Last Thursday in this space, CE published a reprint of an article by Terry Mattingly, "The Exaltation of Mitt Romney," a brief examination of some of the political implications for Romney of a few aspects of his Mormon religion.
Reader reaction to the article in our space was very engaged and intense. Some readers argued that his religion is a non-issue with regard to his fitness for the presidency. Others questioned whether we as Catholics might be benefitted more by attention to the genuineness — or lack thereof — of Catholic candidates instead of worrying about Romney's religious affiliation.
Mattingly's article drew attention especially to two things: the power and authority of the leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, called by adherents, "prophet, seer and revelator" and the Mormon doctrine of "exaltation," the belief that every Mormon male will someday be a god, creating and ruling over his own planet and populating it with his own children. The article pointed out that when a Mormon says he "is saved" by Jesus or that he can gain "eternal life," both real "salvation" and "eternal life" are defined by Mormons as "exaltation." The article did not mention the Mormon saying, "salvation without exaltation is damnation" meaning that if you ask a Mormon if non-Mormons can be saved, the Mormon will answer yes, however since only Mormon males can be exalted, the "salvation" available to non-Mormons is what they consider damnation for themselves. (But this isn't an eternal punishment like hell — that is reserved for Mormon "apostates".)
The point of all this is simply to demonstrate that there is not a single word of Christian terminology — including "God," "Jesus," "heaven," "salvation," "creation" — the definition of which is agreed upon by Mormons and Christians. Mormons are not Christians; their doctrine of the nature of God is polytheistic.
The reason some have raised the question of the authority of the Mormon leader is to challenge Romney regarding what he would do if the person he calls "prophet, seer and revelator" suddenly imposed upon all Mormons, and therefore upon him, a new practice that was at odds with American law as their former practice of polygamy was. Would he obey his leader or the law of the United States that he was sworn to uphold? While his answer to this might be interesting, it is a question that is odds-on merely theoretical given that the two most famous uses of the power of the "prophet, seer and revelator" have been to outlaw polygamy among Mormons and to declare the spiritual equality of Blacks with Whites — both of which brought Mormon society more in line with the prevailing American culture. The idea that the Mormon religious leader might suddenly, upon the election of a Mormon president of the United States, declare that Mormons must practice polygamy, or must use cocaine as a sacrament, or must drive on the left side of the road, or create any other such conflict with American law is too far-fetched to be seriously considered.
So, if that is not a worry, what possible difference do the other theological issues make in the man's qualification to be president? As one of our readers pointed out, he is not running to be the nation's pastor.
I think those who are shrugging off the Mormon distinctives may be missing something pertinent. But I also think that the issues mentioned above do not get to the heart of the problem with Mormonism and with the possibility of a Mormon president. (Note: In the discussion below, I will use dual terminology referring to Mormon "gods" because the beings they consider gods are gods in the same sense that we would call, say Thor, "a god" — they are not eternal, omniscient, omnipotent and possess none of the perfections of God and they are imaginary. I am also using "God" because it is important to understand that the Mormons make these claims about the God of the Bible.)
Take their polytheism for example: as oddly fascinating and even appalling a doctrine as it is, you have to get behind it to understand its implications. Behind it is something called "the eternal progression": the god who created this world — the God of the Bible, they claim — was once a man living on a planet created by his father god, who was once a man living on his planet created by his father god and so forth. Now there is a philosophical problem with this: there is no beginning point — it is an infinite regress. But there can not be such a thing, because if you have to go back an infinite number of times, you never get to a beginning and without a point at which to begin, you never get to now and today. That is an insurmountable philosophical (logical) problem.
But more pertinent to the political question is the moral problem it generates. According to Mormon doctrine, the way that each god gets to become a god is by following the "law of the gospel." To Mormons, law (not god, or God) is eternal and law is prior (although "prior" has no real meaning when one is talking about an infinite regress) to god (or to God). God has not created law, it is not "of Him" or "from Him," rather, "law" — impersonal and uncreated — has made the gods gods (made Him God).
This is not merely a radical departure from the Judeo-Christian concept of God, it is a radical deformation of the concept of law, both natural law and the positive (promulgated) laws that flow from it:
The natural law, the Creator's very good work, provides the solid foundation on which man can build the structure of moral rules to guide his choices. It also provides the indispensable moral foundation for building the human community. Finally, it provides the necessary basis for the civil law with which it is connected, whether by a reflection that draws conclusions from its principles, or by additions of a positive and juridical nature (CCC 1959).
Behind the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution stands precisely this Judeo-Christian concept of natural law as the participation of the human conscience in the eternal law of God. It is eternal because it "is the work of divine Wisdom" (CCC 1950), and has as its source an eternal Being, God. It is this concept of natural law from which positive law (ecclesiastical and civil) derives its just authority and its appeal to human reason. Furthermore it is exactly this concept of law that allows us to insist that no law can ever make abortion or euthanasia or embryonic stem cell research lawful. A law that purports to do so is not a law at all because it intrinsically contradicts the proper function of law, as St. Thomas explained:
A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. Insofar as it falls short of right reason it is said to be an unjust law, and thus has not so much the nature of law as of a kind of violence (STh I-II, 93, 3, ad 2).
Which brings us back around to the question of Romney, Mormonism, and the possibility of a Mormon being elected president. Romney's appeal to some Catholics and other Christians is certainly based on his pro-life position, whatever one thinks about its duration and sincerity. But what kind of case can he make to the nation for the cause of the murdered unborn? What kind of case can he even build in his own head? If "law" is prior to and above (ontologically superior to) even the gods (or God), then on what basis do we claim that law ought to serve the good of persons? If law is ultimately not the product of a Personal Being, how can human reason make judgments regarding law and how can the human conscience be bound by law? Doesn't it all come down to arbitrary decree? And isn't arbitrary decree (read: usurpation of legislative function by the Supreme Court) exactly why we are in this mess?
Considering that "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind" required reason to make its case against arbitrary decree at the founding our country, the possibility of electing to its highest executive office someone who must hold as a tenet of faith such a different, and unreasonable, conception of law gives me pause.