Note: This was originally published on 1/9/08.
On Sunday, The New York Times ran an article by Noah Feldman entitled "What Is It About Mormonism?" (Shockingly), the article is not about the Enneagram per se, but it does end up making a lot of sense to those of us who look at the world from an Enneagrammic perspective.
The article focuses on Mitt Romney and the possible difficulties his Mormonism will cause him in attempting to secure the Republican nomination for President of the United States. In doing so, the article summarizes quite a bit of Mormon history.
My commentary on the article will focus on the tripartite 3-ish-ness of Mitt Romney (commented on as a 3 here and here), Mormon culture, and American political culture. In doing so, I will summarize many of the main points of the article, but you might want to read the whole thing.
According to the article, the Mormon image is pro-business and socially conservative, in line with everything Republicans profess to like. However, a large chunk of Republican voters say they will not support a Mormon candidate for President. The basic problem is two-fold: a matter of evangelical Christians perceiving Mormonism as non-Christian or at least heretical, and a matter of bigotry.
According to Feldman, this lingering bigotry is fueled by "the disconcerting split between [Mormonism]'s public and private faces." Check out this icon of Type 3, created by the Enneagram Institute:
Feldman goes on to explain: "The church's most inviting public symbols [The Enneagram Institute's "Overview of Type 3" describes 3s as "image-oriented, emphasizing style over substance, symbols over reality"] -- pairs of clean-cut missionaries in well-pressed white shirts -- evoke the wholesome success of an all-American denomination with an idealistic commitment to clean living. Yet at the same time, secret, sacred temple rites and garments call to mind the church's murky past... Mormonism, it seems, is extreme in both respects: in its exaggerated normalcy and its exaggerated oddity." To me, it is the exaggerated normalcy that resonates so strongly with type 3.
In order to maintain an appropriate, electable image, Romney will find ways to emphasize the normalcy of his faith without evoking its oddness. Like a good 3 and a good politician, he must spin the facts. More from EI's type 3 overview: "Politics is becoming less concerned with principles or the use of power for the common good than with the display of personalities. Politics serves public relations, selling candidates with their calculated positions to a public which can no longer tell a fabricated image from a real person."
The largest public statement Romney has made about his faith has consisted of: "I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind." Here's Feldman's take on it: "Romney presumably calculated that speaking about Jesus Christ in terms that sound consistent with ordinary American Protestantism would reassure voters that there was in the end nothing especially unusual about Mormonism." (Why, Mitt Romney! How "pragmatic and calculating"! See Personality Types, page 99.)
Another example of the Romney spin on religion, from Feldman: "Romney has felt the need to minimize the centrality of Mormon scripture by saying he reads the Gideon Bible when he is alone in his hotel room on the campaign trail.
The formulation may be seen as a clever hedge: to the ordinary Protestant listener, it sounds as if Romney is saying that he reads the same Bible they do. To the Mormon insider, however, Romney is simply saying that when he travels to the hotel and finds himself, presumably, without a handy copy of the Book of Mormon, he reads the text of the Bible that can be found in the drawer beside the bed...
This is a perfect example of esoteric public speaking: the attempt to convey multiple messages to different audiences through the careful use of words. Something similar is perhaps contained in Romney's outspoken admiration for Rick Warren, the megachurch pastor and best-selling author. To the general audience, the message is the embrace of an evangelical who is as mainstream as it gets. To a Mormon audience, however, the praise is presumably intended at most as a suggestion that it is possible to learn from the remarkable organizational and evangelizing effects of a well-known public figure."
There are aspects of Mormon identity which can help Romney win the nomination. According to Feldman, "In the elite East Coast worlds where Romney has made his career, Mormanism signifies [among other things] professional competence... [and] the systematic overrepresentation of Mormons among top businesspeople and lawyers affords LDS affiliation a certain cache..." In Enneagram literature, type 3 is the type most associated with professional competence.
Still, there is a difference between respecting Mormon individuals or Mormon culture, and respecting Mormon religion. Many Americans believe that Mormonism is a false religion, and that the Book of Mormon lacks authenticity, and they would have a hard time voting for a Mormon President. This attitude is, according to Feldman, "a complicated outgrowth of the tortured history of the faith's relationship to mainstream American political life over the [last] two centuries..."
Mormonism is a secretive religion; the details of its theology and its rituals are kept from outsiders. (In her book Leaving the Saints, type 3 exemplar and ex-Mormon Martha Beck describes her Mormon temple wedding -- and how she was sworn to secrecy about its particulars. For more info on Beck, see the second half of this post.) Feldman attributes this secrecy to two sources -- internal theology and external persecution.
On the theological front, Mormon founder Joseph Smith claimed to receive revelations that were to be shared with only a few people. The doctrine of plural marriage (no longer practiced by mainstream Mormons) is probably the most famous of these secret revelations, and Smith kept it to himself until after his death. Another revelation, which Smith shared in one of his last communications before his death, resonates strongly with Enneagram type 3.
Quoth Smith: "God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man..."The natural outgrowth of this idea is the Mormon tenet of the perfectibility of mankind into divine form. This is close to the 3's goal of becoming "a human ideal, embodying widely admired qualities." (Understanding the Enneagram, page 80.)
Alas, Smith, according to Feldman, "was denounced as a charlatan, an impostor, or worse." Calling someone a "charlatan" or an "impostor" is a pretty specific insult, and it fits with type 3's association with the sin of deceit. Certainly, the allegation that Smith wrote the Book of Mormon himself, rather than discovered it when its location was revealed by an angel, comes up over and over. (Two interesting articles on the Book of Mormon, one pro-angelic revelation and one con, are here and here.)
As Mormonism grew under Smith's leadership, Mormon communities in Missouri and Illinois began to be violently persecuted by their neighbors. Smith himself was gunned down by a mob. Smith's successor Brigham Young led the Mormons to Utah, where things were safer. For a while, Mormons openly practiced plural marriage. However, the practice was soon outlawed by the federal government.
One might characterize the Mormon reaction as "deceitful." They said one thing (In 1890, the president of the church advised Mormons not to enter into unlawful marriages), but did another (plural marriage continued in Mormon communities in Utah and elsewhere.)
Feldman writes, "This period of resisting persecution by living outside the law taught Mormons that secrecy can be a necessary tool for survival. As one apostle (there are 12 who guide the church) later put it in a speech recounted by the historian Kathleen Flake, 'I am not dishonest and not a liar... [but] we have always been taught that when the brethren were in a tight place that it would not be amiss to lie to help them out.'"
Feldman recounts another moment of deception in Mormon history. In 1903, the people of Utah elected Mormon apostle Reed Smoot to the House of Representatives. Since many believed that his association with the Mormon church disqualified him to take office, a series of hearings were held on the Senate floor. Then-president of the church Joseph F. Smith (a nephew of the original Joseph Smith) testified and, according to Feldman, "sought somewhat unsuccessfully to conceal both the continuing practice of plural marriage and his own status as seer and revelator."
Soon after, at Smith's urging, Mormons really did stop practicing plural marriage and Smoot took his seat in Congress.
Thereafter, Mormons sought to appear more politically and theologically mainstream. According to Feldman, "The Mormon path to normalization over the course of the 20th century depended heavily on this avoidance of public discussion of its religious tenets... the less said the better about the particular teachings of the church..." Feldman continues, "Another part of the Mormon assimilationist strategy was to participate actively in politics at the state and national levels. The condition for political success was that nobody asked about the precise content of Mormon religious beliefs and the Mormons themselves made no particular effort to tell."
My concern is that, by de-emphasizing the particulars of their faith, Mormon culture has fallen into a type 3 trap. Consider this quote from page 154 of The Wisdom of the Enneagram: "In the headlong rush to achieve whatever they believe will make them more valuable, Threes can become so alienated from themselves that they no longer know what they truly want or what their real feelings and interests are... as Threes learn to pursue the values that others reward, they gradually lose touch with themselves. Step by step, their own inner core... is left behind until they no longer recognize it."
However, this strategy has won Mormon individuals more and more success in politics and business. Over time, writes Feldman, "Mormons began to succeed in national business and came to be seen as exemplars of the patriotic American ethos." Enter Mitt Romney, Mormon Presidential candidate. Writes Feldman, "Precisely because Romney is so accomplished, so telegenic, in short such an impressive candidate, it may be a slap in Mormons' faces if he finds that he cannot garner the support of conservative values voters... Even if the charge against Romney were that he failed because he was a dissimulating phony, that would hardly be an improvement for the church, given the similarity of that charge with the historical bias against Mormon secrecy."
Although truly miraculous events would have to occur before I would give Romney my vote (I will be voting in the Democratic primary and almost certainly for the Democratic nominee), my personal hope for him is that he keeps (or recovers) a strong connection to his inner core. The culture of his faith tradition, the atmosphere of American politics, and his own psychological predispositions will likely make it difficult.
Romney just came in second in the New Hampshire Republican primary. He congratulated John McCain, who "outcompeted" him and repeatedly compared the situation to getting a "silver medal" when you'd rather have the gold.
Perhaps he could take a page from Hillary Clinton's book. After unexpectedly winning the Democratic primary in New Hampshire (after tearing up in public and reportedly "finding her voice"), she said that the Presidential campaign is not a game; it's about people.
Authenticity can go a long way with the right crowd.