Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Evangelical War on Mormonism That Wasn't

A rather odd--or underreasoned--op-ed from Harvard prof Noah Feldman is making the rounds, like at our good friend John Fea's place: Mitt Romney's candidacy is Mormonism's ticket to American Protestant acceptance. That's a very big yes and no, as we shall see:
As a deeply believing Mormon, he actually, sincerely (yes, sincerely) believes that his moral values are equivalent to those of evangelicals.
Why Prof. Feldman finds this worthy of note or the least bit puzzling is puzzling. Romney's values are the same as American evangelicals'. Not only that, but the feeling is mutual. As Dennis Prager writes:
"Traditional Jews and evangelical Christians have quite different theologies, but they often have virtually identical values. (That is why this Jew is so supportive of evangelicals and why evangelical Christians syndicate my radio show.)
Conservative Catholics and evangelicals differ on theology but share virtually every important value. The Founders differed on theology but rarely on values. It is hard to identify any area of life in which Mitt Romney's values and life differ in any way from the finest evangelical's values and life. And with regard to electing a president, that is what matters."
Via the internet, I've heard some of the stations Prager refers to, say WORL in Florida, which explicitly self-identifies as "Christian" in its station breaks. They carry the conservative Jewish commentator Michael Medved as well. They don't mind.

In 2012 the evangelical right has embraced the American Founding's vision of religious pluralism---park the soteriology [the business of salvation] at the door and concern ourselves politically only with the concerns of this world. This detente has been vitiated by the rise of secular-progressivism and/or libertarianism-libertinism, both of which largely reject any notion of natural law, that there exist objective and universal standards of morality that a society should govern itself by.  The "Judeo-Christian" thing.

Feldman, who is a Harvardly expert on religion as well as constitutional law, adds to the undifferentiated soupiness thus:
In historical terms, this change is business as usual. Catholics came to be seen as a legitimate Christian denomination only after years of oppression. Then came the acceptance of Jews. Mormons are the latest beneficiaries. Eventually, Muslims and Hindus will have their day as well.
Well, not exactly. It's not just one big stew where you toss in this religion or that one, as if they're all more or less the same. Salt isn't pepper isn't an onion isn't a carrot or a hunk of lamb or even a stone.  [Stone soup actually tastes like water with it a stone in it.  Ick.]

Theologically, Christianity's relationship with Judaism has finally warmed in the past century, that the Jews have a legitimate place in God's plan, and it's certainly indisputable that their Bible is biblical. However, there will be no such dispensation for the unbiblical Book of Mormon [or the Quran, for that matter].  When it comes to man's religions, one size does not fit all.

A Rev. Frank Pastore [ex-Cincinnati Reds pitcher, now a scholar and evangelical pastor and talk show host] can support Romney socio-politically ["We're not electing a pastor, we're electing a president"], but has reservations that such a tolerance-acceptance is a theological endorsement of Mormonism as a legitimate variant of Christianity.

Many Christian sects remain kissin' cousins, and accept each others' legitimacy as authentic Christianity. But Mormonism with its additional book of revelation [like Islam]? No can do. Never. But that's theology.  All that stuff will be settled on Judgment Day and not one day before.

Back here on earth, for years now, the leftish chattering class has been predicting an evangelical rejection of Mitt Romney's candidacy---and thus a splitting or neutering of the Religious Right if and when he's nominated.

But the Religious Right are neither the blithering idiots nor the implacable theological ideologues that would reject a Romney for an Obama, whose own Christianity hasn't much in common with theirs when it comes to this here planet. 

[Even as the president's surrogates are "letting slip" that Barack Obama the man is theologically much more the orthodox Christian than he was in 2008. That should probably be a post of its own. I find it inappropriate---bizarre if not cynical---for one's pastors and advisors to be leaking a candidate's theological bona fides to the press.]

Indeed, it's the evangelical right who have settled comfortably into the Founding era's religious pluralism, a sort of don't-ask-don't-tell---that doctrine and dogma are unhelpful, and indeed are needless distractions when it comes to constructing a polity congenial to your values. As John Adams wrote to Abigail about his cousin S[amuel] Adams---an uber-Calvinist---at the very first Continental Congress in September 1774:
When the Congress first met, Mr. Cushing made a Motion, that it should be opened with Prayer. It was opposed by Mr. Jay of N. York and Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina, because we were so divided in religious Sentiments, some Episcopalians, some Quakers, some Aanabaptists, some Presbyterians and some Congregationalists, so that We could not join in the same Act of Worship.
Mr. S. Adams arose and said he was no Bigot, and could hear a Prayer from a Gentleman of Piety and Virtue, who was at the same Time a Friend to his Country.
He was a Stranger in Phyladelphia, but had heard that Mr. Duche (Dushay they pronounce it) deserved that Character, and therefore he moved that Mr. Duche, an episcopal [Anglican, i.e., Church of England---TVD] Clergyman, might be desired, to read Prayers to the Congress, tomorrow Morning. The Motion was seconded and passed in the Affirmative.
That the Religious Right fancy themselves the successors of the American Founding is well-known. Few of them would find the above story surprising or anything less than wise: in the 21st century, the most Protestant issue joint politico-moral declarations with the most Papish

The Founders would smile if not laugh in satisfaction, and it's very disappointing to those who oppose the Religious Right, I suppose, that they refuse to commit political suicide over theology. But it's an American tradition that dates back to at least 1774 and the launch of the American Revolution, and that's very good thing.

Otherwise, you know, you'd be reading this in English.


Jonathan Rowe said...

Very nice article.

Are you going to share with your friends at the League?

Tom Van Dyke said...

I parked it in the Dutch Courage sub-blog for now. Thx for axin'.

Jason Pappas said...

I once again wonder how, after shelving "doctrine and dogma", what do the denominations agree on?

Presumable nature and natural rights could indeed be common ground. But isn't "concern ourselves politically only with the concerns of this world" secularism in a literal sense?

I attribute the demise of natural rights to the rise of Utilitarianism, i.e. Bentham's labeling rights "nonsense on stilts." Indeed, he had started the process in his attack on the Declaration of Independence:

Given that natural rights are only understood and advocated by a few of us. What unites today's Christian right? Feelings?