Follow by Email

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mitt Romney and All Things Mormon

In the preface to his book, The Rise of Mormonism, the sociologist Rodney Stark, who is not a Mormon but who has studied the faith and its adherents extensively, wrote:
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?
Unfortunately, the rise of Mitt Romney has led to many insensible things being written about Mormons, such as the screed published last year by the late Christopher Hitchens ("Romney’s Mormon Problem: Mitt Romney and the weird and sinister beliefs of Mormonism") that has been making the rounds lately. Thankfully, saner accounts are available, such as the recent the August 22, 2012 issue of The Christian Century, which features two articles on as well as a list of books about Mormonism, which are included in the list at the end of this post.
(For the uninitiated, The Christian Century is a mainline Protestant magazine and has hardly been a "friend" of Mormonism. It does, however, appear to possess the ability to write relatively objective accounts of the Mormon faith.)
Another helpful resource is Tony Gill's interview of Professor Lynita Newswander ("Lynita Newswander on Mormons in America"), an adjunct professor of political science at the University of South Dakota, who recently co-authored the book, "LDS in the USA: Mormonism and the Making of American Culture," with Lee Trepanier. If you are wondering, Newswander is a Mormon; Trepanier is not. The fact that Newswander is a Mormon may lead some to conclude that she is not entirely objective. I suspect that she is not, but co-authoring her book with a non-Mormon should have helped balance things out. Moreover, I would venture to guess that she is no less objective than Christopher Hitchens, who's hostility to all things religious was well known.

Here is the list of books recommended by The Christian Century (p. 27). You can also go to the  on-line listing clicking here ("Mormonism: Essential Reading"):
  • Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830–1900, by Leonard J. Arrington (University of Illinois Press). A masterful account of the policies and practices that enabled Mormons to settle in the hostile environment of the Great Basin. Arrington, the dean of Mormon historians for many years, shows that the Mormons achieved this feat by imposing a managed economy on a frontier society.
  • Mormonism in Transition, 1890–1930: A History of the Latter-day Saints, by Thomas G. Alexander (University of Illinois Press). Alexander describes how the Church of Latter-day Saints transformed itself in almost every dimension in the decades after polygamy was ended and statehood was achieved. These were the years when Mormons assimilated into American society as the church sloughed off the practices that had long alienated them from the rest of the country.
  • Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, by Richard Lyman Bushman (Knopf). A practicing Mormon attempts to understand the founding prophet of Mormonism in realistic but sympathetic terms.
  • By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched a New World Religion, by Terryl L. Givens (Oxford University Press). An account of how the Book of Mormon was received by believers and unbelievers. Givens presents the ongoing debates about the book’s historical authenticity in evenhanded fashion.
  • The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation, by Armand L. Mauss (University of Illinois Press). Mauss offers a sociological framework for understanding LDS Church policy and practices in the 20th century by tracing the oscillations between separation from American society (the angel) and assimilation (the beehive).
  • The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion, by Sterling M. McMurrin (University of Utah Press). McMurrin, a cultural Mormon and a philosopher, briefly and beautifully explains the meaning of Mormon beliefs in terms of classic philosophical categories.
  • David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, by Gregory A. Prince and William Robert Wright (University of Utah Press). Drawing on interviews and the minutes of the governing body of the LDS Church, Prince and Wright offer an inside look at the workings of the inner councils of the church during the administration of David O. McKay, one of its most important 20th-century presidents.
  • Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition, by Jan Shipps (University of Illinois Press). A religious studies scholar explains the meaning of Mormonism in the broad sweep of religious history.
Finally, about a year ago I wrote two posts concerning Mormons: One addressed the issue as to why it was seemingly OK to make fun of some religious groups (e.g., Mormons) but not others (e.g., Muslims) even though the beliefs of Muslims are remarkably similar to Mormons ("Broadway, Memphis (the Musical), and The Book of Mormon (the Musical)"). The other was a follow-up post ("Satirizing Mormons Redux"), which argued that one of the reasons why some people think it's OK to make fun of Mormons is because they 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 things that most Americans do. I then provided a list of well-known Mormons, who, within their respective professions, weren't/aren't a whole lot different than everyone else. I reproduce the list below (with some additions):
  • Danny Ainge, Professional Basketball Player
  • 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
  • Gladys Knight, Grammy winning singer
  • J.W. "Bill" Marriott, Jr., Chairman and CEO, Marriott International
  • Armand Mauss, Sociologist of Religion, Washington State University
  • Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series of books
  • 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

No comments:

Post a Comment