It seems a bit odd that a Mormon and two Catholics are the leading presidential candidates in a Republican party dominated by Protestant evangelicals. Unfortunately, this is not a sign of the religious diversity espoused by presidential candidate John F. Kennedy in 1960, when he assured Protestant ministers in Houston that he believed in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute. President Kennedy gave good secular arguments based on available evidence for decisions he made on behalf of the country. Since then, Catholic candidates have rarely been questioned about whether they would take orders from the Pope if elected.
When Rick Santorum contemplated the kind of separation of church and state espoused by Kennedy, Santorum said he "almost threw up."
Judging by Santorum's continued support among Protestant evangelicals, apparently many of them would be happy if candidates took some of their orders from the pope.
Lauren County, in my home state of South Carolina, now has a purity pledge for the county's aspiring Republican candidates, showing in some ways the county to be more Catholic than the pope. The pontiff would agree with the pledge's opposition to civil unions for gay couples, opposition to abortion under any circumstances, opposition to pornography, and abstention from sex before marriage. But at least the pope would allow members of his flock to confess the "sin" of premarital intercourse, and be accepted. Not so with pledge proponents. Welcome to Laurens Country, South Carolina.
Since no Mormon has yet been president, Mitt Romney's religion will undoubtedly undergo close scrutiny, and its beliefs will seem strange to many. According to the Book of Mormon, after Jesus died, but before he went to heaven, he stopped in the United States. This story was chiseled in Egyptian hieroglyphics on gold plates and buried in Palmyra, New York. In 1827, the angel Moroni led Joseph Smith to the gold plates and a magic stone. When Smith put the magic stone into his hat and buried his face in it, he was able to translate the gold plates into English.
This story sounds silly to me, but no sillier than the claim that Jesus rose from the dead, or that one can drink his blood and eat his body every Sunday, or that a talking snake tricked Adam and Eve into eating a piece of fruit.
I can enjoy a good chuckle over many such religious beliefs, as long as they don't intrude on my daily life. Perhaps I long more for that "old-time religion" when practitioners were mostly interested in saving souls. The new-time religion seems more concerned with providing rules and restrictions about sex for politicians and everyone else.
Here is my defense of a Mormon soul-saving practice that has recently come under harsh criticism. They baptize dead people. Many Jews are upset that Holocaust victims (officially or unofficially) have been posthumously baptized, including Anne Frank and Simon Wiesenthal's parents.
Perhaps my relatives who died in the Holocaust were also baptized. That's fine with me. I think this practice is ridiculous, but it does no harm to my dead relatives or me. In fact, this practice seems like an expression of good will, much like, "I'll pray for you." I believe in its sentiment, if not its efficacy.
I prefer the Mormon imaginary afterlife to the Christian one. Mormons would give me a posthumous chance to convert. I've always said I'd become a believer if presented with evidence. Christians, on the other hand, would simply have me burn in hell forever. I think the probability of either scenario is zero, but the Mormon one is more compassionate.
While I certainly want to learn the political positions of our presidential candidates, I would also like to know whether they base their decisions more on evidence or faith. So I'd be interested in hearing about candidates who admit to believing in posthumous baptisms or in talking snakes.