Among the things we're learning about the New Romney, concerned for the downtrodden and bristling with authenticity, is that he'll be talking more about his religion. I think this is a fine thing for him to do — in fact, I want to hear from other candidates about the subject, too. Not only that, they should get more specific about their beliefs and practices than candidates normally do. I'll explain why in a moment, but here's a piece of an article the other day in the Post:
If he runs again in 2016, Romney is determined to rebrand himself as authentic, warts and all, and central to that mission is making public what for so long he kept private. He rarely discussed his religious beliefs and practices in his failed 2008 and 2012 races, often confronting suspicion and bigotry with silence as his political consultants urged him to play down his Mormonism.
Now, Romney speaks openly about his service as a lay pastor in the Mormon Church, recites Scripture to audiences, muses about salvation and the prophet, urges students to marry young and "have a quiver full of kids," and even cracks jokes about Joseph Smith's polygamy.
This is a good start, but he should go even farther. The reason I think it's important for candidates to talk about their religion is that they say it's so important to them. Ask any one of them, and they'll tell you that faith is their guiding light, the bedrock of their lives, the foundation of everything they know and imagine. If that's really the case, then we sure ought to understand exactly what it is they believe.
Of course we don't want presidential campaigns to turn into theological debates. But we should understand all the ideas that they claim guide them, whether they come from the New Testament or The Wealth of Nations or The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. If, for instance, you sincerely think that only people who believe in your god are saved while every other human who has ever lived or will ever live is doomed to an eternity of well-deserved suffering and pain, then that's something voters should know, because it could well affect the decisions you make as president. And saying, "Well, that's above my pay grade, ha ha" when you get asked about that particular belief is a cop-out.
And whether he likes it or not, Mitt Romney has a particular obligation to talk about his religion, because most Americans know very little about Mormonism. If another candidate says he's a believing Catholic, most non-Catholics have a basic understanding of what that entails — going to mass, accepting the divinely authorized authority of the Pope, giving up something for Lent, and so on. But only a tiny number of non-Mormons actually know what it means to be a Mormon. This isn't about finding details in the religion that sound exotic or silly and making fun of them, it's about knowing what actually motivates Romney. He's a hugely influential figure in the LDS church, and Mormonism has defined his life. While there was some good reporting on the topic in 2012 (see here, for instance), it's important for voters to understand how he thinks about the relationship of his religious beliefs to his earthly endeavors.
And not just him, but all the candidates. There isn't a candidate running this year who doesn't portray himself or herself as a person of deep, abiding religious faith. Yet most of the time when candidates for national office talk about their religion, it's a feel-good version designed to alienate as few people as possible — a few inspiring lines from scripture, the idea that everything has a purpose, some ideas that no one of any religion or none would disagree with (care for others, work hard, have hope). They tell us, "This is one of the most important things about me," then all but refuse to detail anything useful about it.
One day, we'll have a president (or even a contending presidential candidate) who says that religion isn't particularly important to their daily lives and their understanding of the world. Until that day, however, we ought to know everything we can about candidates' religious beliefs, whatever they are.