09 February 2008

a doozy of an equivocation ...

Posted by at 3:51 PM Read our previous post

The Romney camp, now that he has thrown in the towel (until 2012 anyway—look out), is crying foul. An article entitled, "Tabernacle on Trial: Mormons Dismayed by Harsh Spotlight" highlights some recent poll results which indicate that over half of the country simply would not feel comfortable with a Mormon in the White House.
"I don't think that any of us had any idea how much anti-Mormon stuff was out there," said Armand Mauss, a Mormon sociologist who has written extensively about church culture, in an interview last week. "The Romney campaign has given the church a wake-up call. There is the equivalent of anti-Semitism still out there."

I find this quote disturbing because it equates the persecution of the Jews to the "hardships" endured by the modern Mormon people. This is a terrible analogy.

A Mormon apologetics site defines "anti-Mormonism" as follows:
The term anti-Mormon is used to describe a person or group actively opposing Mormonism. It does not refer to groups of people who don’t understand the Church, or disagree with or criticize it. An anti-Mormon represents a more extreme category. For anti-Mormons, the existence of the Mormon Church is something that cannot be tolerated, whether for religious reasons, or political and social ones. And ever since the Mormon Church was established in 1830, there have been anti-Mormons. It is more than disagreement, misunderstanding or criticism. Anti-Mormons generally feel that the existence of the Mormon Church is detrimental to themselves or others based on religious, political, or social reasons. Since the establishment of the Mormon Church, there have always been anti-Mormon sentiments and even groups.

Whereas I am aware that the early history of the Mormon church is filled with violence and persecution, and that it was perhaps once justified in holding to such insular and defensive community values, these are not the United States of the mid-nineteenth century, and I fear that though the active persecution that was once perpetuated on them has gone the way of horse carriages and rebel yells and frozen Charlottes, the "feeling" of being persecuted somehow remained part of their enculturation process like a latent afterimage in their collective subconscious. If you ask me, some people might be suffering from a communal martyr-complex here.
But has there really been any significant recurring, systematic persecution of the Mormon people after those initial birth pangs? Am I missing something I'm not seeing?

Now, to go into the long history of anti-Semitism is beyond the scope of this blog post (for a thorough well-written review of this history, I recommend James Carroll's "Constantine's Sword") but a brief list of pogroms should suffice to illustrate the scope and breadth of Jewish persecution:
  • The German Crusade of 1096
  • Expulsion from England in 1290
  • The Spanish Inquisition
  • Expulsion from Spain in 1492
  • Expulsion from Portugal in 1497
  • Der Crystalnacht
  • The Holocaust
As I already mentioned, the only period of the Mormon church that can arguably be compared to a pogrom is the beginning stage, the Nauvoo years and briefly after.

As illustrated by the above list of atrocities, the Jewish people have been continually dehumanized, stripped of life and property, accused of all manner of ritualistic cannibalism and infanticide and even vampirism. They were seen as a people bent on taking over Europe and the world. Sub-human, they were reviled outcasts. Some said they even hid horns under their hats.
Throughout the history of western civilization, they have been systematically rounded up and murdered or expatriated by the thousands—by the millions!.

By contrast, Mormons typically are stereotyped as a kind of whacky but disciplined bunch with good ethical standards and a conservative bent. I mean . . . Yeah, people make fun of their underwear, but does that compare with the real persecution experienced by the Jewish people over the centuries? To equate "anti-Mormonism" with anti-Semitism is such a ludicrous thing that it makes my head spin in disbelief. Granted, there is a kind of distrust of the Mormon church by the American populace. But it is merely a distrust, not a demonization by any stretch of the imagination.

Now, I would consider myself one of those people who would feel very uncomfortable with Mitt Romney as a potential president for many reasons. Here are just three:
  1. Because he favors an open-ended continuation of the Iraq War.
  2. Because this republic is NOT a business venture.
    and . . .
  3. Yes, because he is a self-described pious Mormon.
But I must insist that this third reason is not based on bigotry.

In much the same way that I would never trust my vote to someone who does not "believe" (as if belief had anything to do with it) in evolution despite the mountains of data supporting it as an observable natural phenomenon, neither could I trust it to someone who believes that early in the nineteenth century Joseph Smith had a paranormal or supernatural encounter with one of "God's angels" who revealed to him some gold-plated scribblings in some imagined "reformed Egyptian" language, a language which required the aid of a hat and a "seer stone" for it to be translated into what we now know as the "Book of Mormon: A New Testament of Jesus Christ" the sacred text of a "new and improved" religion. Neither could I vote for someone who believes that the indigenous native North/Meso-American people were literally the descendants of an ancient Hebraic tribe. The genetic and socio-anthropological data is in, and such a claim is not supported by it. To keep upholding such a thing doctrinally is a strange kind of denial. It's very fascinating to me, this kind of compartmentalization that the religious mindset is capable of.

Am I anti-Mormon?
No. I simply don't believe that the things Joseph Smith said happened to him in Palmyra are true. I don't think he's a devil—just a curious charismatic charlatan. Does expressing my honest disbelief make me "anti-Mormon"?
Does the existence of the church bother me, though, or make me want to eradicate it?
No. I just think it is a delusion based on the ravings of a mountebank. That's all. It is innocuous enough in and of itself. But then I wouldn't vote for a Raelian either, or for a Heaven's Gater (if there were any to vote for, that is), not because they are a threat to me theologically or otherwise—they're just kinda kooky. Am I an anti-Raelian?

Still I wonder: Why are Mormons so reticent to talk about their faith outside of their own communities? Why so prone to secrecy and persecution-complexes?

Here I wish to point to a doctrinal issue which I think is significant and informs why I could not trust my vote to an avowed Mormon. Because most Americans are so ill-informed about the LDS church, it is a little known fact that part of their Endowement ceremony includes a vow in which congregants pledge that any "blessings and gains" acquired in this life are to be dedicated to the "service of God and the Church." This goes above and beyond mere monetary gains—those are taken care of explicitly in their concept of tithing— it refers to and includes any acquired positions of authority and power, anything that we may have some influence over in this life. Knowing this about their theological practice, Romney's candidacy worried me a little, and I must confess that it has perplexed me much that absolutely no one has bothered to ask him about this particular vow. My guess is that people (even journalists) just don't know what Mormons think and do and believe. Either that or they might see such religious questions too direct, too frank, and therefore taboo—off limits. But it's one thing to make fun of "magic underwear" though and quite another to address such problematic doctrines openly and honestly.

I suggest that these people who are crying "bigotry" over all of this ponder the possibility that mere bigotry does not explain this relatively high level of distrust for Mormons by the general American populace. He did, after all, win a caucus or two and placed high second in some crucial races.

A recent ABC News article :
"The problem for Mitt Romney is there is a surprising -- and dangerous -- amount of ignorance about his faith among voters generally," ABC News political analyst Mark Halperin said. "He has avoided trying to educate the public to reduce the suspicion that exists [...] unfortunately for him"
It's true; even when his political survival depended on it and he decided to address the issue of his religious inclinations in a nationally broadcast speech, it seemed to me that he avoided addressing his faith directly and instead spoke in veiled generalities about how one's religious affiliation should not matter. In the end, most Americans continue to see Mormonism as a secretive organization because he failed to inform them. It seems only natural that people would tend to have a distrust of conspiratorial (real or imagined) secrecy, of claims to esoteric "gnosis."

It's a very interesting dilemma, actually: Until the Mormon church lets down its veil of secrecy, they won't be trusted by the populace, yet, if the veil was ever lowered, the doctrines revealed within would probably shock many of those who had no idea it was so weird . . .



p.s. - If any Mormon brethen finds that I am bearing false witness regarding their liturgical practices in this post, I will be glad to be corrected in detail.

1 comment:

  1. You mention Jame's Carroll's "Constantine's Sword." Did you know that Oscar-nominated director Oren Jacoby has made a documentary inspired by Carroll's best-selling book? "Constantine's Sword" will be released in theaters this April and eventually on home video. You can get more information at
    Betsy West, Producer, Constantine's Sword


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