"Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine... One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated." —Mormon leader David Whitmer, writing in 1887.
OK, I'll admit it. From a theological standpoint, Mormonism is just plain weird.
When I read the story of Joseph Smith, notorious New York con man, finding golden tablets he read using magic rocks while peering into a hat, I snicker too. The special "garment," the polygamy problem, The Osmonds — it's all more than a bit odd.
That's Mormonism's problem. But could someone please tell me how it's Mitt's problem, too?
Left-wingers at the New Republic suggest that Romney has secretly converted to Mormon fundamentalism and plots against the Constitution. Right-wing radio hosts insist that, as president, a real Mormon would crush the constitutional powers of the U.S. Supreme Court. Again and again, Mitt's faith is portrayed as a risk to American democracy.
I'm not planning on voting for the guy (I'm currently leaning Giuliani), but of the dozens of reasons to vote against a President Romney, his faith isn't one of them.
I'm not arguing that religious questions have no place in politics, not at all. Tell me you could never vote for a Muslim president because of Islam's ongoing problems with anti-Semitism and terror, and I get your point. It's a legitimate concern about a uniquely problematic religion in today's world.
Tell me you couldn't vote for a Jewish president because of the political problems it would create for America in the Middle East, and I get that, too. Once again, I don't have to agree with the argument to understand it.
But nobody has given me even a hint of a rational defense keeping the White House Mormon-free. We have three Mormons in the U.S. Senate right now — Smith (R-Ore.), Hatch (R-Utah), and Reid (D-MoveOn.org) — and democracy survives. Massachusetts endured four years of decaffeinated gubernatorial Mormonism with no harmful side effects.
Plan to vote against Romney because you think he's wrong about Iraq? Fine. Vote away.
Voting against him because he's taken more positions on social issues than a double-jointed pole dancer? No problem.
But who would vote against a Romney presidency merely on the basis of his Mormonism? Opponents of public politeness? People with an irrational fear of quality dental hygiene? The lactose intolerant?
When the angry radio host in Iowa on Friday insisted that Romney's actions as president must follow the candidate's callings of faith, Romney put him down in classic JFK style:
"My church says I can't drink alcohol, right? OK, should I say, as governor of Massachusetts, we are stopping alcohol sales? No. My religion is for me and how I live my life. So don't confuse what I do, as a member of my faith, with what I think ought to be done by government."
How many more times will Mormon Mitt Romney have to give this same, obvious answer in the face of the same, irrational attacks? What are the Mormon-bashers afraid of?
The Book of Mormon may read like L. Ron Hubbard meets Jerry Garcia, but its pragmatic effect is to encourage people to become their best selves, to strive for good, to love their families, to be good citizens.
Who could possibly be afraid of that?