The reasonableness of the Romney opponents

(See further down in this entry two long comments taking opposite sides on the question, is Mormonism a cult?)

If people oppose a Mormon candidate for president because they think Mormonism is a false and dangerous cult and that having a Mormon as president will help advance and legitimize Mormonism in our society, then, even though that is not my view, I think it would be a reasonable and legitimate basis to oppose a candidate, and I don’t think people should be attacked as bigots for having that view. The substantive question, which would determine whether their view is not only reasonable but correct, would then be: is Mormonism a false and dangerous cult?

- end of initial entry -

Terry Morris writes:

I’m not sure it’s Mormonism in particular that having a Mormon president would legitimize. In a broader sense, to legitimize one cult is to legitimize all cults. If Mormonism is a cult, and the Mormon Romney (who announced in his faith speech that he will not deny his faith even if it costs him the nomination) is elected to the highest office in the land, how are we ever henceforth to say in principle and good conscience that we reject political leaders who happen to be members of cults and adherents to cult doctrines? … any and all.

LA replies:

But this leaves unaddressed the question: is Mormonism simply a “cult”? Whatever we think of the origins and doctrines of Mormonism, which are definitely weird, the fact remains that its stability and material success, its “culture,” the high-performing loyal Americans it has produced over the last 100 years suggest that it is an established, well-functioning part of America, and therefore not simply dismissible as a “cult.”

Laura W. writes:

Mormonism is a distinctly American cult that is in conversation with Christianity. Like Christian Science, the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Transcendentalism and Universalism, it sprang from both discomfort with and acceptance of Christianity. These cults all are inconceivable without the backdrop of a dominant Christianity. Even though they are heresies of one kind or another, they do not represent a serious challenge in themselves to Christianity. None has gained sizeable numbers. (I know the Mormon population has grown but it is still only, I believe, two percent of the population.) All of these cults cannot, as religions, withstand the sort of scrutiny all major religions have survived as long as Christianity remains any kind of significant force in this country. That is because their doctrines are too occultist, ahistorical, unlivable and far-fetched. Mormonism is false, but not dangerous. Islam is false and dangerous because it was able to attract large numbers before encountering serious challenges.

I could vote for a Mormon candidate who showed he was willing to abide by the prevailing non-Mormon ethos. The presidency is not a vehicle for converting people to one religion or another. Ideally, it is the means by which a prevailing Christian ethos (as distinct from Christian belief) is put into practice by both Christians and non-Christians.

Is Mormonism a cult?

Richard W. writes:

That is an excellent question. I see three possible answers, depending on the definition and methodology you use to answer the question:

One is purely utilitarian and historical. Which says, as your posting did, the Mormons are fitting in without causing problems, they’ve been around for a while now…. so, they are credited with being “not a cult.” Regardless of how odd others may find their beliefs.

The second is to judge them in regards to orthodoxy. That is our culture has normative religious beliefs; Jewish, Protestant and Catholic.

A cult is any religion or group that dissents from the major well established teachings of these faiths in a significant way.

In the case of Mormonism they are certainly a cult. All of our main religions share as a central theme the belief that the age of revelation was 2000 years in the past (or more for the Jews) and that new prophets are not to be expected or believed.

Using this definition even some well established denominations like the Seventh Day Adventists are cults, as they extend the age of prophecy to the near-present.

Whereas “mainstream” denominations are only arguing about interpretation of the common inheritance of Christianity, the Bible, cultic variations include new revelations and teachings.

This is, I believe, the point of view used by most of those calling Mormonism a cult. The problem with this “retreat to Orthodoxy” is that it inherently dismisses the claims of others, while insisting on claims of the orthodox. Thus it is relativistic. (But as we have learned from your writings cultural norms are not without importance, and should not be dismissed out of hand.)

The third method that might be used to judge “is this a cult” would be criteria based. This method was most fully developed by the Cult Awareness Network, a group of people trying to save their family members from abusive cults, specifically Jim Jones. (The group eventually engaged in kidnapping family members from cults, and was sued out of existence. Their remedial methods were too extreme.)

This type of evaluation is useful because it is not based on competing metaphysical claims, but rather on observed behavior of leaders and participants. It uses psychology and sociology to judge religion, not other religion.

I’ve tried to summarize these “cult warning signs” which differ in the particulars depending on who is expounding on them and came up with these:

  • A movement that separates itself from society, either geographically or socially;

  • Adherents who become increasingly dependent on the movement for their view on reality;

  • Important decisions in the lives of the adherents are made by others; The leadership dictates (rather than suggests) important personal (as opposed to spiritual) details of followers’ lives, such as whom to marry, what to study in college, etc.;

  • Making sharp distinctions between us and them, divine and Satanic, good and evil, etc. that are not open for discussion;

  • Leaders who claim divine authority for their deeds and for their orders to their followers;

  • Leaders and movements who are unequivocally focused on achieving a certain goal.

  • The leader sets forth ethical guidelines members must follow but from which the leader is exempt;

  • The group is preparing to fight a literal, physical Armageddon against other human beings;

  • The leader regularly makes public assertions that he or she knows is false and/or the group has a policy of routinely deceiving outsiders;

  • The group encourages separation from former friends and family.

Using these type of criteria it seems to me that Mormonism under Joseph Smith was a cult. Mormonism today is not.

Much of the sociology of a cult requires a strong charismatic cult leader. When that leader passes he must either be replaced with a new charismatic leader, or the cult will collapse, or the cult will transcend into something less cultish.

The latter seems to be what has happened to Mormonism.

(The Nation of Islam, for example, seems to have taken the second route, replacing Elijah Mohammed with Louis Farrakhan.)

To review the specifics:

1. Mormons are integrated into society, perhaps a little less than some other groups, but they are still found everywhere and work in many organizations from the boy scouts to the stock exchange side by side with non-Mormons. NO FIT.

2. This one seems to imply increasing indoctrination. Mormonism seems about the same as other evangelical religions in its altering peoples view of reality. Mormons are not driven to be wildly odd like Hare Krishnas or other infamous destructive cults. NO FIT.

3. Adherents do not have their decisions made for them. As far as I know this doesn’t happen except in the offshoots like the polygamous cult in Colorado City. NO FIT.

4. Mormons do not seem to demonize non Mormons, at least publicly. (Unlike, say, Jim Jones) NO FIT.

5. I believe the elders do claim divine authority. Smith certainly did. YES FIT.

6. Mormons are not all working to beam up to the comet in 2009, or even to elect Mitt! NO FIT.

7. Mormons guidelines are held in common by all. NO FIT.

8. Mormons are not waiting for Armageddon any day now, say like David Koresh. NO FIT.

9. Mormons do not seek to have new members renounce relationships with others as far as I know. NO FIT.

So, there you have it. Based on both the utilitarian as well as “criteria based” analysis Mormonism is not a cult.

It is a cult only based on the Orthodox analysis.

In my opinion this is a limited tool, which basically comes down to “my unprovable beliefs are right, and yours are wrong” which is why I believe most Americans inherently are not very sympathetic to those making the claim.

Of course the more strongly one adheres to a particular set of religious beliefs the more the cult charge, based on orthodoxy, is viewed as valid.

Thus it is not surprising at all the that the group must uncomfortable with Mitt’s Mormonism are Evangelical Christians—that is those with strong beliefs in their own orthodoxy.

M. Mason writes:

While the political commentary at VFR is always stimulating and very insightful, I’m going to have to strongly take issue with Mr. Auster on this particular point. The criterion that one must use to determine whether Mormonism is a cult is not “its stability and material success, its “culture,” the high-performing loyal Americans it has produced over the last 100 years” or whether it is “an established, well-functioning part of America.” The criterion one must judge Mormonism by in this matter is a spiritual one, i.e., whether it denies (either explicitly or implicitly) one or more of the central, Biblical doctrines of Christian orthodoxy. The summary of Mormon beliefs that I posted earlier was rooted in the primary source documents of their church. For those who may still be unable on their own to come to a conclusion about whether Mormonism qualifies as a cult or not, I would simply refer you to this web page of a well-known Christian apologetics ministry that quotes the official positions of Roman Catholic, Presbyterian Church USA, Lutheran, Methodist, Southern Baptist and Evangelical churches concerning the subject. All of them view Mormonism as cultic.

I honestly don’t understand what the difficulty is here in coming to the same conclusion. Mormonism is emphatically not Christianity—in fact, from its very inception it has been anti-Christian. Joseph Smith considered both Judaism and Christianity not merely incomplete but false, choosing instead to write his own versions of the Old and New Testaments while also “translating” alleged, spurious ancient texts by occult means. The subtitle of The Book of Mormon is: “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.”—a ‘testament,’ that is, other than that accepted by the historic Christian churches.

This is what makes the Romney candidacy so bizarre and disturbing—a man running for the highest political office in the land who belongs to a full-blown religious cult.

I also took note of the fact that in his recent speech while he was deflecting and obfuscating with his religious smoke-screen, there was one thing Romney was absolutely clear about. He emphatically said:

There are some for whom these commitments are not enough. They would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more a tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts. That I will not do. I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers—I will be true to them and to my beliefs.”

Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it?

Therefore, in the future, whenever we hear statements from him such as: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.” and “I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God,” we should understand that these phrases obviously mean something quite different to him than they do to us in the context of his own Mormon beliefs. Which “God” is Romney talking about anyway? I assume he’s referring to his flesh-and-bones, gendered, married and procreating man-god “Elohim.” Or is it to some other deity in the LDS pantheon? And who is his “Jesus”? Romney cloaks himself in smooth religious double-talk and wants us to think of him as just another Judeo-Christian monotheist, but theologically he’s really a polytheist. Let’s pause for a moment and allow the reality of that fact to sink into our consciousness. By his own testimony he remains fully committed to the blasphemous “exaltation to godhood” theology of Mormonism, but will not publicly admit it. Which brings me to another big problem I have with Romney—his duplicity when discussing the particulars of his religion whenever asked to do so. I can’t say that I’m surprised by that, though, because Mormonism has always been adept at aping Christian terminology while cleverly using that terminology as code language to launder a heretical belief-system.

Terry Morris writes:

You wrote:

But this leaves unaddressed the question: is Mormonism simply a “cult”? Whatever we think of the origins and doctrines of Mormonism, the fact remains that its stability and material success, its “culture,” the well-functioning loyal Americans it has produced over the last 100 years suggest that it is an established part of America, and therefore not simply dismissible as a “cult.”

I can’t disagree with this. When Mormons come to my door to witness to me, I dismiss them as a cult and send them on their way. But you make an excellent point that Mormons have adjusted well in America.

The conversation has developed nicely. I’m just sitting back trying to learn.

James S. writes:

Isn’t M. Mason’s description of Mormonism that of a heresy, not a cult? Or does “cultic” have a religion-specific definition? Mormons are definitely not a cult in the popular imagination sense of a cult I don’t think. At the same time I do find Mormons, or at least the ones who are serious about Mormonism, to be a bit brainwashed, and I think they are unusual in the way they enforce group membership.

Also there’s their temple in San Diego.

M. Mason writes:

If the evidence that I’ve already presented isn’t enough to persuade a person that Mormonism is both heretical and cultic, I don’t know what more I can say to convince him. Also, I wrote my last post before I saw Richard W.’s reply, so I’ll respond to that briefly. Though I would agree with him that there are additional social, psychological and other signifiers that one can use to determine cult status, and an aberrant religious group may display more or less of those traits, the primary criterion that we are concerned with here is the theological, and most importantly it’s concept of the transcendent, because a candidate’s politics are in large part shaped by it. Judging by this crucial factor, it is of comparatively little interest to me how “integrated” into modern American culture the religious group he belongs to is, how “successful” they are or how “well-adjusted” they may appear outwardly. I want to know what they believe.

There are other related issues to address here as well. With all the modern, independent historical research that has been done about Mormonism, the ludicrous claims of a shaman like Joseph Smith upon which LDS theology is based are not difficult to prove utterly false. That Romney after all these years has either been mentally and/or emotionally unable or unwilling to face that fact and disentangle himself from this bizarre religious group demonstrates, in my view, a very serious, fatal lack of intellectual honesty, judgment and character in someone seeking the highest political office in the land.

My concern isn’t so much that Romney as President will personally act to advance Mormonism per se. It is rather that, as Mr. Morris states, electing a Mormon as President of the United States will immediately and effectively begin to normalize other strange religions like this in the national political arena as well (which up to this point still remain confined mostly to the margins). I’m also thinking about something else, too. A while back I referred to the issue of President Bush’s aberrant Methodist theology/worldview and the devastating political consequences of those beliefs. This did not become obvious to many until those beliefs of his played out once he arrived on the world stage. Bush at least initially appeared to us as a man who was well within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy, and yet his fatal errors were just another variety of brain-dead liberalism compared to the implications of Romney’s fantastic theology. Admittedly, one cannot know for certain how or even to what extent this could become a terrible problem in the future should he occupy the Oval Office. But ask yourself this: do you actually want to turn over the Presidency to a man who sincerely and firmly believes in Mormonism with every fiber of his being and thus believes that he’s a potential deity-in-training? God help us. Frankly, I don’t even want to think about the possible consequences of a Mormon President’s bizarre religious beliefs on U.S domestic and foreign policy.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 12, 2007 08:37 AM | Send

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