Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Mitt Romney and Shatnez

I was just listening to Mitt Romney speaking on NPR (they interviewed him for tonight’s All Things Considered) and he said that he believed that the Bible was the word of God and that his goal was to obey all the commandments. [Why this is relevant to the presidential election is a whole other issue, but let’s take his statements at face value, because the NPR questioner was following up on a question in the most recent Republican debate where the candidates were asked their views on the Bible]. All I could think was – all the commandments? The prohibition of wearing garments made of linen and wool together? The laws of kashrut, including the prohibition of eating pork or shellfish? The commandment to let your fields lie fallow every seven years? The observance of the Sabbath, including the prohibition on kindling fire on the Sabbath? Paying your hired laborer every evening after his or her work is done? Circumcising all your male children on the eighth day after birth?

Somehow, I doubt that he really intended all of these commandments when he said that his goal was to obey them all. I suspect he doesn’t even know about the law of shatnez, and doesn’t particularly worry about whether he eats pork rinds. As a Jew, it drives me crazy when Christians (and in this case he qualifies as a Mormon) say that they believe the entire Bible is the word of God and must be obeyed, since they so definitely don’t obey all of the laws of the Hebrew Bible. Why not just say that? It’s actually part of basic Christian doctrine from the New Testament onward that the ritual commandments don’t apply to Christians. This is what Paul was so exercised about in Galatians. In order for Gentiles to become Christians they did not need to become circumcised or to keep kosher – what they needed was faith in Christ.

And why did he say this in the first place? Especially since he is a Mormon and has other holy scriptures that he follows – the Book of Mormon, another book called the Pearl of Great Price, and perhaps others that I don’t know about. I’ve been reading recently that Mormon doctrine holds that the Bible actually has errors in it – which would mean that in fact he wouldn’t believe that the entire Bible is the word of God. Humans introduced errors into it. Why doesn’t he say that?

I know, it’s obvious why he doesn’t say these things – he’s pandering to the religious right base of the Republican Party. And it’s that religious right that makes it necessary for the presidential candidates to engage in these stupid discussions about what they think about the Bible. I don’t care what they think about the Bible. I care about the policies they would put into practice – what do they think about health care? Iraq? Global warming? Poverty? The rebuilding of New Orleans? The Middle East peace process? Women’s rights? Yes, real issues that are the president’s business.

When the NPR questioner got down to the nitty gritty and asked Romney whether he thought the world was created in six days as it says in Genesis, he backed up and said that with all of the serious problems facing the U.S. and the world, there really wasn’t any point in discussing what portions of the Bible were from God and what they meant. He implied that it was the NPR questioner who had suddenly thought up this question to trip him up – when actually it’s his own party that has gotten itself so entangled in religion that such questions even come up in a presidential debate.

I’m looking forward to hearing what Romney will have to say on the question of faith on Thursday night when he gives his big speech – JFK redux. Except, of course, that he won’t be able to say all the great things that Kennedy said about the separation of church and state, because if he does, he will have lost the religious right of his party, which is necessary for his nomination. Nor will he be able to speak honestly about his own Mormonism, for the same reason, since he needs to blur the differences between Mormonism and evangelical Christianity in order to have any chance of getting a significant percentage of the evangelical vote.

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