Damon Linker's New Republic Piece: Is Mormonism A "Politically Perilous Religion?"
Lowell starts us off:
The Romney-interested blogosphere was abuzz yesterday over a New Republic piece, "Taking Mormonism Seriously – The Big Test," by Damon Linker. (Link requires subscription.) The more I read Linker's piece, the less significant I think it is. There's lots of questionable theology, and it's full of context errors and debatable expressions of Mormon doctrine. Linker apparently taught at BYU for a couple of years and knows just enough about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the "Church" or the "LDS Church") to be 90% right about many things. It's that other 10% you need to watch out for.
I thought about "fisking" the entire piece but decided our readers would be better served by our simply hitting the big "take-home messages" from this latest blogospheric Romney-Mormon eruption.
1. For a piece written by an academic, Linker's thoughts are surprisingly alarmist. Here's the money quote:
Does Romney believe that the president of the Mormon Church is a genuine prophet of God? If so, how would he respond to a command from this prophet on matters of public policy? And, if his faith would require him to follow this hypothetical command, would it not be accurate to say that, under a President Romney, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints would truly be in charge of the country—with its leadership having final say on matters of right and wrong?
Ramesh Ponnuru sees the piece as "secularist hysteria," and provides a devastating answer to Linker's question:
Well, no, it wouldn't be accurate. For one thing—and it's no small thing, either—no U.S. president, whatever his beliefs, is "in charge of the country." Did Linker have no editor?
The "prophetic control" question was the very first one we addressed on this blog, here and here. There's really no there there. None other than McCain supporter and frequent Romney critic Patrick Hynes comments:
These would be difficult questions for Romney if, say, he hadn’t been governor of Massachusetts for four years. And they would be difficult questions if, say, a Mormon was not already the highest ranking Democrat in the United States Senate.
Update: Today's New Republic Online carries a response to Linker from Richard Bushman, Gouverneur Morris Professor of History Emeritus at Columbia University. It's a must-read; key excerpts:
Liberals must be particularly cautious in speculating about the political intentions of religious groups because of their fascination with fanaticism. Fanaticism is one of the most firmly entrenched stereotypes in the liberal mind. The fanatic is the polar opposite of all that the liberal stands for and thus constitutes a particularly delicious enemy.
. . .
Damon, I thought you moved along judiciously through most of the essay, but you blew your cover in the paragraph of questions to Mitt Romney. There, you try to nail him on his beliefs about the church president being a prophet. It follows necessarily, you think, that, if Romney believes in current prophecy, the church will run the country under his presidency. That leap from assumption to conclusion in one bound is only possible if you are steeped in the logic of fanaticism. For Mormons themselves, it makes no sense.
You are caught in the dilemma that ensnares everyone preoccupied with fanaticism. You describe Mormonism in a way that makes perfect sense to non-Mormons and no sense to Mormons themselves. This means, to me, that you are describing the inside of your own mind as much as the reality of Mormonism. Mormons will hear a lot of this so long as Romney is in the race, and it will baffle them every time.
2. Linker's article reminds me of one of my personal rules: Be skeptical when someone who does not belong to a particular church tries to explain its deepest nuances to you. Trust me, Linker doesn't do a very good job of that. Also, don't be deceived when the TNR piece refers to Linker as "the former editor of First Things," Richard John Neuhaus's journal. It's apparently quite well-known that Linker and Neuhaus men had a falling out; that must be true if this other Linker TNR piece represents his current secularist thinking.
3. I am reminded of something we've said over and over here: Romney will suffer his true outrages at the hands of left-of-center critics, not conservative Evangelicals. Make no mistake, Linker comes at Romney from the Left. I doubt any self-respecting Evangelical writer would try to get away with arguing, forcefully, that Romney will be controlled by the LDS Church. And yet Linker does so in a featured article in the pages of TNR, a well-respected center-left journal. We'll see more of this, I think.
4. I'm also reminded that Mormons are no monolithic voting bloc when it comes to Romney. Linker's piece has already provoked a lengthy post in Times and Seasons, a left-leaning Mormon blog frequented by LDS members who tend to be frustrated with the institutional Church's refusal to see things their way, and who probably consider Harry Reid their kind of Mormon politician. Nothing wrong with liking Reid, of course; thats just their orientation. The post and its numerous comments will probably interest only those seriously interested in philosophy. Linker has posted extensively there himself as a guest blogger.
John Shares Some Other News . . .
News outlet after news outlet has reported breathlessly on that which everybody already knew was going to happen. It's a bit like reporting you completed the accident report after an automobile accident.
Jeremy Peirce is a Ph.D. student in philosophy at Syracuse University. He has done one of the best jobs on the "flip-flop" charge that I have seen.
With the exception of the handful of orthodox Christians, the majority of the founding fathers subscribed to a religious view that we would nowadays classify as Unitarianism. A rejection of Trinitarianism clearly puts one outside the bounds of orthodox Christianity.
Apparently, when it comes to religion and theology, "the majority of the founding fathers" had more in common with Mormons (a rejection of strict Trinitarianism) than we creedal Christians! Worth thinking about when one wants to use Mormonism as a reason to not vote for someone.
[tags] Damon Linker, Mormonism, Mormons, Evangelicals, Mitt Romney, The New Republic, Times and Seasons, Patrick Hynes, First Things, Richard John Neuhaus [/tags]