Glenn Beck did a show the other day explaining Mormonism.
That was a helpful start, but more is needed.
Since Mr. Romney is being attacked by know-nothings like Richard Dawkins for his Mormon faith, this is a good time for my Mormon friends to explain and defend their distinctive doctrines. This is not the role for a candidate, but it should be job for his co-religionists and friends.
This is not because a President should have to do so, but because it is a good that can come from the bigoted bad. Education cannot harm us. Dawkins must be answered, but in a thoughtful way. He excludes Mormons from a free man’s consideration using a simple argument that will persuade a few.
Dawkins lives in a simple world where all religion is a hoax. His attacks on Joseph Smith’s revelation are no different than his attacks on the Christian apostles. The only thing that exists for Mr. Dawkins are those things he can dream of doing. He knows no power, diabolic or divine, apart from matter and energy. Mr. Dawkins claim is that anyone who “swallows” Mormonism is too irrational to be President.
Any other religious believer tempted to agree should remember Mr. Dawkins says the same of them. Of course, more than a few philosophers have found Dawkins’ idea that mind can be reduced to meat absurd. Intuitions of the absurdity of an opponent’s views are not hard to generate and untrustworthy!
I am not a Mormon, nor do I play one on television, but if I were called on to explain Mormonism and what makes it different I would begin with Joseph Smith, because to this outsider the claims of Mormonism begin with him. What are we to make of Joseph Smith?
For too long, Americans have accepted the ludicrous judgment of Mark Twain and others about Joseph Smith as a simple huckster or conman. He was a complex figure and at the very least a literary genius. No American has written (or at the very least translated) a work read by more people on the planet. Most Americans I know know nothing of his life or what they “know” is false or contentious.
If I understand LDS claims correctly, Joseph Smith is not viewed as “perfect.” He is not, after all, the Christ. He was (to paraphrase the description in my favorite biography of Joseph Smith) a rough stone. He died for his convictions, murdered by an American mob. That death, at least, should give pause to those who would merely shout down Mormonism.
This is a good moment for Mormons to encourage a more responsible dialogue about their faith. My own judgment about Joseph Smith will not be agree with my Mormon neighbor, but it also rejects Dawkins’ prejudices0. My culture taught me that Mormonism did not pass the bar of minimum rationality required from our leaders in a Republic. I examined Mormonism and its history and found a community intent on building schools, doing apologetics, and practicing republican forms of government successfully.
Mormonism may be wrong, but one need not be irrational to hold it. LDS scholars defend their beliefs ably using thoughtful arguments.
As a result, being a Mormon should not disqualify a man or woman from consideration for the highest office in the land even if Mormon distinctive doctrines are wrong (even very wrong).
John Chimes In…
Sadly I must disagree, to an extent, with my co-blogger, and that is dangerous ground for he is both better educated and smarter than I am. I certainly do not disagree that Mormons should be at the forefront of this campaign – wrote about that extensively on Saturday. I certainly do not disagree that, “This is not the role for a candidate, but it should be job for his co-religionists and friends.” I would remind my co-blogger that there are organizations out there devoted to that very effort. Not to mention an entire institute at BYU. Many are those devoted to the role JMR discusses and they have been at it since long before Mitt Romney thought about being president.
Where I disagree is this phrase, “…this is a good time for my Mormon friends to explain and defend their distinctive doctrines.” JMR himself says, “Dawkins lives in a simple world where all religion is a hoax. His attacks on Joseph Smith’s revelation are no different than his attacks on the Christian apostles.” [empahsis added] Dawkins arguments are against Mormonism because due to the presidential election, Mormonism is in the spotlight. Dawkins does not seek to attack Mormonism any more than he does any other religion – what Dawkins seeks is first an audience and secondly to ridicule religion in all its guises.
From Dawkins perspective, even as JMR describes it, the discussion of Mormon distinctives is an INTRAreligious discussion, it is not really part of the discussion between those of faith and those without it. It is the discussion between those of faith and those without it that is paramount at this point. If I am Mormon, or Evangelical, or Orthodox, I respond to Dawkins attacks on Joseph Smith with, “Why Richard, that is no different than your attacks on Peter and Paul. You just don’t like people that believe in a supernatural and change the world based on that belief. Let’s talk about that.” Thus we draw the debate to where it really needs to be at this juncture.
JMR says it so well, “The only thing that exists for Mr. Dawkins are those things he can dream of doing. He knows no power, diabolic or divine, apart from matter and energy.” That and that only is the essential debate of this time. For if there is only matter and energy then government really is the ultimate authority and Obama is somewhat justified in being as I described him this morning, “a self-absorbed, egomaniacal, ingrate of a human being.” But if there is in fact a supernatural, one that endows us with rights, the that is the ultimate authority, and the government exists to preserve the rights that are granted to us by that authority. such is the fundamental question of America and it is the essential question on the table in this election cycle. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted from it.
Now is not the time for a Mormon or an Evangelical apologist – now is the time for a Mormon apologist and an Evangelical apologist and an Orthodox apologist and a Roman Catholic apologist to stand together and say to Richard Dawkins, “We will not take your detours into intrareligious argumentation. We will stand together to protect the ideals under which the nation was founded.”