Lately, Christopher Hitchens has been a one-man hit squad against Mitt Romney. As anyone who’s read Hitchens’ best-seller God Is Not Great can attest, the guy hates all religions. But he has an especially buzzy bee in his bonnet about Mormonism. (Check out Chapter 11 of God Is Not Great — which is blistering on the Church of Latter Day Saints and its founders, even by the caustic standards established in the rest of the book.) Hitchens has recently written several pieces about Romney on Slate. The latest, appropriately titled Mitt Romney’s Windy, Worthless Speech, can be found here. But it was in an earlier Nov. 26 Slatepiece where he made what I thought was his most effective and scathing criticism of both Romney’s faith and the man’s involvement in it:
It ought to be borne in mind that Romney is not a mere rank-and-file Mormon. His family is, and has been for generations, part of the dynastic leadership of the mad cult invented by the convicted fraud Joseph Smith. It is not just legitimate that he be asked about the beliefs that he has not just held, but has caused to be spread and caused to be inculcated into children. It is essential. Here is the most salient reason: Until 1978, the so-called Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was an officially racist organization. Mitt Romney was an adult in 1978. We need to know how he justified this to himself, and we need to hear his self-criticism, if he should chance to have one. The Book of Mormon, when it is not “chloroform in print” as Mark Twain unkindly phrased it, is full of vicious ingenuity. From it you can learn of the ancient battle of Cumorah, which occurred at a site conveniently near Joseph Smith’s home in upstate New York. In this legendary engagement, the Nephites, described as fair-skinned and “handsome,” fought against the outcast Lamanites, whose punishment for turning away from God was to be afflicted with dark skin. Later, in antebellum Missouri and preaching against abolition, Smith and his cronies announced that there had been a third group in heaven during the battle between God and Lucifer. This group had made the mistake of trying to remain neutral but, following Lucifer’s defeat, had been forced into the world and compelled to “take bodies in the accursed lineage of Canaan; and hence the negro or African race.” Until 1978, no black American was permitted to hold even the lowly position of deacon in the Mormon Church, and nor were any (not that there were many applicants) admitted to the sacred rites of the temple.
Hitchens is right to call Romney to account for this. Last week, Romney declared grandly in a speech that “My church’s beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance. Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.” But this is fatuous nonsense. Why should there be no basis for “criticism” when a religion is openly racist — or at least was so until relatively recently?
Speaking of Mormonism and skin color, after blogging about this subject a little while back, I got this interesting note from a fellow out in Alberta:
In 1984, my wife and I took a one-day trip to Cardston, a largely Mormon town, near the Alberta-Montana border. We wanted to restock on groceries and cold beer. Cardston, it turns, was a “dry” community — no liquor store was located there. While there, my wife and I decided to do the touristy thing and visited the Mormon temple. But, as non-Mormons, we could only visit the interpretive centre; which we did. This consisted of listening to an LDS elder give us a crash-course on Mormonism, accompanied by a montage of photographs. There were a few eyebrow-cocking moments (I’ve no opinions about God) but the most amusing was when our guide, a porky middle aged fellow in a spanking white shirt, black dress trousers held up by suspenders and black dress shoes, blandly asserted that an aboriginal Canadian converting to the Mormon faith could expect to soon discover a significant lightening of his skin colour due to such conversion. We both nodded politely and soon were on our way. Once inside the car my wife wondered whether she’d heard him correctly. I assured her she had.
Obviously, a whole faith should not be defined by the casual utterances from one or two isolated oddballs. But it strikes me that what this fellow said way back in 1984 is not entirely disconnected from what LDS doctrine stood for well within Romney’s lifetime. Good on Hitchens for sticking with this issue, notwithstanding Romney’s defensive pieties. Other journalists should do the same.
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