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18

Politics and Theology — The Mormon Implications

As the 2012 presidential election nears, Romney’s Mormon religion has, by necessity, been taken off the table as an issue for most Christians. Thanks to the actions of the Obama administration – with our freedom so imperiled and our nation’s fiscal house so shaky — the troubling aspects of Romney’s religious affiliation, have faded into the background.

They were always irrelevant to some who perceived this religion as a non-issue with regard to fitness for the presidency. Russell Shaw seems quite sanguine at the idea of a Mormon president. I am less so, but not for the reason that gets advanced from time to time: the power and authority of the leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, called by adherents, “prophet, seer and revelator.”

The reason for raising the question of the authority of the Mormon leader is to challenge Mormon candidates regarding what they would do if the “prophet, seer and revelator” suddenly imposed upon all Mormons, and therefore upon the president, a new practice that was at odds with American law as their former practice of polygamy was. Would a Mormon obey his leader or the law of the United States that he was sworn to uphold? While an answer to this might be interesting, it is a question that is odds-on merely theoretical given that the two most famous uses of the power of the “prophet, seer and revelator” have been to outlaw polygamy among Mormons and to declare the spiritual equality of Blacks with Whites — both of which brought Mormon society more in line with the prevailing American culture. The idea that the Mormon religious leader might suddenly, upon the election of a Mormon president of the United States, declare that Mormons must practice polygamy, or must use cocaine as a sacrament, or must drive on the left side of the road, or create any other such conflict with American law is too far-fetched to be seriously considered.

So, if that is not a worry, what possible difference do any other theological issues make in qualification to be president?

I think those who are shrugging off the Mormon distinctives may be missing something pertinent. But I also think that the issue mentioned above does not get to the heart of the problem with Mormonism and with the possibility of a Mormon president, which is directly related to their doctrine of God.

(Note: In the discussion below, I will use dual terminology referring to Mormon “gods” because the beings they consider gods are gods in the same sense that we would call, say Thor, “a god” — they are not eternal, omniscient, omnipotent and possess none of the perfections of God and they are imaginary. I am also using “God” because it is important to understand that the Mormons make these claims about the God of the Bible.)

As oddly fascinating and even appalling a doctrine as their polytheism is, you have to get behind it to understand its implications. Behind it is something called “the eternal progression”: the god who created this world — the God of the Bible, they claim — was once a man living on a planet created by his father god, who was once a man living on his planet created by his father god and so forth. Now there is a philosophical problem with this: there is no beginning point — it is an infinite regress. But there can not be such a thing, because if you have to go back an infinite number of times, you never get to a beginning and without a point at which to begin, you never get to now and today. That is an insurmountable philosophical (logical) problem.

But more pertinent to the political question is the moral problem it generates. According to Mormon doctrine, the way that each god gets to become a god is by following the “law of the gospel.” To Mormons, law (not the gods, or God) is eternal and law is prior (although “prior” has no real meaning when one is talking about an infinite regress). God has not created law, it is not “of Him” or “from Him,” rather, “law” — impersonal and uncreated – has made the gods gods (made Him God).

This is not merely a radical departure from the Judeo-Christian concept of God, it is a radical deformation of the concept of law, both natural law and the positive (promulgated) laws that flow from it:

The natural law, the Creator’s very good work, provides the solid foundation on which man can build the structure of moral rules to guide his choices. It also provides the indispensable moral foundation for building the human community. Finally, it provides the necessary basis for the civil law with which it is connected, whether by a reflection that draws conclusions from its principles, or by additions of a positive and juridical nature (CCC 1959).

Behind the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution stands precisely this Judeo-Christian concept of natural law as the participation of the human conscience in the eternal law of God. It is eternal because it “is the work of divine Wisdom” (CCC 1950), and has as its source an eternal Being, God.  It is this concept of natural law from which positive law (ecclesiastical and civil) derives its just authority and its appeal to human reason. Furthermore it is exactly this concept of law that allows us to insist that no law can ever make abortion or euthanasia or embryonic stem cell research lawful. A law that purports to do so is not a law at all because it intrinsically contradicts the proper function of law, as St. Thomas explained:

A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. Insofar as it falls short of right reason it is said to be an unjust law, and thus has not so much the nature of law as of a kind of violence (STh I-II, 93, 3, ad 2).

Which brings us back around to the possibility of a Mormon being elected president. Their appeal to some Catholics and other Christians is certainly based on so called “social conservatism” and considering the encroachnments the culture of death has made in the past 3 years, that is no minor consideration. But what kind of case can a Mormon make to the nation for the cause of the murdered unborn? What kind of case can he even build in his own head? If “law” is prior to and above (ontologically superior to) even the gods (or God), then on what basis do we claim that law ought to serve the good of persons? If law is ultimately not the product of a Personal Being, as it is according to the Declaration of Independence, how can human reason make judgments regarding law and how can the human conscience be bound by law? Doesn’t it all come down to arbitrary decree? And isn’t arbitrary decree (read: usurpation of legislative function by the Supreme Court) exactly why we are in this mess?

Considering that “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” required reason to make its case against arbitrary decree at the founding our country, the possibility of electing to its highest executive office someone who must hold as a tenet of faith such a different, and unreasonable, conception of law gives me pause. It is a pause, after which, I will vote for him — only because the alternative is unthinkable.

(A version of this article was originally published Aug 12, 2011)


Mary Kochan, former Senior Editor of CatholicExchange, is Editor-in-chief of CatholicLane.com.

Raised as a  third-generation Jehovah's Witness, Mary worked her way backwards through the Protestant Reformation to enter the Catholic Church on Trinity Sunday, 1996.  Mary has spoken in many settings, to groups large and small, on the topic of destructive cultism and has been a guest on both local and national radio programs. To arrange for Mary to speak at your event, you may contact her at kochanmar@gmail.com.

  • goral

    American tradition makes abundant allowances for people’s religious and personal views.
    We put a lot of stock into this independence.
    A person making a statement such as:
    “When government fears the people then we have liberty, when people fear the government then we have tyranny”, garners the respect of his fellow man.
    That respect is not diminished when a statement such as this is made: “A person’s religion neither breaks my leg nor reaches into my pocket”.
    Both are quotes from Thomas Jefferson.

    The conservative appeal continues even though the second quote is nonsensical. It is essentially Protestant thinking that dices up the integrity of a person and separates the body from the mind and from the soul.

    Your article, Mary, is essentially Catholic thinking and is at odds with American tradition.

    • CertainlyTruth

      I would urge you to go to this site and read through this article and then pray about it:

      Why Christians and Conservatives Sense that Romney Could Be Worse Than Obama. I cannot vote for either one of them and be right with the Saviour.

      http://www.theconservativepundit.net/?m=201206&paged=7

      • Mary Kochan

        The particular article that you linked to doesn’t make that point and I do not see an article by that title on that website. Beside, I don’t think the point could be made that “Christians and conservatives sense that Romney could be worse than Obama”, for the simple reason that Christians and conservatives are unlikely to all be sensing the same thing about any issue. I would not find it a stretch to say that some Christians and some conservatives may worry that Romney could be worse than Obama. But as someone who spends a lot of time looking at what Christians and conservatives are saying it looks to me like most seem willing to take their chances with Romney, being pretty well convinced that Obama is a disaster.

  • guitarmom

    We can agree, though, that when legal reasoning ignores the natural law, horrid decisions are made. Two examples still plaguing our nation, abortion was declared legal, and same-sex couples are being granted the right to “marry.”

    Mary’s analysis is precisely the kind of scrutiny that must be brought to bear on every candidate. In Romney’s case, we are able to look at his faith tradition in order to understand his approach. Doing so may not be “the American way,” but we must do so anyway.

    Would that more people had taken seriously the preaching that our current president listened to for twenty years.

  • http://www.tell-usa.org Robert Struble, Jr.

    On making a political judgement about the moral fitness of a candidate for President (or any other position of public trust): The current corrupted political system is notoriously giving voters the choice between the lesser of two evils. Our experience with Mormons in general is that they are allies in the culture war (e.g. on Prop. 8 in CA, 2008). But our experience with lapsed Catholics (Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo) and liberal Protestants (Obama, Clinton) is that they are hell-bent to paganize the country. So given the choice between Obama and Romney, I think the prudential choice would be the Mormon.

  • http://www.casorosendi.com/ Carlos Caso-Rosendi

    Those are my thoughts too, Bob. A truck full of pagans can call themselves Catholic but it is still a truck full of pagans. Of course if there was a candidate that is truly Catholic and lives his faith… we still have to find if he is competent to govern. Honesty and competence are the key concepts.

    Mary presents the intellectual angle of the problem. In practical terms we have been here before: Constantine (an Arian heretic) was not Justinian but he was still the best the Church could hope for at the time. Better support a Christian heretic than another Nero.

    The more I know the Church the less I expect from her. I’m afraid only God can truly tell the wheat from the weeds. In politics we have a little more latitude. If the option is Biden vs. Romney I’ll walk to Utah to cast my vote. That’s a no-brainer.

    • http://www.tell-usa.org Robert Struble, Jr.

      Well said, Carlos. Although the hike from the East Coast to Utah might be more bearable if our politics (whoever might win) offered more hope. Sure you wouldn’t prefer to carpool?

      • http://www.casorosendi.com/ Carlos Caso-Rosendi

        I can use some exercise, Bob!
        :)

  • jeanne macdonald

    Mary, I am becoming a big fan of your clear thinking.

    This is my comment on the topic of having a Mormon president which is taken from an odd experience I had back in 2008 when I went the see Romney talk in Marshalltown, IA. during the pres. primary run. I decided to go to hear him talk but before I left that morning I prayed, “Holy Spirit give me a question to ask of him while I am there.” The Spirit said to me with a small voice in my heart, “Ask if he will refrain from appointing Mormons to the Supreme Court.”

    I had no idea why I should ask that. I did not have the info you detailed above although I did have angst about his faith tradition. So I ask him that question that morning in Marshalltown.

    His ire overran his usual deportment. CNN ran the story on their news that night. He defended his right to appoint whomever he chose, which is his right, of coarse. Reporters wanted follow up by me, which I could not provide. But now I see. The Holy Spirit was alerting me that this man and the Mormon concept of the primacy of law over their concept of god is going to be a problem in the future for Catholics.

    It is strange that it has taken me three years to find out why the Spirit prompted me to ask what I asked. My guess is that the Holy Spirit likes it when we ask Him to speak to us so he gives us what we ask. It is frightening to do what He tells us to do when we don’t understand why. And then we witness the anger it generates and again we do not know what we did.

    But now I see the light, I will not take lightly this Mormon heresy of God and law and I will not vote for anyone I cannot trust with the lives of my children and grandchildren. So if Romney or Huntsman run I will not vote and I will encourage others to stay away as well. I believe the Holy Spirit has spoken loud enough to be heeded. But let us pray and work so that does not have to happen.

  • Pingback: Is Mormonism a Christian Denomination? | CatholicMaine

  • Pingback: Are Mitt Romney and Other Mormons “Christian”? | Fellowship of the Minds

  • CertainlyTruth

    In the book, CAN MITT ROMNEY SERVE TWO MASTERS?, you also find out that there is a one world theocracy plan for the Mormon Church to rule the world with Jesus when he comes back to earth during the millennium. This is why they are trying so hard to get a Mormon, Mitt Romney, in to the office of the presidency. The Mormon’s believe that they will become the “Government of God”, or the “Kingdom of God” on earth when Jesus comes, and are pulling out all the stops with Romney to make exactly that happen. Read this book and don’t vote for Romney!

  • http://www.schefter.org PrairieHawk

    I was hoping to discover that Romney was more American than Mormon, or even that he has a Catholic soul, in order to placate my qualms about voting for him. No such luck. What are faithful Catholics to do? The options seem to be, (1) Vote for Romney anyway in order to limit the harm being done to our country; or (2) Abstain.

    Reading this I am actually thinking about option 2. Abstain, and invest the energy that would have gone to voting in prayer for our nation. Our true citizenship is in Heaven anyway.

    • Mary Kochan

      No PrairieHawk I don’t think you should abstain. And I really don’t know if Romney is more American than Mormon. I don’t really know how much of a role his religion will play anything he does or thinks. Not everyone who is affiliated with a religion takes its philosophical underpinnings to their logical conclusion. If they did we would not have any pro-abortion Catholics.

      • http://www.schefter.org PrairieHawk

        Please help me out – I’m not trying to start a fight :-)

        Should we then be reassured that Romney does not take his faith seriously? If he doesn’t take his relationship with God, which is at the heart of every man’s character, seriously, then what else doesn’t he take seriously? His pro-life views? His opinion about foreign interventions? Everything that we’re going to ask him to do as President is going to be shaped somehow by his character, by his relationship with God. If he doesn’t even believe his own religion, does he believe anything at all?

        • Mary Kochan

          I don’t think you trying to start a fight. I think you’re asking good questions. My point is more that none of us really know and beyond that, it is possible for Romney to take his faith very seriously without following through on its philosophical implications regarding law in terms of what he does as a president or how he views the Constitution of the United States. There are a lot of aspects of Mormonism that any intelligent Mormon has to bracket in their thinking because of their illogic. Mormonism does not have the kind of coherence that Catholicism does so that Catholic principles can be intelligently applied to every aspect of life.

          • http://www.schefter.org PrairieHawk

            OK, I understand. I have known Mormons before and they universally seem to be good people – I’ve just never gotten how someone can take his faith seriously without testing it, digging for the details, as it were. When you do that with the Catholic faith, you find an incredible and beautiful integrity. I think Mormonism from what I know falls apart under scrutiny.

  • http://www.schefter.org PrairieHawk

    Here is my idea. Devote November 6 to prayer, fasting, and penance for abortion, contraception, and other widespread sins facing our country. Pray for the future of our country and for its conversion.

    Prayerfully discern how you are being called to vote. Make sure you are knowledgeable about all the local races and issues on the ballot. Try to make your vote the vote that the Holy Spirit would have you cast.

    It is my belief that as faithful Catholics, we can do at least as much real good for the United States by a day of penance as we can by voting in the election, but we need to do both. We can’t abdicate our office of citizen at this critical juncture in our nation’s history.