A lot of people think Mitt Romney chose to give his religion speech this week because he's afraid of the Rev. Mike Huckabee. (A man whose main qualifications for the Oval Office are a personal relationship with Jesus and the ability to lose weight.) Mike is breathing down Mitt's neck in Iowa, which can't be pleasant, because bulimics have terrible breath.
I think there's a simpler explanation and, touchingly, it has to do with faith. Mitt Romney made his religion speech during Hanukkah because he's the only candidate oily enough to burn for eight days.
If you missed the speech, it can be summed up pretty simply: He proclaimed the right of every American to freely and openly practice any religion, including his own, about which he won't divulge a single detail, even if you killed his children right in front of him, one after another.
And he doesn't care which of you atheist bastards and Islamic jihadists know it.
Now just give me your vote, and stop bothering me with all these questions. I've spent a lot of money.
It got a little slippery there for a second, what with name-checking Kennedy and Lincoln - who you'd think would have less to say about religion and more about gun control - but it came down to this:
1- Mitt loves religious freedom.
2- You love religious freedom.
3- Religious freedom is being threatened by atheists and people who ask Mitt a lot of fool questions about his relatives in the Star System Kolob.
4- If Mitt answers these questions, the ACLU will come to your town and kick over your crèche.
5- As long as we all love Jesus (or something more or less Jesus-ish) we can agree to disagree about the details.
6- If we disagree about the details, Jihadists will come and unstrenghen your family.
7- Wasn't it cool when George Bush Sr. crashed his plane and got picked up by that submarine?
8- I swear this was Mitt's opener.
9- Hey, George Bush is patriarchal and fell from the sky. Why don't we worship him?
Okay, to you and me it's all just the same old runny dogshit. You weren't going to vote for him anyway. Because you're reading a website, and computers work because of science. But did Romney make the sale to the evangelical values voters, the ones who pray people like us get struck down by a just and loving God, and it's painful and slow, and the sooner the better?
I don't think so.
Here's the difficult passage, the one Mitt raced through like the side effects of Nasonex:
There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. My church's beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance. Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.
In other words: I'm glad you asked that question. I'm not going to answer it. As a tribute to this great land of ours.
Because here's the thing that Mitt Romney can't say: The Mormon Jesus has about as much in common with Jesus of Nazareth as the Los Angeles Kings have with King Tut. They have the same name, kind of, and that's it.
The Gospel Jesus lived in Galilee. The Mormon Jesus lived in Albany. (Where he fought the Indians. Because he wasn't just the Lamb of God, he was also the Last of the Mohicans.) Mormon Jesus? Three wives, a planetful of kids. Gospel Jesus? Living alone and loving it.
It doesn't even have the theological weight to be heresy; it's a simple case of mistaken identity.
And I know that sounds like I'm being flip, but that's only because I don't care. But if it matters to you, it really, really matters.
Mitt Romney wants Christians to think that Mormonism is just another "brand." (He called it a brand earlier this week, in Manchester. Which is how most really devoted people talk about their faith.) But most Christians are pretty brand loyal. It's kind of important to them. They didn't just choose their church for the parking. They like to think they've put some thought into it.
Evelyn Waugh thought that the difference between the real church (Roman Catholicism) and some fake-o crap (Anglicanism) was so obvious that if you couldn't figure it out, it was your problem. He said that trying to explain it was like trying to teach an Australian about architecture.
Mitt Romney doesn't want to explain anything. He just wants to blur the distinctions, change the subject, and make the sale.
Mitt Romney isn't proud of his faith. If he were, he wouldn't react to questions about it like he'd just been asked to describe his parents having sex.
He could put this whole thing to rest by answering one question about his Jesus, just so we know we've got the right guy: Was he Satan's brother? If the answer is "yes" -- and the Book of Mormon says it is -- Mitt and Pat Robertson are talking about two totally different Middle Eastern drifters.
See where profiling will get you?