Why is it important to American voters that Mitt Romney is a Mormon, as opposed to a Catholic or a Jew or an Episcopalian, or a Baptist?
I nearly said Muslim, but in American terms, I might as well have said Satanist.
So what if the founder of Romney’s church claimed to have spoken to an angel and that he translated a book of alien speech that he found on a set of golden plates buried by a native American prophet? Didn’t Moses climb a mountain and do exactly the same thing, apart from coming back with plates of stone instead of gold? And didn’t all the prophets of the Judaeo-Christian tradition talk to angels and saints and gods and demi-gods all the time?
Is the problem that Smith was talking to angels in New York, and not in the Sinai desert?
And so what if the Mormons believe that we’re all little space-intelligences who inhabit a human body temporarily? Isn’t that pretty much what L Ron Hubbard came up with when he started selling his Scientology scam? And for that matter, isn’t it more or less what Buddhists believe?
I know you’ll be wondering why I defend Mormonism, but fair’s fair. If a Catholic can believe that a priest waving his hands is able to turn a biscuit into Jesus, and if all Christians can believe that Jesus was killed but isn’t dead, and if Jews can believe that it’s ok to cut off part of a child’s genitalia, then why shouldn’t Mormons believe that Joseph Smith met an angel in New York, found a gold plate with alien writing on it and translated it into English?
Why is one scam better or worse than another? Why is your delusion better than mine, or his or theirs?
Which brings me to Islam, the Great Unmentionable.
In the United States, one of the most damaging accusations against Barack Obama is the claim that he is a Muslim.
Why? Because Americans have been conditioned to identify Islam with violence, intolerance and terrorism, however you define that term. Forget the fact that most Muslims are moderate, easygoing people, who half-believe what their clerics tell them, just like most Christians and most Jews. In the narrative driven most viciously by GW Bush’s Neocons, Muslims are all crazed killers waiting to break out the daggers and the dynamite belts at a moment’s provocation. Of course, that view isn’t helped by maniacs like Iran’s President Dinnerjacket, or by the cold, rational, homicidal logic of Osama Bin Laden. Nor is it helped by the fact that dangerous Islam is extremely useful to the US establishment, with an eye to securing Middle-East oil supplies and maintaining Israel as a beach-head in the region.
As long as a bogeyman exists, governments are able to keep their public pliable and biddable. Enemies are just as necessary as friends in the world of international politics.
But of course, in the end, even a Muslim would be more welcome to sit in the Oval Office than an atheist. In US politics, it seems that a candidate must profess a delusion, any delusion, if he is to be accepted as a sensible, effective leader, though oddly enough, despite their influence, it would be almost as hard to imagine a Jew being elected to the presidency as a Muslim.
Why is it inconceivable that an unmarried atheist might become first citizen of a country that has built into its constitution a separation between church and state? The United States has a population about 75 times the size of this little crumbling theocracy, and yet on a cursory trawl, I can find two atheists currently sitting in our parliament, one of whom is our deputy prime minister. On the other hand, I can find no serving politician at all, in The World’s Greatest Democracy, who is prepared to admit he doesn’t believe in a deity of some sort. What are the odds of that?
Even in this little country which was so riddled with priests for so many years, I can’t imagine a person’s marital status being an obstacle to high office. I can’t imagine a person’s religious beliefs standing in their way of election any more than I can imagine their atheism being a problem. And yet, in today’s United States, I don’t think an unmarried person could become president. I don’t think an atheist could become president. I doubt very much if a Muslim or a Jew could become president.
Theocracy, it seems, comes in many shapes.