Harold Bloom: Will This Election Be the Mormon Breakthrough?
Harold Bloom is a professor of English at Yale, who is at work on a play, “To You Whoever You Are: A Pageant Celebrating Walt Whitman.”
THIS fall, we behold omens that will darken a year hence in the final phase of President Obama’s campaign for a second term. His likely opponent, the Mormon Mitt Romney, will be a pioneer figure whatever the outcome, since no previous member of that very American church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has ever secured a major-party nomination. Even should Mr. Obama triumph, a crucial precedent will have been established.
Mr. Romney, earnest and staid, who is deep within the labyrinthine Mormon hierarchy, is directly descended from an early follower of the founding prophet Joseph Smith, whose highly original revelation was as much a departure from historical Christianity as Islam was and is. But then, so in fact are most manifestations of what is now called religion in the United States, including the Southern Baptist Convention, the Assemblies of God Pentecostalists and even our mainline Protestant denominations.
However, should Mr. Romney be elected president, Smith’s dream of a Mormon Kingdom of God in America would not be fulfilled, since the 21st-century Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has little resemblance to its 19th-century precursor. The current head of the Mormon Church, Thomas S. Monson, known to his followers as “prophet, seer and revelator,” is indistinguishable from the secular plutocratic oligarchs who exercise power in our supposed democracy.
The Salt Lake City empire of corporate greed has little enough in common with the visions of Joseph Smith. The oligarchs of Salt Lake City, who sponsor Mr. Romney, betray what ought to have been their own religious heritage. Though I read Christopher Hitchens with pleasure, his characterization of Joseph Smith as “a fraud and conjuror” is inadequate. A superb trickster and protean personality, Smith was a religious genius, uniquely able to craft a story capable of turning a self-invented faith into a people now as numerous as the Jews, in America and abroad. According to the church, about six million American citizens are Mormons, and there are more than eight million converts in Asia, Africa and elsewhere....
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