Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

What we aren't allowed to talk about

First of all, sorry for being away, it's end of the semester, student papers to read, proposals to write, conferences to attend -- blogging always ought to come first, but I'm just irresponsible I guess.

Anyhow, today's Sunday Sermonette concerns the greatest peculiarity of our faith-based politics. That is the idea that politicians have to continually proclaim their piety, but it doesn't matter what they actually believe, as long as they are religious. This was the essence of Mitt Romney's big speech last week -- in America, it doesn't matter what religion you believe in, as long as you believe in one. He was introduced by George Bush the First, who is on record as saying that atheists should not be permitted to hold public office in the United States.

A lot about this idea strikes me as odd, but probably the oddest thing is that people of different religions disagree as much with each other as they with atheists. Romney did not, in fact, give one single piece of information about Mormon belief in his speech. Apparently it doesn't matter. Here is a story from today's Boston Globe about Mormonism, which is all about how the history of the sect is disputed and how Mormon leaders aren't fully transparent about it, but which tells us almost nothing about Mormon history and nothing whatsoever about Mormon doctrine. This is precisely what all of the coverage of the question of Romney's religion is like -- nobody dares tell us what Mormon's actually believe.

Why is that? There's certainly plenty of talk about what atheists believe -- most of it completely wrong, of course, such as the commonplace assertion that we don't believe anything. If Christians are supposed to think that voting for an atheist is wrong, but voting for a Mormon is okay, shouldn't they be curious about what it means to be a Mormon?

Even when they do purport to say something about Mormon doctrine, the corporate media stop far short of telling the whole story. For example, here is Stephanie Simon in the LA Times. What she reveals is accurate, but she assiduously avoids any information that would seem really strange or offensive to Christians.

Fortunately, atheists are not bound by the cult of omerta. Here is a thorough background doctrine on Mormonism by an ex-believer, Richard Packham. You may be interested to read the whole thing, but he offers some bullet points that the LA Times doesn't think we ought to know about:

* God was once a man like us.
* God has a tangible body of flesh and bone.
* God lives on a planet near the star Kolob.
* God ("Heavenly Father") has at least one wife, our "Mother in Heaven," but she is so holy that we are not to discuss her nor pray to her.
* Jesus was married.
* We can become like God and rule over our own universe.
* There are many gods, ruling over their own worlds.
* Jesus and Satan ("Lucifer") are brothers, and they are our brothers - we are all spirit children of Heavenly Father
* Jesus Christ was conceived by God the Father by having sex with Mary, who was temporarily his wife.
* We should not pray to Jesus, nor try to feel a personal relationship with him.
* The "Lord" ("Jehovah") in the Old Testament is the being named Jesus in the New Testament, but different from "God the Father" ("Elohim").
* In the highest degree of the celestial kingdom some men will have more than one wife.
* Before coming to this earth we lived as spirits in a "pre-existence", during which we were tested; our position in this life (whether born to Mormons or savages, or in America or Africa) is our reward or punishment for our obedience in that life.
* Dark skin is a curse from God, the result of our sin, or the sin of our ancestors. If sufficiently righteous, a dark-skinned person will become light-skinned.
* The Garden of Eden was in Missouri. All humanity before the Great Flood lived in the western hemisphere. The Ark transported Noah and the other survivors to the eastern hemisphere.
* Not only will human beings be resurrected to eternal life, but also all animals - everything that has ever lived on earth - will be resurrected and dwell in heaven.
* Christ will not return to earth in any year that has seen a rainbow.
* Mormons should avoid traveling on water, since Satan rules the waters.
* The sun receives its light from the star Kolob.
* If a Gentile becomes Mormon, the Holy Ghost actually purges his Gentile blood and replaces it with Israelite blood.
* A righteous Mormon will actually see the face of God in the Mormon temple.
* You can identify a false angel by the color of his hair, or by offering to shake his hand.

I happen to believe that all religions are equally ridiculous. But I must ask my Christian brothers -- do you think that my reliance on evidence and reason makes my beliefs somehow more offensive than these? And I have the same question for Mitth Romney and his fellow Mormons. Christians think all of these beliefs are preposterous and blasphemous. How does that make them better than me?

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