Friday, February 8, 2008

Mormons Dismayed by Harsh Spotlight - WSJ.com

Mormons Dismayed by Harsh Spotlight - WSJ.com

This whole presidential campaign has been especially interesting to me, as a former (recovering?) Mormon. To see the way Mormons are portrayed in the media, to read the commentary from other religious and secular sources, and to consider my own thoughts and feelings has been a unique experience for me.

As a child and adolescent, I remember being taught in church the standard "party line" for questions like "are Mormons Christian?", "does your dad have lots of wives", etc.... At the time, I thought that the way we were perceived by mainstream Christians was silly-- after all, shouldn't we as Mormons have the right to self-identify as Christians? Doesn't professing belief in the divinity of Christ count? If the church outlawed polygamy a hundred years ago, why are we still getting this question? We were taught, both implicitly and explicitly, that the reason for these questions was essentially jealousy or other latent ill will because we were the "one true religion". All of these false churches were banding together against us because we had the revealed truth! It was so obvious!

Once in college, I devoured philosophy courses. I realized that the doubts that I had were not unique to me, that there was nothing wrong with pursuing metaphysical questions. When you're a Mormon, questioning is mildly discouraged. Questioning too much might lead you to false prophets, away from the truth. That mindset never really sat quite right with me, but I was always told to pray about it, listen for a "still, small voice" that would tell me God's will. Mormons place a great deal of emphasis on the concept that prophecy is not dead, that God personally, literally, speaks. Only, I never heard anything. I assumed that I was unworthy, that the very existence of my doubts had blocked me from being receptive to the voice of God. It wasn't until I started reading more of the philosophy of religion that I realized it was both normal and healthy to question the existence of god. Atheism was a viable alternative. Not only viable, it was the only option that made sense to me. The thing that I loved about philosophy was that nobody was telling me the answers. There were no "answers". There was a process of thought. Nobody was promoting atheism, or theism, or one religion over another; there was only an insistence that you had to have good reasons for whatever you believed. Your beliefs had to have intellectual consistency.

For me, there was no turning back. I tasted freedom, and reason was my new standard. It still is.

It wasn't until this year that I started thinking again about the issues that Mormonism raises, due primarily to Mitt Romney's campaign. Only now, I got to see the commentary from the outside, as a non-Mormon. What a difference! Then I read the front page article- above the fold no less- from today's Wall Street Journal. What a perfect catalyst for this post, which I had been considering writing for some time. Most Christians today seem to have a bit of a persecution complex (see also Bill Donohue), but Mormons have it worse than most. They've still got it in the back of their mind that the founder of their church was martyred and they were forced to flee to Utah in search of religious freedom (read: polygamy). Add to this the conviction that they are the "peculiar people" and that Satan is actively trying to keep people from their religion because of its truth, and one develops quite a heady mix of persecution complex.

In spite of this, there was always the sentiment within the church that they were making headway. The church was growing rapidly, both home and abroad, which only fed the conviction that people were finding the truth irresistable. That's the context behind the article in the Wall Street Journal- that's why Mormons are so surprised now to find that people still don't like them. *gasp* Mormon beliefs are still mistrusted within and without Christianity, and rightly so.

Mr. Romney's candidacy revived old lines of attack and mockery of some of the church's unusual practices, such as secret ceremonies, the wearing of special undergarments, and the baptizing the dead in the belief that it will help them join family members in heaven.

The only thing that I don't understand is why Mormon beliefs are ridiculed within Christianity, but Christian beliefs are not held up to the same level of ridicule in society at large.

I apologize, but I can't remember the radio show I was listening to, but the host had a brilliant bit of satire. It was several weeks ago, and he was trying to argue that the religion of a candidate ought not be a part of the equation for determining who you are going to vote for. He was deadpanning that "yes, those Mormons are so ridiculous for believing that an angel came to Earth with golden plates, revealing a new religion. All good Christians know that it really happened when a new star appeared in the sky and a virgin gave birth to the literal son of god. All good Christians know that they literally are eating the flesh and drinking the blood of this god-man when they take communion. They know that the universe was created in six days, and two of every animal in the world rode on a boat at the same time. And of course, all good Muslims know about the 72 virgins awaiting martyrs..." Again, I can't remember the exact source, but if someone remembers, please post it in the comments.

None of these beliefs make any damn sense given what a rational person can observe about the world around them. This is what I came to realize about all religions. The more I thought about them, the less sense they made. Once I stopped accepting the dogma I was fed, the scales fell from my eyes and I was able to think. This is why I make fun of you if you believe in unbelievable things. This is why I occasionally toy with the thought of moving to northern Europe, where things are a little more sane. This is why I'm outraged when you say you want to put prayer back in the schools, or change the constitution, or limit stem cell research, or any of thousands of things that you do that hurt other people or take away their rights without any good reason. This is why I'm an atheist.

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