Why Mitt Romney Won’t Talk About His Faith

In the Los Angeles Review of Books, Laurie Winer has an incredible #longread piece documenting both the history of the Mormon Church and Mitt Romney‘s reluctance to talk about it at all.

No doubt, Republicans will want to denounce this piece as some sort of attack on his faith. It’s not. It’s an honest telling of the story of Joseph Smith that’s easy to read; it’s hard to believe how anyone could take it seriously. If you’re offended by what she writes, take it up with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, not Winer.

The story of Joseph Smith in its particulars has no relation to that of Romney. What they share is an ability to shape-shift without anguish, a refusal or inability to see those shifts as hypocrisy, and what looks like a full belief in whatever they are saying, until it comes time to say something else. Also, they both ran for President.

Perhaps all churches begin as cults, and certainly they all resist change, harbor forms of racism, and engage in strange ritual. The more recent the religion, the more traceable are its imperfect human footprints, the more ammunition for ridicule, the more the need for secrecy and for the brutal cut-off of apostates. In this regard, Scientology is the new Mormonism. (In a recent television skit the comedian Daniel Tosh played a Scientology recruiter whose office-wall poster reads: “Scientology: Making Mormons look sane since 1952.”)

Aside from the trinity of the Godhead, the main difference between Mormons and other sects of Christianity is that their founding is recent enough to have been extensively documented by verifiable witnesses and historians at every turn. Mormonism therefore requires a different kind of faith than does other Christian sects. It requires a very special obedience. It asks its members not to read, and not to believe, wide swatches of their own country’s history.

… Romney remains safe in his fundamental belief that, no matter what he says, he is essentially honest. And he can always, if he needs to, believe and say something else later. He has learned at the feet of masters.

If Mitt Romney becomes the next president, we’re electing someone who believes in the story of Joseph Smith and everything that comes with it. That lack of good judgment should terrify all of us.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    One of my favorite parts of the Joseph Smith legend is how his image has gone from this:

    to this:

  • Lee Miller

    The details of the origin and beliefs of Mormonism are so outlandishly bizarre that it’s hard for a rational person to understand how the early followers bought into it . . . why would anyone take someone’s word about golden plates translated with magic spectacles?  Then I remember . . . all religions are equally outlandish and bizarre and they have no trouble gathering followers.  It’s dismaying not only that groups like the Mormons still exist, but that people continue to join them.  Ay yi yi.

  • Agnostic

    Obama by all accounts is Christian. Isn’t that dumb too?

  • Glasofruix

    It is, but he does seem reasonnable about his faith.

  • heterodox

    Yes, but I’m sure you know as well as I do that this sick society won’t elect an out atheist. (That new poll means nothing.)

  • Baby_Raptor

    At least he (seems to) understand that his faith is personal, and doesn’t intend to make laws based on it.

  • http://twitter.com/guymac guymac

    Do you actually think he actually believes it? That lack of judgement might terrify me a little bit!

  • Tainda

    I don’t see the difference between believing in Mormonism and believing in Christianity.  They are all deluded.  I have a Christian friend who was telling me how crazy she thinks Mormonism is.  She got pissed when I told her it’s just as crazy as Christianity.  She was honestly amazed that I compared the two.

    I was brought up in the RLDS church.  I know how crazy those SOBs are though lol

  • Octoberfurst

      I totally agree with you Lee.  At the urgings of a friend who was Mormon–and trying to convert me– I read up on their religion and found it laughably absurd.
      They believe in a god who was once a human and that all humans can become  gods. They believe that all human souls were born from a sexual act between mother god and father god.  (Considering all the human beings there are in the world that means there is a  WHOLE lot of sex going on! LOL.)  They believe in wearing “sacred underwear” that somehow magically protects them against demons. The list goes on and on. The funny thing though is that the Book of Mormon is easy to disprove because it claims the Native Americans were all descendants of the 12 lost tribes of Israel but science has proven that Native Americans are Asian not semitic. But they ignore that fact.
      But yet despite it’s absurd claims Mormonism is one of the fastest growing religions in America. They claim they get around  200,000 converts a yr and now total almost 6 million members. I don’t get it.  The only religion more ridiculous than Mormonism, in my humble opinion, is Scientology. It just proves to me that people will believe anything no matter how stupid.   

  • Alan Christensen

    Having been a Mormon, I know that any comment on the faith from the outside that doesn’t gush with praise is considered spiteful, evil, factually wrong and the work of devil-led anti-Mormons. Not only do they not take criticism well, they get upset when someone speaks positive facts in the wrong tone of voice. Sometimes, not using the exact same jargon and syntax as the church when talking about the religion is grounds for offense (and Mormons love taking offense). So there is no way they will like Winer’s article.

    Their heads will explode over the idea that Mormonism changes doctrines, because, despite the facts, they believe The One True Gospel of Jesus Christ is eternal and unchanging. The changes are, well, um, some spiritually nebulous and righteously justified thing other than change — which is probably very similar to Mitt’s view of his own flip-flops.

  • Ibis3

     Yes, they’re both crazy and deluded. But since we have so little actual historical evidence for what went on at the time of Christianity’s origin (so much so, that there are some historians who even doubt that Jesus even existed), it’s a little more forgivable that the general public could be taken in by the stories. But we know that Joseph Smith was a fraud. He was convicted of it in court. We know that he either deliberately conned people or was a complete nutjob for believing in seeing stones and the like. We know how crazy and unbelievable we’d find it if someone today claimed to find golden plates that only they could translate by looking into a hat–and no, you can’t see them for yourself. We know how stupid it is to think that the indigenous peoples of North America are lost tribes from Israel and that there’s a whole other, whiter, version of them that got wiped out.  So yeah, it may be just as silly as believing that a carpenter turned rabbi and wonder worker in first century Palestine was the creator of the world, but it’s a lot less defensible.

  • http://twitter.com/PTrimby Phil

    Maybe that explains why the 2 contributors on the subject of
    Romney’s Mormonism on the Jeremy Vine show, BBC seemed to both be
    apologists.  There was no mention at all
    about the bizarre beliefs.

  • http://twitter.com/ylaenna M. Elaine

     The magic spectacles were colored contact lenses!

  • Tainda

    Sorry, I don’t agree.

  • C Peterson

    Yes, it is. Being Christian is dumb, there’s no getting around that. But his kind of Christianity is older, with virtually no surviving historical documentation (there’s not even any evidence its god was a real person), so it tends to get a pass from most people. Batshit crazy lost in the mists of time is somehow seen as more respectable than batshit crazy made up in the last couple centuries. Go figure.

  • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

    Or at least pragmatic.  You can’t get elected in this country unelss you appear to be religious.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    Romney is no idiot.  He knows that many of the voters he needs to rely on to get into office are uncomfortable with (or bigoted against) Mormonism.  He therefore has to be careful to formulate his religious language in more general terms like being a “church goer”, a “man of faith”, that “faith is the highest value”.  He will try to form a bond with all religious people against a common enemy – the unreligious people.  He would therefore probably be the least accepting president of non-religious people in modern history.  He will need a shared enemy for the “us versus them” dichotomy so Mormonism and the religious people who are skeptical of Mormonism can all be considered “us”.  The atheists, skeptics, agnostics, pro-choice people, people of same sex attraction, and all foreigners will be the “them”.  This is simply the Faustian deal Romney must make.

  • Mickey30981

    Sorry, there is far more evidence, including extra biblical, for the historical Christ than many secular figures of the ancient world . Those historians who doubt the actual existence of Christ are only a handful and on the outside of legitimate history scholarship. You can doubt his claim of dininity, but to argue his is existence is as silly as Mormonism’s claim of Semitic origin of the native americans.

  • Coyotenose

     Being a Christian in the U.S. does not automatically require one to adhere to much more than the idea that Jesus was real and the son of God, and sometimes not even that. It’s been watered down to a harmless base by time and mainstreaming. Mormonism’s crazy precepts are strict and binding because it hasn’t actually escaped its “cult” status yet. It’s much more dangerous relative to its size than Christianity is, because its members learn to act insidiously to gain outside support from those who wouldn’t knowingly buy their brand of crazy. But it sounds like you’ve seen that, ugh.

  • Lurker111

    Regarding the phrase, “bigoted against) Mormonism,” I wonder how any thinking person can NOT be bigoted against a 19th-century sex scam.  Just sayin’.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, who listens

    um, no. plenty of scholars doubt the historicity of “jesus christ.” 

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, who listens

    i have always been amazed that mormonism survives as a cult. it’s so freaky and weird, but i guess that’s what people want in a religion. and i agree with the above: the right way to describe it is 19th c sex scam. 

  • Vivian

    While I agree the story is outlandish, it is only more so because it is young and so close to modern times. All other faiths have silly origin stories too. Let’s not forget that. It’s like I ask my Jewish husband, can he really fathom the splitting of the Red Sea? And I remind him that majority of people believe an angel impregnated a woman and a man rose from the dead. I mean, c’mon… rational people are giggling right? 

  • Miko

    If he won’t talk about his faith, then there’s no reason to assume that he actually does believe all of the crazy stuff that Mormons are supposed to believe any more than there is reason to believe that every Christian believes all of the crazy stuff that Christians are supposed to believe.  Just as it was absurd for the right to attack Obama based on the beliefs of Jeremiah Wright, it’s absurd for the center-right to attack Romney based on the beliefs of Joseph Smith.

    And since he was raised as a Mormon as opposed to converting at an age when he had developed judgment skills, the fact that he’s a Mormon doesn’t really tell us much about his judgment.

  • C Peterson

    It is not bigotry to recognize that Mormonism is deeply flawed, to dislike its impact on society, and to be skeptical of the wisdom and judgment of its followers. It is not bigotry to dislike something for rational reasons.

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    200,000 a year? I have to wonder if they’re counting the newly baptized dead folks.

  • C Peterson

    Sometimes you can believe really stupid shit, but when you talk about it, you realize just how stupid it really is. There’s a reason that religions don’t encourage frank analysis of most scripture.

  • Bryan

     The difference between Obama’s faith and Romney’s faith is that Romney was a bishop in the Mormon church for a handful of years. This is not a case of someone being raised in a religion without any real commitment or idea of it; Romney knows church doctrine and history full well, and has been part of or influenced by members of the hierarchy for most of his life. You might not be able to attack him for the beliefs of Joseph Smith, but you can attack him for the beliefs of the church he had a leadership role in.

  • Ibis3

     First, there’s no such thing as “the historical Christ” (unless you’re referring to historical concepts of the Christ figure, Christology, or mythos of Christ). You’ll notice that the topic you’re referring to is called by legitimate historical scholarship as the problem of the historical Jesus. Second, there is a group of legitimate historians who do question his existence. They are in the minority, but they are not crackpots*. They have presented evidence to back up their position and there is a scholarly debate going on. I happen to disagree with that position (I’m an historian by training and have an MA in a field related to Early Christianity), but the fact is, there’s enough substance there for there to be a legitimate dispute.

    On the other hand, we have genetic evidence about the origin of the aboriginals of North America. We have archaeological evidence. We have historical evidence. We have linguistic evidence. That’s a whole hell of a lot more than what we have for the historical Jesus.

    And just to be clear, what I’m saying is that what evidence about Jesus and the earliest Christians is fairly slight when compared to what we have about Joseph Smith and his original followers. We know exactly what claims Smith made. We have his own writings. We have corroborated testimonies of his followers. We have court records and contemporary newspaper accounts. It’s a lot easier to make your prophet or messiah into a myth that suits your own tastes and beliefs when there’s so little verified historical knowledge. But when we know for a fact that the guy spouted utter nonsense? It’s a little harder for me to see how anyone can justify to themselves believing in that bullshit.

    *However, there are also many more crackpots who take up this position because
    they think a non-existent Jesus is somehow better to argue against than a
    real one around whom a mythology grew. Personally, I’d say the question as to whether or not Jesus existed is completely irrelevant to non-historians of that subject, since it is the myth of Christ that has been of historical significance and which continues to be an influence today. But that’s not the topic I’m discussing here.

  • Jim_Lahey

    Point me to the extra biblical sources please. I would very much like to see what has eluded so many for so long!


  • http://pramod.myid.net/ pramod

    This is what bigoted means:


    1. Obstinately convinced of the superiority or correctness of one’s own opinions and prejudiced against those who hold different opinions.

    2. Expressing or characterized by prejudice and intolerance.

    In the context of mormonism, I am convinced about the (in-)correctness of mormonism, but I do not hold any prejudice against those who hold different opinions. There’s a lot of research showing that humans are fundamentally beings of caprice and nowhere near as rational as we’d like to believe. Therefore, I’m not interested in being prejudiced against someone just because they hold some irrational beliefs. This of course, doesn’t mean I’m going to not fight against a mormon theocracy but I am definitely not prejudiced against mormons. 

    TL; DR: It is completely possible and perfectly reasonable to not be bigoted against mormonism.

  • Antinomian

    I grew up in the RLDS church in central and southern Ohio during the 60′s and 70′s. One of the tennents of the church was that the prophet and president was a direct decendant of Joseph Smith and therefore the original and true church. They never acknowleged the truth of Joseph Smith’s life and it wasn’t until I was in my teens that I found out the true history of the early church.

    What really astounds me is that the members were generally very educated and smart people. As I hit my 20′s and was able to think through the contridictions and see the falseness of the doctorines I couldn’t believe that the older menbers couldn’t as well.
    So I asked my now elderly Sunday school teacher if she really believed all the hokum; she replied:” That’s not important, what is important that it’s a good way to lead your life.”

  • Coyotenose

     Every scrap of evidence for Jesus comes in the form of religious writings put down by members of his own cult long after the fact. That’s nothing.

    It’s usually irrelevant to the discussion whether or not there was an actual Jesus, though.

  • Coyotenose

    Jeremiah Wright isn’t Jesus.

  • Jenncahill

    Why would anyone believe a story about a Jewish teenager being impregnated by God, giving birth to God, God, after various adventures getting nailed to a tree, dying, rising from the dead, and ascending back to heaven where “he” dwells as part of the triune godhead? You need to be seriously mentally ill to believe that. Several chromosomes short. A knuckledragger.

    In context, the additions of Mormonism to Christianity are no more nuts than the original drug induced nonsensical dung heap.

  • Ethics_eater

    Would you kindly present evidence that Jesus actually existed. 

  • Nigelwhitehall

    If Romney’s continued belief in the faith he was raised in is terrifying then the President’s Christian faith can arguably been viewed at least in the same light. After all the President’s parents were not believers in Christianity, he came to his Christian faith later in life. Which is worse maintaining the same beliefs you had has a kid, or being converted to the popular but just as irrational religion later in life?

    I don’t hold either man’s religion against them. To me they cancel each other out.

  • Abcd

    So President OSama gets a pass because he believes in a fairy tale which is older? All abrahamic religions are bullshit, virgin birth, give me a break, I care about policy not which fairy tale they believe in…you are a bigot and should be ashamed to call yourself anything else

  • Abcd

     Obama I mean!

  • Sindigo

    I think not only does he believe it but that in order to have any chance of our points of view being taken seriously that we have to believe that he believes it. The same, of course goes for the other side. As soon as someone says to me “you just haven’t found God yet”, “well, he believes in you” or similar thereby implying that I’m fooling myself in some way then, as far as I’m concerned they’re calling me a liar and it’s conversation over.

  • Herkermer

    Whenever you can’t understand how intelligent people could believe X thing, and yet many intelligent people do, that should be a good indication that your understanding of it is incomplete. And maybe you should learn about it from the believers’ point of view and not just the point of view of the antagonists.

  • Petersonbradley105

     It’s funny just how much you twist your friends words…