Inhuman Swill : Mitt Romney
            

To follow up on my post from Friday, the latest issue of Rolling Stone features an article by Mikal Gilmore called "Mitt Romney and the Ghosts of Mormon History." It provides an excellent overview of how the Mormon Church has drifted away and distanced itself from its founding philosophical ideals, and how Romney has done the same with his own family's legacy. Here's a great passage:

When Romney veers from liberal to conservative to moderate stands, what he makes plain is that the world he is in, but not truly part of, is the political world. The shifting is a sleight of hand, like Joseph Smith's magic, a means to an end. That end is higher attainment in the big payoff, the eternal world. As a result, expecting Romney to be accountable to a secular morality is to misunderstand him. That's part of the Mormon hubris, and it's what grants him the right to withhold specifics about both his political vision and his deeper beliefs. But if you hold yourself apart from the world, how can you understand those who do not? And how can they ever understand you?
Gilmore was born into a troubled Mormon famly, and his grasp of the church's history is incisive. I'll link to the article if it ever appears online, which I hope it will in the next couple of weeks.

Mikal Gilmore also wrote the excellent memoir Shot in the Heart, about his relationship with his brother Gary, the executed murderer, and their relationship with the church and its murky doctrine of blood atonement. Dark, dark, dark, but highly recommended.

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Referring to his fluid political positions, a number of commentators of late have been making statements to the effect that the only thing Mitt Romney seems to believe in is that he should be president. That got me thinking about how such a belief might have arisen, and how it might explain all the shifty flip-flopping we've seen over the course of the presidential campaign—and, in fact, the whole of Romney's political career.

Mormons believe that God has an individual plan for every one of us. This is not to say that they believe in predestination, an idea that would play havoc with their crucial belief in free will. Mormons instead believe in the doctrine of foreordination, in which God has specific tasks in mind for each of us to accomplish in this life, but with the actual accomplishment of them being dependent upon our own faith and diligence.

Another thing Mormons believe in is personal revelation. This means that if we have a problem or a question or a goal, we can turn to God in prayer after sincere consideration and ask for direction. God, we are told, will answer either by causing a confusion to come upon us that makes us forget the thing that is wrong or by affirming through a burning in the bosom that the thing is right. (See Doctrine & Covenants 9:7-9.) No good Latter-day Saint should undertake any major pursuit without having gone through this process of spiritual confirmation.

But this is a tricky doctrine. When I was growing up, I myself was able to convince myself that God approved of many different courses of action that probably weren't so good for me, simply by praying about them persistently and feverishly enough. And this is where Romney's belief that he should be president comes in. I have no doubt that, being a faithful Mormon and in fact a Mormon leader, he prayed long and hard about whether or not to pursue this office. The fact that he threw his hat so firmly into the ring is proof that he received his spiritual confirmation.

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Mitt Romney's comment about "binders full of women" during the debate the other night could not have been more unfortunate, especially considering his family's history of polygamy. Anything that inadvertently conjures up images of the young women in Roman Grant's "joy books" on Big Love is probably not a place Mittens wanted to go...

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As the Republican National Convention gets into full swing today, one of the topics that probably won't be talked about very much is Mitt Romney's religion. It's odd that this has become such a non-issue during the campaign, given that a) Romney is the first Mormon ever to receive a major-party presidential nomination, and b) the Mormon Church is the fourth largest church in America.

Wait, what? The fourth largest?

Yes, I too was startled by that statistic, which I've been hearing time and again from various outlets—for instance, in an "On the Media" story from late last year about the LDS Church's "I'm a Mormon" ad campaign. I was catching up on that episode via podcast when this statement from LDS Internet and Advertising Senior Manager Ron Wilson caught my ear:

"Even though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the fourth largest church, fifty percent of the population didn't really know who we were."
The fourth largest church. I was raised Mormon, which means I was raised with the Mormon inferiority complex. Somehow that assertion didn't strike me as quite right. It sounded like a small man reporting his height in inches, not feet. I decided to do some digging.
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All you other Mitt Romneys are just mass-debating.

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Fear the Mormon robot squad!

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Mitt Romney is used to being called "President Romney." From 1986 until 1994, he served as what's called a stake president in the LDS Church. A stake president is the lay ecclesiastical leader who oversees a local group of Mormon congregations (wards) and their bishops. Mitt led the Boston Stake, comprising about 4,000 Mormons at the time, all of whom would properly have referred to him as "President Romney" and addressed him as "President." Not only that, but once released from the calling he would still have been called "President" by his flock, as a courtesy, in recognition of his past service. Once a president, always a president.

(One wonders whether, once Mitt became governor of Massachusetts, church members started addressing him as "Governor" or continued addressing him as "President." Hmm. I could see it going either way.)

I don't want to sound prejudiced, but that past as part of the LDS hierarchy is one of the reasons I instinctively dislike Mitt Romney. I don't know if it's chicken or egg, but there's a certain demeanor that men at the level of stake president and above seem to bring to the calling. Not all of them, but certainly a majority of them. There's a bland kind of handsomeness. There's an aura of being not quite present, of being above everything and everyone around them. There's a core of certainty to everything they say, backed up as it is by the full weight of a highly centralized doctrinal structure. Their delivery is usually grave, as if they're delivering difficult news straight from the mouth of God himself, except when there's a forced, cheesy jokiness that seems calculated to soften the rest of this authoritarian, patriarchal baggage. And there is never, ever a sense of the real person underneath. The role inhabits the man, not vice versa.

The best way to get a look at the parade of blandness that is the LDS leadership is to tune in to a televised General Conference in early April or October. If you don't see a marked similarity between the way Mitt Romney comes across and the way most of the church leaders present themselves as they address the worldwide membership of the Church—well, let's just say I'll be surprised. There's a good reason Mitt comes off as such a robot to so many people. The Sanctibot-1850 is a proud Mormon tradition.

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Attacks on gays = a tax on Mormons

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I don't know about you, but I am incensed about the LDS Church's over-the-pulpit exhortation of its members to mobilize and help pass California's Proposition 8, banning gay marriage. When I first heard about it, in fact, my first reaction was, "Damn, they need to have their tax-exempt status revoked."

Now you can help urge the IRS to make that happen. Here are all the instructions and supporting documents you need in order to:

File a Complaint Asking the IRS to Revoke the LDS Church's Tax-Exempt Status

If the Church is going to jump into the political arena (yes, okay, they've never not been a player in the political arena) and try to legislate a segment of our population out of their legal rights, then it's only fair that they as a corporation should share this country's tax burden. They pulled this same kind of nonsense 30 years ago to help defeat the Equal Rights Amendment,* and who knows what they'll try next if their actions are left legally unchallenged?

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Coupling Jesus with sex

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Since we were discussing Coupling here recently, I wanted to mention a rather jarring piece of advertising Laura and I saw last night. We DVR reruns of Coupling on BBC America to try to catch episodes we've missed in the past. Laura had never seen the very first episode, so that's what we were watching. As I fast-forwarded through the commercials, though, I realizes we were seeing an ad for The Lamb of God, a free Easter video from the LDS Church. (Sample bits here and here.) Seriously, the Mormons were advertising on one of the most frank, sexually themed sitcoms of all time. I have to wonder if that was deliberate or if it was a case of block ad-buying like the one that put Mitt Romney's campaign ads on Gay.com. What's next? Christian Scientists advertising on House? Scientologists advertising on Mythbusters?

In other amusing news, someone is selling The Lamb of God on eBay. Which is funny because the Mormon Church will send you a copy for free.

In other bittersweet news, How I Met Your Mother seems to have hit its stride again after a bit of a creative slump early in the season. The last few episodes have been sharp and as tightly written as Coupling, and Laura and I could barely breathe for laughing through this week's episode. This, just in time for the writers strike.

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Romney has a gay old time

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An amusing article in this morning's Times recounts how the various presidential campaigns are being blindsided by the unexpected sites where their web-buy advertising is showing up:

Visitors to Gay.com can sign up to find the perfect dating partner, advice on sex and how-to articles on same-sex marriage and parenting.

Over the course of at least two days in August, they may well also have seen banner advertisements about the Republican presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, according to an analysis of campaign Web advertising provided by the Nielsen Online, AdRelevance, monitoring service....

A regular site for advertisers like Jeep and Toyota, Gay.com was not exactly what Mr. Romney's campaign had in mind when it set out this summer to blanket the Web with messages about the candidate....  [full article]

I found this particularly amusing, not only because I enjoy seeing the Romney campaign embarrassed by association with positions the candidate has since abandoned, but also because John McCain ads have been showing up on my site for the past couple of weeks. Hey, I don't really mind, and McCain probably doesn't care, but those ads are a strange sight below my name.

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Mormons in the news

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Here are a couple of fun little squibs from page 8 of this week's The Week:

Bad week for... Mitt Romney, after the presidential candidate alienated an audience of Cuban Americans in Miami by quoting, in stumbling Spanish, the Communist slogan "Fatherland or death. We shall overcome!" Romney apparently didn't realize that the slogan has been used for decades by Fidel Castro to salute Cuba's revolution.
Only in America Utah state officials have ordered motorist Glenn Eurick to remove the vanity license plate "merlot" from his car, after discovering that Merlot is a type of wine. State law prohibits the names of "intoxicants" on license plates, but Eurick, who has had the plate for 10 years, said most people in the largely Mormon state were puzzled, not offended, by it. "People usually ask us what the words means," he said.
Utah, I drink to your health.
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