15 August 2007

Religious Discrimination Against Candidates

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
August 7, 2007

GOP Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney has made it clear that he does not think that his being a Mormon should be held against him. This is a contemporary version of President John F. Kennedy’s earlier assertion that his Catholicism should not be held against him. Contra Romney, I think that a candidate’s irrational religious beliefs can and should be held against him.

Curiously, Romney said, “We need to have a person of faith lead the country,” which suggests that the country should not be led by an atheist. Let’s leave aside the issue of whether his claims are consistent.

If a person has irrational religious beliefs, then he is less likely than others to make reliable judgments. This is because irrational religious beliefs tend to weaken one’s judgments about rights and liberties in the same way that doctored numbers make it less likely that an accountant will make reliable judgments about a client’s finances. If a person is less likely to make reliable judgments, then he is less likely to make good decisions, and this is not what we want in a leader.

According to Mormon critics such as Richard Packham, http://www.exmormon.org/tract2.htm and those summarized in Wikipedia, Mormons accept the following.

* God has a flesh-and-bone body and lives on a planet near the star Kolob.

* God was once a man and human beings are literally his children.

* Individuals like you and me can become like God and rule over our own worlds.

* Before living on this earth, we were spirits in “pre-existence,” during which we were tested. How we live in this life depends in part on our reward or punishment for our acts in the previous life.

* Jesus and Satan are brothers.

If a person who is not a Mormon becomes Mormon, the Holy Ghost takes out his blood and replaces it with Israelite blood.
These sound irrational to me.

There is nothing new here. We often use a person’s past membership in a group or past behavior as an indicator of how he would perform as a legislator. For example, we would hesitate to vote for someone who was a recruiter and local leader of the Klu Klux Klan or abandoned a woman trapped in an underwater car. This did not stop voters from West Virginia and Massachusetts from electing Senators Robert Byrd (D-WV) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA), but it probably did give them pause.

One objection here is that even if a candidate’s beliefs support our not voting for him, he might still be the lesser of two evils. This is correct. For example, we might still prefer a candidate who has irrational religious beliefs to one who voted for the Iraq war, for restricting free speech on political matters, for amnestying illegal aliens, and against tax cuts, because we are confident that his opponent will make worse decisions. This might occur, for example, if Romney ran against Hilary Clinton.

A second objection is that holding someone’s religion against him violates the separation of church and state. The separation between church and state is often misunderstood. It is a narrow thesis that holds that a person’s legal rights and duties should not depend on his religious beliefs or practices. This is a distinct from the issue of who govern our country. A person’s membership in a private group (for example, the Klu Klux Klan) should also not affect his legal rights and duties, but that is independent of whether we should hold a candidate’s membership against him when we enter the voting booth.

A third objection is that religion is a personal matter and as such it should not be considered. The distinction between personal and public behavior is unclear and in any case irrelevant. For example, it’s unclear whether participation in corrupt business practices is a personal matter, but nothing rests on this issue. What matters is whether this indicates how a person will govern.

A fourth objection is that Mormonism is no more irrational than other religions. For example, consider the following.

* The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are truly distinct persons from one another and yet there are not three Gods but one.

* There are exactly nine orders of Angels.

* If a priest blesses bread and wine, then it becomes the body of Jesus. Actually does, not metaphorically.

It is not clear that these claims are as irrational as Mormon ones, although to be fair I haven’t turned on my irrationality-meter. However, if these beliefs or ones connected to them reliably lead candidates to reject evolution, deny parental rights to gays, or ignore data on sex education, then we should be less enthusiastic about candidates who accept them.

A fifth objection is that membership in religious organizations is not a reliable indicator of poor reasoning or judgment. The objector might claim that because there are almost no atheists in high office and because we can’t determine which people join religions merely for cultural reasons, religious membership doesn’t reliably indicate anything. Because there aren’t any studies on this topic that I’m aware of, this objection might be fatal. However, it is worth noting that we regularly make predictions based on commonsense connections. For example, we predict that former members of the NAACP will favor African-Americans no matter what. Similarly, we (leaving out West Virginia voters) judge former members of the Klan as likely to have too much animosity toward minorities to trust in office. When it comes to predicting how politicians will rule on things like abortion funding, stem-cell research, and euthanasia, I don’t see why we can’t rely on similar commonsense connections.


The Objectivist said...

For those who disagree, I wonder whether you would hold it against a Presidential candidate that he was a member of Scientology. I suspect you would. If so, then holding someone's Mormonism is a similar type of move.

Alma said...

I'm interested that you classify a couple of Mormon concepts as irrational--I think the reverse is true. Scripture speaks of God walking, talking, eating and hearing. How rational is it to believe in a being who walks yet has no feet, or eats but has no mouth?

Scripture says God created man in his own image. Isn't it irrational to accept that and still maintain that God has no image?

If God actually exists, is it rational to conclude that that he doesn't occupy time and space somewhere?

Mormonism posits a God who has children--which is precisely what the Bible teaches--why is that irrational? Isn't it less rational to say God is our father but that he really isn't anyone's father? If God is "Father of Spirits" as indicated by Hebrews 12:9, and angels and Jesus are spirits, wouldn't it be irrational to conclude that those spirit children aren't brothers?

Why is it irrational to believe that children can become like their father? What realm of rationality posits a species that cannot reproduce after its kind? If the offspring of horses and ducks uniformly are horses and ducks, isn't it rational that the children of God will become gods?

Anonymous said...

Great post Alma! I agree completely. The really cool thing about Mormonism is that despite all the naysaying to the contrary, it is a beautifully simplistic and rational religion.

Anyone who makes a thoughtful study of the Bible will come to the conclusion that 1) our bodies were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), and that in fact, Christ's body is in the express image of God the Father's body (Hebrews 1:3), 2) that our spirits are the offspring of God (Hebrews 12:9, Romans 8:16-17), and that 3) the righteous will be joint-heirs of all that God hath with Christ (Romans 8:17, Hebrews 1:2). And a joint-heir of God who inherits all things, must therefore inherit the power to do godly things.

If there is a God, then there is nothing more rational than that he should have offspring. And if God should have offspring, then there is nothing more natural than that they should become heirs to what He has, and that He would provide a way (Christ) for them to become as He is. And if we are those children as He has told us that we are, then we have the potential to be like Him (1 John 3:2). And not only do we have the potential to become like Him, but we are commanded to be so (Matt. 5:48)!


The Objectivist said...

Dear Alma:
I think your points are well argued for and appreciate them. A couple of points.

1. If human beings become like God in the relevant ways, then they too are gods. But a monotheistic religion cannot accept the existence of multiple gods. Given that Mormonism is a monotheistic religion, I don't see how this claim holds together.

2. Consider the star Kolob. Do we have any independent evidence that it exists and that God is located near it? If not, why should someone accept these claims as true?

3. The blood replacement feature. I checked with a former student and Mormon. As a side note, he is one of the brightest and most likeable students I ever had. He claims that this is not part of Mormonism except metaphorically. If it is part of Mormonism, I wonder whether you find this plausible.

Once again, thank you for your thoughtful comments.

The Objectivist said...

Dear Anonymous/Todd:
You make a very powerful argument regarding the biblical language. However, I have to ask you the following.

1. What evidence is there that persons pre-existed?

2. I take it that you are asserting that biblical passages should be given great weight and perhaps viewed as always true. Let us accept this. Still, does the inconsistency between Mormon claims about the ancient culture in America and contemporary anthropological data trouble you? If not, why not? From what I understand, a number of claims about the animals and cultures have not been able to be verified.

In any case, thank you for your interesting response.

Brandon P said...

From my perspective, any religion, even creedal christianity holds beliefs that are irrational. They require a belief in something beyond logic; it is called faith.

Many varying religions profess strict adherence to the bible but they differ in practice. Why? Because the bible can seem contradictory at times. It does not seem contradictory to be because I have studied it and reconciled it. I hold it to be true.

Items in the Bible that are irrational and thus require faith:
-God creating the world.
-Moses parting the Red Sea.
-Moses talking to God.
-Elijah making an instant fire on wet ground.
-Jesus Christ being born of a virgin.
-Angels visiting Joseph and Mary.
-All of Christ's miracles.
-The resurrection.
-Atoning for the sins of the world.
-The list goes on...

Remember, faith is a belief in things that cannot be proven. They can be argued and reasoned, but not proven.

Mitt Romney seems like a good candidate to me. Be careful not to discredit him simply because he believed in different things.

Anonymous said...

It's an interesting assertion, but in the case of Mitt Romney specifically, I just don't buy it. Look at his record:

-Graduated from Harvard Law and Harvard Business School
-Became CEO at Bain Capital at age 36 and turned it into one of the most successful venture firms today. In the process, he earned substantial wealth.
-Turned the disaster that was the Salt Lake Olympics into one of the most successful olympics in recent memory
-As a Republican, served as governor of Massachusetts, finding solutions to problems that have long baffled other politicians
-Has been married to the same woman for 37 years, and they have raised 5 kids who seem to be leading productive lives

So when I look at Romney's life and accomplishments, I fail to see the evidence where his irrational beliefs have actually led to bad judgment. Too bad not all of the candidates have a record like Romney's.

Anonymous said...

Dear Objectivist:

Thanks for taking time to read and consider my post. Now for your first question:

> What evidence is there that persons pre-existed?

Actually there are several references in the Bible that either indicate or allude to a pre-earthlife existence. Here are a few of them:

1) Jeremiah 1:4-5 --
4 Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
Obviously God knew Jeremiah and his potential as a prophet before he was even born. Why? Because Jeremiah lived with God as a spirit child before he obtained a body and was born on the earth.

2) Job 38:4-7

I won't quote this here in the interest of space, but God asks Job where he was when he laid the foundations of the earth, "and all
the sons of God shouted for joy?" The point here is that there were sons of God that shouted for joy at the creation of the earth. Who were these sons? The spirit offspring of God, and they lived with him before the world was even made.

3) Ecclesiastes 12:7
7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

When a man dies, his body returns to the dust, but his spirit returns to God. How can a spirit return to the presence of God if it has never been there in the first place?

4) St. John 9:1-2

1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?

The early apostles understood that there was a pre-existence state, which is implied by their question. They mistakenly thought that it was the man's sins that might have caused his being born blind. But how could the man have sinned before his birth if not in a pre-existence state?

5) Ephesians 1:4-5
4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will . . .
Paul testifies that God chose the righteous to receive the blessings of the gospel before the creation of the world.

I could highlight additional Biblical passages, but I think you get the idea. I could also quote passages from other works that as Mormons we also hold to be part of the scriptural canon. But as these works are not generally accepted by the Christian world, I'll refrain unless you're interested.

I'm not a specialist in anthropology, but I'll try to answer your questions in that regard a little later when I have some more time.

Ryan said...

Dear Objectivist,

I was unable to find an email address, so forgive me posting this private message on your comments thread. I just wanted to alert you to a small rebuttal to this post that I've posted at my blog, RomneyExperience.com . This site tracks all coverage of the Mormon issue in the Romney campaign and attempts to dispel the myths and poor arguments that are popping up everywhere. I hope you'll give it a bit of consideration.


Ryan Bell

(And by the way, one thing I left out of the post is the contention that if I wanted to find irrational beliefs held by any person, including you, it would be quite easy to do so by resorting to one of your harshest critics, as you have done here regarding Mormons. I hope you would concede that your possession of such beliefs would not necessarily call into question your basic judgment and ability to reason).

Anonymous said...

Eschatology in any religion is based on faith. But as for the present and everyday lives of their adherents, they basically advocate, live and practice the values which facilitate their achieving the rewards promised to them in the hereafter. Hence, considering here and now, Mormons are, like other Christians, are concerned about being good people, often reflected in honoring and loving God by keeping the commandments, serving others, being civil and kind, raising good families, etc., etc.,

For example, in everyday life, Mormons don’t smoke, are against premarital sex, don’t drink - in other words they ascribe to living clean wholesome lives and serving others! And Romney has pretty much exemplified all these. The question therefore is “What irrationality do you find, or have you found in what Romney has done, even when based on his religious beliefs? Can you point these out? Even atheists, who deny the existence of God, might actually subscribe to such values based on rationality, at the very least. I think if there is one person who displays and exemplifies irrationality, it’s you - the author of this blog/article - in writing an irrational piece.


Alma said...

Objectivist writes:

1. If human beings become like God in the relevant ways, then they too are gods.

Not necessarily. Think of "God" more like a position rather than a species. The species is Man, and “God” indicates the power, authority and knowledge He possesses. The fact that you’re an attorney doesn’t mean that your children are also attorneys unless they follow the same path you have taken to become what you are. Even Christ, though God, did not always have all power and authority. He told His disciples, “All power is given me in heaven and earth” indicating that there was a time in which He did not possess all power.

But a monotheistic religion cannot accept the existence of multiple gods. Given that Mormonism is a monotheistic religion, I don't see how this claim holds together.

Mormonism isn’t strictly monotheistic. Much like early Christians such as Origen acknowledged that there were more gods than one, and like earliest Judaism, that acknowledged the “highest” God (implies lower gods), Mormonism would probably more accurately be classified as henotheistic. Just as Jesus Christ and Paul referred to plural gods (John 10:34, 1 Cor. 8:5), Mormons place themselves within that biblical framework.

2. Consider the star Kolob. Do we have any independent evidence that it exists and that God is located near it?

No more than there is independent evidence that Jesus was resurrected. However, the existence of Kolob isn’t pivotal to our theology. Brigham Young taught that God resides in the center of His creations. The word possibly is related to the Semitic root QLB, meaning "heart, center, middle" (Arabic qalb "heart, center"; Hebrew "middle, midst."

If not, why should someone accept these claims as true?

We don’t expect them to. In fact, you could probably attend LDS services for a couple of years without ever hearing about Kolob. I find it most often brought up by critics of Mormonism. It’s really a non-issue which exists as part of Mormon minutia.

3. The blood replacement feature. I checked with a former student and Mormon. As a side note, he is one of the brightest and most likeable students I ever had. He claims that this is not part of Mormonism except metaphorically. If it is part of Mormonism, I wonder whether you find this plausible.

He seems rather astute to me as well. I really doubt that Joseph Smith was referring to actual blood replacement here. I have always understood it metaphorically as well, believing that the Holy Spirit acted upon a person’s desires and perspectives, purging out one’s desire for sinful behavior. My dictionary gives one of the definitions for blood as “being the seat of one’s emotions – temper” indicating that “in one’s blood” refers to what’s “ingrained in a person’s nature as a seemingly hereditary principle, inclination or talent.”

Once again, thank you for your thoughtful comments.

My pleasure.

Aaron said...


I find "A fourth objection is that Mormonism is no more irrational than other religions." to be one of the more compelling objections. Once a person has made a commitment to suspending reason aka embracing faith it has to follow that any issue that relates to their faith will be handled poorly.

Thankfully the Kolob belief is unlikely to influence legislation.

As for "reject evolution, deny parental rights to gays, or ignore data on sex education" sadly those seem to all be par for the course to the pandering mess that the Republican party has become.

Also I am not impressed with the argument that since Christianity is flawed also but people accept it therefore Mormonism should be given more credit, I think the logical conclusion that should follow is that people should reject both religions as irrational.

The Objectivist said...

Dear Brandon P

Rmember, faith is a belief in things that cannot be proven. They can be argued and reasoned, but not proven.

I'll interpret this as the following.

(1) Person X holds proposition P as a matter of faith only if X lacks sufficient evidence for P.

Why is it rational to hold things without adequate evidence? I make the two following claims.

(2) If a person can avoid belief with regard to P (acceptance or rejection), then it is more rational to avoid belief.

Also, I wonder if you think we should hold the following against candidates.

(3) Membership in Scientology.

(4) Membership in the Heaven's Gate Cult.

Persons might defend their membership on the basis of faith. Are you okay with that?

The Objectivist said...

Dear Anonymous:

Here is your claim.

"So when I look at Romney's life and accomplishments, I fail to see the evidence where his irrational beliefs have actually led to bad judgment. Too bad not all of the candidates have a record like Romney's."

I disagree. Here are my claims.

(1) Romney is a political animal (that is, a flip flopper). This is precisely the lack of clear liberty-loving principles and instead the flexibility of beliefs. That is why he flip flopped on abortion and gay rights.

My question to you: Does his flip flopping on social issues in precisely a way that aligns with his political interests strike you as unprincipled? Yes or no?

(2) My pop-psychology explanation of this is that you are best off avoiding clear political/philosophical principles if you have to accept Kolob, John Smith was not a marginal character, God was a man like us, etc.

Second question: (If I get this wrong my apologies) Do you think that Romney thinks that women will join men in heaven only if they get the secret code?

The Objectivist said...

Dear Alma:


This seems to be your claim.

1. Mormonism is true.
2. If Mormonism is true, then polytheism is true.
3. Hence, polytheism is true.

Do you have an argument for polytheism being true? The best arguments for God's existence are the ontological and cosmological argument and both likely presuppose a monotheistic theory.


Kolob isn't an issue because
a) it's no more irrational than belief in Jesus,
b) it's rarely brought up, and
c) it isn't pivotal to Mormonism.

Now even if a) were true, still a person who believes in two unlikely events is in a worse epistemic position than one who only believes in one.

In addition, do you have any evidence for Kolob existing? If not, perhaps you could explain why you would believe something without adequate evidence.

b) is beside the point. As a side note, growing up I've been to plenty of Jewish services and the afterlife was never or almost never mentioned. It doesn't follow from this that it is not an essential tenet of Judaism.

The Objectivist said...


I do appreciate the care and thoughtfulness of your responses. However, I leave you with the following challenge.

Which of the following would you hold against a job candidate X.

1. X believes in Scientology.
2. X rejects evolution.
3. X believes that every Sunday he actually eats parts of Jesus's body.
4. X was a member of the Klan.
5. X believes that black scientists invited white people who then conquered their inventors with trickonology.
6. X has low SATs.

Why not admit that if Romney were to really believe in Mormonism this should be held against him, but then assert that he is a member for psychological and family reasons?