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.”
With all of this talk about Mormon “goodness” few mention that Sen. Flake and many other Mormon politicians, who may not like Trump’s abrasiveness, generally support Trump’s agenda to look out for the interests of the rich at the expense of others. If you you want a lesson in Mormon “niceness” try spending a few weeks in Utah while the Mormon dominated state legislature is in session. You’ll see little but condescension, imposing their will on others, and a nice dose of good ol’ mean-spiritedness. And all of those hours of service Mormons are famous for? That time is almost all involved in “building the Kingdom” in one way or anther. In other words, building the church. As you say Donna, the LDS are so obviously aware of everyone else’s “warts” while taking extreme offense if anyone suggests their own beauty may only be skin-deep. And you are so right in pointing out that they are offended, even when complimented by outsiders, because those outsiders may not buy into their beliefs. What about my sincerely held religious beliefs that women and queers are fully equal to Mormon men?
Now that I’ve ranted, I must add that some Mormons are genuinely wonderful people, even if overly defensive. When I mentioned to two of my Mormon siblings (two of the genuinely best people on the planet BTW) that I had seen a recent performance of the Book of Mormon and that it was hilarious, they were offended. I had to, once again, remind myself that my life is offensive to most Mormons and I just need to stay silent most of the time when around them. Okay, I had to get in one last jab there. My siblings are genuinely good people though, and that’s not a compliment I hand out lightly.
@Jeff Laver — I totally relate. I’m feeling a little depressed about the same subject right now…
I confess I’ve never followed the Utah legislature, but I am not at all surprised by Jeff’s description! I seem to remember some years back they created the position “Utah Porn Czar” and then appointed a single LDS woman who had admittedly never had sex. Yet another example of Mormon cluelessness…
Also the part about taking offense over the BoM musical. Over the years we’ve gotten faith-promoting letters and emails from LDS friends and relatives seeking to reconvert us. In every case, when we’ve politely countered their assertions, they’ve taken huge offense, claiming we didn’t respect their beliefs.
Right! I don’t respect their beliefs. Only their right to have them. Which is all I expect in return. But try and explain that and … Well, it’s a mind-numbing experience. Like chanson, I get can depressed over this.
Thank you for some sanity and balance. God knows we need it.
Indeed we do, Kevin. Thanks so much for reading!