Mitt Romney is a tad silly.
I say this as a person who is not a member of a church and lacks the kind of faith that others proclaim. As do many of us who struggle with the notions of god, I often find myself envying those who are unfalteringly certain about the things they cannot see. I also know that it is nonsense to think religion doesn't matter in politics, and especially in presidential campaigns.
When Romney made his speech about religion in College Station, Texas, he wasn't that far upwind from Mt. Carmel, where the government ran into a false prophet and they both made mistakes that incinerated children and their parents. Faith was at the heart of that tragedy. David Koresh was scrutinized and criticized for what he believed and, ultimately, was judged by our culture to be a whack job. The same process needs to be applied to politics.
Romney's assertion that faith is deeply personal and ought not to be a significant part of the discussion is nonsensical. We would certainly not elect a man or a woman who believed that all of creation was a product of the internet's now famous "flying spaghetti monster." This would be a person of unsound judgment, eh? And whether the former governor of Massachusetts is willing to believe it or not, this is a standard that is being applied to his religion of Mormonism and what he holds to be true about its tenets and its founder, Joseph Smith.
Christians, whether they are evangelical or not, have a difficult time processing the idea that Smith was a prophet and many of them are convinced he was a charlatan. Indeed, in private some will even call him a cultist, which is the title Koresh carried with him into the flames. Even in the 1800s when mythology and folklore were more substantive parts of all cultures, Smith's story of golden tablets and the angel Moroni was incredible to people, including, often, his wife.
As a presidential candidate, Romney cannot confront the fact that a significant number of Christians think his religion is a cult grown more virulent than Koresh's. Nonetheless, it is a fact that many believe that way and are willing to say as much around their Christian friends. Whether the assessment is fair or not seems irrelevant; it is a political fact that is holding back his campaign and far too few of the pundits and analysts and journalists are willing to write or discuss this dynamic.
Romney is not naïve. In his Texas talk, he was only trying to sell the notion that his being a Mormon should not count against him any more than John Kennedy's being a Catholic mattered in his election. Fundamentalists, however, were not convinced. Religion in politics is probably more relevant than it has ever been because we have allowed our leadership to engage us in a religious war under the guise of spreading democracy. If this point is not made yet, consider the chances of election a Muslim-American might have if he were running for president in 2008. When Minnesota voters sent Keith Ellison to Capitol Hill, he became the first Muslim ever elected to Congress and had to endure insipid questions about his patriotism from talk show hosts and alleged reporters. If Ellison were Ronald Reagan reincarnate and had no differences with the iconic conservative other than being a Muslim, he still would not be elected because of his faith.
This is why Mike Huckabee will win the GOP nomination for president. Christian fundamentalists who turned over their church directories to the Bush campaign and walked the streets of America in record numbers to bang on doors are motivated by their fear of a Mormon in the White House. It does not matter how many public records Huckabee destroyed while governor, how many murderers and rapists he paroled under pressure, or whether he thinks AIDS patients need to be quarantined; he believes as Christians believe and they are frightened of Romney's god. Christians, even though they are mostly silent regarding Romney's beliefs, are determined to see that Huckabee wins the nomination.
And you can take that on faith.