Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Acceptable religious bigotry

Glenn Reynolds links to this thoughtful essay about how it has become absolutely acceptable for people, mostly liberals, to mock Mormons and their religion. This is so true.
I’ve attended numerous scholarly conferences since that lunch where Mormonism has been discussed, and it is amazing to confront snide and disdainful comments and even overt prejudice from intellectually and sophisticated academics. And it seems perfectly acceptable to express this bias. Mormons are abnormal, outside the mainstream; everybody knows that. They don’t drink alcohol and coffee. Their women are suppressed. They don’t like the cross, and their most holy book seems made up. And there’s that multiple-wives thing. At one session involving a discussion of Utah’s history, several dismissive comments were spoken, rather blithely and without any sense of embarrassment. Belittling comments were made about Mormons' abstemiousness, and there was a general negative undercurrent. The LDS Church was referred to as the Mormon Church, something many members object to. They don’t mind being called Mormons, but their church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or LDS Church. At least some of the professors who were making these remarks knew that.

Yes, Mormons do not embrace the cross as a symbol of Christianity, but it is because they consider it representing state-sanctioned execution and intense suffering. I regard it as a sacrifice on my behalf. Who’s right? Various Christian denominations think that during communion the wine and wafers actually are transformed into the body and blood of Christ – and over the centuries Christians have been derided as cannibals. I was raised to believe that the Eucharist represents the sacrifice of Jesus. Nothing more than different perspectives and beliefs.

Mormons are excoriated in popular culture (see: "The Simpsons") for the way their church was created by someone who was kind of a con man. And the translation of the Book of Mormon was accomplished with a hat. And the Golden Tablets have been lost. Hmmm. The stone tablets of the Ten Commandments were misplaced, too. And a burning bush talking? Really? It comes down to faith, as it should. Not some sort of ignorant bigotry.

Many of the academics consider themselves liberal, socially responsible, and broad-minded individuals, the repository of the best in America. They’re proud of themselves for voting for Barack Obama (a bit too smug maybe?). They would splutter and bluster and be generally outraged to be considered prejudiced. None would consider saying anything similar about African-Americans, Muslims, Jews, Native Americans . . . well, you get the idea. But anti-Mormonism is part of the same continuum that contains discrimination against any group. Why, then, is it allowable publicly express bias against Mormons?
I hear and read this type of disdain all the time. Yes, parts of their religion may seem quite weird and cult-like, but wouldn't that be true if you examined the origins of every religion? The difference is the time frame. If Joseph Smith had lived a couple of thousand of years ago, people would just accept that this is what these people believed and few would feel comfortable mocking their beliefs. But today all sorts of people who would be horrified to hear someone ridiculing Muslim, Hindu, Jewish beliefs feel it's fine to show their supposed intellectual superiority to Mormons. Over fifty years ago, some voters felt that way about voting for a Catholic for president. I would have hoped that we'd grown beyond that in 2012. But the fact that people feel comfortable mocking one particular religion says something very discouraging about our society. And the media are not helping by running these pseudo-anthropological pieces examining what Mormons may or may not believe or unhappy bits of their history. If they're going to write up the Meadow Mountain Massacre, let's talk the Inquisition or Thirty Years War or any number of other bloodthirsty episodes from other religions' histories.