President Obama’s terrible showing at the presidential debate last night understandably has some liberals feeling nervous. Many, including the Obama campaign, have risen to the occasion and critiqued Mitt Romney’s debate performance at the level of substance. Others, unfortunately, have stooped pretty low under the weight of their insecurities. Among the latter type was atheist superstar Richard Dawkins, who lashed out on Twitter against Romney’s religious beliefs.
As a non-Mormon and a liberal democrat, I must admit that I’ve poked my fair share of fun at Mormons and political conservatives. There’s a thin line, though, between poking fun and being mean. One of the more essential attributes of poking fun is that it be—you know, fun. Preferably for everyone, including the one being poked. Dawkins’s remarks weren’t. Nor, unfortunately, were the responses of several of his followers, which he proceeded to endorse by retweeting them.
Some of this could be funny, if said in the right spirit. The idea of equipping the FBI with bulletproof temple garments is a fairly clever play on Mormon folktales about garments’ protective qualities. But here, unfortunately, the punchline isn’t that it would be funny if Romney applied Mormon folk doctrine in his presidential policy. The punchline is that Mitt Romney is crazy, and Mormons are crazy, and who could possibly vote for someone who wears magic underwear? Of course, by reducing Mormonism to a few “weird” ideas that aren’t even central to the tradition, and then further distorting these ideas so that they would be unrecognizable to a Mormon, Dawkins and his followers are indulging in their own brand of “crazy,” silly anti-realism. They’re magicking away their insecurities by asserting their superiority to cartoonish caricatures of other people. For shame.