January 02, 2008
Is Huckabee simply the anti-Romney?
Because I think that certain elements of the Republican Party are battling with a deep underlying religious struggle of the sort which cannot readily be acknowledged, I think it's worth another look.
Sometimes I'm a bit slow on the uptake, but when I speculated about the inexplicable rise of Huckabee, I may have overlooked something which should have been obvious -- antipathy to Romney by fundamentalist Christian Republicans.
It's all too easy to dismiss antipathy to Romney as driven by "religious bigotry," or anti-Mormon bigotry. But there's something that I think conventional mainstream non-fundamentalist Christians (along with many atheists, agnostics, and assorted secularists) are missing, and what Romney's "Kennedy speech" highlighted.
Most non-fundamentalists tend to assume that this debate is about the role of religion in the public square, for that was part of the larger focus of Romney's speech. What they are forgetting is that for some fundamentalists (and I cannot say how many), Romney's acknowledged Mormonism -- coupled with the "public square" argument -- represents more than a plea for tolerance of religious advocacy.
Without getting into a point by point comparison, suffice it to say that there are vast differences between Mormonism (LDS) and fundamentalist Christianity. These differences are more profound than the many differences between, say, Baptists and Episcopalians, because they go to the heart of who Jesus was, where he went, and what he did. As one evangelical Christian puts it:
....To a non-Christian you really can't see the difference. Evangelicals hold to the inerrancy of the Scriptures while the Mormon Church deviates from that, adds to that, expands on that. It goes back to the theological issues that divide Mormonism from orthodox, historical Christianity. They are huge.I'm not sure I'd agree with his definition of "non-Christian." (There's an unfortunate tendency of fundamentalists and evangelicals to sometimes imply that those who don't agree with them are not Christians.) But then, I devoted a long essay to the question of whether the Episcopalian Church's position on gay rights constitutes "apostasy," so now I'm forced to ask.... if the Episcopalians are apostates, then what does that make the Mormons?
It's all too easy for a non-fundamentalist like me to think that these differences are silly. I mean, to my fuzzy, paganistic way of viewing Christianity, God or Jesus can appear as God or gods or Jesus anytime he or they want. I'm not hemmed in by concerns that the Trinity might encompass latent paganism, as it does not bother me in the least that God might have had a son, nor does it bother me how he might have been conceived. In terms of theological evolution, this was hardly a new idea introduced by Christianity. Nor do I especially care whether Allah is Jehovah or is or was the "Moon God."
People are free to be pagans and I am all for religious diversity. (True, I worry about religion that might demand its adherents kill other people, but that's a different issue.)
My worry with Romney is how his Mormonism might be seen by some fundamentalists. Tolerance for "religion in the public square" is one thing, but how far does it go? How might the kind of people who threw a fit over a Hindu minister saying a few words before Congress see a Mormon president?
And what about the slippery slope? Might tolerance for Mormonism be seen as tolerance for alternative religions?
My question is whether there's tension between tolerance for religion, and tolerance for true religious diversity.
Are there people who might have seen the Romney speech as the moral equivalent of a Hindu calling for freedom of religion in the public square?
The fact that I don't see this as a problem may be what blinded me to the otherwise inexplicable rise of Huckabee.
AFTERTHOUGHT: I think it needs to be borne in mind that Mitt Romney isn't just any old Mormon, but enough of an LDS leader to have been a bishop. According to the Mormon terminology, a bishop is analogous to a priest or minister.
And of course, Mike Huckabee is an ordained minister, which makes him the uniquely "qualified" alternative to the alternative....
Shame on me for neglecting these issues, but I tend to regard religion as a personal, private matter.
posted by Eric on 01.02.08 at 09:32 AM
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