Friday, June 17, 2011

Huntsman, Romney and The Book of Mormon

When John F. Kennedy gave his landmark speech on his Catholicism, he allayed the voting public two principal fears with regard to this alien faith: he would adhere to the separation of church and state, and would be answering to the American people, not the Pope. Mitt Romney’s speech on faith of 2007 was a somewhat woollier affair. He used the word ‘Mormon’ but once: “I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavour to live by it”. He added the following:

There is one fundamental question 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 Savior of mankind. My church’s beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance. Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.

Indeed, the Mormon Church’s beliefs are not the same as other faiths, but Romney is fundamentally incorrect to argue, sheltering under the umbrella of tolerance, that we ought not to critique it. He and Jon Huntsman should be required to answer a number of very direct and specific questions about their faith: the Book of Mormon test. Do you believe that ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America? Do you believe that the current President of the LDS Church Thomas S. Monson speaks directly to God? Do you believe that in 1978 God did change his mind about black people? Do you believe that God lives on a planet called Kolob? and that Jesus has his own planet as well? Do you believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri?

One of the qualities which make the United States one of a few exceptional nations is its absolute freedom of religion, as set down in the First Amendment of the Constitution. This freedom is a two-way street: it grants individuals the freedom to practice their faith free of federal or state influence; and it prevents one faith from dominating all others by separating church from state and keeping religious proselytising out of public life. Americans have the right and the duty to question all those who seek elected office about their faith, be they Catholic, Mormon or Southern Baptist (or indeed, maybe one day, their absence of it), and Romney is wrong to argue that religious freedom is a shield, preventing all faiths from any kind of criticism. The absence of religious criticism would mean the death of the American experiment.


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