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September 30, 2012 6:15 PM Romney’s Peculiarly Mormon Elitism

By Simon van Zuylen-Wood

At first blush, it’s difficult to equate Mitt Romney’s faith with his recent comments that he’s powerless to convince America’s victim class—that 47% of the country he says are dependent on government entitlements—to vote for him. Isn’t Mormomism predicated upon the missionary effort to convert complete strangers (not to mention redistribution of wealth, through tithing)? Indeed, when the 47% video surfaced, many simply assumed the candidate was just pandering to the crowd of $50k/plate donors. The Real Romney was back somewhere in 2006.

But in his excellent piece on Romney’s work as Mormon stake leader in Massachusetts, New York’s Benjamin Wallace-Wells makes a convincing case that Romney’s faith and his elitism are in fact closely linked. Wallace-Wells reports that Romney’s missionary work in Lynn, Massachusetts, during which he oversaw a mostly failed attempt to convert a Cambodian community, never discouraged him. While others in his Church grew frustrated at their fruitless efforts, Romney seemed satisfied with their minimal progress, telling a colleague that “if you only get a handful of members, that’s still a good result.”

Romney’s missionary efforts were guided by the belief that if one was able to correctly follow Church guidelines, he would achieve salvation. If not, oh well. As Wallace-Wells put it: “What he offered was salvation via a rule book, a recipe for getting ahead in America that had less to offer the doubters, the uncommitted, the foreign.” Romney, perhaps swayed by the influence of party elites and his running mate Paul Ryan, has now lumped 47% of America into that same category.

In this way, Romney conceived of himself as a member of a series of overlapping elite clubs—Mormons, businessmen, suburban family men—who have played by the rules, and justly reaped the benefits. Quoting the Mormon scholar Claudia Bushman, Wallace-Wells writes that Romney seems to abide by the traditional Mormon perspective that he is something of a chosen one, inhabiting “an island of morality in a sea of moral decay.”

But the idea of elite membership—of exalted status—goes beyond this. Mormon faith holds that men don’t only wish to please God, they can eventually join him, be him. As Harold Bloom—that sometimes scholar of Mormonism—wrote last fall in the New York Times, “Mormons earn godhead though their own efforts…the Mormon patriarch, secure in his marriage and large family, is promised by his faith a final ascension to godhead, with a planet all his own separate from the earth and nation where he now dwells.”

This is not to say Romney thinks Mormonism represents the only path toward material success. Rather, Romney’s own Mormonism—and his success by it—simply reinforces the merits of the “No Apology” elitism he’s adopted on the campaign trail.

Simon van Zuylen-Wood is a writer for Philadelphia Magazine.

Comments

  • daveminnj on September 30, 2012 6:23 PM:

    what a creep.

  • Anonymous on September 30, 2012 6:29 PM:

    'donít only wish to please God, they can eventually join him, be him'

    I don't know about Christianity, but having been brought up outside the west, this does not sound crazy to me.

    Overall, this attempt to connect his elitism to his religion is quite a week tea.

    Perhaps he is just a born a$$hole of the first order, aided and abetted by his monetary success.

  • seniorcit on September 30, 2012 6:31 PM:

    Looks suspiciously like the Protestant doctrine of Predestination. Mormons are the "elect" and if you work hard and are successful then that's proof that you're one of the chosen.

  • c u n d gulag on September 30, 2012 6:36 PM:

    Simon, loved your work this weekend, thank you, and I don't mean to disparage you with this, because it has nothing to do with what you wrote, which is edifying, but rather what I think:
    Who the feck cares what he believes!

    His religion is no weirder than any others.

    Is Mormonism any stranger than people accepting wine and wafers as if they were the body and blood of their Saviour? WTF's up wid dat?

    Is Mormonism any stranger than believing that Mohammed was the one "True Prophet" in thousands of years of lesser and false ones - and that killing yourself in his name for his cause will net you 6 dozen virgins?
    Query: If you ain't fecked or been fecked before, how ya' gonna teach 'em, and if they've never been fecked or been fecked, whatcha gonna learn?

    Was George W. Bush, faithful Evangelical and Dominionist Christian, some sort of "Compassionate Conservative," or an American monster?

    Religion is the greatest evil on this planet. Sorry, relgious folks - but there have been more deaths attributed to religious strife than anything else. Nothing else even comes close.

    What I want to know, is, if religion truly is the opiate of the masses, how long before these uber-religous @$$holes overdose, and leave the rest of us the feck alone?
    It can't come too soon.

  • rip on September 30, 2012 7:06 PM:

    Have to agree with the other posters. There is nothing particularly Mormon about Romney's self congratulating spiritual elitism. Arrogant jerks from every religion cloak themselves in piety.

  • emjayay on September 30, 2012 7:07 PM:

    Mormonism is a lot wierder than the other ones.

    The other religions started in pre-scientific times by illiterate sheep herders or slaves or something living in mud huts with everyone else around worshipping a bunch of gods of different things. No one had the slightest clue about how anything at all in their bodies or world or whole universe actually worked. In a 20 or 25 centuries ago time so distant it's easy to think of it as something completely different from our world.

    Mormonism was started by a charasmatic nutjob and rather obvious charlaton and con artist in what is essentially our era in history. Our post Helenic, post Renaissance, post Enlightenment era.

    Ultimately to the duped, in practice I guess it's not that different at this point. It just takes a somewhat higher level of suspension of belief.

  • angler on September 30, 2012 7:17 PM:

    I'm channelling c u n d

    This is too clever by half. Romney is a rich twerp, need we know more?

    At best this is his weirdo take on Mormon philanthropy. Remember two Dems in the Senate are Mormons, Harry Reid and the Tom Udalls, NM Sen (Mark Udall, Sen Co is a presbyterian).

  • JSR on September 30, 2012 7:17 PM:

    There's more to it than this. Mitt Romney, by virtue of who his family is and his personal wealth has most certainly had his "Calling and Election Made Sure" via a special ceremony in the temple called the "Second Anointing." It is a ceremony very few know about but is done for all elite Mormons. Once you've had this ritual performed, you have been named as one who will become a God, do not pass go, do not collect $200. No behavior from that day forward will endanger your very elect status. You will be a god. The only exception to this is to become an apostate. Here's more information: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=703yOcfvD3s

  • Anonymous on September 30, 2012 7:35 PM:

    'donít only wish to please God, they can eventually join him, be him'

    I don't know about Christianity, but having been brought up outside the west, this does not sound crazy to me.

    Traditional Christian theology is that those who go to Heaven join God there. One of my high school religion teachers taught us to think of it as a social experience, where you meet and interact with everyone else. Yet no Christian theology would hold that the saved can become gods themselves.

  • Lolis on September 30, 2012 7:46 PM:

    I think Mormonism is different than other religions. My parents were two hard-core Mormon missionaries, married in the temple, etc. They left the church together in their twenties and on my dad's side were treated like social pariahs. My grandfather would send Mormons to speak with us every month and they would provide the Mormon church with all of our updated contact information whenever anything changed. The Mormon Church actively monitors its members and ex-members.

    I have only been in the church one time and the man up front said, "We must never question our church leaders." It was not about the word of God or even the Book of Mormon. And remember church leaders change their minds about a whole bunch of stuff based on their political needs. Mormons are taught it is bad to question the church power structure at all.

    Romney has always been a part of the power structure that changes things (like Blacks becoming members, polygamy) and then wants everyone to wipe those memories from their consciousness. I have been to very conservative evangelical churches but Mormonism is different. I think the way the Mormon elite operate has taught Romney a lot.

  • dax on September 30, 2012 8:32 PM:

    As a former LDS, and having attended a bevy of churches since, I can absolutely say that the LDS is "different".

    Having been attending an Episcopal Church for the last 8 years, the differences are hardly subtle. Everything we do is in the open, including our finances which members get a copy of regularly which shows what came in and from (generally) where and where it's going or needs to go. No secrecy.

    All of the sacraments are public. When a member leaves, we are sad for that, but that member leaves freely and there just isn't the stubborn condemnation found in LDS attached to that leaving.

    We don't baptize the dead of other religions. People are NOT told what to believe, but are encouraged to form their own opinions. We don't ask people to leave their brain at the door.

    Women are equal to men in every respect and can assume any position in the church; equality is a real and meaningful thing.

    Finally, all those in clergy are professionally trained having gone through an academic seminary. Instead of expecting lay persons to know how to counsel, these professionals are trained.

    Aside the LDS characteristics folks find curious--perhaps garments being chief among them--it is difficult for those who have not been a part of LDS to understand the belief as a whole JUST LIKE it is difficult for LDS members to understand how different their beliefs and culture is given their religious isolation.

    One very stark difference is the lack of crosses in the LDS churches compared to "other" Christian ideologies. You won't find crosses in the LDS churches which surely gives pause to those who enter.

    This does not make LDS members bad people. It DOES, however, make them who they are.

  • Fess on September 30, 2012 9:29 PM:

    As long as we're at it, let's talk about the role of a Mormon woman. Mormon women are expected to be perfect. Literally. Perfect means subservience to all Mormon men - "keep sweet." Perfect means waiting for a returning missionary and marrying young, say 18-22. Some young women do missions, but it isn't expected the way it is for the boys. Perfect is a marriage in the temple, which means your tithe is paid up (really) and you don't question any part of church doctrine or masturbate (again, a big deal, although more for boys than for girls, because, you know, girls wouldn't do such a thing). Perfect means producing a bunch of kids regardless of your finances - said returning missionary is probably still going to college while the first two or three kids are being born. Perfect is having well behaved children who exhibit the correct amount of piety at church - where they go frequently. Perfect is accepting the "callings" of the church, which generally means teaching Sunday School equivalents, although high school age kids go every school day morning at the crack of dawn. Callings usually require lots of time during the week as well as Sunday. Such callings can pretty much soak up any "leftover" time a young mother may have. She's also expected to make the income stretch to keep the kids fed and clothed, although a job for her is discouraged. Getting welfare or food stamps is OK, because the gov't is fair game. A perfect Mormon woman doesn't make waves, she never questions Church authority, and she accepts responsibility for everything related to her household, including a strained marriage. Failure at any aspect of this life endangers her future entry to heaven - there are 3 levels of heaven - but only perfect women get to join their husbands in the best one where he becomes a god. If she fails in any respect, she will never see her family in the afterlife. Mormon women suffer from an unusually high rate of depression.

  • DJ on September 30, 2012 10:37 PM:

    I posted at 7:35.

    All this being said, I can't help recalling the South Park episode "All About Mormons:"

    Gary: [to Stan] Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, but I have a great life. and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that. The truth is, I don't care if Joseph Smith made it all up, because what the church teaches now is loving your family, being nice and helping people. And even though people in this town might think that's stupid, I still choose to believe in it. All I ever did was try to be your friend, Stan, but you're so high and mighty you couldn't look past my religion and just be my friend back. You've got a lot of growing up to do, buddy.

  • Jim, Foolish Literalist on September 30, 2012 11:23 PM:

    Put me down with those who say the 47% comments say more about Romney than about Mormonism. People who want to see themselves as the elect, as better than those around them, will find justifications in any religion or quasi-religion (objectivism, for example) that suits them.

    One correction I would make to your post is that Willard didn't say he couldn't persuade the 47% to vote for him, he said he could never persuade them to accept responsibility for their own lives. It's a far different, far nastier statement, and far more revealing about the man who sees himself as an island of morality in a sea of moral decay. Willard is not in his current incarnation a missionary, seeking to convert people to save them; he is a judge, it is his right and his duty to assess people's worth, and condemn those he finds wanting. Don't let him off easy.

  • DJ on October 01, 2012 3:11 AM:

    Jim is correct; the post is sloppily written by saying that Romney cannot convince the 47% to vote for him. Had Romney, in fact, said this, I think he'd be in a bit less trouble for the comment.

  • paul on October 01, 2012 8:39 AM:

    There are plenty of authoritarian/elitist philosophies for a privileged rich guy to choose from, but mormonism is way up there. I think, though, that it may be the authoritarian parts that have been most crucial in shaping Romney's style: when a large part of your time is spent interacting with people who believe that G*d Himself has told them to do what you say, it's easy to have that polite but firm manner that says "Do it my way or go to hell."

    Romney's problem is that out in the larger world he doesn't have a huge community of people ready to shun everyone who doesn't do his bidding -- or perhaps that the people who aren't already doing his bidding don't care so much about being shunned by the ones who do.

  • rfb99 on October 01, 2012 8:47 AM:

    In short wealth is associated with virtue. That is, if you are virtuous then you achieve wealth therefore if you are wealthy you must be virtuous. The converse is that the poor are either wicked or have some other failing. Presumably no Mormon could ever take a vow of poverty like some other Christian sects. Are these uniquely American ideals contrary to traditional Christian belief where it is the poor who inherit the earth?

  • Simon van Zuylen-Wood on October 01, 2012 8:58 AM:

    DJ, Jim: "There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims...my job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

  • emjayay on October 01, 2012 12:09 PM:

    Great discussion on Mormonism and Romney, people.

    So what we have is a huge cult. Almost its own country within a larger real country, the US. Sort of combines certain elements of totalitarian socialism and certrain elements of capitalism. It keeps itself and its members isolated in many ways, perhaps the most obvious outward sign being not letting the non-elect to even enter its top places of worship, unlike all the other religions.

    Republicans tout Romey's compassion for individuals in trouble and his contributions to charity. The individuals were Mormons. The charities? The required tithe to the Mormon church, and a bunch more to his own foundation, which I understand mostly gives money to Mormon causes. Notice a pattern here?

    It's interesting to me that Mormons like the Udalls and Harry Reid seem like decent caring people whose caring is for their whole country and its people, not just Mormons or those they see as agreeing with Mormon agendas. How does that happen?

  • David Martin on October 01, 2012 11:31 PM:

    Dax noted the lack of crosses in LDS churches and other facilities. Odd as it may seem today, back in the early 1800s, Protestants in the US usually didn't have crosses in their churches or around their necks. The Latin cross was seen as being like the crucifix, a symbol of the much-feared Roman Catholic Church. As Catholics proliferated, despite persecution and church-burning, Protestants began introducing crosses, candles, and even started calling the communion table an "altar." So in this instance, the Mormons may be more traditionally Protestant than most of the Protestants.

    I'm a United Methodist, accustomed to crosses and candles, and to the notion of "public worship" in which communion is open to all. There's no notion that the denomination has any special claim to represent the Almighty on earth. It's all quite similar to the Episcopalians.

  • gina on October 02, 2012 10:22 PM:

    The Mormon Faith which Gov. Romney is wrapped up so tightly, is based on a Lies, Deception, Polygamy and a self serving Prophet named Joseph Smith. The Peculiar Mormon Religion raises their insular flock of believers to be clones of all things Mormon. The LDS Church asks their members who believe in this nonsense to tithe 10 percent of their earnings to the Bank of LDS. Romney's Mormonism is deeply rooted in the FALSE gospel of Joseph Smith's bizarre beliefs and lies that could be be a serious problem if Romney ever became President -- Romney needs to share his Mormon testimony about the Book of Mormon, God, Jesus, John the Baptist and an angel named Moroni all paying numerous visits to a uneducated treasure digging farm boy from Upstate New York who founded this FALSE Religion. Romney should also share the revelation that the convicted Fraud Joseph Smith received directly from God demanding he begin the practice of Polygamy and former Bishop Romney should explain how Brigham Young, the second Mormon Prophet was able to father 57 children with 16 different women and was married to 55 wives --- zero credibility.

  • greenfairy on October 05, 2012 6:55 PM:

    While it is not official church doctrine, Mormons grow up hearing the "White Horse Prophecy," which predicts that one day the U.S. Constitution will "hang like a thread" and will only be saved "by the efforts of the White Horse" (i.e., the LDS church).

    ďI believe in my heart that Mitt is going to save America.Ē --Ann Romney

    There ya go. We need saving and Mittens is gonna do it.