“How you answer this question will tell us everything we need to know about you. Do you believe every word of this book?”

The question comes courtesy of Joseph of Texas and the book he waves so threateningly at the camera is, of course, the Holy Bible. The clip featured in CNN’s recent Republican presidential campaign debate, where digital technology allowed the candidates to field questions from a neglected constituency — twitchy internet weirdoes. In the course of the evening, we duly heard the rifle toting gun-nut, the Confederate flag-draped redneck and, yes, the Biblical literalist.

That’s the context for the speech delivered late last week by Republican hopeful Mitt Romney on faith and politics. The US newspapers mostly reported it as a call for religious tolerance.

In reality, it was nothing of the sort.

You see, Romney possesses many of the attributes necessary for a Republican president (nice hair; broad shoulders; willing to torture people) but suffers from an unfortunate case of Mormonism. Most Evangelical Christians regard the Mormons as devilish heretics, better candidates for eternal fire than the Presidency. An early frontrunner, Romney has now fallen behind Mike Huckabee, a bona fide tub-thumping Southern Baptist pastor, who attributes his good recent polling to God’s personal intervention.

Thus, to win back votes from the Jesus-rode-a-dinosaur believers, Romney called for acceptance for Mormonism – and a renewed campaign against atheists. His pitch to the Christianists mostly involved positioning his own faith as a useful ally in the war against those whom, as he put it, “seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God.”

Such people, he warned, saw religion as “merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America — the religion of secularism.”

So tolerance for Mormons; secularists, not so much.

Why should any of this matter to Australians? Well, think about the increasing churchiness of our politics, and then watch Crazy Joe’s YouTube video again. Given that Australian culture generally lags a few years behind the US, candidates for the next election might want to start training themselves to answer, Ned Flanders-style: “I’ve done everything the Bible says — even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff!”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey