Two worthwhile books with "heretics" or "heresy" in the title hit the bookstores last month. Both are worth contemplating in connection with yesterday's New York Times profile of Mitt Romney's Mormon beliefs.
On April 17, Times columnist Ross Douthat came out with Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. He charts the religious movement of America from the 1950s to the present, and then takes on heresies like "Pray and Grow Rich" and "The God Within."
One week later, Canadian columnist Michael Coren's Heresy: Ten Lies They Spread About Christianity came out. It knocks down claims that Christianity is racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-intellectual, anti-Semitic, war-mongering, progress-resistant, and generally gnarly.
Heresies to the left of us, heresies to the right of us: They all volley and thunder. Some evangelicals say they won't vote for Romney because he espouses Mormonism, which could well be viewed as a Christian heresy. They worry that a President Romney would increase the prestige and influence of the Latter-day Saints, especially abroad. That's a legitimate concern.
On the other hand, Barack Obama appears to syncretize three beliefs that could also be called Christian heresies. His Rev. Jeremiah Wright-influenced liberation theology is an extension of the theological liberalism that J. Gresham Machen eviscerated in his 1924 classic, Christianity and Liberalism. His Harvard Law School politics are based in radical secularism. And, without bowing to the claims that Obama is a Muslim, elements of Islam's communalism mixed with authoritarianism are also evident.
So, evangelical voters do not have a choice between a heretic and someone whose views most Christians can look at with comfort. Heresies surround us, and no candidate is pure. In such a case, it probably makes sense to put aside heresy-seeking and look more at the trustworthiness of the candidates and the policies each advocates.
One way to determine whether the nation should trust a person is to see whether his spouse can. In this regard, both Obama and Romney have high grades-no episodes of adultery. A lot of evangelicals scathingly say that Obama ran as a person who could bring Americans together yet has been radically divisive once in office-but anyone who listened closely to Obama's talk in 2008 could see that he'd be the most leftist president in U.S. history.
So it comes down to policies, where Romney provides a clear alternative to Obama on the economy, the federal deficit, social issues, foreign policy, and the makeup of the Supreme Court. One other question concerns the treatment of religious minorities-and Christianity is now a minority religion in the United States. In that respect, here's the most interesting sentence in yesterday's New York Times profile:
"While voters tend to see Mr. Romney as immensely fortunate, those close to him say that he never forgets he is a member of an oft-derided religious minority."