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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Glass Houses

Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Okay. Got it. Now, let's talk about his politics…Oh, if only it could be that way! Instead, we have to hear debate about whether the U.S. is ready to accept a Mormon as our president and about how Mormons don't drink alcohol, and a thousand other things that distinguish Mormons from other types of Christians. I'm no Romney fan, but I just don't think it’s important that he's a Mormon. When his father George ran for president 40 years ago, there was no hand wringing about his religion. Have we slipped backwards down the evolutionary (er, I mean intelligent design) chain so much in 40 years that we don't know if we could deal with our president having some not-so-average religious beliefs?

The media focuses on Romney’s "strange" Mormon beliefs. Yet Christians don't think it's strange that God masqueraded as burning vegetation in the Old Testament and many believe that a divine force causes the image of Christ to appear in odd places such as the side of a grilled cheese sandwich. Imagine a space alien on his first day on Earth learning that to live forever, he would need to be immersed in a body of plain old H2O, or have some sprinkled on him.

The only thing that renders us able to accept strange beliefs and rituals (such as baptism by water to get us eternal life) is that we’ve been indoctrinated since childhood to consider these strange things normal.

One of the particular rituals the Christian right has difficulty with is that Mormons sometimes convert the dead of other religions to theirs. I can’t fathom why this is so odious to other Christians. It actually strikes me as quite understandable and practical. When Romney was a young missionary, he spent 30 months in France, knocking on hundreds of doors a day, and converted only two people during his stint. It must have been tempting to saunter into a graveyard and inform the dead that if they had any objection to being converted to Mormonism, they should really speak up immediately. Is this really so different from Christian crusades to convert the Muslims of the Middle East? Actually, the fact that the crusaders killed so many of their would-be converts makes me think I would rather be converted when I’m dead than be killed while arguing the point.

All religions require some suspension of disbelief. To be truthful, even atheists have to swallow some things that are pretty hard to believe. They must buy into the belief that billions of years ago, nothing, of its own volition, suddenly became something. This is essentially the big bang theory. Maybe even harder to accept is the one where life on Earth began from non-life, aka spontaneous generation: not living one moment, then living the next. Is this so much more logical than believing that Jesus died one day and rose the next?

Romney has a lot of faults. He is a flip-flopper who has sudden epiphanies timed perfectly to his political ambitions. He believes that fixing the nation’s problems is just a matter of closely analyzing all the data and waiting for the answers to present themselves. But he should not be faulted for being a devoted religious man simply because the religion is different from the majority. As the hero of both the Christian right and the Mormons might have put it, let he who is without strange religious beliefs cast the first stone.