The Mormonism Issue

Rod Dreher, a Dallas Morning News editorial columnist, writes this almost excellent piece on religion and politics, focusing on Mitt Romney and Mormonism.

We get such nuggets as this one:

There are plenty of good reasons for conservative Christians not to vote for Mr. Romney, but his religious beliefs are not among them. Do Christians want to be in the position of rejecting a candidate whose political views and moral values they agree with, solely because they don’t like his religion? On what grounds would they condemn secularists for rejecting Christian candidates?

And this:

Does freedom require religion, as Mr. Romney asserts? Superficially, no, unless you wish to argue that post-Christian Europe is unfree, which is plainly nuts.

But we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss John Adams’ observation that the U.S. Constitution is made “only for a moral and religious people” and will not work for any other. His point was that maintaining political liberty requires a people capable of governing themselves and restraining their passions for the greater good. He might have said “moral” people, and left it at that, because in his day and in ours, one can find morally upright men and women who have no religious faith and believers who are morally corrupt.

He makes one glaring error, though, with this statement:

But the crooked timber of humanity is frail indeed. If God doesn’t exist, then by what standard do we decide right from wrong? If a society recognizes no independent, transcendent guardian of the moral order, will it not, over time, lose its self-discipline and decline into barbarism? The eminent sociologist Philip Rieff, who was not a believer, said that man would either live in fear of God or would be condemned to live in fear of the evil in himself.

Of course that’s a bunch of %$#&. Atheists can indeed be moral.

As one commenter wrote:

Does acting moral really depend on a belief in the biggest, baddest daddy on the block?

Those of us who have discovered that acting morally is sound, beneficial, socially appropriate, and good for our own sake and the sake of others must be enlightened. No, just humane, reasonable, and empathetic. It’s just plain faith, living and undeluded.

(Thanks to Michael for the link!)


[tags]atheist, atheism, God, religion[/tags]

  • Old Beezle

    The eminent sociologist Philip Rieff, who was not a believer, said that man would either live in fear of God or would be condemned to live in fear of the evil in himself.

    Condemned? If we must live in fear, then let’s choose something real to fear rather than a bogeyman.

    Recognizing our own capacity for evil is part of moral decision-making. Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Gulag Archipelago) said that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” We all have the capacity for either one so if the fear of our own evil is enough to push us towards good, then let it be. Is it enough of a start?

  • http://www.acosmopolitan.blogspot.com Anatoly

    Of course, it’s a well known fact that the Scythians, Goths, Vandals, Saxons, Huns, Magyars, Vikings, Mongols (and for that matter European Crusaders) and any other group of people we traditionally call “barbarians” were all godless infidels who had no notion of a transcendent being…

  • Siamang

    If a society recognizes no independent, transcendent guardian of the moral order, will it not, over time, lose its self-discipline and decline into barbarism?

    I will point out the fact that atheists believe there is no such Guardian setting the moral order of His self-proclaimed followers. The nonexistence of such a Guardian is made clear by their lack of self-discipline and pandemic barbarism.

    A system with a guardian of the moral order would not suffer so. The fact that religions suffer the same problems of any human political system is proof positive that no-one superior to humanity is watching the store.

  • Nick

    If God doesn’t exist, then by what standard do we decide right from wrong?

    And if god doesn’t exist, then by what standard can we decide what smells bad?

  • damian

    If i were a believer, I definitely would be more scared of prison, than hell.

  • TXatheist

    I think we atheists do use fear to some extent but on real consequences. I don’t fear saying god damn it because there are no repercussions. If I say jesus wasn’t the son of god, no repercussions. If I cheat on my wife, serious repercussions. If I steal something and go to jail, real repercussions. If I see a old woman drop a 20 dollar bill and I pick it up and pocket it I have to live with my conscience eating at me and it would. The last one goes back to the golden rule. Would I want someone to give me my 20 bucks back? Sure.

  • http://www.higherthebetter.blogspot.com Matt M

    If a society recognizes no independent, transcendent guardian of the moral order, will it not, over time, lose its self-discipline and decline into barbarism?

    It’s a fascinating tension at the heart of most religious thinking: We’re the children of a divine being, yet without an eternal watchman we’d rapidly descend into abhorrent behaviour. It’s like saying “I have the most perfectly behaved child in the world, but the moment he thinks you’re not looking the little f*cker’s setting fire to the furniture and torturing cats.” It’s crazy.

  • AJ

    But the crooked timber of humanity is frail indeed. If God doesn’t exist, then by what standard do we decide right from wrong?

    Compared to ancient codes written by brutal societies, and the medieval interpretations of intentionally obscure ancient texts?

    If a society recognizes no independent, transcendent guardian of the moral order, will it not, over time, lose its self-discipline and decline into barbarism? The eminent sociologist Philip Rieff, who was not a believer, said that man would either live in fear of God or would be condemned to live in fear of the evil in himself.

    Postmodernist nonsense…

  • monkeymind

    If God doesn’t exist, then by what standard do we decide right from wrong?

    I think if you scratch at statements like this long enough, the meaning is usually revealed as: “How can I be absolutely 100% sure that I’m right and other people are wrong?”

    The answer is that you can’t – but is that a problem? I agree with Old Beezle about Rieff’s statement. What is wrong with being “condemned” to recognizing the human capacity for evil, and especially our capacity to rationalize evil and make it seem “normal”? This is a much saner basis for a free and open society than projecting our fears and desires onto a Supreme Being who is not answerable to human ideas of morality.

    Unfortunately we do have some evidence that eliminating religion will not eliminate human self-righteousness.

    Aj said:

    Postmodernist nonsense…

    Still a bit unclear on the concept.

  • AJ

    monkeymind,

    Still a bit unclear on the concept.

    No, that’s the concept, to be unclear.

  • monkeymind

    Aj, the author was quoting Rieff to bolster his argument that we need an independent, transcendent moral order. That’s pretty much the antithesis of post-modernism.

    Whatever you think of post-modernism as a philosophy, we all have to accept that we are living in a post-modern world. If the modernity project had been an unqualified success, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

  • Aj

    monkeymind,

    We need to believe that there is one, but in this case, “we” means “other people”. That’s very much part of post-modernism.

    “Post-modern world”, “modernity project”, “unqualified success”, I don’t have to accept any of the implications of your second paragraph. It’s complete bullshit.

  • JROBERT

    This post is three years old but Mormonism is still a issue,religion is still a issue-as it probably always will be,as long as people populate this planet,Mormonism is s still a organized relgion and it seems likely that Former Massachusetts Governor and Former Presidential Canidate and Mormon,Mitt Romney will run for President again in 2012 and that he could be one of the front-runners to be the Republican nominee for President, so this is a post I don`t feel I`m three years late on commenting on.

    There are one hundred United States Senators currently serving in the United States Senate.There are five hundred and thirty five congressmen and women currently serving in the United States Congress.It is beyond belief that not one of them is an atheist or an agnostic.There were rumors that a lot of the people who worked in The Bush Adminstration,who had a reputation as being being this super-Christian Conservative Adminstration,were actually pretty indifferent when it came to religion(I`ve even heard that a lot of them may have been atheists and agnostics-and there`s a rumor that`s been going around for years that Karl Rove is an atheist).But that they pandered to the religous right and to the neo-cons for support.In a country that`s 85% religious,an atheist or an agnostic wouldn`t get elected to the Presidency,we know that and you would pretty much have to be a Christian or Roman Catholic-or pretend to be-to get elected.

    Some atheists like Bill Maher,Christopher Hitchen and Sarah Elizabeth Cupp(who-I hope wouldn`t ever take this the wrong way,looks like a hotter,smarter version of Sarah Palin)think that the incumbent President,President Barack Obama is secretly an atheist and that he`s pretending to be a Christian.But this differs from the is Obama an Muslim? question that kept popping up and the ”Obama is a Muslim campaign” that the GOP tried to smear Obama with a few years ago,which I never believed-in that ”the is Obama an atheist question?”is harder to answer.Add to that,I always thought the real, disturbing and offensive subtext to the ”is he a Muslim?”rumor was that there`s something wrong with being a Muslim or an Arab.
    General Colin Powell and others would say,”But even if Mr.Obama were a Muslim,so what?’And they`re right,there`s nothing wrong with being a Muslim or Arabic person-and I should add that if Mr.Obama really were a Muslim-I would`ve been fine with it and in the future,if a Presidential Canidate ever comes forward who is a Muslim,I`d be fine with it-as long as that canidate understands that their allegiance is to the constitution and to the country,not to Islam or to Islamic nations.Islam is a great religion that has been hijacked by crazy,nihlistic,violent,fanatics bent on spreading chaos and terror.But here`s what I don`t get when people would say ”if Obama were a Muslim,so what?”Are people going to say that they honestly think Mr.Obama would`ve won the election if he really were a Muslim?Or that a Muslim could get elected President in the current political climate due to 9-11,xenophobia and religious bigotry that exists in some towards Muslims and Middle Eastern people or even in the forseeable future-knowing that terrorism is likely to remain one of the biggest challenges facing future Presidents in years to come?

    Correct me if I`m wrong,but the only Muslim politician in the country that I know of is,Keith Ellison,and Ellison had to fend
    off scurrlious allegations from raving lunatics like Glen Beck that he was secretly conspiring with terrorists to bring America down from the inside(in fairness to Beck,who I dislike,a lot of people feel the same way as Beck).
    It even caused a little bit of a furor when John F.Kennedy became the first Catholic President.Some people were worried that President Kennedy would be taking orders from The Vatican but Kennedy never let his religion affect his thinking or get in the way of politics,(I think JFK was one of the greast U.S. Presidents in history,and and Mr.Obama may get compared to JFK a lot and I like and support Mr.Obama,but Mr.Obama is clearly no JFK).The country may have been ready to elect an liberal Democrat African-American,who had only been a Senator for four years before becoming President(who spent two of them on the road campaigning) and who had a middle name that was the same as the last name of disposed-late Iraqi dictator,Saddam Hussein and a last name that rhymes with the first name of wanted terrorist network leader,Osama Bin Laden, and it shows that the country has made great progress and has further still to go,
    but if we`re honest with ourselves,the country isn`t ready for a Mormon or Muslim President.All of us owe it to ourselves as adults to be able have frank,open,no-bulls*** discussions about religion. The Mormonism issue makes Mitt Romney unelectable-in any election year-be it 2008 or 2012 or 2016 and beyond- and a lot of people won`t say it,but I`ll bet they`re thinking it.


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