Famed literary critic Harold Bloom called Joseph Smith a religious genius in his acclaimed The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation. Since then he has been quoted in general conference, and has been quoted in the pages of the New Era and Ensign. Now he weighs in on possibility of electing a Mormon for president. Below are excerpts of Will This Election Be the Mormon Breakthrough?, Sunday Review, New York Times, by Harold Bloom
... Mr. Romney, earnest and staid, who is deep within the labyrinthine Mormon hierarchy, is directly descended from an early follower of the founding prophet Joseph Smith, whose highly original revelation was as much a departure from historical Christianity as Islam was and is. But then, so in fact are most manifestations of what is now called religion in the United States....
However, should Mr. Romney be elected president, Smith's dream of a Mormon Kingdom of God in America would not be fulfilled,
since the 21st-century Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has little resemblance to its 19th-century precursor. The current head of the Mormon Church, Thomas S. Monson, known to his followers as "prophet, seer and revelator," is indistinguishable from the secular plutocratic oligarchs who exercise power in our supposed democracy.
The Salt Lake City empire of corporate greed has little enough in common with the visions of Joseph Smith. The oligarchs of Salt Lake City, who sponsor Mr. Romney, betray what ought to have been their own religious heritage. ... A superb trickster and protean personality, Smith was a religious genius, uniquely able to craft a story capable of turning a self-invented faith into a people now as numerous as the Jews, in America and abroad. ...
Persuasively redefining Christianity has been a pastime through the ages, yet the American difference is brazen. What I call the American Religion, and by that I mean nearly all religions in this country, socially manifests itself as the Emancipation of Selfishness. Our Great Emancipator of Selfishness, President Ronald Reagan, refreshingly evaded the rhetoric of religion, but has been appropriated anyway as the archangel of American spiritualized greed....
I recall prophesying in 1992 that by 2020 Mormonism could become the dominant religion of the western United States. But we are not going to see that large a transformation. I went wrong because the last two decades have witnessed the deliberate dwindling of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints into just one more Protestant sect. Without the changes, Mitt Romney and Jon M. Huntsman Jr., a fellow Mormon, would not seem plausible candidates.
Our political satirists, with Mr. Romney evidently imminent, delight in describing the apparent weirdness of Mormon cosmology and allied speculations, but they forget the equal strangeness of Christian mythology, now worn familiar by repetition. Jorge Luis Borges shrewdly classified all theology as fantastic literature, and Joseph Smith's adventures in the spiritual realm are at least refreshingly original, and were even in 19th-century America, when homegrown systems of belief sprouted prodigiously. Smith was not a good writer, except for one or two of his sermons, as reported in transcriptions by his auditors, but his mythmaking faculty was fecund.
The accurate critique of Mormonism is that Smith's religion is not even monotheistic, let alone democratic. Though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints no longer openly describes their innermost beliefs, they clearly hold on to the notion of a plurality of gods. Indeed, they themselves expect to become gods, following the path of Joseph Smith.
There are other secrets also, not tellable by the Mormon Church to those it calls "Gentiles," oddly including Jews. That aspects of the religion of a devout president of the United States should be concealed from all but 2 percent of us may be a legitimate question that merits pondering. When I wandered about the South and Southwest from 1989 to 1991, researching American religion, I was heartened by the warmth that greeted me in Pentecostal and Baptist churches, some of them independent indeed. But Gentiles are not allowed in Mormon temples.
Joseph Smith continues to be regarded by many Mormons as a final authority on issues of belief, though so much of his legacy, including plural marriage, had to be compromised in the grand bargain by which the moguls of Salt Lake City became plutocrats defining the Republican party. The hierarchy's vast economic power is founded upon the tithing of the faithful, who yield 10 percent of their income to the church. I am moved by the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations but remain skeptical that you can achieve a lessening of money's influence upon our politics, since money is politics. That dark insight has animated the Mormon hierarchy all through the later 20th and early 21st century. The patriotism of Mormons for some time now has been legendary: they help stock the C.I.A., the F.B.I., the military. Though the powers of the presidency are at this moment somewhat diminished by the Republican House and the atavistic Supreme Court, they remain latent. A Mormon presidency is not quite the same as an ostensibly Catholic or Protestant one, since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints insists on a religious sanction for its moralistic platitudes.
The 19th-century Mormon theologian Orson Pratt, who was close both to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, stated a principle the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has never repudiated: "Any people attempting to govern themselves by laws of their own making, and by officers of their own appointment, are in direct rebellion against the kingdom of God."
Mormons earn godhead though their own efforts, hoping to join the plurality of gods, even as they insist they are not polytheists. No Mormon need fall into the fundamentalist denial of evolution, because the Mormon God is not a creator. Imaginatively liberating as this may be, its political implications are troublesome. The Mormon patriarch, secure in his marriage and large family, is promised by his faith a final ascension to godhead, with a planet all his own separate from the earth and nation where he now dwells. From the perspective of the White House, how would the nation and the world appear to President Romney? How would he represent the other 98 percent of his citizens?....
Mormonism's best inheritance from Joseph Smith was his passion for education, hardly evident in the anti-intellectual and semi-literate Southern Baptist Convention. I wonder though which is more dangerous, a knowledge-hungry religious zealotry or a proudly stupid one? Either way we are condemned to remain a plutocracy and oligarchy. I can be forgiven for dreading a further strengthening of theocracy in that powerful brew.