You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

In Good Faith

by Jacob T. Levy

belowpolitical theorist Russell Arben Fox
Was [Kennedy] actually trying to convince the Southern Baptists he was speaking to that Catholicism was not what they thought it was? No--he was trying to convince them that he, a Catholic, was not what he thought he was: specifically, that he was someone who suffered from a "divided loyalty." In speaking to them, he gave them a sense of his allegiance(s), both religious and civic. He came off sounding very American, as someone who would handle problems and address issues in a very American way. And that was good enough. The fact that there were still, in those pre-Vatican II days, enormous problems in accounting for the "constitution" of Catholicism in an America which was decidedly congregational and Protestant in its civic religion, was not in the end much of a problem for Kennedy's supporters; they saw that he could fit in, that he was a "member" of America's basically disestablished (ir)religious culture, that he could belong and be trusted, and hence theologically-driven opposition to his candidacy melted away. The fact that Romney, as Damon himself admits, has governed Massachusetts in a fairly moderate way, would seem to provide him with the same ammunition that Kennedy possessed: "judge me on the basis of fourteen years in the Congress," he said to the assembled ministers. Romney's record cannot eliminate Mormonism theological instability, that must be admitted; but it does show more than enough cause to be suspicious of abstract, principle-based arguments which try to discover something "politically perilous" in someone whose membership in the American community, whose civic activity in that community, displays anything but.
And that is that it is entirely possible that the reason the history of Mormon behavior and its obvious congruence with contemporary American civic life isn't satisfactory to Damon is because what he sees as politically perilous isn't really Romney's theology, but what Romney is advocating, and Romney's Mormon theology simply puts an additional spin on Damon's primary concern, which he has spelled out at length in his book. The big difference between Romney and Kennedy, as Damon states in his TNR piece, is that Romney cannot appeal to that aspect of American culture (or, if you prefer, that article of liberal principle) which highlights the separation between church and state; rather, he is running as "a man of deep piety who wishes to increase the role of conservative religion in the nation's public life." This is, to be sure, a subject worth debating...but it doesn't seem to have much to do with a belief in prophets or eschatology. And the proof of this suspicion is the fact that Damon's article never even mentions Harry Reid. Now of course, Romney himself is in the news, and the presidency is always big news, and so perhaps Damon can simply plead that talking about all these issues involving Mormonism without discussing Reid's on involvement was a reasonable journalistic choice. But such an excuse can only go so far. The fact is, Reid is going to be the Senate Majority Leader, he's going to have the power to move constitutional amendments forward or make all but certain they'll die before reaching the floor, he's going to be able to twist arms and schedule votes that will impact what happens on the Judiciary and Commerce and Foreign Affairs committees--he will, in short, be a very powerful man. And Harry Reid is a Mormon in good standing. The obvious conclusion is that Damon is worried about Romney being theocratic, or at least thinks it is important to contemplate the peculiarly Mormon ways in which he could be theocratic, because he is suspicious of what Romney seems to be interested in doing with his peculiar theology. He doesn't appear to feel the same about Reid, because he's not suspicious of what (if anything) Reid intends to do with his peculiar theology in his new position, even though he constitutes the same "problem" for America that Romney does.