Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Mormons

"It’s great to hear people who believe in something and can articulate it without sounding crazy or defensive," fawned the Times reviewer of the new PBS documentary on Mormonism. Sorry, but if it's not crazy to affirm young Joseph Smith's hallucinations (he was just 21) as revealed truth then what is?

After last night's first installment (the conclusion airs tonight) I came away shaking my head in renewed astonishment, that so many sober and serious-sounding people could believe something so preposterous. If people will believe that, what won't they believe? It does not bode well for the democratic prospect. I remembered Mark Twain's sarcasm in Roughing It:

"Some people have to have a world of evidence before they can come anywhere in the neighborhood of believing anything, but for me when a man tells me that he has seen the engravings which are upon the plates and not only that, but an angel was there at the time and saw them see him and probably took his receipt for it, I am very far on the road to conviction no matter whether I have ever heard of that man before or not, and even if I do not know the name of the angel or his nationality either."

(The angel's name was Moroni, by the way.)

Then I remembered Julia Sweeney's "Letting Go of God," which begins by recounting a visit from a pair of eager young Mormon missionaries whose tale was so absurd that she started rethinking her own "mainstream" (Roman Catholic) credulities -- and realized that Virgin Births, trans-substantiation, redemptive crucifixion et al aren't so different, the stories have just been around longer.

My instinct in religion is to be tolerant even when I can't be open to the alleged revelation, but I'm coming around to the Dawkins-Harris hardline that we need to stop giving a free pass to incredible superstition and calling it, respectfully, religion when what it is is nonsense. (On this topic, watch for a future post on E.O. Wilson's recent overtures to Southern Baptists.)

For a refreshing perspective on the "latter-day Saints" take a look at www.postMormon.org. Unless you've already drunk the Kool-Aid yourself, you'll feel better about your species.

Addendum. Just watched part II, which on the whole took a more critically-independent stance and (for instance) acknowledged that Mormon "niceness" can mask a kind of spiritual violence. The spectacle of very young children being indoctrinated into the faith, singing about wanting to become missionaries and so forth, emphatically makes Dawkins' point that this is a form of child abuse. They are not "Mormon children" -- they are children of Mormon parents whose birthright to think for themselves has been unconscionably violated.

But, for the record: I too have found Mormons (and other religionists) to be good neighbors.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like Mormons!

After living in several different places, I would rather live among the Mormons then anywhere else.

There is a reason St. George, Utah was just named the fastest growing city in the nation, and it isn't due to the Mormons' birth rate.

The beauty of this place makes me wonder if this truly was made in heaven!

Seriously, think what you will about theology; I could not ask for better neighbors or friends. There isn't a strip club on every corner and people are actually civil.

If there is one thing we are lacking in society it is a measure of civility. If nothing more, the religion produces a measure of good-will unlike any I have ever seen. I remember reading something in my Bible about "By their Fruits Ye shall know them."

My humanities/philosophy professors in college probably would not agree, but Mormons are farily rational when compared to many other religious groups. I find them to be much more open-minded when compared to evangelical Christians. At least there is a recogniton of Evolution.
Some gray areas for abortion and gays are not hated.

I will take the Mormons--green jello and all!

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