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Steinberg: How can Democrats mock Romney’s religion?

Updated: October 6, 2012 1:44PM



Hate is infectious — you catch it from other people; the instinct is to return hate immediately, without thinking.

Natural, I suppose. The reflex to echo back someone’s cry of anger — hate’s big brother — was protective, 25,000 years ago. When Ogg comes rushing at you, screeching out of the forest primeval, club raised over his head, gauging his motives and weighing a response isn’t a reaction that boosts the odds of passing along your DNA. You screech back, grab your sharpened stick and jab it at Ogg.

This dynamic — attack, reply — fuels much political discourse to this day, as I was reminded Tuesday morning in, of all places, the train station in my leafy suburban paradise of Northbrook. I was waiting for the 7:54 and noticed a flier: “BakeSale” it read, ungrammatically. “Boy Scout Troop 32. Pies, cookies, and everything in between!”

My first impulse was the urge to grab a pen and scrawl “Hate group!” across the flier. But I didn’t. We’ve made some progress in 25,000 years, and the ability to sympathize with people despite their doing things you don’t like is an essential part of that progress. Though clinging to loathsome prejudice against gays, the Boy Scouts are about more than bigotry — camping in woods, tying knots and such. I thought of that, and held back.

Was restraint the proper response? Am I tolerating the intolerable? Social pressure is important to curtailing hate. People didn’t stop casually tossing off racial slurs because the light of sympathy suddenly dawned in their tiny coal hearts. Rather, their jokey slurs got stern looks. People cringed away.

Other times I do fire off a volley for tolerance. Before I left for the train, I logged onto Facebook to see what happened in the night. Messages, Scrabble moves and one guy who wanted to be friends. In the name of readership, I friend all on Facebook, but also check to see who they are. Sometimes they have interesting jobs that might lead to a column. In rare cases they’re nutjobs, zealots, white supremacists, so I yank back my friendship.

So I become friends with . . . let’s not embarrass him . . . this lawyer in Evanston. And I look at his page, and there’s a big square headlined, in yellow, “Mormonism’s Crazy Beliefs.” At first — like Anne Frank, I believe people are good at heart — I assume it’s going to list the ordinary Mormon beliefs, the good works they do, to shame those who would ridicule them. But no. It starts “Jesus Christ is Satan’s Brother” goes over the faith’s more obscure beliefs: Jesus had children, the Garden of Eden was in Missouri, the special underwear the sin of caffeine.

In reply, I wrote: “Of course you could make that chart about any religion. (‘It is a sin to eat cheeseburgers . . . ’) I try never to confuse the unfamiliar with the unacceptable. Is God living on a planet called ‘Kolob’ really any crazier than God living in a place called ‘Heaven’? Given all the truly offensive policies that Romney embraces, it seems strange to mention religion, the one realm where Romney is blameless.”

If modern society can trace itself to a single shift in thinking, it is the gradual decline of the certainty that whatever belief you hold also happens to be the only belief that can be decently held. Believing that is fine when society is a thousand people who all share the same faith. But once you expand to a globe, you either give up the dream of converting everybody, or commit yourself to endless conflict — or, what we see now is the third way: pretending difference is acceptable when, in our hearts, we think it’s “crazy.”

It’s shocking, disappointing, and a little disgusting to see that Democrats, who supposedly define themselves, in part, by their big tent liberalism, would turn around and sneer at Romney’s religion. I don’t hold many firm tenets, but a key one is Nietzsche’s “When fighting monsters, be sure that you do not become a monster.” We see how ugly it is when Republicans try to repress gays and control women and push Christian conservatism to the front of public policy. And then we turn around and mock Mormonism?

How could the same folks who came up with as outlandish a notion as the Garden of Eden muster enough hypocrisy to laugh at someone for putting their mythical garden in Jackson County, Missouri? Tell me I’m not the only person who sees that as funny and sad and deeply human. Most of the supposedly “crazy” notions of the Mormons are matters of tiny differences in phraseology. A Jew wears fringes under his clothing — tzitzit — that’s tradition it would be vile to question. But “magic underwear?” Hoo boy, have at it!

If Mormons believe Satan is Jesus’ brother, who do mainstream Christians believe he is? Yes, the Prince of Evil, etc. But where did Satan come from? Flip open a Bible and there he is among the “sons of God” (Job: 1.6). Which, if Jesus is also a son of God, would make him Jesus’ brother, or, perhaps, half-brother. Politics 2012: Mock others for what you don’t know your own faith believes.



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