Friday, August 10, 2012
Mitt the Mormon
Joe Scarborough, of "Morning Joe," MSNBC's interesting morning starter, continues to claim that there are three persistent mysteries about Mitt, and, appropriately, they all begin with M--1) Mormonism; 2) Massachusetts; and 3) money. Mitt mentions all of them, but he simply won't pass some surface tensions into the deep stuff. He doesn't say much about his Mormonism, about his time as the gov of Massachusetts, or about his money. Maybe for good reason.
Adam Gropnik may well have gone farther than anyone I know in explaining all three of these mysteries in terms of the first--Mitt's Mormonism--in an article in the New Yorker, at least I think so. The analysis is something of a review of several new books about our LDS neighbors.
Gropnik argues--and I think he's right--that all faiths "mature" into visions of existence that eventually, more or less, strike a peace with the majority culture. Some of steam dies when the old testament prophets among them finally pass away, so that subsequent generations--like folks in the Massachusetts By Colony, circa 1700--simply become less "in your face," you might say. Honestly, who really believes that most evangelical Christians today would "rather have Jesus than silver or gold"? Few really want to be holy fools, after all, fanatics like that weird Baptist assembly that pickets GI funerals, or fanatics of any kind. We're all connected these days.
But Gropnik goes a little farther, explaining one of the real Mitt mysteries by its roots in his peculiar (and Mormonism, in origins, is really peculiar) faith tradition. Somehow--and everyone knows this, from Newt Gingerich to Nancy Pelosi--he's reversed ground on just about every political hot button on the American political horizon. The only one who doesn't seem to "get" that is Romney.
To acknowledge those changes is to confound the base, of course. Yet, the man doesn't appear to be one bit deceptive. It's very difficult for anyone to accuse him of shaking your hand and peeing down you leg at the same time. He's not a Nixon or a Clinton. Does Romney even have a dark side? I'm not so sure. He's a portrait of righteousness, something out of Norman Rockwell, and he is so despite his immense wealth and the wide landscape that exists between where he stands today and where he did a decade or more ago. He's an innocent. Look at his family. They're perfect.
How does he do that? Gropnik says, if you're Mormon, then you accept, on faith, that revelation from on high deletes whatever ideas once ruled. Mormons did away with the racial discrimination they practiced institutionally when the church's reigning prophet simply determined that that such remnant19th century prejudice had to end. Hence, a new millennium, a new day. The past is simply wiped out, gone, over. That's what a prophet can do. That's what Romney's learned.
I think that idea seems helpful in defining Mitt Romney's almost petulant refusal to acknowledge that he ever had determined alternate views on issues like abortion or gay marriage: to wit, he's had a new revelation.
All of this matters little to those who could care less about his faith because the man he's running against is the anti-Christ: a choice between a Mormon and Satan is a slam dunk, after all.
But just as Mormonism is a fascinating and mysterious part of America's religious landscape, Romney's immersion in it--and he's a Mormon honcho, as is his family--has to matter somehow. How? I don't know, but Adam Gropnik's very thoughtful essay lays out some really interesting possibilities.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:34 AM