Like the author, I’m tired of the quibbling over semantics.
Unlike the author, I kind of like the sappy ads.
Like the author, I’m tired of the quibbling over semantics.
Unlike the author, I kind of like the sappy ads.
So, on the day of the Florida Primary, the New York Times decided to scare the bejiggers out of the voters with a piece titled, What is it About Mormons?, which followed close on the heels of yesterday’s Washington Post op-ed piece, A Mormon church in need of reform. Can the nation’s other great papers be far behind?
The first question that comes to the mind of this Mormon is whether the rest of the reporting in these two papers is so ill-informed and/or bitter as these pieces are. And then other questions: Why today? Is it a coincidence that the Times piece came out today, the day of the Florida Primary? Why Sally Denton? Yes, she wrote a very bad book about a very bad event–a tragedy–in Mormon history, but it was a very bad, even a lousy, book, so why her? (By the way, if you’re interested in knowing how bad her book is go here and follow the links to the reviews by people who actually do know something about the Mountain Meadows Massacre.) And the really big question, why not have a Times reporter write the story? I’m assuming that the paper of record holds its actual reporters to a higher standard than it does the hacks it let write this piece (Maffly-Kip and Reiss excepted). Or put another way, do these women appreciate playing the role of the puppets in this show?
I’m not going to try and respond to either piece here. I will, however, refer the reader to sites that give a more accurate picture of Mormonism, starting with the Church’s two official sites, then the leading scholarly site and the most prominent apologetics site. All of them give a clearer picture of Mormonism than do either of these two pieces–again the Reiss and Maffly offerings excepted. Finally, here is my own guide to anti-Mormon writing, a response to Martha Nibley Beck’s horrible little tome of a few years ago, a response that deals with many of the same defects you’ll find in the Times and Post pieces.
Apparently, LDS.org polls higher on Google than Mormon.org. At the request of my son, this is my attempt to up the ante, just a very tiny bit.
This story about Professor Clayton Christensen in Forbes magazine is impressive in no small part because the world-renown professor so effortlessly, so guilelessly shares the story of his battles with diabetes, a heart attack, cancer, and a stroke, aided by a great family and the strong conviction that God has and has had a plan for him.
Last August, Stephen Prothero, a religion professor at Boston University and a blogger on CNN, wrote two different posts about the Mormon reaction to a Muslim group’s efforts to build a mosque at Ground Zero. The first lamented the fact that some prominent Mormons–Mitt Romney and Harry Reid–had both spoken against the mosque. So had Glenn Beck. Prothero was particularly disturbed that Romney had done so (through a spokesperson) because he had been so impressed by Romney’s religion speech during the most recent presidential campaign and because of Romney’s experience with the opposition to the Boston Temple. (Prothero, by the way, seems to have a good grasp on Latter-day Saint history.) He writes,
As I wrote in my 2007 piece on this speech, for Romney, the moral of this history lesson was clear:
Americans today should rise above religious bigotry, not least by evaluating presidential candidates on the basis of their credentials instead of their religious tradition. After all, Romney said, “Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.”
These were the words that came to me when Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin and other Republican leaders started to double down on the anti-Islamic rhetoric.
I thought that Romney, as a Mormon, might speak out passionately for the First Amendment. I thought he might remember how the founder of his religion, Joseph Smith Jr., was murdered by an anti-Mormon mob. I thought he might recall how the U.S. government brought down much of its coercive power against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the last decades of the nineteenth century.
Apparently not. According to a statement released on August 10 by his spokesperson Eric Fehrnstrom, “Governor Romney opposes the construction of the mosque at Ground Zero. The wishes of the families of the deceased and the potential for extremists to use the mosque for global recruiting and propaganda compel rejection of this site.”
The second discussed Senator Hatch’s position, which was captured by Salt Lake City’s Fox News 13:
Prothero’s reaction to Romney’s and Hatch’s statements prompted me to think about what my stance on the proposed mosque was back then. I realized that I disagreed with Romney. My stance was then and is now similar to Hatch’s: it would be a nice gesture if the mosque’s proponents chose to build elsewhere out of respect for what happened on 9/11; however, I recognize and support their 1st Amendment rights to build where they are planning to build.
I have a long memory, a memory that extends back to the persecution of my Church in the 19th and early 20th centuries, a memory of recent times when people in Boston, Billings, Denver, and places north and south, east and west, opposed the building of a Mormon temple–always for allegedly non-religious reasons. That opposition was a predictable as the rising sun was an irony that always escaped the protestors.
I suspect that religious bigotry imbues most of the opposition to the mosque as well. I don’t think Romney is bigoted. I do think he is in a rush to the Right, however, in his pursuit of the presidency. I have defended him in the past from the flip criticism that he flip flops a lot. I’ll take a flip from anybody if it demonstrates that they’ve learned something. However, too much pandering is not a good thing. I’ll be watching him closely, as I will Hatch, now that he’s pursuing the Tea Party vote.
An interesting piece by Peter Wood in The Chronicle of Higher Education on the Academia v. Beck v. Piven
controversy conversation. He writes,
This controversy might in principle have remained in the popular press, but it has in fact rather quickly become a topic of academic debate too. The Chronicle reported this week that Cary Nelson, president of the AAUP, issued a statement saying that Piven is the victim of “what nearly amounts to an American Fatwa,” from Beck’s “virulent attacks.” Nelson says, “Amid these relentless tirades, Professor Piven has herself begun to receive threats of violence.” And he concludes by calling for—what else?—civility: “We join others in strongly urging those who are critical of Professor Piven’s writings to advance their positions in ways that foster responsible criticism and debate.”
“Responsible criticism and debate.” These are the cynosures of academic discourse. Who would be opposed?
Actually, it would seem, quite a few, perhaps beginning with Cary Nelson himself, who, by invoking the idea of “an American Fatwa,” indulged in the kind of rhetoric that can hardly be called responsible or conducive to debate. If you imply that someone is seeking to kill his opponents, you have pretty much ruled out the grounds for a respectful airing of differences of opinion.
For the record, I have been unable to locate any instance in which Beck called for Piven’s death or incited violence against her. As many others have pointed out, however, Piven herself has long extolled the value of civil unrest up to and including riots, which would seem to put her own academic discourse in a place other than “responsible criticism and debate.”
Beck is no PhD, but he apparently has a DDS, and he has struck a nerve that has been exposed for a long time to anyone who has paid attention.
Hat Tip: Althouse
Is the time ripe for a Mormon to be President, or will religion get in Mitt Romney’s or Jon Huntsman Jr.’s way? Sally Quinn asks the question in On Belief, her religious bailiwick at The Washington Post. Eight panelists, including the likes of Barry Lynn who writes,
There really is only one question that needs to be answered: can you faithfully execute the laws of the United States or is there some religious view you hold that you believe transcends that duty?
Which begs the question: Would he, or anyone else, accept the answer, “Yes, I can,” and move on? Or would that question actually be an open door through which the inquisitor would parade his even deeper-held beliefs that “there ain’t no way a Mormon President won’t do the bidding of his (or her) hierarchical superiors in Salt Lake!”
I’ll be back for further comment on this subject.
In other Mormon news,The Washington Post takes a look at the prospects for a Mormon in high office and says Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman Jr. have a better chance in Hell.
And I’ll bet she never knew even a single Mormon. Based on Sally Quinn’s question to Mormon historian and Columbia history professor emeritus Richard Bushman, it’s a safe bet Sally hasn’t. Regardless, she’s a rather credulous journalist practicing a supposedly cynical and skeptical profession if her questions and musings on Mormonism are any indication.
In a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life almost four years ago titled Mormonism and Politics: Are They Compatible? she first asks Bushman–a rather famous Mormon historian–if he’s a Mormon. When he responds yes, she responds, “I’m sure you have heard of Martha Beck.” Again, the answer is yes. After reviewing briefly who Beck is, for the benefit of people in attendance who may not have heard of her, and after mentioning Beck’s then-recent book Leaving the Saints,”** Quinn says,
[Beck] went back [to Brigham Young University] and had an absolutely horrendous experience. She wrote another book called Leaving the Saints. She finally did leave the church. In her book, she revealed that her father had sexually abused her when she was a child. She talked about how she went back, and she had this Ph.D. from Harvard, and she was trying to fit in and bring her child into it, but she went to work as a teacher at Brigham Young University and found that the church was very unaccepting, very dogmatic, and that she couldn’t teach what she wanted to teach. Because she spoke out against some of the beliefs, she was in effect banned or banished from the church, she and her husband. Finally, they actually had to move away to Arizona because it became so untenable a situation.
And I think that reading a book like that – I have no knowledge of Mormons at all, really, but reading Martha’s books, I was absolutely appalled at some of the things that I read about the Mormon Church and the closed-mindedness and demands on people that they adhere to the beliefs or they will get banished.
So I think that kind of story is where a lot of these perceptions come from. I don’t know whether every word she wrote was true or not. It sounded pretty true. I think that sets the stage for my next question, which is, How Mormon is Mitt Romney? I mean, is he someone who would adhere to all of the beliefs of the church? In Martha Beck’s case, when she went against church policy, she was banned or banished. Would that happen if Romney disagreed with the church, and particularly their positions on women? (all bolded emphasis supplied)
These statements from a journalist and co-founder of the Washington Post’s On Faith “feature,” are revealing, especially in the context the of On Faith’s mission statement, a statement written by Quinn and co-founder Jon Meacham:
Religion is the most pervasive yet least understood topic in global life.
Maybe even at The Washington Post.
From the caves of the Afghan-Pakistan border to the cul-de-sacs of the American Sunbelt, faith shapes and suffuses the way billions of people-Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and nonbelievers-think and act, vote and fight, love and, tragically, hate. It is the most ancient of forces. As Homer said, “All men need the gods.” Even the most ferocious atheists find themselves doing intellectual battle on a field defined by forces of the faithful.
Seems as though Quinn and Meacham have pretty much staked out the religious terrain, which, according to them, runs from caves to cul-de-sacs. That pretty much leaves out L.A., New York City, D.C., Paris, London, and any other place where sophisticates gather to help the rest of us “understand” the “least understood topic in global life,” especially, it appears, if that topic is Mormonism.
And so, in a time of extremism — for extremism is to the 21st century what totalitarianism was to the 20th — how can people engage in a conversation about faith and its implications in a way that sheds light rather than generates heat?
And Quinn’s very uninformed opinion of Beck’s book? What kind of light does it shed?
At The Washington Post and Newsweek, we believe the first step is conversation-intelligent, informed, eclectic, respectful conversation-among specialists and generalists who devote a good part of their lives to understanding and delineating religion’s influence on the life of the world. The point of our new online religion feature is to provide a forum for such sane and spirited talk, drawing on a remarkable panel of distinguished figures from the academy, the faith traditions, and journalism. Members of the group will weigh in on a question posed at least once a week, perhaps sometimes more often, depending on the flow of the news. We encourage readers to join the conversation by commenting on what our panelists have to say, offering their own opinions and suggesting topics for future discussions.
From the nature of evil to religious reformation, from the morality of fetal stem-cell research to the history of scripture, from how to raise kids in multi-faith households to the place of gays in traditional churches — of the asking of questions, to paraphrase Ecclesiastes, there shall be no end. We think that the online world, with its limitless space, offers us a unique opportunity to carry on a fruitful, intriguing, and above all constructive conversation about the things that matter most.
Blah, blah, blah, blah. If Quinn’s knowledge of Mormonism says anything about her knowledge of religion in general, this “feature” is in trouble. If Quinn’s lack of research before she participated in that Pew Forum on Mormonism is any indication of her work ethic and research skills, I have to wonder about The Washington Post, given her station and tenure there. If her credulity with regards to Beck’s book is any indication, she’s not skeptical enough to be a good journalist.
*Quoted by Israel Shenker, “Critics Here Focus on Films As Language Conference Opens,” The New York Times (1972-12-28).
**By the way, if you’re interested in how horrible Beck’s book is, go here. It’s really, really, really bad.
Panorama Theme by Themocracy