Will Liberals Prove to Be the Real Anti-Mormons?

When the potential for anti-Mormonism harming Mitt Romney's candidacy is discussed, it's usually evangelical Christians we're talking about, since they have traditionally had the greatest antipathy toward Mormonism (some of them, at least). But what about liberals? Peter Beinart argues that by the time this election is over, they're going to evince more anti-Mormonism:

One reason Democrats may be more anti-Mormon than Republicans is that Democrats, on average, are more secular. Devout Protestants, Catholics, and Jews may be more tolerant of Mormonism because they understand from firsthand experience the comfort and strength that religious commitment brings. Many secular Democrats, by contrast, may start with the assumption that religious orthodoxy produces irrationality and intolerance.

I'm a little skeptical that devout believers of other religions are going to be more tolerant of Mormonism "because they understand from firsthand experience the comfort and strength that religious commitment brings." If that were the case, we would never have had any religious conflicts at all. As for secular Democrats turning against Mormonism because of "the assumption that religious orthodoxy produces irrationality and intolerance," well, sure. But secular people think most, if not all religions produce irrationality (usually) and intolerance (often). Mormonism is nothing special there. And those of us who don't believe in any gods long ago made peace with the fact that our only choices for president will be believers of one religion or another.

I'm sure that every once in a while during this campaign, a Democrat is going to say something mean about Mormonism in general or Mitt Romney's Mormonism in particular (it has already happened). And I wouldn't be surprised if over time more liberals begin to answer poll questions about Mormon candidates more negatively, and conservatives begin answering more positively. Because now, when respondents are asked, "Would you vote for a Mormon for president?", the first image that pops into their minds will be Mitt Romney. The answers they give may say as much about their feelings about him as about their feelings about his religion.

Beinart argues that individual Mormons should bear no more responsibility for their church's views on things like gay rights than individual Catholics should bear for the Vatican's views. Which is true enough, but Mormons are less familiar to Americans than adherents of other faiths. You probably know a dozen different kind of Catholics: some who long ago rejected the Vatican, some who go to mass but disagree with the church on lots of things, some who take the Pope's word on faith, etc. But since most of us don't know lots of kinds of Mormons, many will conclude that there must only be two types: those who are still tied to the church and are therefore supportive of all of its beliefs and activities, and those who have left it behind. If those were the only two choices, Mitt Romney would be the first kind. As one liberal Mormon described it in a Boston Globe article from last year, "Normally it's either all in or all out - that's both how Mormons view themselves, and that's how people view Mormons."

Mitt Romney is now basically the ambassador to America from the LDS church, for better or worse. But he's going to stay pretty quiet about the particulars of his beliefs and practices, which means that his candidacy won't tell people much about his faith. One big question is whether the feelings people project onto the religion from their feelings about Romney persist after this campaign.

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