A Bashing We Shall Go?

3 June, 2012 | | 6 Comments

This evening my friend Momedy posted on Facebook a link to an interesting article about prejudice.  Based on the article, she posed the question, “Is Mormon bashing socially acceptable?”  Unfortunately, the answer still seems to be “Yes.”  

Should it be, obviously, is “No!”  It’s a good article, and there were great comments on her thread.  I made a study of the LDS Church in college, and since then have been to visit the public parts of the Temple in Salt Lake City.  I should note (while many of those who know me well are saying “Wait, what?”) that I was raised Roman Catholic, and I have studied a LOT of religions – I find belief and faith fascinating, largely since I have very nearly none myself.  I think of myself as a militant agnostic:  I don’t know, and you don’t either. 

I’ve found that the important part of any such study is to respect not only the beliefs in question but also the people who hold those beliefs, no matter what religion they identify with.  Robert Heinlein said that one man’s religion is another man’s belly laugh – and it’s true, but it needs to be a belly laugh behind closed doors, in private, because the other guy is laughing just as hard at your beliefs.  In the end, it is our ability to be simply polite to one another that will save us.

(Go read the article now, it’s short.  I’ll wait.)

So, why do people still think it’s OK to disparage Mormons?  I think it’s because the LDS church is still very young, in the broad sweep of history, and can still be considered to be in a “cult” stage of its evolution.  The difference between a cult and a religion is time and money.  The last time I checked on such things the LDS Church as an institution was able to keep several billion in cash on hand – these days, not as much as the Vatican, but a respectable sum.  The money’s there, and over time, money can buy respectability.  What the LDS Church hasn’t had is 2000 years of training people to expect that, hey, lots of people are Mormons and that’s fine.  Christianity was a cult to start with, just as Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam were.  That these are all considered mainstream religions now has everything to do with the numbers of faithful of these faiths and with the number of years that “everyone’s heard of them.”   I have several friends who attend Unitarian services; the Unitarians don’t have much of an organization, but they’ve been around for nearly 500 years.  Nobody really blinks anymore. 

The good news?  The LDS Church is growing up at a time when all the world’s connections are growing together faster than they ever have before.  It won’t take 2000 years for Mormons to be completely mainstream and for Mormon bashing to be socially passé – it might take 200, but hopefully even that may be guessing wide.  I believe in the power of the Internet to highlight this kind of irresponsible prejudice, shine a light on it, and get people to think before they talk. 

You know who we can sit around and tell jokes about?  Intolerant people.  I met this guy once, he was so intolerant, he wouldn’t let his kid have a sherbert because all the store had left was rainbow.   He was so intolerant, he had to ask for a different straw for his soda because he couldn’t bring himself to use one that might bend.  He was so intolerant, he asked his wife not to discuss sex while they were having it.  He was so intolerant, he was the only man Will Rogers didn’t like. 

Are there better intolerance jokes out there?  Any thoughts on the main point?   Can’t we just all get along?

  1. Big Ugly Man Doll says:

    It’s also worth noting that Tom Leher covered this pretty well in 1967… “I know there are people in this world who do not love their fellow man, and I HATE people like that!”

  2. Kirsty says:

    You are freaking awesome BUMD.

  3. Big Ugly Man Doll says:

    @Kirsty – Right back at you!

  4. Diane Henders says:

    “I don’t know, and you don’t either” – I love it!

    I’m of the same opinion, arrived at by a similar path – I was raised in the United Church, I took religious studies in university to get a big-picture view of the main religions, and I’m always interested in learning more about how and why people believe.

    And no, I don’t know. And I don’t expect to know. But as long as nobody tries to shove their beliefs down my throat, I’m okay with whatever gets them through the day without committing an act of violence.

    I think people bash religions for the same reason they bash any other group. Evolution programmed us to differentiate between “us” and “them” at a time when limited resources meant survival was an us-or-them proposition.

    Problem is, a lot of people still haven’t figured out that “us” is now “all human beings”. Their attitudes are still rooted in the kind of panicky insecurity that causes cliques in grade school: “I need to be better than somebody, so I’m going to create an arbitrary division and pretend the others are inferior because of it.”

    Grow up, folks, wouldja? You’re making me feel intolerant…

  5. Big Ugly Man Doll says:

    @Diane, exactly! One of my other favorite Heinlein quotes was this: “There is no conclusive evidence of life after death. There is no evidence of any sort against it. Soon enough you will know. Why fret about it?” That pretty much sums up my thinking on religion.

  6. Big Ugly Man Doll says:

    And a second article, from yesterday’s NYTimes OpEd pages: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/04/opinion/anti-mormonism-past-and-present.html

    I suspect we’re going to see more of this topic as the Romney campaign moves into high gear. There are two great quotes in this article: “Any religion looks weird from the outside…” No kidding. And sometimes, those differentiators are all people can see.

    For example, I’m an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church. Lots of people are; the ULC makes ordination available to everyone on the Internet, as long as you’re willing to read the website and push the button. (http://www.themonastery.org/) You used to be able to get a Doctorate of Divinity from them as well, for a small nominal fee; not sure that’s still possible.

    But the funny thing is that when you get past the Hahahaha-you-can-be-ordained-on-the-Internet part of the Universal Life Church and actually study what they’re preaching, the message is on point, relevant, and beautiful. It boils down very closely to the Sermon on the Mount and some of the teachings of Zen Buddhism – we are all children of the same universe. They’re not great at selling the message because they tend to trip over their own zeal, but that doesn’t detract from the beauty of the message.

    My sense is that the LDS Church has a few of the same issues. There are widespread and reasonably well-documented accounts of how the church was founded, which tend to put outsiders off right away. (Christianity, for example, doesn’t have to haul that kind of baggage around much any more: “His mom was a virgin and he was the son of God” doesn’t leave a lot of room for argument.) The author here makes this same kind of point, that “Mormon religious practice offers a lot of really, well, religious religion…” It’s the sacred things, not discussed outside the Temple, that make people wonder about “what are they talking about in there” – the unknown is to be feared. In contrast, for example, there is nearly nothing that you can’t find out about Catholic doctrine – it’s been open for everyone to look at and discuss for a thousand years. It’s about as WYSIWYG as a religion can get.

    The other quote I liked: “They [liberals] scoff at Mormonism’s all-male priesthood and ask why church leaders have yet to fully repudiate the racist teachings of previous authorities.” Riiiiight. Because all those female Catholic priests – oh, wait. And let’s note how quickly the Catholic Church decided that they *might* have been hasty in condemning that Galileo guy – oh, wait, that was 400 years.

    Anyway, the author’s main point seems a little too broad brush for me. We bash Mormons because it makes us feel good? Well, sure, except that’s why people who bash others bash ANYBODY. The Mormon author notices it when it’s the LDS Church being bashed in much the same way my Jewish friends would notice anti-Semitism – they’re conditioned to notice it, just as any minority is conditioned to notice their own persecution. The only way to win, in the end, is to realize that everyone is someone else’s minority, everyone is the butt of someone else’s joke, and to remember the quote attributed to pastor Martin Niemöller: “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

    We have to speak out for each other – all of us.

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