Harvard Notes By Jeff Benitz
Since when has it been acceptable to attack a person based on his religious
affiliation in the United States? In the early days of Puritan New England,
perhaps, but since 1776 our Constitution delineated all men are free to worship
their chosen God or none at all.
I am disturbed by the trend of the media to attack Presidential candidate Mitt
Romney because he is a Mormon. Our founding fathers designed the
Constitution to protect people’s freedom of religion. Their thinking was heavily
influenced by the Empiricist, John Locke, who wrote, A Letter Concerning
Toleration; a paper on the topic of disparate religions.
One thing the United States does not tolerate is criminal religions. On this the
Mormons got off to a bumpy start. Any new church deals with rejection from the
older order and sometimes it turns violent. Jesus Christ was killed by the Jews.
There are many Catholic martyrs. Martin Luther, the founder of the Protestant
Reformation, had a death warrant issued by the Pope. The Roman Catholic
Church did not stop there and continued to torture and execute Protestants,
most notably during the Spanish Inquisition. The Pilgrims who settled in
Plimouth (sic), Massachusetts in 1620 sailed away from Europe to near certain
death so they could continue their beliefs. And so too, Joseph Smith, born in
Sharon, Vermont, would find his death bed. Joseph Smith founded the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon or LDS church) in 1830. In 1844
he was murdered in Carthage, Illinois by an angry mob hostile to his ideas.
The LDS church as we know it I see as more a product of Brigham Young. The
church fractured on Smith’s death and Young’s group made the great migration
that ended, finally, in Salt Lake City, Utah. On their way through Wyoming they
seized Fort Bridger from Jim Bridger who had to flee for his life. Feeling
persecution they became quite thuggish on their trek. It required the U.S. Army
to be called out to return the Fort to it’s rightful owner. I want to say there was
The Mormons moved on to Salt Lake where they created their utopia, just as
the Puritans had done in Boston 200 years earlier.
In terms of doctrine I am going to present some pros and cons. Most often I
hear people call LDS a cult. They do not fit the definition any more than a clan,
such as the Catholics and Jews and Muslims with their distinct beliefs. For a cult
there must be a leader or guru. The Pope could be called that. There is no
fascist element to the Mormons.
Cults also try to control and deprive their minions of information except for that
which they feed them. They try to isolate individuals from their families and
friends. Cults are secretive to non believers. LDS does not fit this definition
either. They are open to the public and act normally within society. In fact, I
have found they behave like any mainstream Christian religion, just with better
On the other hand, I have a problem with Joseph Smith stumbling on an extra
chapter to the Bible in the Catskills of New York. He claimed this extra chapter
was written on gold plates and that the ancient Hebrews had sailed across the
Pacific and buried them. An angel had told him where to find the plates and that
the American Indians are the lost tribe of Israel. He never produced the gold
plates. This is the book of Mormon. Sorry, but in my opinion, Smith, was laying
it on a little thick. I will give him credit for creativity.
But if you look at it, at one point in time it must have seemed pretty implausible
that Moses could come up with tablets that layed out the 10 Commandments.
No one has found them. And remember, the New Testament Gospels were
written over 30 years after Christ’s death. That was more than a lifetime in the
ancient world. One thing is sure, Joseph Smith had read his Bible. Mormonism
is a monotheist religion that believes Christ is the savior; it also follows the Old
and New Testament.
So, to that extra book added to the Bible, the Book of Mormon. It seems to be a
montage of American Indian mythology and oral history, and Hebrew and
Christian mysticism. It is skillfully compiled to seem an old record. It is also, in
my opinion, completely harmless. There is wisdom, ambition, and
encouragement on how to live together as a civilized people. I have not found
any more elitism or exclusivity than is in many other texts on religion. There is a
healthy push toward self-sufficiency.
I might add I got my copy of the Book of Mormon for free from the LDS. When I
ordered it they asked if I wanted a visit from them and when I told them, “No”
they respected that. In 17 years they have never used my address for a visit.
The other question I hear people grumble about is the polygyny question. They
are bothered that at one time the Mormons allowed multiple wives. I tell people
my theory on it. It is simple; Joseph Smith was trying to build congregations---
fast. It only takes one man to impregnate many women, if you want to build a
flock you need members. Is this any different than the Papal edict prohibiting
contraception or abortion? None of that is Biblical, it is the Pope trying to build
a larger Catholic church. In any case, for Utah to be accepted into statehood in
1896 the federal government required the Mormons to denounce and outlaw
the practice. Someone can say they are Mormon and do it but the church has
no part in that.
The fact that Mitt Romney is a Mormon is not a problem for me. I have been on
the ground in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Arizona; heavy Mormon areas and
have nothing but respect for them. They live clean, hardworking lives unlike
what I see in the Northeast. They believe in their Christianity and PRACTICE it.
To attack Mitt Romney because of his religion is not in the taste of democracy.
Did anyone attack Senator Lieberman for being an Orthodox Jew and pro-Israel
when he ran for President and said he would not work on the Sabbath? Hillary
Rodham-Clinton is no paragon of Protestantism. Does anyone remember the
Whitewater real estate scam? Does anyone remember when Hillary Rodham-
Clinton made $200,000 in one year investing in cattle futures when her
husband set the price of cattle as Governor of Arkansas? Hillary Rodham-
Clinton has claimed she has cared for the poor as a lawyer yet she has not
worked one hour outside of corporate law, and has no pro-bono record. And
what about those records federally subpoenaed that she lost for two years
under her bed in the Whitehouse? This is not a person following Christian
belief, yet her religiosity has not been questioned. Mitt Romney was called in to
clean up the corruption at the Salt Lake City Olympics, and people went to jail.
If religion is a primary factor in attacking a person in a Presidential campaign,
we have twisted back almost 50 years. The same problem confronted John F.
Kennedy. In 1960 many were suspicious of the prospect of a Catholic
President. Strangely, he is one of the best remembered. Yet, there has been
no discussion of Presidential Candidate Rudolph Giuliani who is Roman
Catholic? Consider further, Presidential Candidate Barack Hussein Obama was
born Muslim. We are at war with Muslim nations and there is no discussion of
his religion. Mike Huckabee is an ordained minister yet his religion has not
been mentioned as a factor in the Presidential campaign. Shouldn’t those
concerned about religious control worry about a pastor who teaches theology
What are we going to say when the first Japanese-American runs for President
and is of Shinto religion? The largest non-Christian religious group to kill
Americans in the history of the country was Shinto Japanese (in the Pacific
Theater in WWII).
The fact is, Mormons respect capitalist society. There is no great mystery to
their religion. If we are going to have a theological discussion, let us have it with
all candidates. Persecution for religions is out of date; it was 300 years ago with
Here’s an example of Mormon behavior. Once, while traveling across country, I
was to meet up with an engaged couple visiting her parents in Salt Lake City. A
few days late I still called her parents house to see if my friends were still there.
They had already headed back to New England but her parents invited me for
dinner anyhow. I had never met them. Not only did I have a great meal but we
talked late into the night. Religion never came up as a subject. When I went to
leave they insisted I stay the night and prepared a bed for me. In the morning
there was breakfast and a fresh pot of coffee on the counter which I ignored,
since I do not drink coffee. After the trip, back in New England, the couple I was
going to meet, laughing, said something to me about not having any coffee
when I stayed in Salt Lake. That is when it occurred to me the coffee pot was
made especially by her mother for the guest. Mormons do not drink coffee. It
was a kind gesture that went unnoticed.
I’ve been treated worse by people of other religions including the one I grew up
with. I just can’t understand why people are so scared of Mormons. When they
talk about multiple wives, which is usually all anyone knows about Mormon
history, I have to laugh. Mitt Romney is married and has had only one wife.
Rudolph Giuliani is on his third wife and I thought Roman Catholics weren’t
allowed divorce. Isn’t that Polygamy?