The Ignorance of Defensive Mormons
The last time I attended a Mormon sacrament meeting was around two years ago. The principle speaker was a stake high councilman. Boasting success in his professional life, he credited his accomplishments to his compassionate approach toward the “less worthy.”
“When I mix with my worldly colleagues,” he explained, “I see them not as they are but as they could be. Dressed in white and in the Celestial Room after receiving their sacred temple endowments.”
The mental image taking form, my first instinct was to suppress a giggle. Temple robes and aprons at the corporate happy hour? For Heavenly Father’s sake! But I was also both surprised and embarrassed to discover that there are still Mormons out there who insist they are without blemish, while all the rest of us are covered in warts.
I should have known. After all, the terms for outsiders and within-the-ranks slackers are still embedded in the Mormon lexicon: “less-actives,” “inactives,” “jack-Mormons,” “liberal Mormons,” “anti-Mormons,” and, of course, “nonmembers.” And when the self-righteous fling these assignations, they seem blissfully unconcerned that they are condemning over 99% of the earth’s population.
It would follow that anyone possessing such a narcissistic worldview might take offense at even the slightest criticism. Nevertheless, I was again surprised and embarrassed when I read the recent piece in The Atlantic, “The Ignorance of Mocking Mormonism” by Hal Boyd.
Boyd, who is the editorial page editor for the Deseret News, introduces his tiresome screed about “Mormon mocking” with a quote from Charles Dickens:
“What the Mormons do seems to be excellent, what they say is mostly nonsense.”
Skewing Dickens’ mildly critical praise into the height of insults, Boyd then quotes similarly “mocking” remarks from other notables. His conclusion being that it isn’t enough for “nonmembers” to merely admire the Mormons as people. They must also buy into the whole of their beliefs. Proclaim Mormonism as the “one and only true church.” Even though they’ve no intention of joining themselves.
It would also follow that Boyd has little appreciation for the trials of other faiths. Awash in self-pity, he goes on to complain:
“The Catholics got The Sound of Music; the Jews got Fiddler on the Roof, and, well, the Mormons got South Park on stage.”
Given Boyd’s narcissistic worldview, I shouldn’t be surprised by this unfounded, self-inflicted belly-aching. But I am surprised. Also embarrassed that after almost seven years since it opened on Broadway, Mormons like Boyd are still whining about the Book of Mormon. As though that adorable chorus line of tap dancing missionaries is something akin to an “anti-Mormon” version of Charlie Hebdo.
But I digress. The central target of Boyd’s venom is another article in The Atlantic: “One Blasphemer’s New Admiration for Mormons,” by Kurt Andersen. Impressed with prominent LDS Republicans such as Jeff Flake and Mitt Romney for speaking out against Donald Trump and Roy Moore, Andersen literally gushes over the Mormons’ sincerity and strength of character, attributing these gifts to the quality of the faith’s leadership and cohesive culture:
“Latter-day Saints are genuinely old-fashioned, with a strong top-down hierarchical establishment that maintains a powerful communitarianism and enforces exacting norms … In addition, while so much of politicized American Christianity is driven by loathing and condemnation, conforming to the religious scholar George Marsden’s definition—‘a fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about something’—Mormons tend to be more cheerfully, industriously focused on their own tribal self-improvement.”
As a “nonmember,” Andersen is unable to accept the Mormon doctrine. Nevertheless he finds value in it:
“… while I find their religious beliefs as extreme and strange as I do those of most American Protestants, Mormons seem more consistently virtuous and disciplined in the ways they live their lives.”
Sadly, that wasn’t good enough for Boyd, who accuses Andersen of granting faint praise while “simultaneously snickering” at his beliefs. Evidently he expected Andersen, an atheist, to conclude by bearing his testimony.
His unrealistic expectation unmet, Boyd composed this embarrassing screed and then submitted it to a major publication. Thus detracting from the efforts of Flake, Romney, and even the well-meaning Andersen.
H. L. Mencken wrote, “We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”
But then, he was a “nonmember.”