I’ve written before about MormonVoices, a group dedicated to tracking all mention of Mormonism and Mormons in the media and on the web so that they can quash misinformation and instead present the truth. Of course, that often means that they are seeking the negative and replacing it with the positive, no matter the truth thereof, but that’s a subject for a different article.
On occasion, I’ve done top ten lists, usually snarky humorous lists that tend to get a lot of Mormons angry with me. (Here’s a little insight into my psyche: I tend to post snarky humor when the LDS church is getting too up close and personal and is beginning to annoy me.) This time, our friends at MormonVoices have come up with their own, and it’s anything but humorous.
First of all, let me say at the outset that I agree with Scott Gordon’s statement that “religious bigotry is unacceptable. Statements which distort and belittle Mormon [or any other religious] belief in order to marginalize Mormons [or any other believers] are evidence of such bigotry.” The United States has a long history of discrimination against small or fringe religious groups: Catholics, Jews, Mormons, and others have in the past been targeted in many ways. Clearly, it has become unacceptable to ridicule Jews or Catholics (well, there are exceptions, of course), but it’s clearly still socially acceptable to go after Mormons.
MormonVoices managing director John Lynch is quoted as saying, “This isn’t about good-natured jokes or legitimate questions. We’re not concerned with comedians who make good-natured observations about Mormons, or responsible journalists who have reported on Mormons and their beliefs. Instead, this is a list of statements that should be offensive to everyone, and are so disrespectful that their only effect will be to increase bigotry against Mormons. Just as with other minority groups, it should no longer be socially acceptable for public figures to incite such prejudice against Mormons or their faith.”
Pretty strong stuff, indeed. Let’s look at their examples.
10. “The Christian coalition, I think [another candidate] could get a lot of money from that, because Romney, obviously, not being a Christian …” Ainsley Earhart, Fox and Friends, July 17, 2011.
A lot of people believe Mormons are not Christians, though I obviously disagree. Ainsley Earhardt, bless her soul, most likely was not hired for her knowledge or intellect, so you can chalk this up to ignorance on her part, or she may be one of those fundamentalist Christians who don’t believe Mormons are Christian. In context, she was talking about how the Christian Coalition probably would not support Romney because of the shocking fact that most members of the Christian Coalition probably don’t believe Mormons are Christian. So, ignorance, maybe, but anti-Mormon? Not so much.
9. “Can you name the candidate that’s running for president that believes that if he’s a good person in his religion he will receive his own planet?…Would you vote for someone for president who believes in their religion, if he’s a good person, he’ll get his own planet?…Do you want to get your own planet?” Ben Ferguson, Fox 13 News, Memphis TN, July 6, 2011.
Here are Ferguson’s remarks in total: Local Memphis TV News Reporter Mocks Mitt Romney’s Mormon Beliefs
This one is obvious bigotry and fits Lynch’s definition of anti-Mormonism. The guy goes out on the street and presents a ridiculous caricature of Mormonism and shows people reacting appropriately. Of course, had it not been for MormonVoices, I would never have heard of this guy.
8. “Mormonism is not an orthodox Christian faith. It just is not…it’s very clear that the founding fathers did not intend to preserve automatically religious liberty for non-Christian faiths.” Bryan Fischer, Focal Point radio show, September 2011.
Here’s Fischer’s rant.
Yep, that one fits, too. The guy says that the First Amendment applies only to Christians, which ought to give any non-fundamentalist pause. What kind of Constitution applies only to some people? Yikes. Also, his description of the end of polygamy is completely wrong, and of course, he’s playing the polygamy = gay marriage card. Dirtbag.
7. “Yes, it is my opinion that an indoctrinated Mormon should never be elected as President of the United States of America.” Tricia Erickson, CNN.com, July 7, 2011.
OK, this woman is an angry ex-Mormon Evangelical who wrote an anti-Mormon, anti-Romney book called “Can Mitt Romney Serve Two Masters? The Mormon Church Versus The Office Of The Presidency of the United States of America.” I fault CNN more than anyone for giving air time to an obvious nutjob. And no other word but nutjob would describe someone who said this: “Indoctrinated temple Mormons (as Romney is) have experienced years of brainwashing and indoctrination and also have made covenants and oaths that they plainly cannot disobey.” For God’s sake. I’m an indoctrinated temple Mormon, and last I checked, I’m not suffering from brainwashing. Hold on a second, I have to check in with the Overlord before I continue.
6. “I believe a candidate who either by intent or effect promotes a false and dangerous religion is unfit to serve. Mitt Romney has said it is not his intent to promote Mormonism. Yet there can be little doubt that the effect of his candidacy—whether or not this is his intent—will be to promote Mormonism.” Warren Cole Smith, Patheos.com, May 24, 2011.
I’ve commented on this, too, so I’ll just let my previous comments stand: Those Scary Mormons
5. “That is a mainstream view, that Mormonism is a cult…Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.” Robert Jeffress, Values Voter Summit, October 7, 2011.
Same for this moron: The Smiling Face of Bigotry
4. “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…” Harold Bloom, The New York Times, November 12, 2011.
This one I’m not so sure about. Here’s the quote in context:
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.
Bloom is contrasting Joseph Smith’s vision of a Mormon Kingdom (exemplified in Zion and the law of consecration) and the current church administration. It’s clear to me that one of the main goals of the modern LDS church is preservation of the institution, which requires growth in membership and in income. Daymon Smith has written a terrific book, The Book of Mammon, about how much the LDS church as an institution has been overtaken by American corporate culture.
Despite the grandfatherly persona at general conference, Thomas S. Monson is a businessman entrusted with growing and safeguarding the LDS church’s business and wealth, although, as Bloom notes, he is guided by “religious sanction.” Intelligent readers understand that Bloom is not so much critiquing (let alone attacking) Mormonism as he is speaking of a broader culture that is “obsessed by a freedom we identify with money,” and he is quite right that Mormonism is a great example of that culture. That the folks at MormonVoices read it simplistically as a broadside against their religion does not mean it will or was intended to “increase bigotry.” That is a shallow reading, indeed.
3. “The theology comes across as totally barmy. We can become gods with our own planets! And the practices strike me as creepy. No coffee and tea is bad enough. But the underwear!” Michael Ruse, Chronicle of Higher Education, November 30, 2011.
Here’s Ruse’s article: Voting for a Mormon
This one I find ridiculous. Ruse writes an article about how he has come to realize that, even though Mormon beliefs seem ludicrous to him, it is the person’s position on issues that matters: “But the social and related issues are very important, and it is legitimate to involve these in your assessments and decisions. The Mormon Church on the matter of homosexuality is troublesome and it is clear that it is willing to use its vast funds—don’t forget the 10-percent tithing—to achieve social ends it thinks desirable.”
In other words, the LDS church’s position on social issues concerns him far more than coffee or underwear, and that is a legitimate concern because “the trouble is of course whether and how one can be certain that the person’s personal views will not translate into action.” He then says that “while anti-Mormon prejudice may be wrong, I don’t think that being an anti-Mormon is necessarily being wrong.” I should note that he’s not using “anti-Mormon” in the usual pejorative sense of spittle-flecked fanatics who hate Mormons. He’s talking about disagreeing with the LDS church’s goals and positions. And only the most defensive Mormon would think there’s something wrong with that.
2. “[Mormonism is] one of the most egregious groups operating on American soil.” Christopher Hitchens, Slate, October 17, 2011.
Hitchens’s piece, Romney’s Mormon Problem, is essentially a polemical listing of some of the–shall we say–esoteric beliefs, practices, and history of Mormonism. But here’s a news flash: Hitchens disliked all religions and was not shy about mocking and ridiculing institutions he thought were not only ridiculous but harmful. But, once again, the MormonVoices folks miss the point yet again: Hitchens says, “we are fully entitled to ask Mitt Romney about the forces that influenced his political formation and—since he comes from a dynasty of his church, and spent much of his boyhood and manhood first as a missionary and then as a senior lay official—it is safe to assume that the influence is not small. Unless he is to succeed in his dreary plan to borrow from the playbook of his pain-in-the-ass predecessor Michael Dukakis, and make this an election about “competence not ideology,” he should be asked to defend and explain himself, and his voluntary membership in one of the most egregious groups operating on American soil.”
Most Mormons I know call Scientologists weird and consider Scientology to be a cult, and I don’t expect many Mormons would enthusiastically support a candidate who is a Scientologist. And that’s because most people think that reasonable adults would not believe and accept the teachings of Scientology; that is how Hitchens and much of the rest of society views Mormonism.
1. “By any standard, Mormonism is more ridiculous than any other religion.” Bill Maher, October 15, 2011, George Washington University, as reported by Maureen Dowd in The New York Times, October 18, 2011.
Finally, we come to the worst statement of 2011. Really? That’s it? Again, Bill Maher dislikes religion, such that he made a movie entitled “Religulous” that was dedicated to mocking different faith traditions. (By the way, I thought that film was rather snide and self-serving and could have been done much better.) We don’t have Maher’s quote in its entirety, just a summary from Maureen Dowd. Fortunately, we have video of Maher from October 14, 2011, the day before the reported remarks at George Washington University.
Yeah, we get it. Maher thinks Mormonism is silly (but then he thinks that about all religions). He gets some of the stuff wrong, but if we’re going to learn something from this, it’s that this is what a lot of people think about Mormonism. He’s doing the church a favor by saying it out loud, whereas most of our non-Mormon friends will not say to our faces, “I think your religion is stoopid.”
A few years back, I worked for a company in Texas that developed complicated mathematics and statistics software programs. I worked with a lot of people, lots of PhDs. When I was a believer, they uniformly treated me and my Mormon beliefs with respect. But when I left the church, suddenly people began telling me how they had been so puzzled at my involvement in Mormonism because it was so ridiculous. One colleague said, “I always thought you were too smart to hang with that crowd.” I was shocked, not because I think I’m smarter than Mormons (I’m not), but because when they felt comfortable telling me how they really felt, they described the LDS church as strange and cult-like and its beliefs as ludicrous.
Smart Mormons will realize that the proper response is not to complain about these terrible attacks but to use this exposure to start a conversation about what Mormons believe and who they really are. I think the LDS church is doing this, to some degree, with its ubiquitous “I’m a Mormon” ads and its attempts to get more media exposure through local papers and through columns like the WaPo’s “On Faith” panel http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith, but to me, this kind of stuff from MormonVoices does nothing but feed a persecution complex in some people.
And it goes without saying that life is far too short to be spending one’s time looking high and low for reasons to be offended.