On Religion and Politics, Unbelievably…

Here’s an announcement: politicians aren’t actually religious. They pretend to be because they must. And in some cases, they parrot religiosity quite well. But they don’t do that thing that religious people daily and sincerely do and they don’t believe in a personal God. At best, they’re Deists, like Thomas Jefferson, and therefore talk God-talk well enough.

Accept this. And then move on to the truly critical political proposition that religious orientation is not an issue in the 2012 election. Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith is as irrelevant as Barack Obama’s suspect Muslim faith. Yes, one is manifest and the other is earnest gossip — but they share a profoundly un-American obsession with the religious orientation of public servants.

Over two hundred years ago, the Founding Fathers quashed discussion of religious orientation as legitimate dialogue in political contests. And they did so wisely and resolutely. In the same clause where they required fealty to the Constitution, they declared any religious test off-limits. The juxtaposition of these two isn’t coincidental.

Article VI, Clause 3, United States Constitution:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

In sum, affirmation of the Constitution is an absolute — and by the way, do this, and then your religious orientation is irrelevant. The United States Constitution is large enough to embrace all religions — but trumps all of them as to loyalty. Affirming it subordinates any religious idiosyncrasies for purposes of public office.

That such a profoundly wise mediation of religion and politics could have been accomplished in the 18th century is another testament to the grandeur of the United States Constitution. From two hundred years ago, we hear this, and we best accede: shut up about Mormonism and Islam.

This discussion is necessary, of course, because, Southern Baptist Pastor Jeffress, supporter of Rick Perry, absurdly declared the Mormon faith a non-Christian “cult.” And progressive blogger Jeffrey Goldberg predicts a leftist gush of anti-Mormonism:

If Romney wins the nomination, we will see a rush of anti-Mormon propaganda — generated by secular liberals, not evangelicals. Anti-Romney leftists, the sort of people who would be loath to utter an unfavorable word about Islamic doctrine, will expend a great deal of energy and money bringing to light the most peculiar aspects of Mormon theology and practice, in an effort to convince evangelicals that the man leading the Republican Party is a harebrained heathen.

Yes, sadly, that’s politics. And our obligation, notwithstanding, is to stay sober. We best honor the Constitution by shutting down even the first hints of religious bigotry in this election.

And Pastor Jeffress is an embarrassment to religion and politics.

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23 Responses to On Religion and Politics, Unbelievably…

  1. lbwoodgate says:

    “If Romney wins the nomination, we will see a rush of anti-Mormon propaganda — generated by secular liberals, not evangelicals. Anti-Romney leftists, the sort of people who would be loath to utter an unfavorable word about Islamic doctrine, will expend a great deal of energy and money bringing to light the most peculiar aspects of Mormon theology and practice,…”

    A rather specious argument that I doubt you can back up Kendrick. The anti-Mormom attacks are not coming from the left now. Why should they in the future? Romney will merely be made to look like the flip-flopper he is on most issues and will be seen by Independents as a no-gain proposition over Obama. The incumbent would have the advantage in this position. The job situation is what will hurt any candidate though and unless Romney can convince enough fools out there that trickle-down economics really does work, even after it has been exposed as a fraud, his chances are no greater than Obama’s to win in 2012.

    Your tact on this is a disappointment Kendrick because you are really laying open an anti-liberal bias I haven’t seen before. I loved your intro into this about religion but then to conclude that liberals will be the demonizers over the the fanatical religious fundamentalists in this country toward Romney is unwarranted and simply another smoke and mirrors approach to detract from policy issues with emotional ones.

    • I don’t understand your reaction, which is misdirected and a bit thin-skinned of you. I didn’t make the argument. Jeffrey Goldberg did. I didn’t even try signal support of the argument, much less high-five it the way your reaction would suggest. Indeed, I reserved my only instance of harsh judgment for the conservative pastor who attacked Mormonism. But while we’re on the subject, a recent poll suggested that 27% of Democrats would never vote for a Mormon, any Mormon — a substantially higher percentage than Republicans. My friend Jeff Veazey did a fine job dissecting that poll and illustrating why leftists might not be disposed to adherents of an essentially conservative religion. But I don’t think it’s so implausible to expect attacks on Mormonism from the left. I’m honestly disappointed by your comment Larry, but I appreciate your visit very much, as always.

      • lbwoodgate says:

        My bad. Sorry, didn’t catch the quote from Jeffries. Not really thin-skinned just too early this morning and wasn’t paying attention.

        ” But while we’re on the subject, a recent poll suggested that 27% of Democrats would never vote for a Mormon, any Mormon “

        Hey, the Democrats have their knuckleheads too.

        • Thanks for clarifying Larry. Much appreciated. I completely get why you would have been disturbed if you thought the Goldberg quote was my words.

  2. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    I have to agree with LB, Kendrick – where did that come from? That’s not you – not the even-handed guy I think I know. Jeffrey Goldberg can predict all he wants – that’s just his opinion, but I, personally, seriously doubt that leftist libs will be focusing on his religious upbringing. Granted, most of us are afraid of the religious right gaining access to the White House, or even the SCOTUS and the Congress – actually, to any part of government, but to predict we’d hop on that Mormon hate bus the way conservatives did with Obama’s background – I just doubt it. There’s much more we’d take issue with – his economic policies, for instance.

    And anyway, I seriously doubt Goldberg’s “progressive” label; his working for The Atlantic belies that.

    • I’ve read a fair number of Goldberg’s posts, and he typically tilts left, but I like his writing. And you don’t think The Atlantic tilts left?! I was actually a subscriber to the print magazine until recently, and have read a lot of The Atlantic. It definitely tilts left.

      • Snoring Dog Studio says:

        Really? Oh, my, I thought it was more of a conservative piece. Anyway, you’re right, you were pointing out something Goldberg said. I hadn’t heard of that stat about Dems, either. Geez. Anyway, I’m not so horrified by Mormons as Sedate Me seems to be. I work with some who I respect tremendously and know many fine Mormons – I just can’t use a broad brush to paint them as unfit for office. Yes, I know, I’ve used that brush for the religious right and libertarians. Man, am I kind of hypocritical at times.

        • I thought I’d had the exchange about the Gallup poll on voting for a Mormon in an earlier blog post, but now realize it was a Facebook exchange. Oh the bewildering blizzard of social media… Anyway, here’s the link to the Gallup poll. 27% Democrats, 18% Republicans, and 19% Independents say they would never vote for a Mormon. Kennedy confronted lower, but not a lot lower, numbers in 1960 and overcame it. If Romney’s the nominee, I believe he can overcome it too.

          And you, of all people being an artist, know we just can’t help but use the broad brush every now and then. Just shouldn’t be habitual. 🙂

          • Snoring Dog Studio says:

            Yes – I did some investigating on that poll, too, and it appears that the results haven’t changed much since the first poll. I wonder if Dems are reacting to the abortion and gay positions that Mormons adhere to.

            No, I’m laying off the broad brushes as much as possible. It’s a waste of paint and it prevents the handling of fine details, which you’ve taught me exist in most issues, and which need to be looked at closely. You’ve taught me a ton this past year, Kendrick, and you may not realize it, but because of that, I’ve backed away from doing a lot of the commenting and posting that I used to. A superficial, knee-jerk approach to the issues is no way I want to go through life.

        • Sedate Me says:

          I never trust anybody who is that nice. Only imbeciles and cult members have permanent smiles and agree with everything their told.

          • Snoring Dog Studio says:

            Classy. Can’t be too easy living in a world where frequent smiles and kindness hide sinister motives, eh? And having worked with clients who you refer to as “imbeciles,” I can assure you those smiles are often grimaces.

  3. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    I’m including this from a commenter on that article: “The whole thing was fine until you got to the “punch a liberal” part. Why bother to include that as a speculation, when there’s absolutely no evidence you’re pointing at that anyone has ever done it before. You do yourself a disservice. If you’ve seen this sort of thing, go ahead and say “and they’ve done it before back here”. Be a journalist. Try actual research in cases like this instead of scoring cheap political points with conservatives who’re so stupid as to buy that as if it were fact.”

    I so agree with him or her.

  4. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    By the way, dear Kendrick: I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award. A sincere acknowledgment of what you mean to me. The rules are this:
    1. Thank and link to the person who nominates you.
2. Share seven random facts about you.
3. Pass this award on to five new blogging friends.
4. Contact and congratulate the awarded bloggers.

    • Thank you most kindly Jean. You are very dear, perhaps the dearest person in my life I’ve never met. But I think everyone I would nominate has already been nominated. I was, appropriately, one of the last, or possibly the actual last blogger to be nominated. Can bloggers be nominated more than once? As for the seven random facts, I’ll make giving that some thought my new business plan.

      • Snoring Dog Studio says:

        You and I are a mutual fan club. I count you among the finest persons I’ve ever met. I wish we lived closer!

        I think bloggers can be nominated more than once. I, for one, will probably shun future awards, which only clutter up my shelves alongside my bowling trophies.

        I’m looking forward to the seven random facts about you, Kendrick! That will be a true surprise and no doubt, delightful!

  5. norlou says:

    [BTW, Kendrick, have you seen this? It was recently spied on the web.]

    LDS a “cult”? What about the “rapture”?

    by Bruce Rockwell

    Mitt Romney, a Mormon, is “not a Christian” and Mormonism is a “cult,” according to Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of the Dallas (TX) First Baptist Church.
    His “cult” remark is based on his belief that the Latter-day Saints church (which didn’t exist before 1830) is outside “the mainstream of Christianity.”
    But Jeffress hypocritically promotes the popular evangelical “rapture” (theologically the “any-moment pretribulation rapture”) which is outside mainstream Christianity (Google “Pretrib Rapture Politics”) and which also didn’t exist before 1830 (Google “Pretrib Rapture Diehards” and “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty”)!
    And there are 50 million American rapture cultists (some of whom turn Wikipedia into “Wicked-pedia” by constantly distorting the real facts about the rapture’s bizarre, 181-year-old history) compared with only 14 million LDS members.
    The most accurate documentation on pretrib rapture history that I have found is in a nonfiction book titled “The Rapture Plot” which is carried by leading online bookstores. I know also that the same 300-page work can also be borrowed through inter-library loan at any library.
    Latter-day Saints believe in fairness, which is why I feel called to share this message.

    • No, I didn’t see that. Thanks for sharing — though I don’t agree that adherents to the view that the rapture could occur any time are “outside the mainstream,” much less “cultists.” Nor do I think it’s a very wise turn in political or religious dialogue to hurl dueling “cult” accusations. “Cult” is one of those super-charged words that tends to shut down further thinking rather than opening into it.

  6. Sedate Me says:

    we will see a rush of anti-Mormon propaganda — generated by secular liberals, not evangelicals. Anti-Romney leftists…will expend a great deal of energy and money bringing to light the most peculiar aspects of Mormon theology and practice, in an effort to convince evangelicals that the man leading the Republican Party is a harebrained heathen.

    While this may very well happen, it misses the point on several fronts.

    1) It will be primarily done by the political dung-thrower class. But it will be just one more piece of dung to pick up and throw at the other side. It will be as empty and meaningless as all the other dung they throw. (See: Obama is a radical black Christian, Obama is a Muslim, No he’s both) It’s only good at evoking higher levels of anger in those already loyal to your cause.

    2) It won’t work because religious zealots in America, particularly the Republican evangelical kind, have shown they will side with rival religions as long as it fits their current religious/political agenda. (See: Israel)

    3) A lot of the abuse will just be the result of having a chance to mock the silliness of Mormonism and have a good laugh. That’s not about politics.

    I know it’s a thought crime in America for anybody to assail somebody who believes in a (non-Muslim) religion, even if they are only pretending like nearly all politicians do and most Americans, for that matter. America is a nation of religious poseurs trying to add an air of nobility to themselves and their country.

    However, I do seriously question the intellectual capacity of anybody who willingly falls for Mormonism and (off topic) Scientology. These 2 cults are pure inventions by con-men intended to garner them attention, money, and yeah…some tail! Not to rant, but Joseph Smith made up some ridiculous shit involving angels and magical stones that could translate some nonsensical story that existed only in his head. The guy was always one step ahead of the law and tended to make doctrine up on the fly, especially when caught with women.

    But for some reason, a bunch of idiots fell for it and risked their lives wandering the wilderness and were willing to get slaughtered by the US Army over it. If you think about it, these guys are a stone’s throw away from the Hail-bopper cult.

    I mean, “magic underwear” for Christ sake! It’s damn hard not to laugh.

    But at the end of the day, all I care about is his policies which are…er…”fluid”. But, for now, I see him as the probably “best” of a truly sorry Republican lot. Although, whenever I see him, I keep feeling like I’m getting sold a used car.

    • Very nicely analyzed — though I don’t believe adherence to either Mormonism or Scientology (and I know adherents of both) implicates one’s intellect. Many tremendous intellects have devoted their minds to all manner of odd ideology. Sometimes, odd ideologies even acquire intellectual respectability (one thinks of Marxism in its heyday). But for the ordinary practitioners of Mormonism and Scientology, the range of intellectual capacity is, I suspect, about the same as it is in the rest of America.

      • Sedate Me says:

        But for the ordinary practitioners of Mormonism and Scientology, the range of intellectual capacity is, I suspect, about the same as it is in the rest of America.

        You’re probably right. And that’s why America is in such a sorry state. If only we could live in a society where we could, without hesitation, point to them as the dumbest in the herd. Unfortunately, they’re just par for the sorry course.

        In modern America, every idiotic impulse, every anti-social, self-defeating, intellectually lazy, behaviour gets legitimized and catered to, if not outright celebrated. Basically, every kid in class gets a gold star and told he’s a precious little snowflake. Thanks to all the mollycoddling, America’s brains are even flabbier than its bodies.

        To clarify, I don’t mean to say “You’re automatically stupid because you’re a Mormon.” I’m saying you’ve got swallow loads of batshit crazy nonsense to be a Mormon and I wonder about people who don’t wonder about it. But my real target here is the original Mormons (Scientologists even more so). They were unquestionably a straight up cult of lunatics and simpletons under the spell of a couple of charismatic con-men.

        Just imagine you’re walking down the street. A guy comes up to you and claims Jesus visited him a few years back. Then an angel dropped by and told him where an unheard of book of The Bible was secretly buried. It was written on gold plates by a lost tribe of Jews in a completely unknown language. (Hebrew was taken?) He says he translated the book into English with the help of magical stones. After he translated the plates, the angel took them away. So all we have is his word and the book version he’s selling.

        He then claims he’s the prophet, seer and relevator of the only true Christian faith because every other Christian church is run by Satan. He then tells you that he ran for President, that he needs your money and that your daughter is pretty and requires the guidance of a true believer. He tells you not to worry because he’s married to over 30 women, some of which were already married and many of whom were under 16.

        Do you:

        A) Give him your money & your daughter and spend the rest of your life following him around the country, always running from the law and/or angry mobs until he’s killed in jail and you wind up in a God forsaken wasteland with the US Army ready to massacre you all.

        B) Say nothing, avoid eye contact, hold onto your purse/wallet, check if he’s holding a weapon and walk away as fast as you can, hoping to come across a police officer.

        The original Mormons chose option A.

        Now, that’s not to say today’s Mormons can’t be intelligent, productive citizens, or nice people. (If anything, they’re suspiciously, cult-ishly, Stepford wife, nice.) I work with a guy who is all of those and is probably my favourite co-worker. But I still wonder about him.

        • Witty framing. I’ll have to defer to the actual Mormons (and Scientologists) for cogent defenses of their beliefs and doctrines. But let me suggest a couple of angles that make such portraits less black-and-white “batshit crazy nonsense” than your description suggests. Many beliefs are “lightly held” — in the nature, you might say, of mental and emotional accommodations to a group the larger purpose, or the communitarian power, of which deeply attracts a person. Associations like religions, excepting Unitarian Universalists perhaps, don’t permit cafeteria-style picking and choosing of doctrines, histories and mysteries. It’s a package deal. But people do not have the same intensity of mental or emotional attachment to all of the parts of the package. And even professing allegiance to a particular idea doesn’t mean it will dictate decision-making in real life (e.g., the Catholic who believes abortion is murder, but arranges for his daughter to get one). The human relationship to ideas can be as complex as the relationship to another human. So it’s easy enough to parody virtually any system of beliefs, including its origins, if the focus is entirely on the intellectual consistency of the bare parts.

          That said, your H.L. Mencken style of ridicule can be a valuable service. I disagree with your broad-brush conclusions about Mormons and Scientologists, but I have to agree we go overboard “mollycoddling” in this country, and we don’t do enough candid analysis of ideas and their implications. Would that Marxism had been subjected to a little more compelling H.L. Mencken-style satire sooner in Europe and Asia. And by the way, that was one of the brilliant motifs in the movie, Cabaret — the disappearance of intelligent satire in the cabaret as the Nazis took over.

  7. french and fraid says:

    well, compelling arguments could be made that any religion was made-up. BUT, religious tolerance is not just politically correct anymore. I agree with KM that intellect is neither borne from nor drawn into any particular religion – so many factors. I would hope that present-day religion is more about wisdom than anything else.

    • Amen about wisdom. There’s a lot of pretend and a lot of delusion, but wisdom is probably spread roughly equally among the religions.

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