The Thinking 

The Basis of Romney’s Superficiality

November 27, 2012


THE DAY before the election, I wrote:

Romney’s Mormonism, in my opinion, is an aspect of his shallowness and also of his loyalty to his family.

On Sunday, Lawrence Auster explained this more fully:

Mormonism consists, at its core, of many ridiculous assertions that no rational person could possibly believe. How, then, does Mormonism attract and keep so many adherents? Because the core of the religion is not this folderol about a family of sixth century B.C. Jews sailing from Mesopotamia to North America or Joseph Smith discovering a 2,000 year old platinum scripture written by an angel buried behind his farm in upstate New York, but the patriarchal way of life it teaches. This is deeply appealing to people, and it works for them. That’s why they are Mormons. At the same time, in order to be Mormons, they have to turn off their rational faculty when it comes to questions of truth. They disregard questions of truth, and focus on the pragmatic, ethical aspects of Mormonism.

This describes Romney perfectly. As a Mormon, he has turned off his faculty of the rational search for truth, but at the same time he follows the healthy and solid Mormon maxims on how to live a good life. As a result, he is a man devoid of principles, even while his personal character is exemplary.

—- Comments —–

Zach Cochran writes:

It’s a logical fallacy to say that something that sounds far-fetched is not true. I grant that Joseph Smith’s claims are extravagant. That does not make them false.

If I may be so bold, Mormons are, on average, better educated than Evangelicals and Catholics. Lawrence Auster’s comments are not just wrong, they’re stupid. He’s convinced by the popular picture of Mitt Romney, which has nothing to do with the actual Mitt Romney.

I suggest he go meet a Mormon. I would be glad to host him and have him explain to me how I’ve turned off my “faculty of the rational search for truth.” I would challenge him to say directly to me that my faith in Jesus Christ is shallow. Latter-day Saint theology is the highest evolution of Christian thought and the clearest revelation of God’s purpose in history. Ridiculous? So is the idea of turning water to wine, or smiting the rock to quench Israelite thirst, or birds bringing a prophet food. Isn’t it just a little ridiculous to think that it’s impossible that Joseph Smith experienced a theophany, especially in view of the Bible’s frequent miracles? Say he was a charlatan, or say he was mistaken, but don’t tell me that the idea of revelation from heaven is ridiculous, or that if it takes a form that seems ridiculous to the “rational” mind that it’s necessarily false.

Hey, we also live longer than Evangelicals and Catholics, divorce less frequently, have more children, and know the Bible better (according to Pew Research). Maybe there’s something to this whole Latter-day Saint thing that a man like Lawrence Auster can’t comprehend. It’s not exactly Jim Jones and the People’s Temple here. And you know what? Even if we died young and weren’t generally so successful, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would still be God’s kingdom on Earth, and I’d still be a Mormon.

I get that there are theological differences. I get exhausted dealing with people so dismissive and, frankly, insulting regarding my faith. I love Catholics. If the LDS church wasn’t an option, that’s where I’d land with my beliefs, because most of the protestant denominations seem to lack depth in their teachings, and they certainly lack a proper concept of priesthood and authority.

All that aside, the Internet makes saying stupid things easy. If Mr. Auster had to look me in the eye and defend his opinion of my faith, I think he’d at least have better manners.

I like your blog, and I’m not really looking to change minds here. I’m just asking for a more collegial conversation between denominations.

Laura writes:

You write:

“It’s a logical fallacy to say that something that sounds far-fetched is not true. I grant that Joseph Smith’s claims are extravagant. That does not make them false.”

You are confirming the impression of Mormons as shallow. It is not a matter of Mormonism sounding far-fetched, but of it actually being far-fetched. And it’s not just a question of revelation, but of Mormonism’s historical and archaeological claims to truth. The Book of Mormon is held to be the true history of North America from 600 B.C. to 421 A.D., which was supposedly  inhabited by Jews who came from Palestine. The story of the golden plates dug up by Joseph Smith in nineteenth century New York — plates guarded by a white salamander — does not just involve revelation but alleged historical events, for which there is scant evidence. Mormon theology includes the beliefs that Jesus was a polygamist and that there is more than one god.

Mr. Auster was blunt but not rude whereas you suggest that you would assault someone who challenged your beliefs in person. He made commonsense, reasonable objections to Mormonism and also positive comments, acknowledging the sound ethics of Mormons. Many Mormons are decent and good people, but to the extent that they believe in Mormon history and eschatology they are lacking in understanding and reason.

Mormonism purports to be the one true church and holds the Catholic Church to be an abomination. You may love Catholics, just as I may like individual Mormons very much, but you couldn’t possibly love Catholicism and be intellectually coherent.

I’m sure we can agree on other subjects.

Paul writes:

It is contradictory to propose that someone has exemplary character yet is devoid of principles. An exemplary character means a person has a lot of good morals. Morals require principles.

Romney can’t be morally shallow because he has such an exemplary character, which means he has a lot of good morals. And being moral requires deep beliefs.

I agree he is politically shallow. Perhaps that is the sense you and Mr. Auster are talking about. But it follows from my propositions that this cannot be tied to his Mormonism with a substantial degree of probability.

There are simpler reasons for his shallowness. Romney is highly ambitious, which causes many people to compromise their principles to attain their goal. His goal of course is some good thing such as securing the future and the comfort of his family and the families of others. He achieved this through monetary security, which is a good goal. He emphasized money, that is, the economy, ad nauseam. His Republican supporters said the bad economy was what the election was mainly about, and therefore, he compromised his other principles by not talking much about them.

Laura writes:

Mr. Auster did not say Romney is devoid of ethical sense or principles. Quite the opposite. He said he is intellectually shallow. People can have basic moral principles without having developed a full rationale or philosophical explanation for them. Without reasonable answers to the questions of  existence, a man can only think so deeply. When a Mormon exerts himself philosophically he pretty soon runs up against some major contradictions. “Being moral” to the degree that Romney is moral does not require comprehensive explanations or the ability to think deeply but confronting liberalism does.

As for your point that Romney is shallow because he is ambitious, that is not my impression. Actually, he seems to have some guilt about his ambition, judging from his failure to counter Obama’s Marxist rhetoric, and he also seems to desire to do good.

Pan Dora writes:

I regretfully note that both LA and many of his readers are engaged in the ridiculous activity of obsessing over what Mitt Romney is doing these days. Mitt gave it a shot, he lost, and appears to be attempting to move on with his life. What do these people want him to do?

Laura writes:


A few comments on what Romney has done since the election, amidst many more comments on a wide range of issues, hardly amounts to obsession.  And it’s not a question of wanting him to do anything, but of understanding the failure of the opposition to Obama.

Terry Morris writes:

In fairness to Mr. Cochran, I don’t think he was suggesting that he would physically assault someone for challenging his beliefs in person (he isn’t a Muslim, after all). He was merely making an observation about the tendency of people to be more direct and blunt in criticising others through social media like the Internet than they generally tend to be in face-to-face encounters. And my experience (and I could recount for you literally hundreds of first-hand experiences in this regard) is that he is right nine times out of ten. It is the reason that I personally will not discuss a serious disagreement with someone else over the telephone beyond a certain point, but rather insist that we discuss the issue face-to-face. Usually (not always, but in the great majority of cases in any event) this results in a lot more respectful approach and tone from BOTH individuals, and as a result, fewer bad feelings between them.

But if it’s any consolation to Mr. Cochran and your other Mormon readers, we had this discussion about Mr. Romney’s faith back in 2008, and I was personally very critical of it, saying that in my opinion Romney’s faith (the aspects of it Mr. Auster discusses in this entry) disqualifies him for the presidency, and Mr. Auster called my statements “bigoted.” On the other hand, I acknowledge, as does Mr. Auster, that there are many things about Mormonism that are appealing to me. I’ve known a few Mormons, some more intimately than others, and I generally like them very much. I think personally I would like Mr. Romney very much. And I still owe a great debt of gratitude to a female friend of the family who is a Mormon, who has been instrumental in helping us to prepare (as much as one can prepare for such an event) for one aspect of the impending economic collapse, and the chaos that will follow. Mormons also tend to be a lot more knowledgeable about food storage and food preparation than we Protestants tend to be, to add to Mr. Cochran’s list of criticisms of Protestantism; a list, by the way, that I can hardly disagree with.

Laura writes:

You are probably right. I may have misinterpreted Mr. Cochran’s point about speaking face to face.

Also, I agree that Mormons have a grasp of some important truths about reality, and that accounts for the flourishing of Mormon communities and the decency of the people you describe.

Mr. Auster writes:

Why does Romney never say anything in public about his religion, other than the fact that he personally is committed to it? Because he knows that the historical assertions on which Mormonism is based are so ludicrous that anyone who publicly embraced them would instantly discredit himself.

Mr. Auster adds:

Your commenter “Pan Dora” writes:

I regretfully note that both LA and many of his readers are engaged in the ridiculous activity of obsessing over what Mitt Romney is doing these days. Mitt gave it a shot, he lost, and appears to be attempting to move on with his life. What do these people want him to do?

The commenter believes that—the country having just spent a year and half immersed in a presidential contest which most conservatives expected Obama to lose, but which he won, leading to a historical transformation of America—we are not supposed to spend even a moment thinking about what qualities in Romney led to his disastrous loss, but should instantly (to use the classic nihilist expression) “move on,” just as Romney is evidently doing. This is the deliberate rejection of thought–which is exactly what I said was the reason Romney lost. The deliberately thoughtless ones not only don’t want to think; they don’t want to think about how their refusal to think has led to their defeat and the takeover of America by the left.

"What, me worry? Sure, I've just handed America over to the left by my refusal to attack the left as the left, but it's time to move on."


Mr. Auster continues:

When I say that Romney refuses to think, I mean that he refuses to think about what is true and false, about what is right and wrong. In keeping with his Mormon pragmatic superficiality (of which his career as a management consultant was the perfect expression), he only thinks about how to solve practical problems. So his campaign was 100 percent, “The economy is not working, I will fix it,” and zero percent, “Obama is doing terrible things to America, we must stop him.”

Romney in his personal behavior is an upright man, because that is the external code of behavior his religion teaches. But why uprightness is better than corruption, why good is better than bad, why truth is better than lies, such issues are alien and incomprehensible to him. What’s why he could not expose the left’s wicked agenda; that’s why he could not address the American people in a way that would touch them where they live.

Meanwhile, Obama and the Democrats did have a moral argument that touched people where they live: “Those evil white Republicans are going to take away your free contraceptives and all your other unearned goodies and kill your grandmother!”

Fred Owens writes:

I have not studied Mormonism and I have no Mormon friends. I have greeted Mormon missionaries cordially when they walk the streets, but I have never discussed their faith with them. I have questioned my own attitude about this because I have been curious about all faiths — Hindu, Buddhist, Native American, pagan, Protestant, Jewish, Moslem — while remaining true to my own Catholicism.

Perhaps I have some aversion to Mormonism, which I do not express outwardly, so I think it doesn’t matter.

Nevertheless, I was hoping for a “Mormon moment” from Mitt Romney during his campaign. I was open to hearing a message from him — not some tell-all confession, but something meaningful about his faith, his own life, and how it would effect his term as President. He never gave that speech, and I think that hurt his chances, because I frankly needed some convincing.

William T. writes:

Laura repeats the claim that the golden plates Joseph Smith supposedly found were “guarded by a white salamander.” You should know that Joseph Smith never claimed any such thing. The ‘white salamander’ story comes from a document forged by Mark Hofmann, who is currently serving a life sentence for this and other forgeries of historical documents, and for two murders he committed to cover said forgeries up.

I know this is off the topic of the main post, so I don’t expect you to publish it as a comment. I just wanted to let you know so that you can avoid repeating this lie in the future. Joseph Smith’s actual claims are quite far-fetched enough that you should have no problem making your case without having to dust off Mr. Hofmann’s old hoax.

Mr. Auster writes:

Your commenter Paul writes:

It is contradictory to propose that someone has exemplary character yet is devoid of principles. An exemplary character means a person has a lot of good morals. Morals require principles.

I disagree. Many liberals personally have good character (for example, being faithful to their spouses) while being devoid of normative and traditional moral principles. This seeming contradiction is built into the very nature of liberal relativism, a position which is summed up in the statement: “I have moral values; I just don’t believe in imposing my moral beliefs on others.”

Meaning that there are no objective moral values that are true and right in themselves. The person behaves decently, but only because behaving decently is his personal preference. He has no ability to think about and to judge human behavior and political behavior in general, because he rejects the very idea of objective moral truth.

Romney also rejects, or at least is insensible to, objective moral truth. That’s why he never reacted to the many outrageous things Obama and the left did, e.g., the contraceptive mandate, Obama’s campaign of smears against him, John Roberts’s re-writing of the Constitution to give Congress unlimited power over individuals. These types of things never came within Romney’s ken, because the only “truth” he recognizes is pragmatic and operational truth, such as what measures will increase jobs, such as what gestures he needed to make to persuade women that he was not “anti-woman.”

Mr. Auster continues:

Here’s an example of how people can follow solid maxims in their personal lives yet be devoid of objective moral principles. My parents were married for 47 years when my father died in 1984. For either of them, with their Jewish, family-oriented upbringing, the thought of infidelity would have been as foreign as being a bank robber. And my father was a famously handsome and charming man; women, especially younger women, adored him.

Yet my mother’s own views on such things—formed of a lifetime of reading the New York Times (her god) and several decades of attending evening adult classes in sociology and history taught by leftist professors at the New School in New York City—were liberal and relativistic. For example, she automatically excused any filth or transgressive nihilism in art or movies with the comment, “Well, they’re just reflecting what life is.” Also, she automatically excused marital infidelity by celebrities. Once in the nineties we were watching the excellent made-for-TV movie about Frank Sinatra produced by his daughter Nancy. The movie made it plain that when Sinatra started playing around with women after he went to Hollywood and as a result destroyed his first marriage, he never found happiness again. But my mother excused Sinatra’s behavior. He was a big star, and beautiful women were available to him, so naturally he was unfaithful. It never occurred to my mother that her own handsome husband also would have had opportunities for infidelity. Nor did she reflect on what the consequences would have been for her and for our family had my father behaved like Frank Sinatra. She made no connection between the ethos that guided her and my father, which they both took for granted, and any objective principles that ought to guide people in general. In other words, in the classic liberal fashion, she had moral beliefs, but she didn’t think she should impose her beliefs on others.

Laura writes:


That lack of objective principles was characteristic of the “Greatest Generation,” which is why we are where we are today.

Mr. Auster writes:

A VFR reader had a different explanation for the emptiness of Romney and other Republicans, namely that liberalism has progressively ruled out any non-liberal principles as morally unacceptable. I replied to him:

LA replies:

Of course, Republicans as such are empty men. The emptiness seems to be built into their nature as Republicans. I have said so a thousand times. You give a good explanation for that generic emptiness, and there are others we could discuss as well. However, Romney (as universally recognized) is exceptionally empty and lacking in principles. And I think his exceptional emptiness is explained by his Mormonism.

Jeff W. writes:

There is more to America than just its shrinking economy. In my mind there is a sharp distinction between business organizations, which are organized to make profits, and community organizations, whose purpose it is to take care of the young, the old, the sick, and the poor. In my definition, community organizations include families, charities and religious organizations, as well as government’s welfare state.

The U.S. economy is in the dumper, and Romney was right to use that as an issue. But the health of community organizations is equally important, and that is an issue that Romney ignored. Families are in crisis. Romney promised them 12 million new jobs, but $9/hour jobs, which are the type of jobs Romney created at Staples, do not support families. At best a worker can succeed in supporting himself with a $9/hour job; he cannot support dependents. The welfare state is also going bankrupt, but for millions of Americans it is their sole means of support. How would Romney address these problems?

Ironically it is the Mormons themselves who demonstrate what can be done. They provide welfare services to church members efficiently and inexpensively. The Mormons’ welfare operation is in no danger of going bankrupt. Indeed I have heard that some of the church-owned farms actually make money as they go about the business of providing employment and food for needy Mormons.

Perhaps when the welfare state actually does go bankrupt, and millions of Americans are suddenly cut off from their government checks, Republicans will finally address the problem of welfare state reform. Until they do so, they cannot be regarded as serious thinkers or candidates.

Sibyl writes:

An interesting discussion. Romney has always struck me as extremely superficial, but I had attributed it to his being a politician. It seems to me that you simply cannot, in the age of illusion, get a healthy shot at the presidency without being more or less made of plastic. In fact, wouldn’t you say that the current process of running for federal office has become little more than a beauty contest? Obama projected a powerful image, and the only reason he won was that his image was a better product than Romney’s, but not for lack of Romney trying like the dickens to be whatever people seemed to want him to be. People (at least a majority) didn’t vote on the issues, they voted on the image. This is the only reason I can fathom for the astonishing numbers of socially conservative Latinos voting for him.

As for Mormonism, I must agree that historically it has little basis in fact, but that the few Mormons I have known have been highly commendable people. However it strikes me as false that they would on average be better educated than Catholics or other groups. Could we have some documentation, please, from a non-Mormon source?

Laura writes:

Image is especially important when candidates hold similar views; less so when they are as far apart as Romney and Obama. If Obama had announced opposition to homosexual “marriage” and to amnesty for immigrants, if he had said he wanted to see affirmative action end and to cut federal entitlements, it wouldn’t have mattered what his demeanor or appearance were. He would have lost.

Terry Morris writes:

Sibyl wrote: “This is the only reason I can fathom for the astonishing number of socially conservative Latinos voting for him [Hussein O.].”

Sighs. Sibyl, Sibyl, Sibyl – when are Republicans going to learn that they will NEVER, EVER, E-V-E-R garner a larger percentage of the ‘socially conservative’ Latino vote UNTIL they become more unAmerican and anti-American than the Democrats? In other words, Sibyl, it has always been a pure waste of effort and resources, and a net-loss of votes to the hispandering Republicans, for them to court the Hispanic vote. And it always will be! Not that it matters much anymore. Ask yourself this question: Why didn’t Obama and the Democrats try to sift off voters in Oklahoma? Ans: Because it would have been a waste of time, effort, and resources – time, effort, and resources better spent elsewhere – to have done so. It was as predictable that Oklahoma would vote heavily in favor of Romney as it was written in stone that Hispanics would vote proportionally in favor of Hussein Obama. We’re not talking about a demographic that has ever tipped in favor of the conservative/Republican presidential candidate dating back to Reagan, for goodness’ sake.

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