Could you vote for a man who abides by Moronish wisdom?
Timothy Garton Ash
Thursday December 27, 2007
In this season of goodwill, I have been trying to think of a kinder adjective to describe "of or pertaining to the revelation of the angel Moroni". Moronish? Moronical? The angel Moroni allegedly appeared in the 1820s to a young American treasure hunter called Joseph Smith, and led him to some golden plates buried on a hillside near his home in western New York. Allegedly written in an otherwise unknown language called Reformed Egyptian, and deciphered with the aid of two stones called Urim and Thummim, these texts became the Book of Mormon, regarded by Mormons as divine revelation alongside the Bible. "Mormon", Smith explained in a letter to a newspaper, derives from the Reformed Egyptian word mon, meaning good, "hence with the addition of more, or the contraction mor, we have the word Mormon; which means, literally, more good".
In this holy book, North America was described as "a land which is choice above all other lands" (II Nephi 1:5), and 19th-century Americans were assured, in a kind of retrospective prophecy, that "it shall be a land of liberty" (II Nephi 1:7). What is more, if the Native Americans converted to the true faith, they would have the chance to become again "a white and a delightsome people" (II Nephi 30:6). (The official online version has corrected this to "a pure and a delightsome people".) Adherents of this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can, by their own strenuous efforts and good works, themselves aspire to become gods. Failing that, they can aspire to become the next best thing - president of the United States.
...Romney's Mormonism is a problem for many evangelical Christians from the religious right, who would otherwise be his natural constituency. Instead, they might prefer the Southern Baptist Mike Huckabee, who merely takes the book of Genesis literally.
To fend off this threat, Romney delivered a speech this month that drew the line in another place, not between Mormons and true Christians but between everyone of faith and the godless rest. Only the former, he implied, can be true Americans: "We should acknowledge the creator as did the founders - in ceremony and word." "You can be certain of this," he attempted to reassure US voters, "any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me ... we do not insist on a single strain of religion - rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith."
So it really doesn't matter what irrational belief you have as long as you have some irrational belief. The one thing apparently putting you beyond the pale, disbarring you from full belonging to the national community, is to claim that science-based reason suggests, with a degree of probability verging on certainty, that there is no Almighty. The Romney formula is EBA - Everyone But Atheists.
...This will not lose him many Republican votes, but as a recipe for a free country it's unacceptable. At the very least, religious politicians in free countries must find a language that gives equal footing in the public square to those of all faiths and those of none. Even in Britain we encounter these attempts to suggest that "faith" is somehow intrinsically superior to a lack of religious belief. Just before Christmas the former home secretary Charles Clarke emailed me the text of a lecture he had delivered on this subject. Clarke's lead proposition was that "first and foremost, faith is generally a force for good".
Whether as a historical or contemporary statement, this does not hold up. Since for most of history most men and women have had some faith, and even in the modern world most still do, almost everything done by humans to humans, or to the natural world, has been justified by one faith or another: a lot of very good things; and a lot of very bad things. It's as ahistorical to deny that people have done what we secular liberals would consider to be good out of what they believed to be religious motivation, as it is to deny that people have done terrible things out of what they believed to be religious motivation.
My position on this is empirical: by their fruits ye shall know them. Maybe one day everyone will become convinced of the scientific truths of Darwinism, although science itself is throwing up evidence suggesting some sort of religious instinct is, so to speak, hard-wired. The battle of ideas over what is ultimately true must continue to be fought. In the meantime, it matters less what our politicians believe in that religious corner of their minds and more what they do. If they consistently come up with the right policies, while believing themselves to be a Mormon, a Catholic or a Muslim, we should support them. If they come up with the wrong policies, despite being a scientific atheist, we should oppose them.
Selection for Faith will continue to be hard-wired as long as more of the Faithful reproduce than those who lack the God-smacked gene.
It remains to be seen whether or not following the behavioral programming this gene produces leads to the extinction of our wider species, since the godless mutants keep coming up with inventions that the Faithful use to eradicate large numbers of people with or without the GSG trait.