Thursday, October 13, 2005

1,000 years of glory

From the Boston Globe yesterday, via Atrios:

Venturing into foreign policy, Governor Mitt Romney yesterday told a largely Republican audience that Islamic terrorists ''want to bring down our government" and ''want to put in place a huge theocracy."

''We're under attack, as you know, militarily," Romney told about 150 people gathered at an exclusive Raleigh country club. ''They're not just intent on blowing up a little bomb here and there at a shopping mall, awful as that would be. They want to bring down our government, bring down our entire economy. They want to put in place a huge theocracy."

''Thank heavens we have a president of the United States who recognizes this for what it is and has declared war on it, and thank heavens we have a military that consists of the strongest and bravest and most able men and women in the world," Romney said.

. . .

''Obviously, this is an extreme fundamentalist perspective," he responded. ''It's certainly not shared by the people of Islam generally, but is shared by some radical few."

Well, that is interesting. Some radical Islamist fundamentalists have professed a desire to restore the ancient Islamic Caliphate, as sure an example of theocracy as you're likely to find. But my impression was that many Islamist terrorists are more interested in killing unbelievers than in converting and/or enslaving them.

It is also interesting, however, and the Globe doesn't want to touch this (I will, though, with apologies in advance to my LDS friends and family), but the LDS church to which Romney belongs has the stated goal, or more precisely, the expectation, of eventually establishing a theocratic government in the United States. Such a government will naturally come into existence when Christ returns to kick off the Millennium (with a capital "M", the thousand years following the Second Coming of peace on earth under Christ's reign).
The Articles of Faith—fundamental statements of faith of members of the LDS church—help shed some light on this millenarian belief:
10. We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.

11. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

12. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

Article 11 lays out a fundamental difference between Islamist fundamentalists and faithful Mormons: the latter unwaveringly support freedom of religion. This makes sense given the early Church's history of persecution, both during Joseph Smith's life and after, when polygamy made the Church very unpopular in this country. This principle is believed to continue even in the afterlife, when people are still able to choose to follow the LDS religion, if they haven't already rejected it during their earthly lives.

Article 12 also strongly affirms submission to secular government and rule of law. Church members generally place a high value on obeying the law even when laws don't necessarily make perfect sense or have any particular moral implication. Obeying the law is considered a priori to be a moral act. Of course, Article 12 was followed a bit more loosely at the end of the 19th century, when polygamist leaders of the Church went on the lam to escape imprisonment by federal authorities.

However, Articles 11 and 12 are basically stopgaps—ways of ensuring the Church's continued survival and stability in these evil times until the need for secular government no longer exists. Such a moment has been eminently expected for the past 175 years, ever since Joseph first restored the "one true church" to the earth, as the Church teaches.

The real story lies in Article 10, which describes the earth's ultimate destiny, as taught by Joseph Smith. Israel will be gathered, Zion built in the Americas, and the earth will be transformed into a more glorified state, all under the perfectly just, perfectly compassionate rule of Jesus Christ.

This is quite possibly the only way a government could be more theocratic than the Caliphate.

I'm sure the LDS Church isn't alone in this sort of belief—many evangelical Protestant churches, to my knowledge, subscribe to similar beliefs, and the last I heard, the Catholic Church still stands behind the Book of Revelation. It is also important to note that the Mormons aren't espousing that arms be taken up to hasten along the Millennium—it will come when it comes; the timing is in God's hands.

But it is also believed by faithful LDS that, as society continues to spiral downward in modern times, world events will naturally progress toward a global conflagration centered in the Middle East. Nation will rise against nation, and there will be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, et cetera. Just as things are at their worst, Christ will return with the sword and kill off the evil-doers. This will allow the thousand years of peace to begin. Thus, growing U.S. involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts is not necessarily a bad thing to many evangelicals, including faithful Mormons.

Many LDS do not agree with Bush's foreign policy approach, and reject the current misadventure in Iraq. But many more support Bush more or less completely (Utah voted for Bush in 2004 by the largest margin of any state), and see any American military action abroad quite starkly in terms of good vs. evil. "We Americans are the good guys, they, the Terrorists, are the heartless killers. Bush may not be a member of the Church, but he's helping carry forward God's work just the same, an unwitting instrument in His hands." And the worse things get in the mid-East, the closer we are to 1,000 years of paradisiacal glory.

I don't know what Mitt Romney's personal views are on this or any other religious topic. But I'm making an educated guess, based on what I know about LDS theology, that he may not be averse to the establishment of a "huge theocracy" in America as predicted in scripture (nor, most likely, would Bush, Ashcroft, or many other evangelical political figures). It's just a matter of getting the right theocracy in place.

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