March 26, 2007

"Deep seated anxiety" about Mormonism.

Bruce Feiler opines on the way people "out there" feel about Mitt Romney's religion. So much for the faceless masses, but does Feiler -- who's written best-selling books about religion -- disrespect Mormonism? Watch how he responds when Bob Wright tries to pin him down about whether he thinks it's any weirder than Christianity. I mean, after he gives a strong, flat "Yes!"

24 comments:

TMink said...

While I am not sure that Morminism is weirder than Christianity, I am certain that it is weird TOO Christianity. Their beliefs add to the traditional Christian scripture, sacraments, and theology in ways that place them outside Christianity in my view.

This has nothing to do with my preference for Fred Thompson over Mr. Romney. My preference is political, not spiritual. I believ that our current president is a wonderful Christian man. He has been disappointing as a conservative, very disappointing.

Trey

The Emperor said...

One problem for Mormonism (like Islam) is that it does not seem to have much of a reform movement, one that turns the literal view of its texts into symbolism. In other words, there is no "progressive" branch, as there is with other forms of Christianity and Judaism. Because it has only an "extreme" version, liberals get very nervous about it.

Mormonism is really no different in substance, though. It's just that the people practicing it are (almost) all conservatives.

James said...

Richard John Neuhaus has an article, (I almost said a post, but it was long before blogging happened) headed Is Mormonism Christian? [First Things 101 (March 2000): 97-115.]

It's very thoughtful, and concludes



As for the rest of us, we owe to Mormon Americans respect for their human dignity, protection of their religious freedom, readiness for friendship, openness to honest dialogue, and an eagerness to join hands in social and cultural tasks that advance the common good. That, perhaps, is work enough, at least for the time being.

Henry said...

One problem for Mormonism (like Islam) is that it does not seem to have much of a reform movement, one that turns the literal view of its texts into symbolism.

I'm not sure that Mormonism has much of an orthodox movement either, if what you mean by a reform movement is some kind of schismatic alternative.

There are a lot of literalists within Mormonism, but the religion has always struck me as surprisingly pragmatic. In social terms, its conservatism is closer to a generation gap than a fixed political stance. Headquartered in Utah, it takes Mormons 20 years to catch up with what is happening on the coasts.

Joe said...

[Disclaimer: I am a lapsed Mormon]

I thought comments by both Wright and Feiler were interesting. Mormonism is a weird religion, though much more mainstream and pragmatic than people realize once you get past the really weird stuff.

The most astute comment was from Wright who said what I've often said; the biggest problem is that Mormonism was founded too recently. They haven't had sufficient time to redact the weirdest stuff and there is too much documented history that brings the veracity of Joseph Smith into question.

As for Romney; I watched him turn the Salt Lake Winter Olympics around. One thing he did, though not widely publicized, is put the church back in its place (he told them to butt out and they listened.) On the other hand, the fear that the church would control him is actually well founded. Mormonism is a very centralized religion. If you are a believer and the Mormon prophet commands you to do something, you do it. So would Romney. Now the church leadership has been loathe to exercise this prerogative, but an issue may arise that the just can't resist jumping in.

(Here in Utah, our governor came up with a plan to rewrite our tax code. He got a lot of people on board. Only problem is that it eliminated most deductions, including charitable contributions. The Mormon church said "ain't going to happen" and it didn't. This isn't conspiracy thinking since the idiot spokesman for the church bragged about this at a press conference shortly after the fact with all sorts of bullshit reasons why what they just didn't wasn't, in fact, political.)

Christy said...

All I know about Mormonism I learned from Krakaur's Under the Banner of Heaven which is a very scary book. He does strongly make the point that the scary stuff comes from the extreme splinter groups. I have a problem, however, in that I think the basic religion enables some very misogynist behavior. The entire religion seems designed for the subjugation of women. Of course, I think the apostle Paul enables misogynist behavior, so take that for what it is worth. I'm also not much of a believer, but I do appreciate the value of the Judeo-Christian traditions. Perhaps it has to do with the maturity of the religion.

Dewave said...

If you want someone who had a dim view of the Mormons read Arthur Conan Doyle.

BrianOfAtlanta said...

Joe, your recounting of the tax code issue reminded me of an incident about 30 years ago when I was living in Kemmerer, WY. Coca Cola had been on the list of banned substances due to its caffeine content. Then, a Mormon bought out the distribution rights in Utah, and suddenly Coca Cola was declared fit to drink, though coffee was still verboten. Business interests play an interesting role in setting church doctrine.

From my personal experience, there is a much bigger difference between church doctrine and individual belief in Mormonism than there is in Christianity. You don't find rank-and-file Mormons expounding church doctrine the way Christians do. Indeed, in my experience many Mormons are practicing monotheists, unaware that their church doctrine is polytheistic. Essentially, they are Christians attending a non-Christian church. This is hardly surprising to me, given the number of Christians who believe such things as people becoming angels upon arrival in Heaven. When "It's a Wonderful Life" has a greater influence on a Christian's theology than the pastor or Sunday school teacher, one can hardly be surprised at rank-and-file Mormons who do much the same thing.

Joe said...

If a Christian is someone who believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ and who believe he died for your sins and resurrected three days later, then Mormons are Christian. If you pill a whole lot of bullshit on top of that like many so-called "Christian" religions do, then it isn't.

(Be aware that to die hard Protestants, Catholics aren't Christian either, which is utter nonsense.)

Incidentally the Coca-Cola story is nonsense. The church sometimes receives contributions in the form of stocks and usually liquidates them immediately.

I don't disagree that as with all peoples there is a difference between church and personal doctrines and beliefs, but I do disagree that the rank-and-file Mormons don't understand the basic claims of their religion. They belief them and like them. (Hell, I like them even I think they're mostly balderdash.)

jan@theviewfromher said...

There's a tendency in today's world to confuse people with ideas. By that, I mean we tend to think we should value (respect) all ideas equally, but treat people unequally (name calling, character assassination,etc.) In fact, we get it exactly backwards. People should always be respected as human beings, but ideas must be evaluated to determine if they deserve respect. This is what adults do - analyze and "judge" the veracity of ideas. While not all ideas deserve respect - all people do.

aquariid said...

Romney has two problems: Hard core fundamentalists call the Mormon church a "cult". They bristle at any reference to Mormonism as a Christian sect. (Roman Catholics feel the same.) The other problem is that the Mormon church itself might not like all the attention. The power it has in Utah is something that most Americans would find unacceptable.

Invisible Man said...

I essentially agree with Jan, that we are probably best served from some separation between ideas and people, but its hard for me to do that while ignoring the political context of religion over the past few years. It wasn't enough for people to just respect Kerry being a Catholic, Republicans had to dissect how good of a Catholic he was and we saw pretty much the same thing with Clinton before that.

It just seems a little to convenient for Republicans who because of their lack of a top tier candidate who both has the right religion and the "righteous" personal background, to now be so quick to dismiss those as tests for Presidential leadership. As they say, live by the sword die by the sword.

bill said...

I'll see the local LDS yutes riding bicycles down the road while wearing dress shirts and ties (and nametags, almost forgot the nametags). Seems odd to me, but most likely harmless.

Jennifer said...

Mormonism is not that far different from Scientology. Both fairly recently founded, both started by seemingly obvious con men, both pretty interested in expanding their power into a civil realm, both requiring fairly sizable tithing from their believers. The only real differences are that Mormonism tried to piggyback off an existing religion and its central tenets are arguably positive.

Mormons may consider themselves Christian but so do those wacky churches that dance around with snakes. In the end, does it really matter? Shouldn't they be judged on their own merits regardless of who they claim communion with?

Freder Frederson said...

Mormons may consider themselves Christian but so do those wacky churches that dance around with snakes. In the end, does it really matter? Shouldn't they be judged on their own merits regardless of who they claim communion with?

But the Mormons claim one other thing that most true Christians don't realize, and the LDS Church tries to downplay so they don't appear so nutty, but is still a central tenet of their religion. They believe they are the only true Christian religion and all other Christians are apostates. They don't go around calling the Catholic Church the "Whore of Babylon" anymore, but the general sentiment still underlies their faith.

Internet Ronin said...

Oh, piffle.

Fen said...

The irony is that the Mormons I know are better Christians than the Christians I know.

Had to study Mormonism because I almost married one when I was younger. Agree that its still in the Cult to Religion stage.

Then again, the concerns about Romney's mormonism seem to be a religous test for office. I'm not the least bit bothered by his religion. At least his spiritual appetite won't be misdirected at Humanism or Global Warming.

Freder Frederson said...

One problem for Mormonism (like Islam) is that it does not seem to have much of a reform movement

Actually they do, The Community of Christ (which used to be called the Reorganized Latter Day Saints) is a splinter group that split from the main group of Mormons in the 1850's (and was led by Joseph Smith III) and is much more liberal than the LDS (e.g., they ordain women). It is based in Independence, MO.

The wonderful thing about it, is that it owns the land and runs the temple where, according to LDS doctrine, Jesus is supposed to return to. So although the LDS claims to be the one true "Mormon" church, the Community of Christ literally holds the keys to Zion.

Evil HR Lady said...

re: Power LDS church has in Utah legislature.

I once worked for the Utah State Legislature. Met with, talked to, worked with every lobbyist known to mankind. Never met a lobbyist from the LDS (Mormon) church. One exists, certainly, but there isn't an overwhelming presence.

The reason the LDS church has power in Utah is because the majority of the people are Mormons. It's not because the Church leadership is calling the shots.

LoafingOaf said...

Then again, the concerns about Romney's mormonism seem to be a religous test for office.

Romney advocates a religious test for office against atheists.

I'm not the least bit bothered by his religion.

If he takes Mormonism seriously, I have to think lesser of him because Mormons believe in idiotic and objectively false things.

At least his spiritual appetite won't be misdirected at Humanism or Global Warming.

I want a candidate who will take global warming seriously while also not falling into the extreme hysteria about it. However, I'm not sure the best person to lead on global warming is someone who can't even figure out that there were not ancient tribes of millions of Jewish people cruising around North America in chariots.

I reject Romney because he's a Mormon bigot against atheists. If I were still open to him, I'd wanna know how seriously he takes the insane beliefs of his cult. Some people are part of a religion but don't take it overly seriously, and are just part of it out of family tradition.

A person's religion and how they personally approach it is a very legit issue for voters to consider, whether the candidate practices Christianity, Judaism, Voodoo, Scientology, Astrology, whatever. Romney is convincing the Christianist groups that he's one of them, and that's fine. But I won't be voting for him. Ann Coulter loves him, though.

pablo H said...

Here's something about Judaism from Bruce's Blog:

"Every late March and early April, for the two to three weeks leading up to the celebration of the Jewish Passover holiday season in the United States, Coke fans living in major metropolitan areas with large Jewish populations get their Real Thing, if only for that brief fleeting period. According to Jewish law, nothing made with chametz (any of a number of proscribed cereals and grains, including corn) during passover may be consumed — so in order not to lose sales from observant Jews during that eight day period, a small number of Coca-Cola bottlers make a limited batch of the original Coke formulation, using refined sugar."

"Needless to say, stocks run out quickly and fans of Passover Coke have been known to travel many miles seeking out supermarkets with remaining caches.
Passover Coke products (and Passover Pepsi) in 2-Liter bottles can be distinguished by their yellow caps, inscribed either with just the “OU-P” symbol and/or the words Kosher L’Pesach in Hebrew. up."

Passover coke, hmm..., I suppose someone could say that's pretty "weird" - but I'm sure only a Mormon would think that.

Fen said...

I reject Romney because he's a Mormon bigot against atheists.

Huh? What?

A person's religion and how they personally approach it is a very legit issue for voters to consider, whether the candidate practices Christianity, Judaism, Voodoo, Scientology, Astrology, whatever.

You forgot Islam. Is that because Obama appeals to you?

Revenant said...

It wasn't enough for people to just respect Kerry being a Catholic, Republicans had to dissect how good of a Catholic he was

Er... why on Earth would anyone respect a person for "being a Catholic" without considering whether or not that person actually ACTS like a Catholic?

If George Bush has said "I'm was a Vietnam war hero", would Democrats have said "well, its enough to respect him for being a war hero, let's not investigate what he actually did during the war"? Of course not!

Scott said...

[I'm a Mormon]

Just thought I'd respond to some comments on here as a Mormon... I'm not particularly interested in deep philosophical debate at this point (it's mid-terms), but I wanted to throw in my two cents:

From christy:

I have a problem, however, in that I think the basic religion enables some very misogynist behavior. The entire religion seems designed for the subjugation of women.

Dang. I forgot all about how I'm supposed to subjugate women as part of my religion. Sorry about that. I guess I'll have to go tell my wife that she shouldn't begin law school with me next year and pursue a career that interests her so she can sit in the kitchen all day and knit. What a horrible oversight on my part. I'll try to do better in the future.

I'm not sure such foolishness deserves much more of a response than that. See http://scriptures.lds.org/en/dc/121/37#37 Authority rests in proper action - a failure to properly respect one's wife ends all authority a man has over her, period. I'd expect my wife to bolt if I ever did anything to harm her in the slightest, and I come from a family where my mother did just that - at the advice of church leaders.

From brianofatlanta:

Coca Cola had been on the list of banned substances due to its caffeine content. Then, a Mormon bought out the distribution rights in Utah, and suddenly Coca Cola was declared fit to drink, though coffee was still verboten. Business interests play an interesting role in setting church doctrine.

A few points:

1. Coke has never been on a list of "banned substances". True, many Mormons eschew caffeinated beverages, but beyond black tea and coffee, none are forbidden or will affect member standing so far as the church is concerned.

2. The story regarding the stocks is false. (http://www.snopes.com/cokelore/mormon.asp) Unless, of course, you have some secret knowledge that's unavailable to the rest of the world, the entire thing is based on hearsay that has been kicked around for decades now. Some urban legends are just too good to die, I guess.

You don't find rank-and-file Mormons expounding church doctrine the way Christians do. Indeed, in my experience many Mormons are practicing monotheists, unaware that their church doctrine is polytheistic.

This is a question of definitions. Is a monotheist one who worships one god, or one who believes only in the existence of one god? My understanding of the term is that a monotheist is generally the former, in which case yes, Mormons are monotheists and consider themselves to be so. They worship only one God - the Heavenly Father. The fact that others have attained what God hath, such as Christ, does not change the fact that only one God exists who should be worshipped.

Mormons are not trinitarians - this is the issue, not so much one of polytheism vs. monotheism. We reject the Nicean creed. If you want to call me a polytheist and assume to understand what I believe better than I do myself - and that's one tall order - then go ahead, pat yourself on the back, and do so, as I don't really care.


Now, saying that, Romney doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell. I'm a Mormon raised in the Southeast (never really lived in Utah until I was 21), and he can't possibly win the primaries there. A smart candidate would keep him off the ticket for fear of the reactions listed above. Romney risks offending the Republican base far too much to make him a viable candidate for any national office. He's fairly well qualified as far as his background in business and government go, but not presidential material.

Maybe one day there will be a Mormon president, but it won't be January 2009. I see little point in voting for a man based on his religion in any case. I am displeased with the extreme glee many of my coreligionists have regarding the Romney campaign for purely religious reasons, but the number of those who really do so is likely smaller than most think - the campaign isn't big news on BYU's campus.