19 October 2011

Run away!

The Mormons are coming?

I'm a little confused by all the fuss by a few evangelicals, and their semi-anointed one Rick Perry in particular, over Mormonism. My own personal perspectives are as follows:

1) Comparisons between Mormons and cults are useless (just as the same comparison falls flat with Muslims). All religions tend to resemble cults from the outside looking in. All a cult is a negatively viewed association of collected beliefs with maybe a harder exit strategy to it than a mainstream faith. That's hardly surprising that a fringe belief structure would adopt a compulsory system of adherence in order to sustain itself. From a sociological perspective as a result, there's really no meaningful difference between cults and sustained mainstream faiths. All tagging one faith as a "cult" does is establish that you don't like what the fuck those people over there are doing, but still wish to regard your own related practices as perfectly legitimate and beyond any examination or similar reproach. Hypocrisy is funny like that. Tolerance demands more.

2) Based on polling, it's liberals and progressives who have higher negative attitudes toward Mormons than conservatives. In other words, this isn't even likely an effective political strategy until the general election to attack Mormon candidates (read, Romney). The basic reason for this is that Mormons tend to share the culturally conservative attitudes and campaign slogans of other social conservatives on issues like homosexuality, drugs, etc. So while they might be looked askance at by these other conservatives for their supposedly weird religion, they're reliably voting the same way. Liberals have a radically different structure which opposes most of these opinions. The main reason they wouldn't vote for a Mormon candidate is less something like bias against Mormons but more bias against conservative candidates, of which Mormons are perceived, sometimes correctly, as being the more conservative options. There are certainly liberals who are objectively biased against Mormons for other, less savory reasons in the same vein as these conservative attacks, but voting for a candidate who doesn't openly espouse many, if any, shared ideals does not strike me as a very useful way to demonstrate non-biased religious perspectives.

3) I grew up in an environment knowing a few Mormons (between the higher proportion of Mormons and Asians around in higher level academic classes, evidently I had a very skewed childhood from most people). They didn't seem much different or bizarre from even the quasi-radical Christians I knew growing up. Much less everybody else. Maybe they have strange ceremonies and beliefs. So what? I've been to Catholic masses. They seemed pretty odd to me. I've been around evangelical Christians, and that too seemed strange (too strange in fact for me to continue to tolerate as it was heavily divorced from the reality of experience for Christians in this country, if not around the world). From the outside looking in, what people do privately to attest to their personal faith is just liable to be a set of strange traditions in one faith as any other. So I actually prefer it when they make this a bit of a secret rather than air it into the public. And those wacky beliefs, well, it's pretty hard to escape that you can find bizarre to the point of insane beliefs contained in any religion and its religious canon or dogma. Indeed, when these are pulled out, lacking any context, they are going to sound even more insane than usual. It's very possible to construct a statement of religious dogma or ideology for any faith that makes it sound utterly ridiculous.

Do people take even these most ridiculous perspectives seriously? Some certainly do, including certainly some Mormons. Does Romney? Maybe. I'm not sure I or anyone else should care. I wouldn't vote for him anyway, so examining his religious testimonial history strikes me as much more useless than examining his absurd foreign policy perspectives and pro-corporatist attitudes (not as bad as Perry on both counts, the main guy attacking his faith, but still). I assess these political beings on attitudes toward different issues and flexibility in getting things done. From that perspective, Romney seems like the most likely conservative candidate to win their primary (and the general). And since I'm not a conservative, it's hardly surprising that I find him distasteful for a general election. That says very little about whether I find his personal and private beliefs and associated religious practices distasteful or insane. I couldn't care less what they are.

Update. In a related topic, I don't particularly care whether Mormons are in fact Christians. That seems like a question for theologians to answer definitively. My understanding of both theologies is that it's certainly a distinct sect from other Christian sects, but there's also a wide latitude of what constitutes "Christianity" when examining the various sects involved. Given also the socio-political outlooks of Mormons and Christians, I think it rather likely that I'd consider Mormons to be some variety of Christian in the horseshoe contest. Still, I'd hardly call my opinion on this to be a definitive answer.

The main reason I bring it up is that I don't think it should matter much to anyone else either what the answer to that question is.
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