Now that Willard "Mitt" Romney seems to have slimed Newton Leroy "Newt" Gingrich into irrelevance by a tsunami of anonymously funded attack ads, I think it behooves me as a sometime commentator on the political circus to come to terms with Romney's most deeply and authentically held belief, his adherence to the Mormon faith. As is so often the case, I look to Thomas Hobbes for inspiration, and in Chapter 6 of his great work, Leviathan, find this coruscating definition:
"Feare of power invisible, feigned by the mind, or imagined from tales publiquely allowed, Religion; not allowed, Superstition. And when the power imagined is truly such as we imagine, True Religion."
All religious beliefs are nothing but fear of power invisible, feigned by the mind or imagined from tales. If the tales are publicly allowed [by the State, one presumes], then we have religion. If, however, the tales are not publicly allowed, but must be whispered fearfully in closets and secret gatherings, then we have superstition.
The practical effect of the U. S. Constitution's Establishment Clause [First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion ..."] is to obliterate Hobbes' useful distinction between superstition and religion. Catholicism, the various versions of Protestantism, Judaism, Islam, Scientology [originally Dianetics, until it was transmuted into a religion to take advantage of the protections of the First Amendment], Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, Rastafarianism, and Mormonism have equal claims to be considered religions for the purposes of American public life and discourse. All of them are rooted in "fear of power invisible, feigned by the mind, or imagined from tales," and thanks to the First Amendment, all of those tales are "publicly allowed." [Don't start with me about Buddhism.]
Viewed from a sufficient distance [say, from Iraq, or Tibet, or Kyoto], Mormonism looks like just another Christian variant -- same Savior, Jesus -- many of the same divinely inspired texts -- The Old Testament, The New Testament -- but enough difference to ground the claims of the Church of Latter Day Saints that it is the one true faith. But of course, in matters of religion, it is one's closest neighbors who are one's most excoriating critics. To a Tibetan monk, Bethlehem may seem as exotic as Missouri, but the Mormon claim that Jesus visited earth in Missouri sets the teeth of Evangelical Christians on edge. As does the claim the Joseph Smith was the recipient of an authentic and final revelation, in the form of gold tablets written in a mysterious language which he was able, by divine assistance, to translate.
Some of the Mormon practices are rather quaint and charming, like posthumous baptism, except when it leads to the posthumous baptism of several hundred thousand Holocaust victims, in which case it seems just a tad insensitive. [To be fair, the Mormons say it never occurred to them that Jewish Holocaust survivors might be offended to learn that their murdered coreligionists had been baptised by busy Mormons, hustling about saving lost souls. And one must keep in mind that according to the Mormon faith, those souls do have an opportunity, in the Mormon version of Purgatory, to accept or reject the blessing of posthumous baptism.]
Speaking as a philosopher, I am rather drawn to the Mormon view -- akin to that of Plato -- that God does not create the universe ex nihilo, but instead, like the demiurgos, simply organizes a chaos of pre-existing matter.
I have grown weary of the endless anatomization of Bain Capital and the details of Romney's tax status. Who ever doubted that the super-rich get super-rich by writing favorable tax laws for themselves? What good is capitalism if it cannot even protect the 1%!
So as the political season unfolds, I am looking forward to some searching examinations of the "tales publicly allowed" that constitute the essence of Romney's most deeply held beliefs. Next to that, strapping a dog in a cage on the top of one's station wagon dwindles into insignificance.