Reflections on Being a Dangerous Mormon

Worried about the possibility of a Romney presidency, evangelical writer Warren Smith recently labeled Mormonism “a false and dangerous religion.” He is worried, among other things, that Mormons do not affirm the Trinity as described in the Nicene Creed. I can’t help but wonder how many past presidents would have been disqualified on this ground. Deists such as Thomas Jefferson flatly and openly rejected the Creed, and I would bet that many subsequent presidents knew little of the Creed, let alone affirm it with conviction.  Apparently, also, the many Christians who lived before the first creed was formulated in 325 AD were dangerous as well?

But Warren Smith is not the only one to make such observations. When Damon Linker, a respected thinker on religious matters, did a two year stint as a visiting professor at Brigham Young University, he wondered if his students would kill wantonly if their prophet asked them to do so. One must admire his courage for lingering on campus another minute, lest the command should come while he was in the belly of the beast. Undaunted by the threat, however, Linker courageously warned the world in The New Republic that a Romney presidency would be controlled by Salt Lake City.

And in his book Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer labeled Mormonism a “violent faith.” And why shouldn’t he draw such a conclusion? You must understand, Krakauer breathlessly explains in over 400 pages, a Mormon committed a heinous murder once! Don’t let the extremely low rate of violent crime in Mormon communities deceive you. That, too, is part of the deception.

But never mind the details. We’ve been labeled dangerous, and while fellow Mormons might be offended, I want to enjoy the label. For in reality, the life of a Mormon family man contains few moments of danger, let alone the opportunity to actually be dangerous. So being considered a threat great enough to challenge American democracy is a fun break from the humdrum of work and family. I like to imagine the scenarios.

The first is that I get tired of pretending to being a well rounded, contributing member of American society. Beware, America. Lock your doors, cling to your guns and Bibles, for this Mormon is on the loose. Just as soon as I say family prayers, help put the kids to bed, and take out the trash, I’m going to going to commence my ambitions of undermining American civilization by installing a theocratic state wherein everyone will be forced to drive minivans, fill them with babies, and spend three hours in church weekly.

Or perhaps I could be a “sleeper cell” Mormon terrorist, living the life of a well adjusted, assimilated American (The rosy cheeked children! The American flag in the yard!). All the while I wait for the time to come when we will implement our plans for world domination. When the secret word is announced (learned in the temple, no doubt) I will turn into a mindless automaton, ready to blindly and obediently carry out the sinister plans of the Prophet. At which time I will cast off my sheep’s clothing and become the prowling wolf I have been trained to be, ready to take revenge on all those who nearly exposed who I really was all this time I was growing pumpkins in my back yard and changing diapers.

But alas, it is all a dream. If only Mormonism were as dangerous as Christianity has historically been, my life would be more exciting. Instead, I must deal with the day-in-day-out routine of attempting (often unsuccessfully) to live Christ’s teachings and preparing Sunday school lessons that will keep my fellow religious fanatics from falling asleep in their chairs.


P.S. I don’t mean to drop into FPR  from nowhere, but I did a guest stint here a while back, and my buddy Chris H invited me to post this here in addition to my own obscure and neglected blog.


Polygamy and the Shaping of Mormon Identity

I am currently reading “A Mormon Mother: The autobiography of Annie Clark Tanner.” My dissertation advisor had told me the story of Tanner’s experience with polygamy was “heartbreaking”, and indeed several moments in the text have invoked my sympathy for this remarkable woman. However, Tanner manages to convey her ordeals without indulging in self pity, and her memories never devolve into bitterness and resentment, even though such feelings would have been justified. Perhaps herein lies the power of this text: Tanner manages her difficult past with such dignity and honesty (but without didactic piety) that the reader feels he must supply the outrage on her behalf. At least that has been my experience so far. And—for those not familiar with this book—this is not a humble pioneer “my life on the prairie” diary. Tanner was an educated and eloquent woman whose combination of honesty and restraint should serve as a model to would-be present day Mormon memoirists.
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High Standards, Mercy, and Forgiveness

…a short sermon for Sunday

Though I live at the northern tip of the Jell-O belt, I follow the news throughout Utah and Idaho. I have noticed that whenever there is some sort of community scandal, high profile crime, or mid-profile crime (okay, anything involving middle class Mormons) there is a tendency on comment boards to want to “throw the book” at the perpetrator. Maximum sentence! Throw away the key! Make an example! Crucify them! Even the innocuous story of David Archuleta choosing not to serve a mission garnered the harsh disapproval of many saints.

Now, we must keep in mind that such comments may not fairly represent the general reaction of the community, so we must be wary of making generalizations regarding LDS culture based on these comment boards (we all know what unsavory characters can inhabit internet discussion forums!). Furthermore, this tendency to want to lock people up in the stocks and begin spitting may be more a product of Puritan-rooted American culture, or even, simply, human nature.

However, my concern here is for LDS culture. If we are more judgmental than the rest, then we need to repent. If we are equally judgmental than the rest, then we need to repent. Is the tendency toward judgment and condemnation a by product of a community that upholds high moral standards? Perhaps, but only if the qualities of mercy and forgiveness and compassion are considered separate and distinct from the category of “high moral standards.”  Unfortunately, I think that’s how it works. We think of high morality as things like not drinking, not swearing, no R movies, perfect chastity, perfect honesty, etc… I have no problem with this list, but what if “high propensity to forgive” or “high degree of mercy for others’ shortcomings” were also part of that list of high standards?

Obviously people need to be held accountable for crimes, and dangerous criminals need to be prevented from doing further harm. But most of the stone throwing has little to do with desire for justice and everything to do with lust for vengeance. And, by the way, this post has nothing to do with the tension between mercy and justice. The kind of angry condemnation I’m talking about has nothing in common with justice.

Satan has been called the great accuser, and it makes sense that this tendency to accuse and condemn is proportionate to our own sinful nature. We are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. Do we really believe that or is it a nice throw away line, a half-hearted attempt at humility? H.G. Wells once said that “Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo.” When we see the sin in others, do we gawk in a combination of voyeurism and indignation as we see (with a tinge of jealousy) someone who actually carried out the very sins that we commit daily in our hearts? Do we look at the scandalous headlines and see our reflection staring back, and so turn in anger and disgust, denying ourselves and others the mercy of Christ? I think this is why repentance and forgiveness of others are so inseparably connected. The truly repentant will look upon the sins of others with compassion and desire to lift. Knowing that he or she is not without sin, the repenting soul will not be tempted to pick up the nearest stone.

Against Doomsday

Enough about Christmas, let’s talk about death and destruction. Excited? Well, it seems a lot of people are. I know folks who just can’t pass up an opportunity to point out that we are in the last days—the great end of times. Usually the reference comes up in relation to some grave concern expressed about the fate of our country—a nation in the hands of the conspiratorial communists currently in the White House plotting the destruction of everything our Found Fathers held so dear. Yes, the Constitution is hanging by a thread, (but a pretty resilient thread, it turns out, since the same thread has apparently been sustaining said document since McCarthy’s and Skousen’s 1950’s). I remember when Clinton won office in 1992 and 1996; the right heralded both events as the downfall of America. Then Bush’s double election signaled the decline of Western civilization to the left. Now Obama—no, this one’s for real this time—stands with scissors and thread firmly in hand. Fifty gallon water storage containers are on sale…quick!
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The Magic of Christmas and the Enchanted Mormon Worldview

I appreciate Chris for inviting me here, or doing his reactivation work. I have been a less active member of the bloggernacle for a couple years, after an initially enthusiastic start. I also appreciate the Thoreau reference, now if only I could grow one of those cool chin beards.

Anyway, I thought I’d start off with something light and festive.

I have noticed a direct correlation between the strength of my testimony and how much I feel that nebulous thing called “the Christmas Spirit.” There was a time when I descended quite low into humbugism. I pointed out the pagan origins of December 25, sneered at the commercialism, and smugly embraced a just-another-day attitude. Not coincidentally, this was also a spiritually low point in my life. Having children has played a significant role in returning me to the fold of Christmas. (Brining the tree in the other day was nearly a Pentecostal experience for my kids.) However, the greater factor has been that my testimony of the gospel has waxed in recent years. Nothing adds to the enjoyment of Christmas like, well, actually having faith Christ, and even more, embracing the magical worldview of Mormonism.

Some years ago as a guest blogger at Times and Seasons, Damon Linker argued that Mormonism restores “enchantment” to Christianity. Linker states:

“Mormons believe, for example, that every human being who has ever lived is the literal spirit child of an embodied God who actually resides on a planet in the visible universe — and that after we die we will literally be reunited with Him. If that’s not an enchanted world, I don’t know what is.”

Now to speak of magic and enchantment is not to deny an ultimately naturalistic universe governed by physical laws, but it does posit a universe that, however “natural,” is more radically alive and responsive and intelligent than we currently comprehend. Mormonism places things like angels and golden plates and seer stones smack dab in the middle of modernity. Angels pushed handcarts in the age of the railroad and now warn people of imminent danger in the age of the I-Phone.

So what does this have to do with Christmas? Maybe not much, but once you believe in a universe of angels and gods worlds without end, a universe where animals and trees and the very earth possess some kind of spirit, the image of angels and shepherds and starry nights take on—if the term isn’t paradoxical—a magical reality. Once we accept the angel at Cumorah, there is nothing problematic about angelic beings stepping it up during the Christmas season, declaring glad tidings and whispering promptings of peace on Earth and goodwill toward men, now, in 2009.

In his second post on Mormon enchantment, Linker wonders, given this magical worldview, how we would respond to the challenge “that has always been leveled against biblical religion — namely that it’s just wishful thinking, fairytales, Santa Clause writ large, Disneyland Christianity, etc.”  There may be many and varied responses to this challenge, but among them I hope not to find too much back peddling or touting the rationalistic credentials of Mormonism. Santa Claus and fairytales resonate with people because they point to something true about God and the universe. Disenchantment turns the magical into something called reality. I prefer the approach of the restored gospel, which makes reality magical.