(This is part of a list of bad arguments I heard at the Texas Freethought Convention.)
Richard Dawkins gave a short speech on the Texas capitol steps, and for the most part, it was right on the money (or should I say, the Rmoney). He pointed out the bugfuck lunacy of Mormonism, and the patent charlatanry of its con-artist founder, Joseph Smith, as well as criticizing the media for failing to follow up on how nuts Romney’s religion is.
And he’s right! But some of his conclusions were, I think, a strategic error and simply wrong.
He came right out and said that he thought Mormonism was worse than the older, more established religions. That was the gist of his defense, actually: that Catholicism and Anglicanism and the various other protestant faiths were older, therefore less wacky…and that Mormonism’s clear mimicry of Elizabethan English, for instance, is a clear indicator that it was all fake. I don’t think that’s a good argument; I’d argue that Christianity could have been just as obviously bogus to a contemporary during its formation because they’d be as aware of its cultural context as we are of Mormonism’s origins; We benefit from sufficient proximity that the anachronisms leap out at us. But also, I think familiarity breeds complacency. Sure, Mormonism is nuts, but Catholicism is equally so. If you want deranged beliefs, I would merely cite the dogma of original sin — the pernicious doctrine that all people are born intrinsically evil, giving us a rich heritage of guilt and shame — as just as wicked and disturbing as anything Mormonism has come up with, and it’s far more pervasive, too.
Dawkins’ suggestion that the media should more thoroughly grill Romney on the details of Mormon belief has a germ of utility to it, but I don’t think he quite appreciates the depths to which the American electorate and the political process has sunk.
If you’re going to ask Romney if he believes Native Americans are descendants of the lost tribe of Israel, or whether Mormon underwear really stops bullets, or if Joseph Smith actually translated golden plates by staring at stones in a hat, you’re also going to have to ask Obama if he believes every line of the Nicene Creed. And when you start doing that, we atheists will be sitting smug and cocky laughing at both of them professing their faith, but the majority of the electorate will be seeing their religious identity challenged — and they won’t like it, not one bit.
Dawkins did mention Kennedy’s resolution of his Catholic problem, but I don’t think he really got it. Of course Kennedy’s views were shaped by his Catholicism, as Romney’s are by his Mormonism. But what Kennedy did was the only reasonable secular solution, since we can’t wipe our cultural influences out of our brains: he stated that he would not bring the papacy into the Oval Office, and would not entangle the institution of Catholicism with his duties as president. And that’s as much as we can ask of someone.
It is a question I’d like to see Romney smacked with, though. The Mormon church is a meddling church — witness their active interference in gay rights in states outside Utah, for instance. I’d like to see a clear statement from Romney that that scary office building just outside Temple Square in Salt Lake City will not be pulling the strings on a Romney presidency, and that he’ll be making political appointments on the basis of competence rather than religious cronyism (something Mormons are notorious for). Is he willing to stand up for the separation of church and state? Then I won’t make a big deal about his stupid beliefs.
And this goes for everyone. When the first atheist president is sworn in, I want evidence that he won’t simply be a puppet of the wizened, necrotic husk of David Silverman, Atheist Pope of 2060.