Photo credit Gage Skidmore

Claire Nelson questions religion’s role in American politics in response to The New York Times article, “Why I Love Mormonism”, by Simon Critchley.

Simon Critchley’s New York Times article, “Why I Love Mormonism”, comes at a popular time for discussion on what Mormonism is actually about. In pop culture, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone produced the wildly popular Broadway show, Book of Mormon, as well as a brilliant episode of South Park entitled “All About Mormons”: Season 7, episode 12 – watch it. Of course mormonism’s more pressing relation is to the Mitt Romney presidential campaign. Romney’s faith has become an unfair weakness across both parties and I struggle to see its relevance to his political aspirations.

There was one Mormon girl in my year at high school. I grew up in a very Jewish neighborhood, so she was truly a fish out of water. There was always a tacit suspicion within the school about her and her family, as though they weren’t really in touch with the real world. In reality, she was a friendly and hard working high school student and never spoke about her religion except in response to a curious classmate.

Living in this lovely bubble has given me an opportunity to take a step back and look at American politics in comparison to the way politics work in the rest of the world. Our terribly long and drawn out campaigning period gives the political media a chance to dissect every detail of a candidate’s past. Religion in particular appears to be a focus of controversy in American politics, which in a country that has such a diversity of practices, seems at once sensible and hypocritical. John F. Kennedy’s Catholic faith became a target issue during his election, as the public became suspicious that he would allow the Pope to push his presence upon the country. Yet this did not actually become an issue during his presidency, as more pressing problems were at hand.

I do not believe that Mitt Romney’s faith would become a large influence over his policies if he were to become president. Don’t get me wrong; I am not a fan of Romney and if I can get my act together enough to send in an absentee ballot, I’ll be voting for Obama. But my problems with Romney have nothing to do with his religion. “Why I Love Mormonism” points out the defining characteristics of Mormonism, from the lack of belief in a Holy Trinity, to the finite and plural conception of God. I, having no religion, do not find these to be very threatening ideas. I believe in the inspiration behind the concept of separation of church and state. In a country whose textbooks celebrate its founding as rooted in escape from religious prejudice, religion should play no part in politics.

I can see a lot of sense and comfort in how humanistic Mormonism is, it definitely brings the idea of God closer to man and provides an interesting reason to behave morally – do right by others and live a moral life, and you have the potential to become God as well. However, according to Mormonism this is only possible for men, more specifically white men, which certainly presents some problems. Polygamy, though, the most famous error of Mormonism to the mass public, has been long out of practice and those who do engage in it seem to be exceptions to the rule.

Ask a candidate about his plans for dealing with the national debt. Ask about how they are going to improve national transportation. Ask about what can be done with standardized testing to help shrink the gaps between public and private schools, or how to deal with gay rights and the military. Religion doesn’t need to be part of the conversation.

Claire Nelson