Politics, Technology, and Language

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Archive for February 6th, 2007

Is Mitt Romney’s religion fair game?

Posted by metaphorical on 6 February 2007

According to Tim Rutten of the LA Times:

Romney comes from a political family. His father, George, was a liberal Republican, a supporter of civil rights and an opponent of the war in Vietnam. When Mitt Romney, a one-time independent, ran as a Republican against Sen. Edward Kennedy in 1994, he was pro-choice and opposed discrimination against homosexuals by the Boy Scouts. Since then, his adherence to the values of so-called social conservatism has increased along with his national political ambitions.

Well, pandering to the right is certainly fair game. But what about his Mormonism?

Rutter takes to task Jacob Weisberg, who says it is.

A few weeks ago, Jacob Weisberg, editor of the influential online journal Slate, posted a piece that began, “Someone who refuses to consider voting for a woman as president is rightly deemed a sexist. Someone who’d never vote for a black person is a racist. But are you a religious bigot if you wouldn’t cast a ballot for a believing Mormon?” According to Weisberg, no. “If he gets anywhere in the primaries, Romney’s religion will become an issue with moderate and secular voters — and rightly so. Objecting to someone because of his religious beliefs is not the same thing as prejudice based on religious heritage, race or gender. Not applying a religious test for public office means that people of all faiths are allowed to run—not that views about God, creation and the moral order are inadmissible for political debate…. Nor is it chauvinistic to say that certain religious views are deal-breakers in and of themselves … I wouldn’t vote for someone who truly believed in the founding whoppers of Mormonism … [which] is based on such a transparent and recent fraud.”

So long as Weisberg feels the same way about the founding whoppers of Christianity, it’s hard not agree with him. On a scale of weird, impossible-to-believe ideas, there’s no real difference between fundamentalist religions, whether it’s Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, or shellfish-is-an-abomination Judaism. (Or, as Richard Dawkins puts it, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”) If Weisberg is singling out Mormonism, of course, that’s a fair complaint.

Rutten definitely goes too far, though, when he says:

Worse, Romney “has never publicly indicated any distance from church doctrine.” Thank God Weisberg’s antipathy to Romney isn’t based on religious bigotry.

We’re talking about Romney’s beliefs. Why are some of them off limits? If he’s opposed to gay marriage because of some personal bigotry, that’s a matter of legitimate public interest, but if it’s not even personally based, but grounded in religion, then it’s not?

These “personal beliefs” have public consequences. When someone runs for public office, we need to know what they are. I don’t happen to need to know where he stands on polygamy, because it’s not one of the key issues I care about, but I can see where it’s important to others. For my own part, I don’t want to vote for anyone who denies science’s privileged position on empirical matters, such as evolution. That’s not bigotry, that’s responsible voting.

And when someone like Romney benefits from religious pandering, it’s important they’re punished for it as well. These people have gotten a free ride for long enough, reaping the benefits of irrationality without paying any price. Certainly among my circle of atheistic and agnostic friends, I don’t think we would be so vociferous in our disbelief (e.g., here) if it were not for the rise over the last decade or so in vociferous lunacy coming from the fundamentalist wings of various religions.

And I do mean lunacy, for example the “proof” that the Christian god exists by Samuel J Hunt, a self-described “Pre-Physical Therapy and Dietetics student,” at Western Kentucky University.

As a press release sent to a colleague of mine (which doesn’t seem to be on-line yet) says:

According to the author, the Scientific Method has been subtly proving the Genesis cosmology in every classroom around the world for more than 450 years.

Hunt apparently bases his theory on what he’s learned in his Chemistry 120 and Physics 233 classes. While apparently you have to buy the book to get the whole theory, much of it seems to be reproduced here, including these choice passages:

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