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Friday, August 26, 2011

Satirizing Mormons Redux

The Rise of MormonismIn a recent post ("Broadway, Memphis (the Musical), and The Book of Mormon (the Musical)"), I reflected on why it was seemingly OK to make fun of some religious groups (e.g., Mormons) but not others (e.g., Muslims). Of course, the Mormon Church (officially the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is not the only religious group that is occasionally subject to ridicule, but I can't keep from wondering why the Mormons have become one of the targets. I suspect that part of the reason is that many Americans simply think that Mormons are "weird" and thus worthy of scorn, in spite of the fact that those who have actually taken the time to study Latter-day Saints have discovered that Mormons tend to act in ways and like the same types of things that most Americans do. Take, for instance, the following list of well-known Mormons; as far as I know, within their respective professions, they weren't a whole lot different than everyone else:
  • Jack Anderson, Pulitzer Prize newspaper columnist and journalist
  • David Archuleta, Runner-up in American Idol (Season 7)
  • David H. Bailey, Co-author of an algorithm about pi.
  • Stanford Cazier, President of California State University, Chico, and Utah State University
  • Stephen R. Covey, Author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  • Dennis Eckersley, Hall of Fame pitcher
  • Henry Eyring, Professor of Chemistry at Princeton University and the University of Utah
  • Gordon Gee, President of Ohio State University
  • Harmon Killebrew, Hall of Fame 1st baseman for the Minnesota Twins
  • J.W. "Bill" Marriott, Jr., Chairman and CEO, Marriott International
  • Armand Mauss, Sociologist of Religion, Washington State University
  • David Neeleman, Founder of JetBlue Airways and Azul Brazilian Airlines
  • Merlin Olsen, Hall of Fame defensive tackle, Los Angeles Rams
  • Anne Perry, British historical novelist; author of the William Monk and Thomas Pitt series
  • Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, (D-Nevada)
And, of course...
  • Steve Young, Hall of Fame quarterback, San Francisco 49ers
I am reminded of (and will conclude with) something that the sociologist Rodney Stark, who is not a Mormon but has studied them extensively, once wrote in the preface to his book, The Rise of Mormonism:
My "notorious" numbers (in 1984 Stark authored a paper that accurately projected the near future growth of the Mormon church) [have translated] into unwelcome calls from the media whenever they think of something new to say about or to blame the Latter-day Saints. The last few weeks before the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics were dreadful. Most of the news people who called had their agenda down pat, knew exactly what quotation they wanted from me, and were uneducable. The knew the LDS Church had brought the Olympics to Utah to "brainwash" thousands of visitors into joining their faith. I told many of them that if Mormon missionaries could work such miracles, the press would not be calling me, since, for obvious reasons, the press would have been the very first targets of LDS "brainwashing." But they simply didn't get it. Fortunately, every sportswriter who called me got it immediately, recognized it as giving the knockout punch to brainwashing charges, and went on to write sensible things about the Mormons. Do all smart journalism majors flee into the sports departments?

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