UFOs, yes. Magical Underwear? Eh.
At least two former U.S. presidents and one current congressman have seen UFOs. Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former President Jimmy Carter saw one UFO apiece. Never to be outdone, Republican patriarch Ronald Reagan saw no fewer than two UFOs in his lifetime.
Carter’s encounter was even widely publicized before the 1976 election, to which voters responded: Put him in the Oval Office!
But the electorate does draw a line somewhere.
And for now it’s still somewhere short of magical underwear, mystical Golden Tablets, and a ban on alcohol (where would we be without “beer summits,” after all?). Fewer than half of all Americans say they “feel comfortable” with the Mormon religion, according to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.
It’s one reason why many Americans remain uncomfortable with Mitt Romney, and why the former governor of Massachusetts has for the first time fallen behind GOP rival Rick Santorum in national polling.
As member to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Romney accepts not only the more unbelievable claims of Judaism and Christianity and Islam (explained below), but he also believes in the following ridiculous, racist, sexist, and preposterous beliefs laid out by founder Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon:
1. Europeans didn’t discover the New World. It was the Jews, dummy. Back in Bible times, two tribes sailed to America. No lie.
2. Then the two Jews started fighting. One tribe was murdered by the other, which was then punished by God, who turned their skin brown. That’s how the Native Americans came into existence. Duh. (No wonder the LDS church didn’t allow Blacks into the priesthood until 1978.)
3. Later on, during that stint after Jesus’s crucifixion/resurrection but before his ascension into heaven, the Son of God visited America. (Busy schedule, he has.)
4. Eighteen-hundred years later, a B-rate magician and con artist by the name of Joseph Smith was told by the angel Moroni where to find a set of golden tablets in upstate New York. Joe looked, but he did not find. But on his fourth annual visit to the hill in Palmyra, the angel finally showed him the goods. With the aid of a magical “seer rock” that he peered into, Joseph translated the ancient script. (As the inept Elder Cunningham says in the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon: “Wow! So the Bible is actually a trilogy, and the Book of Mormon is Return of the Jedi?! I’m interested.”)
5. Over the next few years, Joe entered into plural marriages with about 30 women, seven of whom were under the age of 18, according to Wikipedia. (A role model for Hugh Hefner, maybe. But for Romney?)
6. Joe wanted to be known as the Prophet Muhammad of North America, reportedly saying: “I will be to this generation a second Mohammed, whose motto in treating for peace was ‘the Alcoran [Koran] or the Sword.’ So shall it eventually be with us—‘Joseph Smith or the Sword!’” He was obviously acquainted with Islam, and he decided his religion should also prohibit alcohol and gambling.
7. Along many of the doctrines that Joe introduced was Baptism for the Dead, which Romney has openly said that he has practiced. The ceremony consists of a living person (like Mitt) being baptized in place of a dead person (the lineup of dead spirits baptized as Mormons . . . wait for it . . . Adolf Hitler and Ann Frank).
8. Let’s not forget the magical underwear that Mormons wear so that Heavenly Father can recognize his people. (God’s got bad eyes, I guess.)
These are just a few tidbits. And to each his own, right? If I want to believe in Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks, why can’t the next guy believe in Mitt Romney and Mormonism? But here’s the thing: The President of the United States of America represents more than just his own. He represents, well, you.
To be sure, Americans have always feared “the other” Think of John F. Kennedy’s Catholic problem in 1960, Jimmy Carter’s Evangelical problem in 1976, and vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman’s Jewish problem in 2000. Liebermann, in a recent editorial defending Romney, wrote: “My experience in 2000 gives me great confidence that the American people will again reject any sectarian religious tests for office and show their strong character, instinctive fairness and steadfast belief in our Constitution. That truly is the American way.”
Vice President Joseph Biden has also defended Romney’s faith, saying it is “outrageous” for anyone to suggest he should not be president because of his religion: “I find it preposterous that in 2011 we’re debating whether or not a man is qualified or worthy of your vote based on whether or not his religion . . . is a disqualifying provision,” he said. “It is not. It is embarrassing and we should be ashamed, anyone who thinks that way.”
I agree with Biden that Mitt’s religion does not disqualify him from being president. Article VI of the Constitution clearly states: “[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
But Lieberman and Biden are disregarding that modern-day Judaism and Christianity are more cultural than religious, while Mitt Romney believes in some super-wacky things based on what Joseph Smith supposedly read on a pair of golden plates that he found buried on a hill in his backyard in 1823. There is something unsettling here to many people. This is a relatively new religion established after the printing press and just a few years before the camera. It’s on the record. Its less-palatable parts can’t be dismissed as cultural idiosyncrasies from two millennia ago. Mitt’s great-great grandpa Parley Pratt was actually buds with Joe Smith.
Not that the American electorate hasn’t in the past supported people who believe in crazy things. Indeed, as Christopher Hitchens put it, all of our Catholic or Protestant presidents have believed in “miraculous births from virgins, talking snakes, walking cadavers, and other things that feel distinctly weird and cultish to me.”
Fortunately for Reagan, his UFO sightings were unknown until after 1980, when he defeated fellow UFO-spotter Carter in the presidential election. Otherwise the results might have been different, says the actress Lucille Ball, who was with Reagan during his UFO sighting: “After he was elected President, I kept thinking about that event, and wondered if he still would have won if he told everyone that he saw a flying saucer.”
The original version of this article stated that Mormons believe Jesus visited America between his crucifixion and resurrection. The article has been updated to reflect that, according to Third Nephi in the Book of Mormon, Jesus’s visit to America occurred after his crucifixion/resurrection but before his ascension.