I have been close to Mormons ever since my days at Oxford, when Michael Taft
Benson became a member and then an elected officer of our L’Chaim Society at the
University. Benson’s grandfather, Ezra Taft Benson, was the prophet of the
Mormon Church at the time. Thus began a lifelong friendship that continues till
today, with many visits to lecture for Mike at Southern Utah University and
other mostly Mormon academies of higher learning in the majority Mormon
I have thus watched with mild amusement as the debate surrounding
the beliefs of Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman have gained steam. Aren’t the
Mormons weird fanatics? Should we trust people with such strange beliefs with
This is an interesting question coming from my evangelical brothers
and sisters whose belief that a man, born of a virgin, was the son of God, only
to die on a cross, and then be resurrected. With all due respect, that’s not
exactly the most rational belief, either.
The criticisms are equally
interesting coming from Orthodox Jews, like myself, who believe that the Red Sea
split, a donkey talked to Balaam, and the sun stood still for Joshua.
it is equally strange coming from evolutionists like Richard Dawkins who have
said, without a single shred of evidence, that life on our planet may have been
seeded by space aliens. Even those evolutionists who reject Dawkins’ faith in
extraterrestrial life have a belief system of their own; namely, that
intelligent life somehow evolved capriciously and accidentally from inorganic
matter, even though the possibility of complex organisms evolving without
guidance is mathematically nearly impossible.
Julian Huxley, who stemmed
from the world’s most famous family of evolutionary proponents, described the
probability of the evolution of a horse thus: “A proportion of favorable
mutations of one-ina- thousand does not sound much, but is probably generous...
and a total of a million mutational steps sounds a great deal, but is probably
an understatement....With this proportion, we should clearly have to breed a
million strains (a thousand squared) to get one containing two favorable
mutations, and so on, up to a thousand to the millionth power to get one
containing a million.... No one would bet on anything so improbable
happening...and yet it has happened!”
Yes, even men of science can
believe things that can be construed as highly irrational.
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believe that Joseph Smith found ancient tablets written in reformed Egyptian in
upstate New York, that Jesus Christ appeared to the people of South America as
recorded in the book of Mormon, or that when a Mormon dies he becomes a god and
gets his own planet? No. Respectfully, I do not. Nor should it matter. It is
what a person does, rather than what they believe, that counts. It took four
years for the Dalai Lama to be identified as the reincarnation of his
predecessor in a process that to Western eyes can appear highly arbitrary. Yet,
the Dalai Lama remains one of the most respected men alive because of his
commitment to world peace and good works.
Misguided attacks on groups
like the Mormons stem from a willful desire on the part of many to fraudulently
identify people with a different faith system as fanatics. Therefore, a brief
discussion of religious fundamentalism is in order.
The most confusing
story of the Bible involves God’s commandment to Abraham to sacrifice his son
Isaac. What was the God who would later declare that all human, and especially
child sacrifice, to be an abomination, thinking?
The most insightful commentary
I have seen on this story comes from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem
Schneerson, who said that the key to the story is to see Isaac not as an
individual but as a religion. Who was Isaac? He was Judaism. He was the
person who would continue Abraham’s belief system. With his death, everything
that Abraham had taught in terms of his rejection of paganism and the belief in
one God would be lost.
The test, therefore, was this: would Abraham
follow God’s commandment to kill off his religion or would he put his religion
before God’s will? What really mattered to Abraham? God, or Judaism? And if they
were to be put in conflict, what would he choose? The religious fanatic is the
man or woman who has ceased to serve God and instead worships his or her
religion, turning their faith into yet another false idol. Religion is solely
the means by which by which we come to have a relationship with our
Creator. But when it becomes a substitute for God it becomes soulless and
fanatical, seeing as there is no loving deity to temper it.
In this light
we can understand why an Islamic fundamentalist is so deadly, prepared even to
go against God’s express commandment not to murder. He is prepared to kill not
in order to strike a blow for the glory of God, but of Islam.
concern need not be with a person’s faith in public office. It does not matter
if they are Jewish, evangelical, Mormon, or Muslim. What does matter is whether
their faith is focused on relating to God and, by extension, caring for God’s
children. Do they see the purpose of their high station being to promote their
It is easy to identify the difference. People who are in a
relationship with God are humble and do their utmost to refrain from judging
others. Their proximity to a Perfect Being reminds them of their own
fallibility, and their experience of God’s compassion leads them to be merciful
In contrast, those who worship a religion are arrogant and
think they have the only truth. They are dismissive of other people’s beliefs
and maintain that advancing the cause of their religion is more important than
life itself. The Israeli rabbi who recently made the strange comment that
soldiers should choose a firing squad rather than listen to a woman sing is a
classic example of this heresy.
Those who worship religion evince the
classic characteristic of cult members. Whereas a real faith system is
empowering and makes one strong and capable of operating outside their own faith
community, cult members can only identify with other members of their group and
require the environment of the cult in order to function. They don’t have
beliefs. Rather, they take orders.
I see none of these characteristics in
Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman – who graciously hosted me along with my guest Elie
Wiesel at the governor’s mansion in Utah a few years back – or any of my
countless other Mormon friends. All should be judged on their merits as people
and politicians, whatever their faith and whatever their beliefs.The
writer has just published of
Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself,
(Wiley), and will shortly publish
Kosher Jesus. Follow him on his website
www.shmuley.com and on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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