Does Mormonism include some strange beliefs? You bet. They think Jesus came to America after he wrapped up the New Testament story. He preached here to a vast, highly developed culture of whose existence we have no evidence. And it goes on and on. Magic stones, a new gospel written on gold plates that no one has ever seen. There’s some odd stuff in there, but does it matter?
Picking on a candidate’s religious beliefs is like making fun of his mother. Sure, maybe she’s batty and erratic, but he loves her. Perhaps you can make an attenuated case that her weirdness is going to affect his performance, but for the most part bringing her into the race is just mean.
Unless a candidate has made a career of forcing his beliefs on everyone else (you know who you are), their faith should be largely out of bounds. And really, when it comes to strange beliefs, who’s gonna throw stones?
My religion is built on the premise that a murdered guy came back to life. “Wow,” you might say, “That’s amazing. I’d love to talk with someone who has been dead. When can I see him?”
“Uhm, well he’s not here.”
“You said he came back to life. Where is he?”
“He went away…up in the clouds.”
“But he’s coming back. You can meet him then!”
“How long has he been gone?”
“About two thousand years, but he’ll be here any day now…”
Nothing at all odd about that.
And don’t let your Jewish friends get smug. Some of them believe that God parted a sea to let their ancestors escape from a dictator and then closed those walls of water down on that guy’s army. They have a story about a prophet who survived for three days inside a fish. Not strange enough for you? Ask them to explain what a ‘Golem‘ is.
Muslims have a bit less of the miraculous than we do, but they still don’t escape it completely. Mohammed apparently rode a winged-horse up to heaven and came back. That may sound incredible, but they have proof. There’s a hoofprint from Muhammad’s steed in a stone at the center of the al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem at the point where the beast launched itself into the heavens. How can you argue with incontrovertible evidence?
And the atheists don’t get away scot-free either. They’re just as certain of the answers to unknowable questions like ‘what happens when you die’ as your garden-variety fundamentalist. They manage to achieve even greater certainty than us based entirely on an absence of evidence. Sure, that’s not as colorful as believing in flying angels or dragons, but it’s just as much of an intellectual stretch.
If Mitt Romney’s campaign was based on the premise that America is a Mormon country which should be governed according to Mormon dogma, his beliefs would be a serious concern. But as it is, we should all just put the stones back in our pockets. The overwhelming majority of us live within striking distance of whatever religious faith we were raised on. The miracle stories that seem perfectly ordinary to us sound perfectly ludicrous to everyone else.
Those elements of the fantastic are just a piece of the puzzle. Our religious stories guide us as we wrestle with the unanswerable questions in life, just as Jacob wrestled with God. The stories that frame our faith give us a humbling sense of our place in the world and our sacred duties to each other. In them we find inspiration, hope, and meaning.
Using those stories to diminish someone is like picking on an ugly baby.
Hitchens claims that anyone who believes something as bizarre as Mormonism should have to “defend and explain himself.” Hitchens, gifted with an utter certainty of what lies beyond the grave and where precisely the universe came from, shares a surprising common ground with the world’s most extreme fundamentalists. He knows exactly what everyone should believe and insists they be held accountable to his certainty.
That isn’t the system our Founders created when they banned any religious test for office and described a “wall of separation” between church and state. Over time we come to resemble those we hate. Hitchens has overstepped in a particularly ugly way.
Let he who is without ridiculousness crack the first joke.
And in closing, wisdom from Trey Parker and Matt Stone:
Abandon All Hope, yada, yada, yada…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chris Ladd is a Texan who is now living in the Chicago area. He has served for several years as a Republican Precinct Committeeman in DuPage County, IL, and was active in state and local Republican campaigns in Texas for many years.
Also check out: http://www.frumforum.com/author/chris-ladd