I couldn’t help but stop by MormonTimes.com for this headline, “Elizabeth Smart case shows best and worst of religion’s influence“. I thought since Brian David Mitchell is a splinter from Mormonism the writers at MormonTimes might suggest something really “out there,” like, maybe, Mormonism can, in fact, be bad for humanity if certain ideas and practices are emphasized rather than others. Okay, the odds of that happening are virtually zero. But the headline grabbed my attention. Instead, what we get is efforts to distance Mitchell from Mormonism and even from religion, like the following:
In fact, when Mitchell used his quasi-religious beliefs to justify victimizing Elizabeth Smart, religion itself came under fire.
In the local press, some commentators compared Mitchell to Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, asserting that Smith also used claims of religious authority to victimize others. If some people have trouble distinguishing the likes of Mitchell from Smith, Smart does not. In her testimony she denounced Mitchell as an evil hypocrite.
The article fails to admit that this assertion – that Mitchell and Smith both did use their religious authority to victimize others – is true, and even in the same way: they claimed divine retribution against girls if they didn’t stick their penis in their vagina. I don’t mean to suggest that Smith and Mitchell are the same; as far as I know Smith never actually abducted any women and raped them over a lengthy period of time. He was a much smoother operator and apparently liked variety over domination. But the method employed wasn’t that different.
The article then turns its focus to how Mormonism has helped Elizabeth Smart cope with her trauma:
Faith in God helped Smart cope with violence, even violence hypocritically perpetrated in God’s name. When asked by KSL-TV why she chose to serve a Mormon mission, Elizabeth said she wanted others to know what she knows: “Whatever could happen to me, whatever happens to me, I will always be with my family,” she said. “I know that there is a God and he loves us, and that no matter what people can take from you or do to you or harm you, they can’t take that away from you.”
I don’t want to dismiss the fact that it does seem to have helped Elizabeth. I’m glad Elizabeth is doing well and I do hope she continues to do well in light of the trauma she suffered.
I just think the phrasing of the article, using qualifiers every time it talks about Mitchell’s religion (“hypocritical”, “quasi-religious,” “quirky”), is interesting. It isn’t uncommon for people to insist that those like them who behave in deplorable ways are, in fact, not like them. My favorite example of this was what a student in one of my classes said when I noted that there are Christian terrorists. The student said, “I’m a Christian. I would never do that. So, they can’t be Christians.” This perfectly illustrates my point: Mormons are, well, Mormons. And since they value their religion and think of it as a good thing, they have a hard time believing that their religion could motivate people to do abhorrent things.
News Flash for the MormonTimes: Religion isn’t necessarily good or bad; it can be used in good ways and bad ways. Religion doesn’t make people good. And quasi-religion doesn’t make them bad. What do you say you add a little nuance to your articles that better reflects reality?