Today I kicked off a new website that will try to shed some light on Mitt Romney and his LDS faith. The site is:
I do not engage this subject lightly. I retired after a quarter-century of investigative journalism with a spotless record. It is very easy in journalism to be led astray, especially covering politicians and politics. Over the years I witnessed more than one fine journalist sucked into controversies that ruined their reputations and careers. National politics is a beat filled with cross-currents, disingenuousness, fakes, faints, traps and conspiracies, real and, more often, imagined. The journalists who work the national political are in constant threat of being sucked into one or more of these black holes, never to be heard from again.
I got out with my reputation intact so, the last thing I want now is to throw all that away on some wild-eyed attack on religion.
So much thought has gone into this over the months leading up to my decision to launch this site. I have watched, as have many others, the steady and increasingly aggressive march of religion into politics and secular institutions, nationwide. Opposition to this potentially toxic mix of faith and politics has been successfully contained by the religious right. Those who actively oppose moves by religious groups to encode their religious doctrines into secular law are quickly marginalized as "religious bigots," or "secular humanists "who want to "chase religion from the public square." (See our Mission Statement on the new site for more on that subject.)
Those who look to the Middle East for examples of how truly disastrous this mixture of religion and politics can be have grown increasingly uneasy.
So I broach the question no one in the media seems to want to touch:
Just how strange, even crazy, does a candidate's self-stated belief structure have be, before it's just too crazy?
It's hardly an idle question. Increasingly radicalized evangelical groups have pushed aside America's traditional, fairly benign old-school faiths. These new Christian soldiers have become to moderate American Christianity what the Taliban became for moderate Islam. And they're taking the country in the same directions.
So that's the question I want to folks to begin to mull - "How strange is just too strange? How crazy is just too crazy?" And to begin a conversation about it before it becomes yet more pertinent and pressing. There must be a line somewhere that, once crossed, allows critics to say, "Whoa! Hold everything. That person's nuts." So, just where is that line?
The trouble is, as I've already noted, just wondering about that out lout is not allowed. When it comes to a candidate's self-stated religious beliefs such questions are considered in the worst of taste. Go ahead and feel free to deconstruct a candidate's political beliefs, their financial schemes, even their sex lives. But their religious beliefs - often the most important beliefs they hold in their heads and hearts - are out of bounds.
For some politicians, maybe most, religion is simply just another stage prop in their "how-to-get-elected" toolbox. But for some religion is nothing less than the center post of their political, ethical and intellectual tent. Every aspect of their lives are dictated by their chosen religious doctrines. Their entire world view is framed by those beliefs and doctrines. They make no life-changing decisions before first running them through that filter. Yet we cannot ask. Cannot probe. And most certainly, cannot criticize.
Willard Mitt Romney is exactly such a politician. His Mormon faith is the center pole, his loadstone, his talisman, his mentor, his guiding light. He has said so. Yet so few Americans have the slightest idea about the beliefs that form the foundation of Romney's Mormon faith. Still, the national media has tiptoed around this subject as though it were radioactive - because it is.
The LDS Church has become extremely skilled at showing to the general public only what it feels benefits the image of their stunningly profitable ($7 - tax free - billion a year.) religion. But pierce that veil and peek inside, talk to former Mormons, and a very different, and I believe troubling, image emerges. In particular, a belief structure that requires true-believers to believe a stunningly unbelievable, and provably so, story of everything from creation to planets to secret temple ceremonies so corny you cringe watching them... (which you can do thanks to an ex-Mormon whose last act was to smuggle a hidden camera into the SLC temple's inner sanctum. Those videos are HERE on the new site.)
So, again, is there a line, and if so, where is it? Where do a candidate's heartfelt personal beliefs become so strange they disqualify him or her from high office? Where do we have a right, as voters, to become concerned that a candidates beliefs are so strange they raise legitimate concerns about his or her "cognitive assets?" Can the candidate actually tell the difference, for example, between fantasy and scientific facts?
I understand the complexities and dangers involved here. I certain that that line is not a clear and sharp one, but rather wide and fuzzy. Which is exactly why it's dangerous trying to pin it down. And why journalists who want to continue working as such are so reluctant to get anywhere near the subject.