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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Earnest People of Faith

by Sharon

Deseret Morning News journalist Jerry Johnston recently devoted his column to supporting LDS presidential hopeful Mitt Romney with "Be willing to vote for a believer." The gist of the article was a challenge to those of the "Religious Right" who have concerns about voting for a Mormon. In the form of an open letter, Mr. Johnston wrote about some of the ways religions differ from one another and urged people of faith -- whatever that faith may be -- to stick together. He wrote,
Today, good people of every stripe must link arms. We can no longer afford to judge the value of each other's beliefs; we must look to the value of each other's hearts. More than ever, true believers must believe in each other.

In the end, it comes down to trust. If you can't trust the tenets of Mr. Romney's faith, at least trust the honesty and authenticity with which he holds them. He may not be able to embrace your beliefs, any more than you can embrace his. But he can -- and I think he does -- believe in your basic goodness and purity of your motives. I suspect he knows that religious faith never stands as a contradiction to the notions of the world; it is, by nature, more real than the world. Let the world have its irony. Others must be willing to vote for an earnest person of faith -- even if that faith is not their own.

I have no reason to question Mitt Romney's sincerity, honesty and authenticity; if his name is on the next presidential ballot you can be sure my vote will be cast after thorough due diligence, not decided solely by his church affiliation. But here I would like to move beyond the question of Mitt Romney and look in a more general sense at Mr. Johnston's comments. I'm really bothered by his suggestion that faith and sincerity are the important things -- that the content of any particular faith needn't enter into the question.

These days, people in America have largely bought into the idea that to disagree or reject someone's view is to disrespect the person who holds that view. We have lost the ability to separate the idea from the person promoting that idea. Because of our confused notions, we have been bullied to silence by the cry of "intolerance!"

As I see it, all people are equally valid, regardless of the views they hold. We should treat each other with respect and courtesy, giving opportunity for the expression of all manner of ideas and views. Tolerance requires us to be civil toward others, even when we disagree with them.

But not all ideas are equally valid. Greg Koukl, president of Stand to Reason, says the classical view of "tolerance" is this: Be egalitarian regarding persons. Be elitist regarding ideas. I've discussed the idea of equal value of all persons above. Greg Koukl said of the value of ideas:
"When you are elitist regarding ideas, you acknowledge that some ideas are better than others. And they are. Some are good; some are bad. Some are true; some are false. Some are brilliant, others are foolish, and many are dangerous." (Solid Ground, January/February 2006, 2)

Ideas -- beliefs -- have consequences. We might even say that the more sincere, honest and authentic a person is in holding to his beliefs, the more diligent we ought to be in understanding what those beliefs are. Wisdom calls for understanding how someone's beliefs might affect us, or, in the case of a president, what consequences they might have for our nation or even the entire world.

There's a long history of cases in point we can look at. Consider Hitler, Stalin and Mao, whose sincerely held beliefs led millions of people away from God and into lives (and deaths) marked and marred by evil. Mr. Johnston says, "We can no longer afford to judge the value of each other's beliefs, we must look to the value of each other's hearts." Since we are unable to accurately judge another's heart (God alone knows the hearts of men -- 1 Kings 8:39), we must judge the values of beliefs and ideas.

On September 11, 1857, armed Mormon men (with the assistance of some Native Americans) slaughtered at least 120 unarmed non-Mormon men, women and children, as the pioneers' wagon train passed through Utah Territory. This dreadful event has come to be known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre. People today disagree on some of the specifics that led to the massacre, but everybody agrees that it was religiously motivated. Whether Brigham Young ordered the attack or not, the men who carried out the murders held sincere and honest, authentic beliefs that drove them to commit this crime. Perhaps, if we could see their hearts, we would see that their motives were good and pure. Perhaps they believed they were serving God and His kingdom. They may have had the same earnest mindset as the religiously motivated men who attacked America on another September 11th.

Are we to look at these things and think, "While I can't embrace the beliefs that these men held, they were obviously true believers, so I believe in them"?

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that faith is a bad thing or that religion generally leads people to commit deplorable actions. Many of the truly good things in our world have been implemented by people of faith, people acting on their religious convictions. What I am saying is that "sincere faith," in and of itself, is not necessarily a virtue.

Mr. Johnston's idea that we need to be willing to vote for an earnest person of faith regardless of what that faith entails, in my opinion, falls into one of the categories Greg Koukl mentioned: this idea is dangerous indeed.

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