Andrew Sullivan: Conservative Mormons Will Be Crazy Politicians; Moderate Ones Won’t

 

Andrew Sullivan has launched an inquisition into the foreign policy of a President Romney through an interesting frame– Mormon teachings about the constitution.  Sullivan’s piece, “Did Jesus Foresee the U.S. Constitution,” is a classic bit of muckraking, leveraging (rather than exploring) LDS teachings to lead him to a foregone conclusion.  The chain of logic goes something like this: Mormons believe the Constitution was divinely inspired–> Mormons must believe that America is meant to dominate the world–>The potential foreign policy of a President Romney is really scary to think about–>President Romney may not give credence to any of the amendments to the Constitution.

Wow.  Let’s catch our breath after that wild ride of whimsy and see if we can break down some of the fanciful logic at play.  First, Sullivan’s frame for his story clearly marks out his intentions.  While all of the language Mormons use in discussing their religious constitution is circumspect and reverential (“the Constitution is a divinely inspired document”) Sullivan’s headline casts the question in terms as ridiculous as he can make them, asking “Did Jesus Foresee the U.S. Constitution.”  Ha!  The idea that a figure whom Sullivan himself believes to the be the Son of God and the Savior of mankind could have guided events leading to the formation of the freest nation on earth is a little ludicrous, right?

Well, it is if it’s just the Mormons saying it.  What Sullivan fails to point out is that the very speech to which he refers as his source for Mormon thought on this topic also includes some non-Mormon luminaries speaking to this point.  Men like George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Charles Pinckney.  Sullivan doesn’t take on their statements testifying of providential guidance in the constitutional process.  That would make the Mormons’ statements seem less ridiculous.  Better to act as if only the Mormons believe God helped establish this nation and spatter in a few other funnily-phrased Mormon doctrines to effectively marginalize this set of fairly common American beliefs about the nation’s founding.

What is more interesting is what Sullivan attempts to do with these ideas, once he has established that Mormons do indeed believe that America’s origins were divinely assisted.  Without any evidence at all, he jumps to the conclusion that

. . . such an understanding of America’s unique and divine status among nations has profound foreign policy implications. It means that America alone has divine permission to do what it wants in the wider world, that America is subject to different standards than everyone else (because we alone are divinely blessed), and that geopolitics is about the global supremacy of the modern world’s first divine nation (even if Iran and Israel might differ on which country is divinely blessed).

Wait, where is the support for these notions?  Is it not possible that a person can believe the framers were inspired and also that America should play a humble role in the world?  As Daniel Larison points out, it’s equally likely that adherents to this view may believe themselves (and America) constrained by firm principles of morality and therefore less likely to be violent or aggressive.  There is no evidence of which I am aware that having religious ideas about America’s founding leads to a more bloodthirsty foreign policy.  Sullivan offers none, simply assuming this to be the case.

Well, at least when it comes to a conservative republican.  Sullivan readily admits that none of this speculation applies to sensible Mormons like Harry Reid or Jon Huntsman Jr.  This is a deeply odd concession, since it means (and Sullivan suggests as much) that Romney’s politics might be informed more by his party and political ideology than by his religion.  Which brings into doubt the entire purpose of Sullivan’s inquiry.  If liberals and moderates like Reid and Huntsman will not be driven to extremism by their religious beliefs, why should we assume that Romney would be?  Moreover, Sullivan is the same guy who argued passionately that JFK was able to see beyond his theological assumptions in creating a sensible global politics.  Why again do we assume, without evidence, that Romney cannot do the same?

The best proof that Sullivan is simply abusing Mormon belief to fit a pre-conceived thesis is his elision of the real evidence of how Mormon belief affects Mormon politics.  In the speech Sullivan cites, and which he claims to have read completely, former Mormon President Ezra Taft Benson laid out a set of very clear prescriptions that follow from the notion that the Constitution is divinely inspired.  Did he say that America must triumph over all other nations?  Did he express a preference as between Israel and Palestine?  No.  He says that those who believe God had a hand in America’s founding should (1) live righteously; (2) learn about and understand the constitution; (3) become involved in civic affairs; and (4) make our influence felt “by our vote, our letters, our teaching, and our advice.”  Pretty creepy, right?

Once again, in order to speculate on a crazy Mormon president, you have to meticulously ignore the best evidence of how Mormons actually live their beliefs and discount any evidence regarding how the candidate himself approaches issues outside the frame of his religion.  Sullivan’s essay serves as a model for what will surely be many similarly ridiculous pieces in the future.

Asides:

  • Sullivan is not correct in asserting that “the restoration of the gospel” means “the triumph of Mormonism over other forms of Christianity.”  This phrase is never used with that meaning, and it’s hard to see how Sullivan could have drawn that conclusion.  For Mormons, the restoration of the gospel refers to the work of Joseph Smith in forming the Church, bringing forth scripture, and otherwise putting in place the elements of ancient Christianity in the 1800’s.  There is literally no connotation in that phrase referring to victory over the rest of Christianity.
  • Yes, George Washington and many others of the founders have been posthumously baptized by the Mormon Church.  This is not some special privilege accorded to those figures; rather, Mormons undertake this work for all of their forebears with the belief that all humanity should be given the opportunity to accept Jesus Christ and his Church.  A good explanation of this practice is found here.

30 comments

  1. wallace · · Reply

    i like what you’re doing here, davis & co. keep it up.

  2. Larry J · · Reply

    Since Democrats feel free to go after Romney for his religion, it means that Obama’s 20 years in Reverend Wright’s church is a fair topic for discussion. Do you really want to go there?

    Just asking.

  3. Jeffersonian · · Reply

    You mean that, after fixating on Sarah Palin’s uterus for months on end, people still consider Andrew Sullivan to be someone to read seriously?

  4. Wow. You read an Andrew Sullivan piece?

  5. “Sullivan’s essay serves as a model for what will surely be many similarly ridiculous pieces in the future”

    Andrew Sullivan’s past ie ridiculously and obsessively disputing that a woman lies about birthing her own child, serves as a model that whatever the man thinks is verifiable lunacy.

  6. Have 19 of your adherents blow up iconic buildings and kill thousands in the name of your religion and you will be afforded nothing but respect by the chattering class. Have someone not approved by the chattering class run against Obama and win? The backlash will be severe, intense, and prolonged.

    Better keep your pen sharp.

  7. “You mean that, after fixating on Sarah Palin’s uterus for months on end, people still consider Andrew Sullivan to be someone to read seriously?”

    Brilliant, Jeffersonian and mgcwood. If we don’t give him our time, maybe he will just go away.

  8. Catherine Wilkinson · · Reply

    Andrew Sullivan is ridiculous. He craves attention and idolation. While your essay was excellent, it gives him more gist for his nonsensical grind. I say ignore him, he hasn’t been relevant for a long time…if he ever was. Anyone who spent THOUSANDS of hours debating if Sarah Palin really gave birth to Trig should be ignored.

  9. Who reads that moron, anyhow?

  10. Sam L. · · Reply

    “…it’s hard to see how Sullivan could have drawn that conclusion. ” Freehand, is how he drew it. With help from his subconscious mind. In part, it’s the Indiana Jones technique, “making it up as he goes”.

  11. Donald Campbell · · Reply

    Now that 0bama has endorsed gay marriage Sullivan will do whatever it takes to slime Romney. Honestly, rational discourse from the man has been missing for a decade. Probably the lack of oxygen in Sarah’s uterus is to blame, since liberals are incapable of accepting blame.

  12. ken in sc · · Reply

    I did not know that Mormons believed that the US constitution was divinely inspired. I did know that some Southern Baptists believed that. It is not an uncommon idea.

  13. richard40 · · Reply

    Sullivans partisan idiocy was made quite clear when he said Mormonism is only a problem for Romney, not for Reid and Huntsman. Typical of leftist hipocracy, where if you are rich, have an affair, have a unusual religion, have supporters who do strange things, change (or is it evolve) your position on something, or anything else you can think of that might be bad, it is only bad if you are a conservative, and no problem at all if you are a leftist.

    On any political issue I can think of, I see no difference between being a Mormon, and being an evangilical or strict catholic. Any of them would tend to have strict moral beleifs that on public policy are mostly the same.

  14. Sullivan is seriously deranged (and not in a good way). I wish I could say no one pays attention to him anymore but lots of people love a loon. Someone once told me that in the media “the freak fixes the type” I guess maybe he’s the poster boy.

  15. seanmahair · · Reply

    Sullivan is the poster boy for something someone told me once, “the freak fixes the type”. I feel about him the way I do about trolls and kittens, if you don’t feed them they won’t follow you home. That said someone should tell him to never go into a battle of wits unarmed. Poor Andy, unarmed and unmanned. How sad.

  16. Not to mention that much of the source material for this fear of a Mormon Theocracy (such as the White Horse Prophecy) is hearsay and not doctrine, while D&C 134, which IS doctrine, explicitly forbids religious influence on the state.

  17. […] Sullivan takes a solid rhetorical beat-down here after vomiting up this piece of anti-Mormon […]

  18. The reason people “follow” Andrew Sullivan is because he IS taken seriously by the left – just as those on the left take their template from MSNBC, who take it directly from the White House, many use Sullivan’s outrageous pronouncements to attack the “right” (i.e., Bill Maher taking Sullivan’s attacks on Sarah Palin a dozen steps further)

  19. Diggs · · Reply

    Since we have been suddenly transported back to 1960 and theology is once again a presidential campaign subject, which would you rather have as a president:

    1. A candidate whose theology teaches that the Constitution is divinely inspired?
    or
    2. A candidate whose theology teaches “Not God bless America. God damn America!” or that the AIDS virus was developed by white Americans to kill black Americans?

    Sullivan can try to bring fear of theology into this campaign, but like most of the attempts so far by the Obama campaign, this one too will surely backfire if thought through by the voters.

  20. ritchietheriveter · · Reply

    As I see it, the difference between Romney and Reid/Huntsman et. al., in Sullivan’s eyes is the age-old fear, held by the allegedly “enlightened”, that we might put people in positions of power that actually take their own spiritual worldview seriously.

  21. ritchietheriveter · · Reply

    However, as long as Mr. Romney proves to us that he will manage the Executive Branch so that it accomplishes its primary mission – securing our unalienable rights – his spiritual worldview does not disqualify him, no more than yours or mine should, were we elected to the office.

    This is what freedom-of-conscience looks like.

  22. [FMA]jmr · · Reply

    In agreement with “J” in that many of Sullivan’s talking points are well-known and accepted. On Thursday or Friday of this week (just days after Sullivan’s piece), MSNBC ran a lengthy segment analyzing the “white horse prophecy” and how it will impact Romney’s policies. Is there a causal relationship between the two? Maybe. It does indicate that Romney’s beliefs (imputed and genuine) are and will continue to be scrutinized and attacked.

  23. […] Andrew Sullivan: Conservative Mormons Will Be Crazy Politicians; Moderate Ones Won’t  […]

  24. […] speaking of silly conversations, there is a new entrant in this little pool we established in 2006.  Here’s a word of advise to them – don’t mess with Andrew Sullivan – it […]

  25. Sam Hamilton · · Reply

    This is a great criticism of Sullivan, if anyone’s interested:

    http://bigthink.com/ideas/does-andrew-sullivans-obamaphilia-make-sense?page=all

  26. tbraton · · Reply

    I wonder how Andrew Sullivan works Gen. Brent Scowcroft, a Mormon who strongly opposed George W. Bush’s war against Iraq, into his wacky theory.

  27. […] a follow-up to the original post that Ryan responded to here, Sullivan writes, “I look(ed) up a few references made in the piece to previous […]

  28. I guess it is good that this is the last post I read. The comments here would have made me close my browser and not take anything else in the blog seriously.

    I think the original post was well thought out, but the self congratulations and mocking of the commenters is hard to understand. I am LDS, but am very concerned that pundits on both sides of this presidential cycle seem to be incapable of listening and talking to each other. Those of us in the middle end up with the no win situation of trying to find thoughtful information, from both sides, among the snarky sound bites that could drive a sane person mad.

    I hope that there are more thoughtful critiques of policies based on the actual doctrine of the gospel and the teachings of Christ as we go forward. I don’t like either of my choices this year, but if I must choose which is the lesser of two evils, I need information which is clear and concise, without belittling those who haven’t immediately jumped on the bus of either candidate.

    I hope the quality of the posts here continues, and that the commenters will think carefully about how they sound to those who may come here looking for accurate information and analysis. It would be terrible if after reading the comments section they decided this was one more place that they can’t trust.

  29. […] with the American exceptionalism.  Let’s try and summarize what is true and false about this notion.  It is true that the […]

  30. Get real no archeology,paleontology,linguistically evidence of book of Mormon land and people. None of those things happened sorry lds find a good Biblical based church and shed yourself of the lye. Signed former lds

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