“Brainwashing” is a word that recurs in the public discussion of Mormons and their beliefs, and critics such as Tricia Erickson are confident that Romney fils has had more than a light rinse. “It is my opinion that an indoctrinated Mormon should never be elected as president of the United States of America,” she told CNN. “Indoctrinated temple Mormons, as Romney is, have experienced years of brainwashing and indoctrination, and also have made covenants and oaths that they plainly cannot disobey.” She quotes approvingly from the late Ed Decker, another ex-Mormon who once filled the same market niche. Among other things, Mr. Decker accused Mormons of employing the ritualized sexual abuse of children to ensure conformity: “These acts are designed to subjugate the children involved and brainwash them into a satanic mindset,” he wrote in My Kingdom Come: The Mormon Quest for Godhood. In that book, he cites the 1990 “Pace memo,” in which Glenn L. Pace, a high-ranking officer of the Church, related to his colleagues that some 60 people had made allegations of bizarre, occult-oriented sexual abuse against figures in the Church. Mr. Decker neglected to cite the follow-up investigation by Utah’s attorney general, which found that there was no evidence at all for the claims and that their details were, as one investigator put it, “absurd,” of a piece with the other fantastical allegations of satanic sexual abuse associated with the “recovered memory” therapy that was au courant at the time. No word from the authorities on how far the Mormons have advanced in their plans to establish a diabolical monarchy with its capital in Independence, Mo. (pop. 116,830), but perhaps that is because, as Ms. Erickson worries, Mormons have infiltrated the FBI and CIA in “disproportionate” numbers.
In a telephone conversation, Ms. Erickson does not evince more than a superficial knowledge of Mormon thinking — she is very hung up on that personalized-planet business that so fascinates Trey Parker and Matt Stone, a belief that is more or less folklore. “Never mind Mormonism,” she says. “Take that out of it. If somebody told you there was this great guy, who was smart and had great experience and had made a bunch of money, and that he was going to be president of the United States — and, oh, by the way, he also believes that when he dies he is going to become the god of his own planet: Would you vote for him?” Mormons take theosis further — a good deal further — than do many other Christians, but the idea that man partakes of the Divine nature because God partook of the human nature is hardly unknown in Christian thought. It is what Gerard Manley Hopkins was referring to when he wrote, “I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am.” The idea of men becoming gods would not have been alien to Thomas Aquinas, who wrote, “The only begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.” A half a dozen patristic sources communicate similar sentiments. There is some debate among orthodox Christians about how to treat those statements — as rhetoric? metaphor? literal statement of fact? There’s a great deal of debate about those sentiments among Mormons, too.
But you aren’t going to hear Ms. Erickson holding forth on theosis as interpreted by Saint Irenaeus vs. the spin Clement of Alexandria or Brigham Young gave the subject. Her sole qualification on the subject of Mormons is that she was raised one, and that her first marriage took place in a Mormon temple. She is the Mormon equivalent of a familiar Catholic type, the disillusioned ex-believer who thinks that having a last name ending in a vowel makes one a Vatican scholar, the my-Irish-grandmother school of theology.
But the tendency she represents has real power in it. “In the 2008 election,” she says, “it scared me to death, knowing what I know and knowing that it wasn’t going to come out. I kept waiting on somebody to come out with the truth, and nobody did. It’s not a Kennedy/Catholic situation. Mitt’s goals go far beyond this life and this earth.” And the goal to which Mitt Romney is sworn, along with Harry Reid, Orrin Hatch, and a baker’s dozen other members of Congress, is, she is convinced, “the overthrow of the U.S. government, using the political machinery of the Mormon Church to bring the U.S. government under the rule of the priesthood of the Mormon Church.” And here you thought Harry Reid and Mitt Romney couldn’t see eye to eye on the big issues.
Richard Bushman, a scholar of Mormon history and himself a Mormon, coolly dismantled Ms. Erickson’s declaration that Mormonism is prima facie disqualifying: “The question is Mitt Romney’s independence,” he wrote in response to her CNN appearance. “Will he pursue the public good as he rationally understands it, or will he bow to the judgment of Church leaders? Does his religion force him to be a puppet? Here we can turn to history for an answer. Temple-attending, believing Mormons have held national office for over a century now. Is there a single instance where they have succumbed to Church direction against their own consciences? I do not know of one myself.”
Anti-Mormonism within the Christian Right is a problem for Romney in the primaries; the anti-Mormonism of the secular Left will be a bigger one in the general election. Gallup finds Democrats 50 percent more hostile to Mormons than Republicans, and the Democrats’ choir of hate — Larry O’Donnell, Bill Maher, etc. — already is rehearsing its anti-Mormon litany, while Jacob Weisberg, writing in Slate, argued that Romney’s religion should be disqualifying in and of itself. Harold Bloom, writing in the New York Times, denounced “the Salt Lake City empire of corporate greed,” and fretted that Romney resides “deep within the labyrinthine Mormon hierarchy.” He echoes Ms. Erickson’s concern about the number of Mormons in the FBI and CIA.
Mormons bring out the crazy on both sides of the aisle.