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My Take: How Romney could transcend Mormonism with civil religion
Mitt Romney in Illinois, which holds its primary on Tuesday.
March 20th, 2012
08:13 AM ET

My Take: How Romney could transcend Mormonism with civil religion

Editor's Note: Dan Birdsong is a political science lecturer at the University of Dayton, teaching courses on the presidency, campaigns and elections and media.

By Dan Birdsong, Special to CNN

(CNN) – There has been a deliberate and concerted effort on the part of the Mitt Romney campaign, even before it officially began, to divert attention from the presidential candidate’s Mormonism by attempting to connect with primary voters by talking about a shared civil religion. But to be effective Romney must take this strategy much further.

What’s civil religion? It’s patriotism’s kissing cousin. It’s a kind of deeper version of nationalistic pride. It is an effort to link patriotism to morality and virtue. Think the phrase “God and country,” or the solemn reverence so many Americans have for our nation’s founding documents.

Romney puts himself at a disadvantage to his rivals and past presidents because he cannot, or is unwilling to, seamlessly link his faith to his patriotism.

Such a strategy would enhance what media types call his “personal narrative” and would go a long way toward forging a strong emotional connection with voters. Here’s how he can do it:

1. Talk about a sacred Constitution

Consider this: For some, the Bill of Rights is seen as analogous to the Ten Commandments. And even though the Bill of Rights is a human creation - and thus imperfect - many see the Constitution as sacred, beyond reproach.

Recently in Arizona, Romney used this sentiment on the campaign trail, saying the nation’s founding documents “were either inspired by God or they were written by brilliant people or perhaps a combination of both. …”

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

Here we see Romney attempting to preach a version of American exceptionalism that many believe, but it comes off as soft, and fits into the troubled “Which Mitt?” brand.

A year ago, before Romney officially announced his candidacy, he said President Obama didn’t “understand what it is that makes this nation so successful, so powerful, so good.”

These rhetorical choices go beyond normal patriotic rhetoric and reveal Romney’s belief in America as good and the Constitution as sacred. They have the flavor of civil religion, but Romney remains too vague and needs to be more declarative.

2. Present himself as America’s patriarch

In the current campaign, Romney sings a song of American greatness.

After his win in New Hampshire, Romney tried to culturally connect with voters by defining his campaign as “... saving the soul of America.”

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“We want to restore America to the founding principles that made this country great,” Romney said. “This election, let’s fight for the America we love. We believe in America.”

Romney’s words paint the election as a moral imperative and a redemptive narrative.  By giving America human qualities, Romney makes himself the patriarch who can lead America back to a redemptive path.

Yet his rhetoric rings hollow because he does not define those founding principles, nor does he share a personal anecdote to connect to voters. You preach to the choir to get them to sing, but Romney needs to preach to the unconvinced.

3. Use civil religion to compensate for his Mormonism.

The former Massachusetts governor must convince the GOP primary voters that he is enough like them to rally the suburban warriors to join his campaign, and he must quell the quiet queries about his religion.

You see, Romney is facing a political reality: people don’t know much about Mormons. And as Ishmael reminds us in "Moby Dick," “Ignorance is the parent of fear.”

A recent Pew study found that when asked for one-word descriptions of presidential candidates, “Mormon” was the most common answer when describing Mitt Romney.

In June, a Gallup Poll found that only 76% of Americans would vote for a Mormon. The Pew Center found that while 68% say being a Mormon wouldn’t matter to their vote, 25% say they would be less likely to vote for a Mormon candidate.

While these perceptions are troubling for a country that values religious freedom, they are a political reality for the Romney campaign.

Indeed, these perceptions may help explain why Romney failed to win evangelical voters in Iowa, South Carolina, Missouri, Minnesota, or Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama.

4. Follow the lead of previous presidents

Past presidents have spoken with civil religion rhetoric, some more directly than others.

Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were masterful in their weaving of civil religion into their rhetoric, allowing them to connect emotionally with the American public.

In comforting the nation after the Oklahoma City bombing, President Clinton called on the American people, “…to purge [themselves] of the dark forces which gave rise to this evil.  They are forces that threaten our common peace, our freedom, our way of life.”

President Bush in 2004 made this appeal tied to the War in Iraq: “… one of the Iraqi men used his new prosthetic hand to slowly write out, in Arabic, a prayer for God to bless America. I am proud that our country remains the hope of the oppressed and the greatest force for good on this Earth.”

Both Clinton and Bush authentically tie a sense of religion to what it means to be American and what America means to the world.

A 1980 campaign ad for Jimmy Carter strikes an overtly religious chord as the commercial pans from the spine of a Bible to a shot of Carter sitting behind his desk.

The message is clear: Carter’s religion is part of his character.

Twenty years earlier, John Kennedy, our first Catholic president, went to great lengths to reassure the public that he could separate his religion from his governing.  Times have changed.

5. Look for a “Book of Mormon” moment

When Romney downplays his religion and speaks vaguely about his love of country and Constitution, he fails to seamlessly link his faith to his patriotism in creating his personal narrative. I’m not convinced that this is a smart strategy for Romney.

He appears to lack a core belief in something, thus we voters lack information to connect with Romney.

What he needs is a “Book of Mormon” moment.  In the Tony Award winning Broadway musical, Elder Price reaffirms his core beliefs via song.

But Romney shouldn’t just sing, as he did with "America the Beautiful" last month.

Romney could start by saying: “I believe that my faith in God led me through the tough times. I believe this because I’ve lived it. I’ve doubted myself as a young missionary, but my faith was my anchor. And, I believe that I would not be the person I am today if it weren’t for my faith, my family and this country.”

Without a statement of his core beliefs linking to his life experience, Romney’s personal narrative is shallow and his civil religion rhetoric will continue to ring hollow.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Birdsong.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: 2012 Election • Mitt Romney • Mormonism • Opinion • Politics

soundoff (440 Responses)
  1. TJeff1776

    "Dishonest Mormon" is the lingo of Dr.Fritz. I only observe in the good Dr. a sense of racism, bias, and anti-Mormonism....a rather stupid personality.

    March 21, 2012 at 7:59 am |
  2. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 21, 2012 at 4:23 am |
    • Jesus

      You've been proven a liar over and over again on this blog. A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested Friday morning...

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      Plus don't forget. The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!! .. .. .. ... .. .,

      March 21, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  3. Dr.Fritz

    Dishonest Mormon PR and angry lying Mormons are busy busy busy. How many people do you think you'll fool? Do you think you'll fool enough?

    March 21, 2012 at 3:58 am |
    • Junior

      And how many people have you fool?

      March 21, 2012 at 4:14 am |
    • CaptianObvious

      Dr. Fritz. I don't see any of the Mormons on here as being angry. Nor are they lying. I DO however sense quite a bit of anger (as well as a fair amount of bigotry and intentionally misleading arguments) from your posts. The Mormons are taught to respect your beliefs; please show them the same courtesy to do the same. "We claim the privelege of worshiping almighty God according the the dicates of our own concience, and allow all men the same privelege, let them worship how where or what they may."

      March 22, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  4. Philippe

    This entire article is crazy.

    I thought it was a joke, particularly as it was touted as being written by a "professor".

    March 21, 2012 at 3:48 am |
  5. JAG

    Mormonism believes that the Declaration of Independence is as much the Word of God as the Bible and Book of Mormon. It is part of the doctrine of the Mormon Church. Signed, an ex-Mormon.

    March 21, 2012 at 3:34 am |
    • Dr.Fritz

      That's nice. Of course, the Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson who, unlike nutty Joe Smith, the con man who started Mormonism, was quite a guy. Jefferson would have been amused by some nut claiming that the Declaration of Independence was the "Word of God."

      Let's keep it simple and all become Moonies or Scientologists, or what's that flying saucer cult called?

      Geez.

      March 21, 2012 at 3:45 am |
    • LinSea

      JAG, you are exaggerating - or you misunderstood your Sunday School lessons. We believe Jefferson was inspired when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, but that does NOT mean it is scripture.

      March 21, 2012 at 4:00 am |
  6. steve

    Religion has NO part in politics... Only a complete idiot would form opinions based on a book of ancient fairy tales, let alone try to govern a population with it.

    March 21, 2012 at 2:41 am |
    • Dr.Fritz

      Ancient book of fairy tales? Mormon doctrine was written – by a con man named Joe Smith – in the 19th century.

      March 21, 2012 at 2:45 am |
    • DL

      youre right. it doesnt. the liberals trying to be as decisive as possible. its their strategy. divide and conquer

      March 21, 2012 at 3:24 am |
    • Nonimus

      @Dr.Fritz,

      hmm... how about a new book of ancient fairy tales?

      March 21, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  7. Dr.Fritz

    Mormonism is a secretive cult that practices shunning. Its public relations efforts are dishonest and seemingly relentless, as is, behind the scenes, its venom. If Romney is elected, expect to become accustomed to Mormon proselytizers knocking on your door, and saturating the Internet with slick promotion of their wacky cult.

    March 21, 2012 at 2:38 am |
    • DL

      disgusting.

      March 21, 2012 at 3:16 am |
    • Ned

      What the....where DO you get your information? I'm a mormon, and what you say is categorically false.

      March 21, 2012 at 3:18 am |
    • Justin

      Holy smokes. You're really attacking people's faith's right now aren't, you Doctor. Think of all of the education you had to pursue to get a Doctorate and you never had enough time to learn how to respect another's perspective on life. What a shame.

      March 21, 2012 at 3:32 am |
    • John

      Dr. Fritz,
      It is clear you know nothing about us. I do not know where you get your information to make such claims, but they do not come from experience.

      March 21, 2012 at 3:44 am |
    • Dr.Fritz

      To John "You know nothing about us" the Mormon: Mormonism is a closed cult. Do as you please, but I won't vote for a manipulative secretive lying cultist.

      March 21, 2012 at 3:51 am |
    • LinSea

      Are you at all aware, Dr., that the missionaries have been going around for almost 200 hundred years? And how can it be "closed" when over 270,000 new members around the world joined the church last year? And that's not counting kids born to church members.

      March 21, 2012 at 4:08 am |
    • Junior

      Why dont you find out for yourself if its true of what your saying by reading the Book of Mormon? Stop talking trash and get real!!!!!

      March 21, 2012 at 4:12 am |
    • Dave

      Mormons are asked repeatedly each year around election time to keep politics and church separate.

      April 11, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  8. MANUEL

    LIBERTY AND FREEDOM OF RELIGION. ANYONE AGAINST THIS, IS NOT AN AMERICAN. WHAT I CARE ABOUT IS WHO CAN HELP ME TO RUN MORE BUSINESSES SO I CAN EMPLOY MORE FOLKS. I NEED A PRESIDENT REGARDLESS HIS RELIGION TO LEAD US TO OVERCOME THIS CHAOTIC ECONOMY. AS LONG AS THE PRESIDENT IS HONEST AND CARE ABOUT ITS COUNTRY, RELIGIONS DOESN'T MATTER. Look at Gingrich, is catholic and cheated his 2 wives (that;s bad). Look at Santorum is a catholic and the religion member don't support them mostly because he is hypocrite like Newt. But Romney in the other hand, IS HONEST.
    LET'S VOTE FOR ROMNEY.

    March 21, 2012 at 2:16 am |
  9. skytag

    Romney is just another Christian who ignores his beliefs when they're inconvenient. Someone who was serious about his Mormon beliefs would have denounced Rush Limbaugh's treatment of Sandra Fluke, not just said "it’s not the language I would have used." What a weasel.

    March 21, 2012 at 1:23 am |
    • Dr.Fritz

      I'm not a Christian, but I know enough to know that Mormonism is not any form of Christianity. It's in the same bin with the Moonies and Scientology. Christ and Christianity are used in its PR. Check out its secret doctrine – which has been exposed – and see for yourself.

      March 21, 2012 at 2:43 am |
    • Ned

      Dr. Fritz, you obviously don't know enough about mormonism to say anything with any kind of authority.

      March 21, 2012 at 3:21 am |
  10. xrye

    This is a ridiculous article for many reasons not least of which is the author's implied intersection of church, state, and patriarchy. That is completely problematic in pretty much any situation and we definitely don't need more patriarchy in this world.

    Lastly, the author suggests, 'Romney could start by saying: “I believe that my faith in God led me through the tough times." Tough times. If Romney said that he would only make himself seem even more out of touch and irrelevant than he already is due to his enormous wealth. Perception is reality!! Give me a break man!

    March 21, 2012 at 1:08 am |
  11. Tami

    People shouldn't talk about what they don't know about. Mormonism isn't a cult. We have strict moral codes and if you don't want to live by that you don't have to be a member. People can be "cast out" of the church, which just means they aren't a member anymore, but they can still attend meetings and still talk to family and friends. I appreciate all religions that bring about good in this world and don't understand why others can't appreciate the good that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints does. I though being Christian was believing Christ was the Son of God and following his teachings. I believe this and I am Mormon. Believe what you will, but our church believe family and morality are integral in the world today. We can go to any school we want and be anything we want. I've even attended a private Catholic college and have no problem seeing the good in any religion. It is about wanting to be a better person and striving to make that happen.

    March 21, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • There are some ugly facts out there in the salt flats

      Google "rape in Utah" to find out the truth about Mormon morality and Mormon family values. Google "porn consumption in Utah" to find it is the highest in the nation. Google "anti-depressant use in Utah" to see how Mormons are treating their reaction to Mormon culture.

      If you knew about the money, and how your church is operating behind the scenes in Salt Lake City, you would not be making claims about Mormon moral superiority.

      March 21, 2012 at 3:28 am |
    • Larry

      I used to go to a mormon church when i was younger. It is a fact that the mormon church finacially backed prop 8 one of the biggest pieces of hate legislation in history. The powers that be at the mormon church were and are using all that money they constantly tell you to give them to back horrible hate legislation and retoric, its the biggest reason why when i was old enough to drive i quit going

      March 21, 2012 at 4:20 am |
  12. lexgreen

    'President Obama didn’t “understand what it is that makes this nation so successful, so powerful, so good.”'

    And what is it, exactly, that gives Mitt Romney the right to make such a ridiculous remark. Obama reached the
    Presidency with nowhere near the advantages that Romney has had. And Romney won't make it. If I had
    the chance to meet him in person, I would bet him $10,000.00 on the spot that he won't make it.

    With Mr. Romney, WYSIWYG. The man is stiff and artificial, not to mention irrelevant in the context of what
    is happening in America today.

    As for his Mormanism, not to worry. If millions of Americans can inexplicably believe that President Obama is a
    Muslim.... who's going to pay any attention to Mr. Romney's faith.

    March 21, 2012 at 12:28 am |
  13. Holy Man

    Let's face it - Mormonism is a cult. It cannot be reconciled with Christianity. A "religion" that casts out nonconformists and will not allow family members to have any contact with the outcast is not a religion based on Christ's teachings.

    Not to mention the magic underwear, baptism of dead holocaust victims, belief that one will become a God in a future existence, etc.

    The only good news is that Mitt Romney is as disingenuous about his Mormon faith as he is about everything else - he can't even ACT like he believes what he's saying. Brainwashing is a great way to bring families together! Yeah Mormons!

    March 21, 2012 at 12:23 am |
    • Lilljemalm

      Holy Man is part of the problem. Mormonism is not a cult. It does not cast out non conformists and it does not deny family relationships with anyone who is disavowed. Does Holy Man also belittle Jews for wearing prayer shawls and yumecas and Catholic Priest and Nuns for wearing habits? Mormonism is the ultimate Christian faith. Holy Man is an example of the ignorance that is so apparent in US society concerning Mormons - and sorry to say, Evangelicals are the primary perpetrators of that ignorance.

      March 21, 2012 at 12:34 am |
    • Danny G

      You are probably a member of that church (or used to be) and couldn't hang with there high standard of living. Your ignorance, anger, and intolerance are amazing. Keep on hating.

      March 21, 2012 at 1:00 am |
    • Mr. Realistic

      Holy Man, say what you will, but the notion of Mormons being a cult is incorrect. There are ethical differences between the definitions of "religion" and "cult", and if you will simply take some unbiased moments to get to know a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I'm confident that you will see how much happiness that this religion can bring. Please be more sensitive about what you post, as I'm sure you know that you're not the ultimate source of all knowledge regarding religions in this world, and there may just perhaps be a thing or two you don't understand. There are several millions of people on this planet that hold this religion close to their hearts, and I hope its not too much to ask that you try to be more understanding and respectful of their beliefs. Thanks :)

      March 21, 2012 at 1:02 am |
    • El Jefe

      Have you actually ever met a Mormon? It is FAR from being a cult. Just because Evangelicals co-opted the standard for Christianity (who gave them that authority?) and then decry any faith that isn't theirs, they can throw around the "cult" word? Good job on bringing up the topics that, taken out of context, can seem so far fetched. I am a Christian. Do the stories of a burning bush, splitting the Red Sea, making walls crash down by blowing horns, or building arks seem any more unreal than some of Mormonism's beliefs? Do you believe, mr Holy Man, that Christ really rose from the dead? That is an incredible story! I choose to believe it and some of the things you decry of Mormon doctrines aren't nearly as crazy as the concept of our Savior rising from the dead. In fact, Mormons are some of the most God-fearing, Christ-like people I know.

      March 21, 2012 at 2:48 am |
    • Dave

      Not sure this makes sense. I am Mormon, and I interact with lots of great people outside of my faith. Garments, baptisms for the dead and other mormon doctine is mentioned in the Bible.

      April 11, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  14. Reality

    Putting an end to all religions in less than 500 words:

    • There was probably no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • There was probably no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    Added details are available upon request:

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

    March 20, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • Ian

      Your arrogance is astounding.

      March 21, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • Danny G

      Wow, hate much?

      You are so smart. You just disproved religion that fast. You are "probably" smarter than 90% of the world that believes in a supreme being. Amazing!

      March 21, 2012 at 12:56 am |
    • Just the Facts

      Danny G – "...90% of the world that believes in a supreme being."

      Please provide a verified citation of that 'fact'.

      March 21, 2012 at 1:09 am |
    • El Jefe

      "added details available upon request..." Ooo! Please, your insights are so amazing, I DO want more "available details." I love how you say "probably" for every statement. You know you can't prove they didn't exist and you probably know, down deep, that they are real. There is good in all people. Try and show some of it by respecting others.

      March 21, 2012 at 2:38 am |
    • Just the Facts

      El Jefe – "I love how you say "probably" for every statement."

      I love how you say "every statement", when you mean two of them. Sheesh.

      If you are claiming that these particular men existed, the burden of proof is upon you.

      March 21, 2012 at 2:53 am |
    • Reality

      ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS:

      Saving Christians from the Infamous Resurrection Con:

      From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

      Even now Catholic/Christian professors of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.

      To wit;

      From a major Catholic university's theology professor’s grad school white-board notes:

      "Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
      Jesus and Mary's bodies are therefore not in Heaven.

      Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.

      Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus' crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary's corpse) into heaven did not take place.

      The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus' earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

      Only Luke records it. (Luke mentions it in his gospel and Acts, i.e. a single attestation and therefore historically untenable). The Assumption ties Jesus' mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus' followers The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary's special role as "Christ bearer" (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus' Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary's assumption also shows God's positive regard, not only for Christ's male body, but also for female bodies." "

      "In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him."

      http://eternal-word.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP2HEAVN.HTM

      The Vatican quickly embellished this story with a lot CYAP.

      With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:

      An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue,

      p.4

      "Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."

      p.168. by Ted Peters:

      Even so, asking historical questions is our responsibility. Did Jesus really rise from the tomb? Is it necessary to have been raised from the tomb and to appear to his disciples in order to explain the rise of early church and the transcription of the bible? Crossan answers no, Wright answers, yes. "

      So where are the bones"? As per Professor Crossan's analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, covered with lime in a shallow grave, or under

      March 21, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • Reality

      origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

      New Torah For Modern Minds

      “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

      Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

      The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

      The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."

      March 21, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • Reality

      AS THE INFAMOUS ANGELIC CONS CONTINUE TO WREAK STUPIDITY UPON THE WORLD:

      Joe Smith had his Moroni.

      "Latter-day Saints also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah."

      Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

      Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tin-kerbell" got around).

      Jesus and his family had Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day dem-on of the de-mented.

      The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

      Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

      Some added references to "tink-erbells".

      newadvent.org/cathen/07049c.htm

      "The belief in guardian angels can be traced throughout all antiquity; pagans, like Menander and Plutarch (cf. Euseb., "Praep. Evang.", xii), and Neo-Platonists, like Plotinus, held it. It was also the belief of the Babylonians and As-syrians, as their monuments testify, for a figure of a guardian angel now in the British Museum once decorated an As-syrian palace, and might well serve for a modern representation; while Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar the Great, says: "He (Marduk) sent a tutelary deity (cherub) of grace to go at my side; in everything that I did, he made my work to succeed."
      Catholic monks and Dark Age theologians also did their share of hallu-cinating:

      "TUBUAS-A member of the group of angels who were removed from the ranks of officially recognized celestial hierarchy in 745 by a council in Rome under Pope Zachary. He was joined by Uriel, Adimus, Sabaoth, Simiel, and Raguel."

      And tin-ker- bells go way, way back:

      "In Zoroastrianism there are different angel like creatures. For example each person has a guardian angel called Fravashi. They patronize human being and other creatures and also manifest god’s energy. Also, the Amesha Spentas have often been regarded as angels, but they don't convey messages, but are rather emanations of Ahura Mazda ("Wise Lord", God); they appear in an abstract fashion in the religious thought of Zarathustra and then later (during the Achaemenid period of Zoroastrianism) became personalized, associated with an aspect of the divine creation (fire, plants, water...)."

      "The beginnings of the biblical belief in angels must be sought in very early folklore. The gods of the Hitti-tes and Canaanites had their supernatural messengers, and parallels to the Old Testament stories of angels are found in Near Eastern literature. "

      "The 'Magic Papyri' contain many spells to secure just such help and protection of angels. From magic traditions arose the concept of the guardian angel. "

      For added information see the review at:

      en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angel

      March 21, 2012 at 8:13 am |
  15. Spelunker4Plato

    It's all tripe pagan derivatives. Blood sacrifice is blood sacrifice.

    So the right thinks that the U.S. is a force for good? Funny how you have to be religious to actually believe that.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
  16. packerfans

    Vote for Mitt Romney who can save America!!

    March 20, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
  17. Ron

    This is a silly article. I see what is trying to be said, but in reality, not everything has to be so 'planned'. There are still intolerant people that fear what they don't know (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints)... and will not support a candidate the espouses those beliefs. Like JFK, Romney is not going to lead from his church headquarter. He didn't as governor and he won't as president.

    Please stop trying to overthink motives and actions.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • Vai Rua

      I agree...one's actions speak louder than words...take a good look at how he governed Massachusetts. He never once brought out the Book of Mormon or tried to act like a prophet. His decisions as the Gov were pragmatic and sound so much so that the Democratic side supported many of his proposals.

      Mitt 2012!!

      March 21, 2012 at 12:13 am |
    • C-Dawg

      @ Vai:

      I'm from Mass. too and Mitt '12 is nothing like that Mitt. He's changed his positions on so many things that one cannot be sure which Mitt will be in the Oval Office - Mass Mitt or Rep. Primary '12 Mitt.

      March 21, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
  18. jeff

    this was probably the single stupidest article i've ever read, and i've read quite a few of them.......

    March 20, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
  19. Adam

    I was listening to what this guy had to say until he started saying Romney should start campaigning more like Carter in '80...landslide for Reagan...

    March 20, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  20. mitchell

    All derives from Judiasm, all religions flourished thereafter as tangents. JC was a rabbi and the last supper was passover night. A declaration from G-D himself is a truth. G-D never declared JC as his son, however G-D did speak the first 3 commandments to the Israelites on Mount Sinai. Only Torah is truth, being declared by G-D Himself to an entire nation...from His mouth. Everything is else, all religions and sub-cults, are an attempted frabrication of what already exists, Torah...G-D' Law.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • Ezo

      Complete nonsense...

      March 20, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • Reality

      ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS:

      origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

      New Torah For Modern Minds

      “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

      Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

      The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

      The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."

      March 20, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.