Sharpton’s words about Romney bring to the debate so much that it’s difficult to know where to start.

CBS News has a great editorial about this.

Sharpton is entirely justified to question Romney on his views on the racist aspects of Mormonism. Blacks were excluded from assuming positions of power until the late 1970s. We all know, of course, that Romney will condemn that aspect of his religion — it would be political suicide to do otherwise. In that sense, we’ll never know if we got a straight answer from him. But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

What’s most disturbing about Romney is his religion — a cult, by the standards of many orthodox Christians. It has all the earmarks:

  • exclusivity
  • specially “revealed” information
  • a founder who was somehow closer to God than anyone else

Oh, wait — I just described every major monotheistic religion, didn’t I?

Romney’s Mormonism will be problematic with many of his target constituency of conservative Christians. Evangelicals tend, I believe, to regard Mormons as misguided at best, Satanically deceived at best. Many of these same individuals (who would fall into the umbrella term “fundamentalists”) call Catholics non-Christians, and Catholicism is much closer, theologically, to evangelicalism than Mormonism is.

The question is whether Romney’s views on abortion and his generally conservative views — he is a Republican candidate, after all — will weigh more favorably with traditional Christian voters than his unorthodoxy.

4 thoughts on “Romney

  1. “Cult” is one of those words with slippery definitions. In it’s most general form, it simply means a system of beliefs and ritual. So any religious belief system — monotheistic or not — might be legitimately considered a “cult.”

    What people usually mean when they say “cult” is the insular, suicidal kind which is characteristically has a group of people almost completely emotionally and spiritually dependent on a single individual — Jim Jones and David Koresh, for example.

    While most early churches probably started as such cults, those older ones (like Christianity and Mormonism) that haven’t killed themselves off have generally progressed to less personality-centered practice, and it’s a good idea not to conflate the two.

  2. There are many uses of the word “cult.” Cult originally (and still in religious studies) means worship and beliefs, as you say. In sociology, it usually means a distinctively new religious group with equally distinctive beliefs. In that sense, Mormons are not a cult because they do believe in Jesus — not an original idea. Christianity at its birth would not have been a cult, because it takes traditional Jewish belief in the Messiah and adds something to it, namely, that Jesus is it.

    What I was implying by bringing “cult” into the discussion is just what you said by implication: the distinction between “cult” and “religion” is minimal at best.

    It reminds me of a linguist’s distinction between a dialect and a language: a language has an army behind it. The difference between a cult (in the popular sense) and a religion is a question of number and longevity.

  3. That’s what I mean about confusing the two. The linguist’s definition is cute and flip but by no means accurate. It may only take time and numbers to convert a dialect (or a cult) into a language (or a religion), but once it gets there there, it is fundamentally different in many ways. It’s true that those distinctions might not be as complete as we’d like, but the fact that there are blurry edges does not mean that the edges don’t exist.

    When lay-people call Mormonism a cult, what they intend to do is suggest that Mormonism is an undeveloped, destructive, personality-centered cult where total loyalty is expected and difference of opinion is not tolerated. If called on it, though, they can back all the way up to “well, cult just means ‘systems of beliefs’ anyway,” and claim they weren’t trying to be offensive.

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