The Zeal of a Convert
Ryan Lizza's piece on Mitt Romney is just as good as everyone says, but I found this passage somewhat puzzling:
In private, a Romney aide frankly conceded that, aside from accusations of “flip-flopping,” his greatest political liability is his religion, which is unfamiliar to most Americans. Jan Shipps, a leading non-Mormon scholar of Mormonism, said that it was useful to consider the difference between Romney and Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, who holds the highest government post of any Mormon in American history. “Reid is a Church member,” Shipps said. “But he is a convert. I’m sure he’s devoted, I’m sure he’s a tithe-paying member and all of that”—devout Mormons contribute ten per cent of their earnings to the Church—“but he was not born into the Church. He didn’t get Mormonism with his mother’s milk, as it were. But Romney is a sixth-generation Mormon”—what scholars call a DNA Mormon. “His ancestors were some of the very first converts.”
I suppose I see what Shipps is getting at - Romney's family history emphasizes Mormonism's various strangenesses in a way that Harry Reid's non-Mormon family history doesn't. But if you're trying to decide whether you should vote for a politician with peculiar-seeming religious beliefs, wouldn't you be much, much less likely to vote for them if they were a convert, like Reid, than if they'd been born into the faith? After all, most people stay in the religion they're born into, regardless of its theology or history; conversion, by contrast, suggests a much more profound assessment, and acceptance, of your religion's beliefs and practices. So one can look askance at Mormon teaching and still say, well, of course Mitt Romney's going to stay in the Church - he's just sticking with the faith of his father and mothers (and mothers, and mothers ...). But Reid deliberately chose Mormonism (and apparently persuaded his wife to convert from Judaism as well), which suggests a different and more radical acceptance of its doctrines than you'd expect from a member of the Romney family.
(And I don't mean to single out Mormonism here: If you think that anyone who believes in Roman Catholicism should have their head examined, then a convert-politician - like, say, Bobby Jindal - ought to be much weirder and more worrisome than a cradle Catholic office-seeker.)