An interesting column appeared in a small New York paper last week, one that did not garner any national attention as far as I can tell. The column, published in the Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer under the headline “Mitt Romney’s Mormonism: Irrationality Can and Will Be Held Against You,” probably did not reach more than a few thousand souls. However, it represents an attempt at disqualifying Mormons from public office that is just articulate enough, and just brazen enough, to engender echoes from others if not rebutted.
Here’s the thesis:
If a person has irrational beliefs, then he is less likely than others to make reliable judgments. This is because irrational beliefs tend to weaken one’s judgments about rights and liberties . . . . If a person is less likely to make reliable judgments, then he is less likely to make good decisions, and this is not what we want in a leader.
Notice the support the author offers for this thesis. A person with irrational beliefs has bad judgment; this is because . . . “irrational beliefs tend to weaken one’s judgments.” We are letting this fellow off easy to note simply that his logical framework is based on a tautology and nothing more. What’s more important, though, is why he thinks he can make such a proof based on logic at all, rather than on actual evidence. Imagine, for example, if a social scientist set out to confirm this hypothesis. He might construct ways to sort out good judgments from bad, and then determine whether those with irrational beliefs tend to make more bad than good judgments, or at least more bad ones than their harder-headed pragmatist friends. Is there anyone in the world that believes, as a matter of empirical reality, that the sample of Mormons would score any worse on the scale of good basic judgment than any other group, including PhD-holding, feet-on-the-ground bespectacled atheists?
As a matter of actual fact, there is absolutely no reason to believe that Mormons are inferior to any other group of people in terms of basic reasoning and judgment. Indeed, given that Mormons are demonstrably more likely than almost all other groups to avoid a whole host of ills in life, are disproportionately successful in many fields of endeavor, and have been shown to be the only religious group in which educational attainment and devoutness are directly correlated (i.e., the more education you get, the more religious you are), one might make the opposite conclusion. But the evidence seems to matter little, given the tidy bow of logic that seems to wrap up the argument from irrationality.
But let us assume that Mormons truly do lack judgment in life due to their irrational beliefs. Is that grounds for imputing the weaknesses of the group to the individual? If most Mormons simply lack basic reasoning skills, must that include Mitt Romney? Well, the man’s bio is an open book. Why not choose a few examples of decisions he has made that exhibit this famous irrationality? If anything, Romney takes heat for being too focused, machine-like, and driven in his ambition to accomplish positive results. He is the exact opposite of a crazy ideologue being driven through real life by notions of crazy theology.
But the facts mean little when you can point to a few Mormon doctrines that look a little goofy. And this author does, raising the same canards Mormons have been hearing and rebutting for years. Jesus is Satan’s brother? The actual blood of Mormon converts is replaced and purified? Note that the source for these chestnuts is a noted Mormon critic, not an especially worthy source for describing the kernel of Mormon beliefs. (And of course the comparison of Mormons to the Ku Klux Klan is always a great launching pad for reasoned debate).
To say that Mormon beliefs sound strange to secularist outsiders is nothing new. But that’s about the only ground that need be conceded. Indeed, the very contention that these beliefs are irrational lacks support. Of course these are beliefs without evidence in the standard sense. And yet those who dismiss religion always fail to note that religious people usually cite actual experience as the basis for their beliefs. Given that there is no physical evidence of the nature of God’s body, for example, it cannot be contrary to the evidence to believe he has a body. And if one’s personal experience leads one to believe that a certain source has authority to state truth (as Mormons believe their prophets have), it is not a horrible strategy to believe such sources over the pure speculation of other parties.
More simply, what is the rational belief about the nature of God? If one has collected subjective evidence in one’s life to believe that God exists, is there a list of “rational” beliefs about God’s nature that one ought to accept? It is no less rational to believe that God has a body than to believe that he does not. And if both ideas are equally irrational, then the vast majority of Americans hold irrational beliefs, and thus deserve a leader with equally bad judgment. Or were you hoping that they would elect an atheist to lead them, recognizing the rule that all atheists have better judgment and life skills than all Christians?
To take this author’s arguments seriously leads one down a long road filled with absurdities. He has constructed a world where good judgment is possessed by an infinitesimal fraction of humanity, those few thousand souls in the world who truly hold no beliefs except those that can be verified and replicated in the laboratory. What a strange proposal, to say that America should be led only by a handful of people that look not at all like 99 percent of Americans.
Better to seek leaders that have demonstrated good judgment in their lives, rather than in their selection of one of many “irrational” theologies. It’s fun to speculate that Mitt Romney must be a bad decision-maker because of some strange beliefs. It is more honorable, and far more accurate, to reason that a man’s judgment can be best evaluated by viewing his actual decisions. On that count, it’s hard to come by a better specimen than Mitt Romney.