Saturday, January 13, 2007

Who's Afraid of Mitt Romney? - One of Linker's Former Students Speaks Out

OK, it's time to take a little detour from life in American Samoa. While we are here sweating our eyeballs off, the world still turns, and a very interesting political story is developing on the mainland--a Mormon is being considered as a serious contender for the President.

Some people probably won't see the implications of this, but Mitt Romney's presidential bid is bound to cause huge ripples in many aspects of American life. He is, by far I believe, the most talked-about candidate for the 2008 election. And nearly every commentator is focusing their attention on one thing--his religion.

For the most part, evangelical Christians are making the biggest fuss. And should we be surprised? They have, since day one, labeled the church as a "cult," and decided that we were unfit to be called "Christians." The doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has been attacked on all fronts since its inception.

I really don't want to discuss doctrine here. Which is precisely the point--Mitt Romney is running for the Presidency of the United States, not the Pastor of the United States. I have read Art. II, Sec. 1 of the Constitution, and nowhere does it mention that a person's religion is relevant to whether they can be the President. Why should his religious beliefs be controversial in this context?

Now, let's take a step back. In 2000, I was a student at Brigham Young University. My major was political science, with a focus in political philosophy. I took three classes from the same professor that year--Western Political Heritage 1, Western Political Heritage 2, and a class on Friedrich Nietzsche. I enjoyed the professor, Damon Linker, who I found to be intellectually stimulating. Linker was, and still is, not a member of the church, finding himself in a very small minority of BYU professors. At the end of my Nietzsche class, Linker announced he was going to take a job as Editor of the conservative Catholic magazine "First Things," a move I thought was a good step for him, albeit somewhat odd considering he struck me as a liberal.

Recently, Linker wrote an article in The New Republic, entitled "Taking Mormonism Seriously--The Big Test." In it, Linker describes why he feels a Mormon President would be a dangerous thing, essentially stating that a Mormon President would take orders from the Prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley. Hence, the Prophet would be running the country, according to Linker. I am REALLY paraphrasing, mind you.

Linker talks about an experience he had as a professor at BYU in which he posed the question to his philosophy students, "If the Prophet told you to murder someone, would you do it?" Purportedly, at least one student responded that they would do anything the Prophet told them to do.

Linker tries to get his readers in utter shock and disbelief that BYU students would kill in the name of the Prophet. I mean, will we do anything if the Prophet tells us to? Linker apparently intends that his readers believe that he, too, was in such shock at receiving the answer.

However, I believe that Linker already knew the answer he would get. He knew that he was posing a "Catch-22" to BYU students which, he thought, they could not get out of--if they said "yes, I would kill" they would look like fanatics; if they said "no," they would be denying an important aspect of their faith--the importance of following the Prophet. Of course the students would say that they would follow the Prophet.

But the student(s) that responded actually dodged Linker's question. The students didn't say, "I would kill," or "I wouldn't follow the Prophet," either of which would have really satisfied Linker. Instead they said, "I'll always follow the Prophet." Linker should have recognized the answer for what it was--the students called his bluff. They knew what Linker was trying to do, and gave him the standard line which we learn in Primary.

So does Linker's question make you want to run in fear when you meet a BYU student? For goodness sakes, I hope not. I must be one scary dude, then.

Likewise, Linker's article is devoid of instances in which the Prophet has "commanded" individuals to do illegal or immoral acts. Even more important, Linker does not discuss any instance when the Prophet has commanded a political leader to act or vote in any particular manner. While prophets of the past have called upon leaders of the nation to repent, or uphold the family, this is a far cry from Linker's fearmongering that, under a leader like Romney, we would have an American Theocracy. Linker apparently disregards any unequivocality from the Church as to its neutrality in political affairs. Who among Mormons would doubt that the Church adheres to this policy?

Furthermore, Linker does not explain how the most powerful Democrat in America, Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, who is a Mormon, can keep his political composure when he has to follow the commands of the Prophet and his party at the same time. Why does Romney's run concern Linker, but Reid is given a clean bill of health? And what about other Mormon Senators and Congressmen--Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and our own Eni Faleovamaega (D-AS), to name a few? Do they vote as they are told to by the Prophet? What if Christopher Dodd, Democratic senator from Connecticut--who is also running for President and has a devout LDS wife--is elected? Would the First Lady receive commands for the nation by the Prophet that she would have to pass on to Pres. Dodd? Certainly there must be more at issue here than just religion (namely, politics).

Neither does Linker explain how a President Romney would make President Gordon B. Hinckley in charge of the country. I understand how the power of the President has gradually grown over the last 200 years (some may debate that point), but can anyone honestly say that the President runs our country? Last time I checked, it was the Legislative Branch of government that wrote the laws. Heck, we even have a third branch of government. How could anyone say that the President runs the show?

Should Americans take Linker any more seriously than the recent Congressman from Virginia who argued the negatives of allowing a Muslim in Congress?

Now seriously, folks, are you afraid of Mitt Romney? Or any other member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, for that matter? Do you have any logical, explainable reason for your fear? Do you think that we want to rule the world? We can barely even manage our church callings or our home teaching, for crying out loud!

No, as a Mormon, and a former student of Damon Linker, I beg Americans to see through Linker's thinly-veiled attempt at scaremongering. Just like a recently elected Muslim Congressman is no threat to our country, you can take away only one thing from the fact that Romney is a Mormon--and that's simply that he is a Mormon. Mormon does not equal lunatic, it does not mean fanatic, it does not mean potential-dictator. It just means what it is. Just as if a Catholic or a Jew or a Muslim or a Hindu or, dare I say it, an Athiest was running for the Presidency. So let's get over religious beliefs and get on with the issues of the election, OK?

I have no wide-eyed belief that someday people will suddenly stop believing doomsday foretellers and scaremongers. None at all. But if you really want to know what a Mormon is like, or believes, or if they are planning to take over the world, please talk to one. Find out from him or her. It's just like buying a car; if you want to know about a Toyota, don't ask the Ford dealer.

You have to admit it's a crazy world we live in when, even all the way down here in American Samoa, I can read my old professor's article the day after it is posted on the Internet, know that he's up to something that he may not even himself believe, and make a defense of my beliefs on a blog. I'm currently reading "Lincoln" by David Herbert Donald, and I'm convinced that Abraham Lincoln would go absolutely nuts in our political environment!


Proud Mum said...

I totally agree. It's worth reminding ourselves and the world that the church consistently reminds us to vote according to our own beliefs and that the church neither supports nor endorses any candidate or party.

I think it also bears remembering that Kennedy, being the first Catholic President (if I have my US facts correct) was also a big deal at the time.

Philip Murphy said...

No one has seemed to have a problem with Billy Graham having the ear of the presidents. I don't understand how this would be any different.