Well, you could've seen this one coming.
Chances are by now you're aware of the fallout from last week's Values Voters Summit, the annual event in which the hard-right Evangelical segment of the electorate gathers to throw King James Bibles at the feet of Republican leaders to see who will be the last one standing after beating his or her competition to death with one. This year, everybody seemed to be gunning for one guy: Mitt Romney. Poor Mitt got it hard from both ends as his place on the speaking roster happened -- through what I'm sure was complete coincidence -- to fall between Dallas megachurch demagogue Pastor Robert Jeffress and seriously crazy talk radio host Bryan Fischer, both of whom have railed against Romney's Mormon faith as an insult to the one, true God.
Jeffress, who astonishingly is the cuddlier of the two, merely referred to Mormonism as a cult while lavishing praise on Rick Perry for supposedly being a trustworthy follower of Jesus Christ; Fischer took it three or four giant steps further, saying not only that a proven Christian and a proven Christian alone should be our next president, but that Sharia law is coming to take over our courts, homosexuals are a threat to the public health and the reason we haven't seen a successful attack on the contiguous 48 since 9/11 is that crowds sing "God Bless America" during the seventh inning stretch at major league baseball games. And no, I'm not making that last one up.
Romney, to his credit, tried to take the high road in his reaction to all the hyper-pious pummeling. Of course at something like the Values Voters Summit, the high road doesn't need to be very high; the Lincoln Tunnel towers over the discourse at this thing.
So is Mormonism a cult? Was it arguably the brainchild of con-men and has it been perpetuated by the power-hungry and adhered to largely by the weak and desperate? Is it a questionable belief system that should have no place influencing American politics? Pretty much on all counts. But here's the thing: That makes it no different than any other faith-based religion.
Fischer and Jeffress have always been despicably hateful men whose opinions needed to be pushed so far to the fringes that they practically vanish into the ether. But at this point more than any other in our recent history, this country does not have the luxury to concern itself with with ridiculous contrivances like which ancient superstition a candidate aligns him or herself with -- whether he or she passes some religious purity test by properly genuflecting before the right god.
Over the next few months, as the campaign ramps up, you're going to start hearing a lot more proclamations of faith from those running for the highest office in the world. They'll talk about how their belief in Jesus or whomever guides them, and what's more, they'll do it largely as a theatrical act of pure indulgence, as a means of cynically pandering to those they feel they need to pander to in order to get elected. Their command performance may not always be at the whim of breathtakingly arrogant insurgents like Jeffress and Fischer, but it will certainly be as a show of respect to the supposedly benign faith of which these men have become extremist purveyors and arbiters. And that faith, while something I disagree with wholeheartedly as a rational human being, should at the very least be a personal choice and a personal choice only -- at most it should be something that is expressly excluded from American politics.
At this fragile point in our nation's history, the fact that our presidential candidates will feel that they have the latitude, even for a moment, to gush metaphysical politics-as-usual platitudes is simply terrifying. Discussing something as abstract and ineffectual as faith at this moment is akin to extolling one's own favorite lottery numbers. Neither offers a concrete method of action. Faith will never defend this country's people from the ongoing threats to their livelihood. God won't save us from the mess we're currently in.
We need something more than wishful thinking, and we don't have the time to talk about anything less.