Let’s start with the answer: no. He’s a very smart, accomplished guy who might or might not make a good President. Smarts and accomplishments for sure, but not terribly inspiring in his public persona, and it can be pretty hard to tell where he stands much, if not most, of the time. He will probably be the Republican nominee, and we’ll learn more.
When I started writing this blog, I swore that I would never discuss religion because I want to share insights without offending. The not-so-good Reverend Jeffers has moved me off the dime. (I also swore I wouldn’t take a public political position, but that may change, too. I have discussed sex, but only in the context of being felt up at airports.)
So here goes the religious discussion:
Mormonism strikes me, and most people I know who aren’t Mormons, as pretty silly. Its greatest miracle is that the golden plates from which Joseph Smith supposedly received his revelation disappeared before anyone other than one carefully selected accomplice could see them. It doesn’t help that Smith was a convicted con man. His particular swindle was divining, which he did by putting three stones into an opaque hat, sticking his head in, and claiming that the stones glowed and told him where the water was. He received the Book of Mormon by sticking the same stones and the same head into the same hat.
This isn’t to say that Mormons are silly. To the contrary, the ones I’ve known have been unfailingly, almost frighteningly nice and have been guided by a strict moral code. Many have been great leaders and business people.
The reality is that the only reason Mormonism strikes we non-Mormons as silly is that it’s founding events occurred recently enough for us to have sufficient perspective on them to encourage doubt. The same can’t be said for any of the other great religions, the foundings of which are separated from us by the Dark Ages and more.
And this gets us (well, me) to the problem with religion. Religion would be great if it weren’t for the part that involves belief. More specifically, the problem is exclusivity of belief – the conviction that since my belief is right, yours must be wrong.
My daughter recently did a paper on the sources of mass injustice. In our discussion about it, what emerged was the notion that mass injustice occurs as the result of a dominant ideology that holds non-adherents to be less worthy than adherents, which makes them marginally less than human, which makes it OK to denigrate, abuse and even slaughter them. Sadly, religion, which has the potential to do so much good, takes many people down this path (cf. “Jeffers”).
Belief is certainty in things not seen. This isn’t easy, so every religion has stories of people seeing and believing (cf. “Doubting Thomas”). But there’s a problem. In the cold light of day, there is absolutely no basis for believing the mythology of one religion and denying the mythology of the others. How can you say that Jesus was resurrected and is seated at the right hand of the Father, and simultaneously deny that Mohammed made it from Mecca to Jerusalem overnight (unless he, too, was felt up at an airport) and ascended to heaven from the Temple Mount? They all have the same factual basis, which is thin at best.
These are the mythologies of religion, and are best separated from the moral codes and imperatives, which are remarkably similar across all of the major faith traditions. All of the great religions teach some form of the Golden Rule – compassion, generosity, caring for others.
They also teach humility. The core of humility is the deep, profound, fully internalized knowledge that you might be wrong. The antithesis of humility is pride, which is clearly proscribed by Christian and other scripture. It would be nice if devout adherents to religious creed would find it in themselves to remember that they believe but do not know, which makes them just as befuddled as everyone else.
Despite the impression I may have created, I envy people of great faith. They find in it a comfort and source of guidance that I don’t have. The best among them are both humble and generous in spirit. My friend Bill T is a shining example. He is a devout Christian. His faith motivates him to do a tremendous amount of good in the world, more than I’ll ever accomplish. He holds his faith dear, but would never tell anyone who disagrees with him that they are wrong. I see this in his relationship with my daughter, to whom he is a mentor. She has chosen to embrace the Jewish part of her heritage. He sees her for who she is, genuinely loves her for who she is, privately hopes that she might migrate to his view of the world, and still has the humility to keep that hope to himself. He will not impose, and he encourages her to find her way in the world.
This is religion well embraced. The Reverend Jeffers’ of the world would do well to take note and to emulate.
Having said the above, I may as well state my own creed. I don’t pretend to know if there is a god who made me. If there is, he made me to be a person who isn’t able to know if he exists. I’m OK with that uncertainty. What I do know is that if there is a god, he made sure that pretty much everyone got the message about caring, compassion and generosity, so that’s what I figure he cares about. And that’s how I try to live my life. I fail, completely and utterly, but I try, and I hope that my trying is enough.
Wrapping up. . .the Dr. Jeffers thing reminds me of an old joke. A cardinal rushes into the Pope’s chambers and exclaims breathlessly, “I have wonderful news and really bad news!” The Pope asks for the good news, and the cardinal says, “Jesus is on the phone. He wants to talk to you!” The Pope exclaims, “That’s incredibly good news! What bad news could there possibly be?” To which the cardinal replies, “He’s calling from Salt Lake City.”
We like jokes because they hold little bits of truth.