The difference with Mormonism and other newer religions is that the origins of their holy writings and the motives of their founders can be more fully researched and explained. Mormon scholars have accessed the church's archives and some have led the way in exposing the early deceptions used by Smith and other church founders.
For instance, Joseph Smith's "Book of Abraham" -- supposedly "translated" by Smith in 1835 -- was debunked by both Mormon and secular scholars after remnants of Smith's papyri were discovered and could be actually translated due to the improved understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphics that evolved through the 19 th Century.
Virtually everything that Smith claimed about the papyri was false. The documents make no reference to Abraham and were dated some 1,500 years after Abraham's supposed life. According to scholars, the papyri recounted funeral practices of Egypt in the period of about the First Century BC.
Smith's apologists have been left to defend his fraudulent depiction of the papyri by claiming that Smith's translation was by revelation, not by determining what the hieroglyphics literally said -- or that he possibly saw meanings embedded in the text that would be invisible to everyone else.
Yet, for a religion dependent on Smith's honesty, such as when he claimed to have discovered the golden plates containing the Book of Mormon and other items that subsequently went magically missing, the empirical debunking of the one set of Smith's documents that have survived, the papyri used for the "Book of Abraham," is devastating as clear proof of Smith's fraudulent practices.
[For a moving personal account of a Mormon woman facing up to the truth about her religion, see Kay Burningham's An American Fraud.]
Relevance of a Religion
So, as sensitive as religious beliefs can be, Romney's Mormon faith has relevance to the American electorate in several ways. First, does he really believe the discredited and ludicrous claims by Mormon founder Joseph Smith?
It's true that people can separate some of the tenets of their religions from their day-to-day lives, like fundamentalist Christians who embrace a literal reading of the Bible but work successfully in scientific fields. However, gullibility or magical thinking in a U.S. President can be dangerous, either in his dealings with foreign leaders or in his control of the devastating American military arsenal, including nuclear weapons.
Before entrusting the nuclear codes to one person, the American people might want to know whether the person is grounded in the real world.
Second, if Romney is not a true-believer and is not someone who accepts Smith's absurdities as real, then is Romney simply an opportunist who follows the Mormon religion because its connections have proved advantageous to him? While viewing Romney as an opportunist might be more reassuring than thinking of him as a fantasist, it doesn't reflect well on him either.
Third, assuming again that Romney understands the true history of Joseph Smith's successful fraud, does Romney's appreciation of Smith as a consummate conman help explain Romney proclivity to lie with such confidence? After all, if your religion enshrines a liar of Smith's caliber as one of history's greatest men, a prophet whose religion allows its current leaders to literally speak with God, then your view of lying might well be skewed.
Thus, it makes sense that Romney would experience little or no shame when he makes claims that are patently untrue. After all, they are no more false than Joseph Smith's stories about disappearing golden plates and his translation of the "Book of Abraham."
So, knowing that the ends can justify the means, Romney would have no reason to think twice when he lies, such as when he claimed not to have seen an attack ad against Republican rival Newt Gingrich and then went on to describe its contents. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen was so impressed by the coolness of Romney's lying that he devoted a column to praising Romney's skill.
"Among the attributes I most envy in a public man (or woman) is the ability to lie," Cohen wrote. "If that ability is coupled with no sense of humor, you have the sort of man who can be a successful football coach, a CEO or, when you come right down to it, a presidential candidate. Such a man is Mitt Romney." [See Consortiumnews.com's "Mitt Romney: Professional Liar."]
Romney showed off those skills again and again as the campaign progressed, including when he framed his nominating convention around a gross misrepresentation of Obama's "You didn't build that" quote and a false claim that Obama had gutted the work requirement for welfare. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Finally, Fact-Checking Romney's Lie."]