Sharpton slams Mormons?
That's the gist of the YouTube snippet above, and an AP story about it.
During a debate on religion with atheist Christopher Hitchens, Sharpton said: "As for the one Mormon running for office, those who really believe in God will defeat him anyways, so don't worry about that; that's a temporary situation."
Sharpton says he wasn't questioning Romney's faith, but was instead contrasting himself with Hitchens.
His words came to light in a New York Times blog entry that provides a little context to the remark, noting that Hitchens first referred to past Mormon support for racial segregation. So that was what Sharpton was responding to.
It still leaves open the question of who he was contrasting himself to with his "those who really believe in God" comment. The word "really" is the key: It's hard to read that as referring to anyone other than Romney and Mormons, since it wouldn't be necessary to use the word "really" when referring to atheists.
That said, I really hate controversies that revolve around careful parsing of single words, especially words spoken off the cuff at a live event. "Really" could have been verbal filler, unneeded emphasis -- the kind of lazy grammar and word patterns that differentiate spoken words from written.
Further, Sharpton's tone is jocular. So while it certainly appears to be a slam on Romney, it feels more political than religious and there's no heat to it. Arguably he's joking, like a sectarian version of "Your mama" insults.
I have little use for Al -- I consider him largely a publicity seeking bomb-thrower. So let's just agree that if he was slamming Romney's religion as somehow "inferior" to his own, he was wrong. And if he was joking, he was still wrong -- not for the joke, but for his lame excuse afterward.
Curiously, though, such a "my religion is the One True Religion" stance parrots that of many on the religious right. Which leads us to the most interesting thing about Sharpton's debate with Hitchens: Much of what he said during it could just as easily have been spoken by a conservative Christian.
Mr. Sharpton, who had listened to Mr. Hitchens’s presentation with a sober expression, offered a calm response.
“You made a very interesting analysis of how people use or misuse God, but you made no argument about God Himself,” Mr. Sharpton said. “And attacking the quote-wicked-unquote use of God does not at all address the existence of God or nonexistence of God.”...
Mr. Sharpton offered two other arguments in defense of religious belief. He argued – as he would throughout the evening – that without God, all is morally relative.
“If there is no God and if there is no supreme mechanism that governs the world, what makes right right and what makes wrong wrong?” Mr. Sharpton asked. “Why don’t we just go by whoever is the strongest in any period in history?”
He added, “On one hand, we’re going to argue God doesn’t exist; on the other hand we’re going to call people wicked. Wicked according to whom, and according to what? It would be based on whoever has power at that time.”
Further, Mr. Sharpton suggested that the marvel of human creation – including evolution – implies the existence of a divine creator.
Something tells me you won't hear many of Sharpton's detractors pointing that out.
The debate itself is far more interesting than the brouhaha over Sharpton's comment. I encourage you to give it a read. Hitchens is quite well-spoken, and while I'm not sure I would have picked Sharpton to defend the believer's side, he does well enough. If you want to listen to the whole thing, you can find the audio here.
Update: A writethru to clarify some points above, and some pointers in the audio. At around the 24:30 mark Hitchens starts discussing church actions, and around 25:00 brings up Mormonism. Sharpton starts responding at 28:10, and makes his Romney comment around 32:00.