't be held against some straight bigot.

Please stop making anti-gay bigotry okay. 

Take our reality as seriously as you take Mitt Romney's.

3) The "wedding cult" issue. One of several notes about a different message I quoted, from a mother whose daughter had become an LDS convert:

That letter from the mother of a girl who converted to Mormonism really got me. I did not know that the Mormon Church would not allow non-believers to attend their marriage ceremonies. If we want to talk about cults, this seems to me to be one of the border lines. If the general public, not to mention the bride's own mother, is excluded from attending Church ceremonies then that does not pass the smell test for me. Presumably this exclusion is based on the assertion that the couple to be married are also becoming married in the faith and family of the Church and that this family will be more significant than any prior, including biological, family. Any group that sponsors, or even endorses such a practice is highly suspect in my view. I see nothing wrong with asking Mr. Romney to answer questions in this regard. Otherwise, I would consider him to be practicing some form of omerta with all of the associations that word calls to mind.

4) From an atheist:

What is most important in this entire discussion is having the discussion itself. Taking the time to educate ourselves on the beliefs of candidates and using their religious beliefs as a way to navigate and explore the foundation of their principles are the actions of an enquiring and intelligent populace. The level to which each individual delves into details may vary but the discussion certainly exposes the extremes to more moderate positions....

Questioning anyone's religious beliefs is to question both how and what they think, but the former is what carries all the weight in my decision making. Any religious person exposes how they think by claiming to be a person of faith. What they think after claiming faith is of little importance. In most cases their beliefs are mind-numbingly predictable.

I also don't believe Mormonism is a cult. Mormonism is a religion though.... As an atheist I find all organized religion (specifically theology) to be cultish. Mormonism is a religion. Mormonism is a young minority religion. Mormons are therefor stuck trying to justify their unwelcome beliefs to a religious body whose equally ridiculous claims have two thousand years of inertia behind them.

5) Are Mormons really that homogeneous? Finally for today's installment, this message from someone who will not vote for Romney or Huntsman:

One problem I have with both the high- and low-grade anti-Mormonism is in the assumption of Mormon homogeneity. Even the more refined arguments tend to assume that all Mormons share a single understanding of their faith which disposes them to a single political perspective. Senator Harry Reid should sufficiently disprove this assumption. Sure, he might be an outlier among LDS politicians, but that's the point. There is room in the faith for political variation along the same spectrum as in the nation as a whole. Where that's the case, I don't see how Romney's Mormonism (or Huntsman's Mormonism) can be grounds for excluding him from political office.
 
Many Mormons in the past did, and some Mormons now do, believe in things that strike outsiders (and many insiders) as bizarre. But unless and until someone can provide evidence that Mitt Romney's personal beliefs (as opposed to those of some of his co-religionists) would interfere with exercising the duties of office, merely belonging to the LDS Church should not be a disqualification.
 
Several of those who have written to you or written in other publications have pointed to Mormon beliefs about the potential to become like God as particularly troubling. It is true that Mormons hold fast to the promise of their potential as God's children to inherit (through Christ) "all that the Father has." This is part of their understanding of what it means to be God's children. But this is not an exclusive Mormon promise. Rather, it is extended to all those who will accept it. Mormon theology includes not only a strong emphasis on proselyting in this life, but also a belief that all of God's children will have the opportunity to accept this promise in the life to come. So in answer to Harold Bloom's question about how a Mormon U.S. President would view the 98% of his constituency who are not LDS, one possibility is this: as children of God with divine potential. I fail to see how that would be a disqualifying perspective.
 
Personally, I won't be voting for Romney or Huntsman. Their political views are too conservative for me. But I can honestly say that has nothing to do with their religious beliefs. Because, you see, I am an active Mormon Democrat.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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