Should Americans Put a Mormon and a Catholic in the White House?


August 18, 2012 by P. J. Toscano

Mormon Mitt Romney and Catholic Paul Ryan share far more religious ideas than at first might be supposed. These commonalities lurk beneath disparate religious vocabularies:

  • Mormons hold allegiance to the Prophet; Catholics, to the Pope.
  • Mormons have apostles and general authorities; Catholics, cardinals and the Curia.
  • Mormons control Utah State; Catholics, Vatican State.
  • Mormons have stakes; Catholics, dioceses.
  • Mormons have stake presidents; Catholics, bishops.
  • Mormons have temples, Catholics, cathedrals.
  • Mormons confess their sins to their local bishop; Catholics, to their parish priest.
  • Mormons attend sacrament meetings; Catholics, Mass.
  • Mormons take the sacrament; Catholics, the Eucharist.
  • Mormons bear their testimonies; Catholics confess their faith.
  • Mormons listen to talks; Catholics, to sermons.
  • Mormons believe in a celestial kingdom, two lesser heavens, and an outer darkness; Catholics believe in one heaven, a purgatory (perhaps), and a hell.
  • Mormons find the word of God in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and to a lesser degree general authority conference talks; Catholics find God’s word in the Bible, papal encyclicals, and the creedal decrees of some synods and pre- and post-ecumenical councils.
  • Mormons have a lay priesthood that excludes women; Catholics, a professional clergy that also excludes women.
  • Mormons have temple sealings; Catholics, wedding Masses.
  • Mormons have Brigham Young University; Catholics, Notre Dame.
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is something of a remake in the New World of the One Holy Roman Catholic Apostolic Church of the Old World, except that the Mormon ecclesia has stripped away all the rites, liturgy, vestments, music, art, and traditions of the Catholic ecclesia and has replaced them with symbolic austerity and a lingering anxiety, not with the violence of the Crusades or the persecution of Galileo, but with the now disavowed 19th century Mormon practice of polygamy.
  • Both Churches are heartily misogynistic, homophobic, homo-social, and hierarchical. Both are in whole or partial denial of their spiritually abusive practices, past and present. Both traffic in religious kitsch and appalling sentimentality. Both claim to be the one and only true Christian Church. Both trace their authority back to the first apostles. Both countenance and promulgate profound corruptions of the teachings of Jesus.

Religiously, Romney and Ryan have a lot in common that should be troubling to Americans. On the surface, it would appear that Romney’s Mormonism might pose the greater concern. This is so because most American Catholics, like Ryan, ignore or seriously restrict the papal claim to infallibility, which means that Ryan is not likely to place his allegiance to Pope over his allegiance to country. However, though most true-believing Mormons, like Romney, publicly affirm that their Prophet is fallible, in practice they treat him as utterly infallible, not only on major questions of theology and morals but on petty matters as well. Faithful Mormons slavishly obey even the slightest suggestion of their Prophet as if his words came from the mouth of God on Sinai.

Since Mitt Romney has made temple covenants to put his loyalty to the “Kingdom of God” (the Mormon ecclesiastical and corporate institutions) above all other loyalties—including, arguably, any constitutional oath–Americans could very well conclude these covenants disqualify him from public office. Such a conclusion might be dismissible as merely academic if the Church which holds Romney’s allegiance had a history of liberality, diversity, openness, and non-intrusiveness. But this is decidedly not the case. The LDS Church is as controlling an ecclesiastical institution as can be found in contemporary Western Culture. It has rules that dictate what its members may drink (no coffee or non-herbal tea), or wear (no immodest clothing, body piercings, tattoos, beards, goatees, or heavy make-up), or speak (no foul or inappropriate language), or hear (no listening to unorthodox Mormon voices), or watch (no “R” rated movies let alone soft or hard pornography), or read (no critiques of the Church or its policies, even if obviously wrong), or with whom or when members associate (no Sabbath-breaking, no public inappropriate displays of affection, no dating before a certain birthdate, no sympathetic contact with Mormon apostates, no attendance at unapproved religious meetings). Latter-day Saints are prohibited from smoking, masturbating, or fornicating (either together or in series); they are discouraged from postponing marriage to complete one’s education, from marrying outside the temple or outside one’s race or faith, and from abortion as birth control.

While admonishing Church members to obey such rules, Church leaders either avoid entirely or make only weak and infrequent denunciations of war, genocide, violence, greed, exploitation of the environment, misogyny, or invidious discrimination by class, race, sex, gender, or sexual attraction. The LDS Church regularly encourages its members to strain at gnats and swallow camels. It insists that members subordinate their judgment to the judgment of Church leaders in a wide and intrusive range of matters from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Should, therefore, Americans be worried that Ryan and especially Romney might subordinate his political judgment to dictates of Pope or Prophet?  I think not. Each of these candidates is far too elitist, narcissistic, and un-self-critical to obey religious leaders: (1) elitist because Romney is in the top 1% of wealthy Americans and is the scion of one of Mormonism’s most respected families while Ryan is the darling of the Republican leadership and the vocal exponent of the economy of greed; (2) narcissistic because Romney accepts his American, Mormon, family and class exceptionalism as if he earned it while Ryan uncritically accepts as inspirational the literary detritus of ultra-narcissist Ayn Rand; and (3) un-self-critical because both men are too dense to see that (contrary to the propaganda of Milton Friedman) their reliance on Frederich August von Hayek’s brilliant deconstruction of social engineering applies not only to governments of the left that control corporations but to governments of the right that are controlled by corporations.

No, Americans needn’t worry that Romney or Ryan might take orders from Prophet or Pope.  They should be very worried that these two will assuredly saturate the federal executive branch with an insufferable marinade of patriarchy, jingoism, sentimentality, egocentricity, opacity of mind, and idiotic ideology that will doubtlessly betray the promises of the American Experiment and push the country’s diverse and amnesiac electorate further into American fascism, to whose precipice the nation was brought with such staggering efficiency by the last two Republicans to insinuate themselves into the highest executive offices of our crippled Republic.

12 thoughts on “Should Americans Put a Mormon and a Catholic in the White House?

  1. Brooks W. Wilson says:

    I totally agree with your last paragraph. Romney’s election will be another step, perhaps the final step to what I would call corporate feudalism – American fascism might be a synonym; however, I find Mr. Toscano’s criticism of the Church labored and hyper-critical. There is an element of truth in his criticism but I think his application of it in this context both unfair and not true. I doubt that Mr. Toscano is LDS, or perhaps even a Christian (with which I have no problem). I grew up in the Church, at times on the periphery, one foot out and one foot in and at times both feet in and at times both feet out. I now have both feet well inside and I have never been treated any differently by local leaders. I have always been welcomed back, as it were, with open loving arms. Having served in the Bishropric, I can assure you that women are treated with respect. A rejection of patriarchal leadership in the modern day Church is also a rejection of it in the ancient Church.

    Never-the-less, I see disaster waiting to happen to American society.

    • Brooks, Paul Toscano has been both a Catholic and a Mormon. And although your personal experience with Church leaders may have been benign and fair, believe me when I tell you that Paul Toscano’s treatment has not been. He knows what he’s talking about.

  2. Ron Madson says:

    Paul, I really appreciate your contributions to the Mormon Worker blog and am honored to be a fellow blogger here with you. These words particularly hit the mark, imo:
    “While admonishing Church members to obey such rules, Church leaders either avoid entirely or make only weak and infrequent denunciations of war, genocide, violence, greed, exploitation of the environment, misogyny, or invidious discrimination by class, race, sex, gender, or sexual attraction. The LDS Church regularly encourages its members to strain at gnats and swallow camels.”

    Romney represents the worst of Mormonism and Christianity (endorsement of the wars of aggression/torture/self-centered Ayn Randianism etc, etc, and yet he is the face and poster boy of contemporary mormonism}. This is not the church I grew up in. I have not left mormonism and have no intention of ever abandoning my faith community which is my family as much as it the highest leaders on the corporate ladder.

    I/we welcome Paul’s voice with the Mormon Worker.

    And Brooks I always appreciate your comments, but I do have a difference of opinion as to our approach to women in our church. But save that for another post.

  3. Austin says:

    I’m a devout Mormon, conservative, and strong supporter of both Romney and Ryan, so the article obviously appealed to me. Though in ways the article seemed to attack particular things that I love or strongly support it was well written and quite an enjoyable read. Though I can’t validate all the facts, there was clearly some good research and intelligent analysis put into the report. I definitely enjoyed it very much much more than the writers who are very misinformed and at times blatantly lie to corrupt human thought. Thanks for sharing! I imagine it was a lot of work! Can you do one about Obama and his running mate?

  4. Anthony Bonnici says:

    The above quoted paragraph also caught my attention. I re-read it a couple of times when I first came across Paul’s post… not because it’s difficult to understand, but because it hits the mark so well. In regards to my testimony of the church, this issue was the “straw that broke the camels’s back” and caused me to leave after 35 years of full activity.

    I have also been very impressed by William Vanwagenen and listened to his 2007 interview on Mormon Stories a couple of times ( I admire his determination that lead him to volunteer in Iraq, and his ability to stay active in the church despite his strong progressive perspective.

    Are there any other Mormon (or ex-Mormon) folks out there actively involved in the peace movement?

  5. LDSDPer says:

    I have not left Mormonism either, though I am old enough to see that the sort of religious personality that Romney typifies has increased in the last few decades.
    I don’t think I ever had a bishop or stake president 40/50 years ago like Mitt Romney.
    And I agree that he doesn’t represent what I would call ‘enlightened Mormonism’–
    I see him very much as a ‘letter of the law’, rather than a ‘spirit of the law’ person, and I am being kinder in my writing about this than I feel in my heart.

    As for Ryan, he’s not the type of Catholic with whom I have associated in the past either.

    These men are aberrations, but unfortunately they are admired in our culture–

  6. Chris says:

    I agree that we don’t have to worry about either Romney or Ryan taking orders from their religious leaders, but for a somewhat different reason. In the case of Romney, the LDS Church would go out of its way to avoid even the appearance of the church influencing national public policy. The church will stay out of national politics for a while, otherwise it will be a huge PR disaster both for Romney and the church. But it doesn’t really matter, because I don’t think that the LDS Church would likely tell Romney anything that he doesn’t already agree with. He is probably on the same page, politically, as most of the men in the LDS Church hierarchy. In the case of Ryan, he has already shown that he can ignore directives from the Vatican, because he supports the death penalty.

    I don’t think the religion of either Romney or Ryan would play a primary role in anything. It’s all about ideology, not religion. To the extent the candidates might couch their political views in terms of religion, this is a case of religion following the politics, not the other way around. There are plenty of Mormons and Catholics that would fight them tooth-and-nail on every ideological issue they stand for.

  7. Tariq says:

    I suppose there is a slight difference between Democrats and Republicans. We have one conservative party that serves the interests of big business, the military industrial complex, and the prison industrial complex; and that’s the Democrats. And then we have an ultra-right wing party that also serves big business but is also much more openly xenophobic, racist, homophobic, and has elements that want to turn the U.S. into some kind of idiotic born again White Christian theocracy; and that’s the republicans.

    In other words, we have a right-wing party and a far right-wing party. We don’t have a truly progressive party that has any chance of winning elections on the national level, and we certainly don’t have any kind of radical left that has any chance of winning elections.

    I wish Obama was the radical socialist the republicans always accuse him of being, but he is not even progressive, let alone a socialist.

  8. Joseph says:

    I side with Brooks on this one. I’m not discounting P.J. Toscano’s experience, but mine has been closer to that of Brooks (though my feet have always been in the LDS Faith). I don’t see why Toscano’s experience is somehow more valid than that of Brooks (or myself, for that matter).

    And if I find Paul Toscano’s posts to be hyper-critical and overly negative, I’m entitled to that opinion. It’s not going to stop me from reading the Mormon Worker (lack of time might do that, though). I do recognize Paul is a good writer. But I am bothered by the fact that at no time is the 6th Article of the U.S. Constitution brought up:

    …no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

    I realize Paul tosses out the notion that the candidates’ religions are an issue here at the end, but it’s never pointed that that having that be a primary concern could potentially be unconstitutional (I’m also confident you lawyers can come up with all kinds of readings for that, so I’m going to go with my own on this one). The post is well reasoned out, but it still feels to me like the secular left’s equivalent of the religious right’s concern that we might have elected a Muslim last election (the supposed Muslim actually being the main Protestant Christian running for President on a major party ticket this coming election).

    Should the US elect an LDS and Catholic to be President and VP? I don’t know. Should we elected a Muslim/Sikh ticket? Or a Buddhist/Hindu team? Or Jehovah’s Witness/Bahai candidates for President and VP? Depends on the candidate. The fundamental question here bothers me, as do the reductive, shallow, and I feel at times misleading analyses of both religions that follow.

    As an aside, I do think it’s funny that poor Bible Belt Americans and their Middle-West counterparts are facing a very difficult decision this coming election: A Mormon or Muslim. What are they going to do? Either way, polygamy may be on the horizon. 😉

  9. zouarvehat says:

    I’d feel more comfortable with two rational atheists in charge, myself!

    • Joseph says:

      No such thing as a rational human being (one of the few things Nietzsche was right about). But having atheists for President and VP is another possible ticket to add to my above list, since there is no religious test for public office according to the Constitution. But if a person were to vote for them strictly because they were atheists, it would be short-sited since they still would not be considering the candidates actual qualifications, etc.

  10. Joseph says:

    I should qualify my above statement by pointing out that I don’t believe there is such a thing as a rational human being (I cited Nietzsche, but I actually like William Blake’s views much more, since he sees the positive aspects of imagination and revelation as positive aspects of human understanding). How irrational (and human) of me to fail to clarify that before.

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